“Women so empowered are dangerous”: on living intentionally, learning jobs, and Audre Lorde

So, for those of you who don’t know, I am beginning a year of intentional living and volunteer service in Nashville, TN. Since most of the things that I do seem to involve a bunch of syllables that nobody really understands (nonprofit lyfe???), I’ll define that!

Intentional living:

I am living with four other young female-identifying folks in a cozy little house. In addition to creating rules, guidelines, and best practices for living together in our house, we do the same for how we live our lives. We have established rules for cleaning our physical space as well as for keeping our community healthy and happy. Here are some examples: we have a schedule for who does what job when, but we also have a rule about spending at least one night a week having dinner and fellowshipping with each other. All decisions about when visitors can come, what food we buy with our communal food budget, and when to schedule our mandatory “hanging out” time are based on consensus.

To come up with these rules, we had to individually think about how we live (and how we want to live) and intentionally build a list of foods, practices, and other “do”s and “don’t”s that contribute to us functioning as our best selves. Then we came together as a group and described what was on each of our lists, working on truly hearing each other and understanding what each of us needs and how we can help each other, and our community, grow.

Volunteer service:

You might be wondering what I do while I live in community with these people. Well, I will be doing lots of things.

1. We all work for the center that houses us, this awesome conference- and community center called the Scarritt-Bennett Center, in their Education, Programs and Connections Office. This first four months of the program, I’m working in the garden, helping plan some sustainability efforts for the conference center, planning an interfaith climate vigil, and other things that bring together interfaith work and environmental sustainability.

2. We have non-profit placements! Each of us spends most of the week working for a local Nashville non-profit organization. I am working for an organization called Plant the Seed. Plant the Seed does environmental education through garden work with children in lower-income areas of Nashville. Through working in the garden and learning about the ways that human life is connected to the Earth’s life, kids are empowered to take ownership over their food. We also talk about food as something that has the power to connect people across divides of language, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, and faith. Everyone has the right to access fresh food that they have a connection with historically and culturally, and that they know how to prepare.

Isn’t that cool? Living intentionally and learning about my job(s) has been a ton of fun this week. I even got to help 4-year-olds plant lettuce and radish seeds at a pre-K openhouse on Saturday. How fun is that?!

So the last part: Audre Lorde. If you don’t know who Audre Lorde is, check out this article. Or this one. Or this one. Check out some of her poetry here. After four years at Oberlin College, I’d come across more people talking about her life and her work than her writing assigned to me in class…is that a coincidence, that I never was made to read the “feminist lesbian poet mother warrior”‘s work in my elite liberal art school education? Or did I just not take the right classes? The jury is out on that one. All I know is that she writes life. She writes fire. She writes reality.

In our first seminar this week, we read a section from “The Uses of the Erotic,” one of Lorde’s famous works. One sentence stuck out to me:

“Women so empowered are dangerous.”

Lorde wrote this in the context of an essay about how the sensual, physical reality of community and worth in this country is separated from spirituality and politics. People (particularly those with bodies and identities not conforming to the dominant idealized culture, read: those who are not rich, white, male, educated, etc.) are used to separating their physicality from the other aspects of their life, when really we should be inhabiting our body fully in everything we do.

That’s kinda abstract, right? Think about this: when many people go to work, they get in a car instead of walking; instead of feeling the temperature of the air, the weather of the day, and experiencing the strain of walking on their muscles, we live in an auto-centric culture that divides us from both physical exertion and the elements–and each other. Think about this: most of the food people in the United States eat has been transported quite a distance from the locale where it was grown; the presence of corn-syrup based and sugar-rich products has overwhelmed the presence of garden-fresh food; the amount of processing that many foods go through before they encounter our digestive system is enormous. We have been separated from our food. Think about suburbs. Think about the idea that community life in the United States has been dying. Think about the way that women are looked down on for being “emotional,” are called “crazy,” and have to conform their bodies to others’ expectations. We have been separated from our bodies, from our sensation, from our experiences in the “natural world.” What even IS natural anymore? (Ok, that was a little bit of a rant, thanks for hanging with me.)

Lorde says that people who realize this separation, who see many problems in the world as a product of this separation from the erotic/sensual existence, are dangerous. Women, particularly, who realize that a facet of their existence has been stolen from them by expectations of beauty, jobs, motherhood, and all those things that we stereotype as the feminine…those women are dangerous.

“Women so empowered are dangerous.”

I’ve been coming to realize that here, in the Belle H. Bennett House, we are dangerous. We are subversive in the way that we choose each other as friends and cohabitators in our small community for a year. We are dangerous in the conversations we have, the books we read, the pronouns we use for God. We are dangerous in our matching experience to academic knowledge, and then bringing that to the work we do as we strive to be agents and facilitators of empowerment and community building. We are dangerous because we know how to name the oppressions we and our families (biological and chosen) have experienced and are living in reality every day. We are dangerous because we are so bold as to inquire “why?” as well as “why not?” We are dangerous because we are becoming acquainted with our own power–the power of our bodies, minds, and spirits. We are dangerous because we are speaking our hope for a better world into being and calling on each other to take action. We are dangerous because we can no longer be silent at the oppression of our siblings, no matter what religious identity, sexuality, or geographical location. We can no longer remain bystanders. We can no longer accept our role as complicit in the suffering of the human family, as well as the degradation of the Earth our Mother. We can no longer accept a religion that compartmentalizes our life experiences and answers our desperate pleas with a paternal stare. We are dangerous because we have had enough. We know our power, and we are using it.

 

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