Gender, Love, Inequality

This is the real story behind my tattoo

It is what defines me as a woman, what will define me as a mother and what I hope my friends and descendants talk about when I’m gone.

My partner looked across the dining room table at me and said, “Are you sure you want to get such a visible tattoo before the wedding?”

He was worried about whether I could handle disappointing my family. I have never been good at managing my emotions and anxiety when it comes to them. I took a deep breath.

“Yes.” I was terrified, but I was sure.

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My body is the hardest part of me to love because it has been hated and critiqued for as long as I can remember.  I was taught to hate it when I was a little girl and I saw adult women on TV and in person pick apart their appearance. I learned that the language of female bodies was a language of denigration. Forces outside of me have made their marks on my body. I didn’t have a say in the stretch marks or the scars. After years of being touched, judged, and catcalled against my will, I have reclaimed my body.

I could never quite imagine who I would be as I grew older, but now I can. 2016 was the year everything changed for me. Somewhere between struggling with my mental health, witnessing the open racism and sexism of the election, and getting engaged, I came to understand that insubordination was the only option.

I don’t want to follow anyone’s rules for my body but my own.

I worked with a local tattoo artist on a custom piece that would take up most of my forearm. A bundle of herbs and flowers and the words “The Future is Female”.  The phrase originated in the early 70’s- seen on a t-shirt in a radical feminist photo essay and re-emerged as a rallying cry for feminists in 2015. The author of that iconic photo, Liza Cowan recently said,

“It is an invocation. If we are to have a future, it must be female, because the rule of men — patriarchy — has just about devastated life on this beautiful little planet. The essence and the spirit of the future must be female. So the phrase becomes not just a slogan, but a spell. For the good of all.”

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For my generation of feminists, the future must be more than female.

It must be queer, trans, nonbinary- everything that chips away at the patriarchy. This phrase connects me to that through the generation that fought before me.  It connects me to my mother and connects her to my own children who will reach for this tattooed arm for safety and guidance. I want my kids to know for sure what I stand for. The feminist struggle is my highest purpose. It is what defines me as a woman, what will define me as a mother and what I hope my friends and descendants talk about when I’m gone.

When I am old and the text is faded, so will the ideas that we have about feminism today. Just like this phrase has evolved to encompass the new feminism, which embraces all people who have suffered under the patriarchy, the feminism of my children will be bigger and better than I can begin to imagine.

I always want to remember the moment I broke with my culture’s expectations for me and committed to a lifetime of being an insubordinate woman.