History Poetry Forgotten History Lost in History

You probably don’t know about Hettie Jones, a crusading Beat poet

You’ve heard of a Jack Kerouac, but have you ever heard of a Hettie Jones?

The Beat Literary Movement of the 1950s is coined for its explicit subject matter and bohemian lifestyle. Americans in the 1950’s lived in largely suburban towns and felt threatened by things like communism. Men went to work in suits and women stayed home to cook, clean, and tend to the children.

The rebel, beatnik, group of authors that made up the Beat Generation were iconoclastic. Much of their work explored and influenced American culture and politics in the post-war era. They experimented with form and structure while writing about sex, drugs, and religion. Traditional literary houses rejected them and looked down on them as a group as being defiant, untalented, and unprofessional. 

I think that their being unconventional was the whole point, though.

They were the antithesis of mainstream American life.

They wanted to publish anything that was deemed inappropriate by society. These people were tired of the routine, and frankly, felt beaten down by the conservative lifestyle that they were stuck in. They were highly controversial in that they were the antithesis of mainstream American life and writing. Many of their works of poetry and prose focused on shifts of consciousness and escaping “squareness.” The stereotype around the Beats is that they were not in favor of what they considered to be straight jobs. Instead, they lived together, packed into small and dirty apartments, sold drugs, had sex with each other, and committed crimes. They are also known for exploring homosexuality, which was a highly taboo topic in 1950’s America.

Though they set many precedents together, the Beats still succumbed to the blatant sexism of the time. Most, if not all, of the women involved in the Beat literary movement were overshadowed by their male counterparts for no particular reason other than gender. These women were just as intelligent and qualified to question society as the beatnik men who have become well-known poets and activists.

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One of the most iconic, and downplayed, female poets of that time who deserves righted acknowledgment is Hettie Jones. 

Hettie Jones published 23 books- and yet, we forgot her

Hettie Jones is most known for her marriage to the famous Beat Poet Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones). Few people know that Hettie helped run Totem Press, one of the more important beat publishers, along with her husband. She went on to publish about 23 books, one being a memoir of her time spent with Amiri and the rest of the Beats titled, How I Became Hettie Jones (1990). She has also written for many prestigious journals, lectured writing across America, and began the literary magazine “Yugen.”

Hettie is one of my favorite poets, so I think that her writing deserved to be at the forefront of the Beat movement, right there with the boys who got so much praise for their work. 

Hettie’s writing is rooted in practical idealism. She left her family home in Long Island to go to college and to fully discover herself. When she graduated in 1955, she never turned back, and moved to New York City. She met Amiri while working at The Record Changer, a jazz magazine. He was a young, black poet with just as much intelligence and intensity as Hettie. They quickly fell in love and moved in together. They would go to poetry readings at cafes and bohemian bars, where they met many of the other Beat poets.

Hettie deserved to be at the forefront of the Beat movement.

When the pair founded their own magazine, they published the writings of many of the iconic beat players who could not find a home for their writing in the traditional sphere. Hettie was in charge of editing the works that were to be published in the magazine. It was here that she honed her craft and found power in the refined writing that makes her work stand out from the rest. 

By 1960, Hettie and Amiri had two children, were married, and lived in New York City. Being a biracial family, though, countless bigoted remarks were directed towards them regardless of the Beat scene. Hettie was on the receiving end of most of these cold stares and was able to see the world through the eyes of her husband and children. This affected her incredibly and eventually became a recurring theme in her writing.  

When Amiri became tightly involved with the Black Power movement, he was criticized for having a white wife. They divorced in 1968. Hettie thrived on her own though and made a living with her children while teaching and editing. Her separation from her husband also gave Hettie an outlet to speak up and finally publish works of her own. She has been quoted to say, “Without a him in the house, there was more space/time for her, and I tried to redefine the way a woman might use it.” 

To this day, Hettie’s writing is compassionate. She writes about her own experiences in a compelling manner while weaving in the issues that she cares about. Currently, Hettie lives in New York City, and is a writer and lecturer. In addition, she runs a writing workshop at the New York State Correctional Facility for Women where she recently published a volume of writing by incarcerated women.

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Fashion Lookbook

MyScene taught me about style, empowerment, and compassion

Here’s a visual: It’s 2005. You’re sitting in front of the desktop computer in your house, which seems to have a box attached to the back of it, and you’re on hour 3 of playing MyScene. That’s right, MyScene. The online gaming site that let you transform into an interior designer, makeup artist, hair stylist, nail technician, spa business owner, and go on seemingly endless glamorous shopping sprees. The MyScene franchise consisted not only of computer games, but also of dolls and movies — Jammin’ In Jamaica is my personal favorite if you want to experience 44 minutes of pure nostalgia.

At the time, there was absolutely no denying that I wanted to be them. I mean, who wouldn’t? They’re all icons with flawless fashion. Each character Barbie, Madison, Chelsea, and Nolee had their own individual brand of sass, flare, and style. Plus, as we watched their characters come to life onscreen, we learned that these ladies were also empowered, intelligent, and compassionate. Barbie was interested in technology and business, Madison was a songwriter and band manager, Chelsea loved fashion design and sold items that she customized at the market, and Nolee was the sporty one of the group with an inclination to mathematics. 

To say the least, the MyScene girls introduced me to a world of girl power and badassery, and I cannot thank them enough for that. I grew up alongside four older brothers, so when I wasn’t trying to keep up with them, I was vigorously trying to find feminine outlets. And this was that for a while. I could be as unapologetically sensitive, bold, and imperfect as I wanted to be, and it was amazing. I felt like I was right there alongside them, navigating the plights of womanhood as a young girl trying to break through the mold. 

I used to spend hours on the computer too; hours that I now look upon fondly. I think that this is where I found my fashion roots, to be honest. For one, there was nowhere else that I could be a true fashionista and transform almost immediately into anything and anyone. My closet wouldn’t suffice for the kinds of possibilities and outfits that I was looking for, and neither were the handful of dolls clothes that I had. But here the options were boundless. I could be a superstar or a diva if I wanted to. And trust me… I was!

With sites like MyScene, we were able to quite literally express ourselves anyway we chose time and time again. I quickly learned to appreciate my creativity and let it run free as I surfed through different styles or aesthetics and matched them with different activities or careers. It was expansive, fresh, and valuable. I grew to adore this part of myself. 

I found out what I liked, what I didn’t like, and — while it may seem like a stretch — I even learned about budgeting (using coins inherited through the game of course), patience, precision, and discipline. I mean, the product that I came up with just had to be perfect if it was going to be successful, which is an ideology that has lasted with me into adulthood. 

I cherish those days spent with MyScene, sifting through skirts, headbands, and purses, because they morphed me into the woman that I am today and will be tomorrow. She is curious, warm, loud, and would much rather wear a dress than a pair of jeans. She has incredible drive, values empathy over anything else, and is willing to go the extra mile to take something from good to great. Oh, and she also still cries every time she watches a romcom.

What’s even better is that those early 2000’s MyScene styles that we all adored as kids have finally returned to mainstream fashion. We get to put all those years of gaming and idolizing to the test as we put on the outfits and the attitudes to match, to decorate our own lives like we did with Barbie, Madison, Chelsea, and Nolee so many years ago. 

Gender Love Inequality

India’s victim-shaming succeeds in bringing the entire nation two steps back

“A big part of sexism is gender policing,” says N.K Jimisin, author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, about gender policing.

So what is gender policing?

Gender policing, according to N.K Jimisin, is “all the small and not-so-small ways in which society dictates how women (and non-women; point is that this is centered on womanhood) are ‘supposed’ to look/act/think, and punishes them for being different.”

Now, being different can encompass a wide range of things: it could be seen through dress, work, or behavior. In fact, anything that diverts from the prescribed ‘ruling’ for women can result in societal gender policing.

Gender policing can lead to very harmful and damaging effects in a society. A society that believes that women could be ‘punished’ for ignoring implicit rules can lead to gendered attacks with no repercussions.

Girls are told to walk, sit and behave in an appropriate way prescribed by society. They are supposed to dress ‘modestly’ (in the case of countries like India) or ‘secularly’ (in the case of France).

In India, girls are asked to not step out of the house after a particular time, as it is regarded against the norm. She isn’t allowed to talk a certain way and is expected to love ‘feminine’ hobbies like painting and cooking. Yet should she want to do something else, when her choice is taken away, then it becomes enforced and a subset of oppression.

Women who don’t live within these gender roles are subjected to punishment in the form of rape or sexual assault. Strict adherence to these rules therefore becomes mandatory, like imposing hostel curfew regulations. Complaints about assaults are disregarded by law officials, as they look for more ways to blame the victim.

Victim blaming is another method where gender policing is enforced.

The comments made by the state lawyer in the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case are a horrific example. The lawyer for the rapists advocated that the attackers shouldn’t be punished for rape, as it was the victim’s fault for being out so late. He went on to add more demeaning and vulgar statements that re-enforced ideas of male dominance and gender policing.

In another recent rape-murder case, Jisha was failed by her society and the law. The attack was justified by many online, because she ‘knew’ the attacker before the incident. As a result, reports of abuse are often not filed, due to vulgar questions by the police about what the girl was doing at the time of abuse.

Because society refuses to catch up, we are effectively silencing abuse victims, so more and more women begin to police themselves to fit within society’s rules. The cycle continues with an increasing victim count.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just about how a woman behaves (as if that wasn’t bad enough) – it also extends to her physical appearance. Somehow, excelling in a field makes it okay for a woman to be scrutinized under a microscope. Recently, some women athletes came under attacks for being too masculine.

According to writer Katie Matlack, even the runner’s website, Let’s Run, joined by posting a discriminatory post about people with hyperandrogegism. Hyperandrogegism is increase in the presence of testosterone hormones in women. Katie went on to tell how the condition had isolated her as a teenager, because of different body maturation rates and metabolisms.

Organizations like International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Association of Athletics Federations felt that hyperandrogegism gives an unfair advantage to athletes. In the past, these organizations have sought to push a ban against women with higher levels of testosterone than the preset normal value. However, the ban was put on hold due to a lack of evidence.

Such intense gender policing can lead to damaging effects and misunderstandings of femininity. To cover or not, to go out or not, to work or not aren’t gender-specific choices, they are human rights.

It’s time to stop policing women’s choices, and start protecting human rights.

Tech Now + Beyond

10 tampon life hacks that will totally change your life

We all know that tampons are never as great as commercials make them out to be. There’s no dancing in white or spinning through a field of flowers, just a whole lot of cramping and blood.

But maybe there are some slightly more fun, or at least creative, uses for feminine hygiene products.

1. Cleaning up a nosebleed.

Leave it to our girl Amanda Bynes to teach us the greatest feminine hygiene product life hack of them all: nosebleed clean-up (that, and distracting your crush from finding out that you’re actually a girl pretending to be her brother to dominate on the soccer field).

2. They make the perfect bandages.

Borrowing from She’s the Man, tampons and pads can actually help to absorb all sorts of blood (not just menstrual bleeding and nosebleeds). Worst case scenario, if you’re camping or far from immediate help, you can definitely put your handy feminine hygiene friends to good use AND maybe save a life.

3. Curlers

Taystee knows what’s up on- and off-set of Orange is the New Black. You definitely don’t have to be incarcerated to try out her tampon-curler life hack (after all, curlers are so uncomfortable to sleep in, we can only imagine that these would be wayyy more comfy).

4. Water Filter

If you were inspired by the idea of using tampons as bandages (look at those kickass survival skills!), pack a few more tampons the next time you’re out in the wild. Worst case scenario, you can always use a tampon as a make-shift water filter (though we certainly don’t recommend this as a first option).

5. Emergency kindling or candle wick.

Burn, baby, burn. Try putting those feminine hygiene products to use as kindling to build a fire (take that Jack London) or make your own candle. Cotton is super flammable, so tampons are a great alternative to wood or wax in getting a fire started.

6. Using it as a last-minute wallet disguise.

We all know how grossed-out dudes get at even the mention of a period (thanks for that, toxic masculinity). But, hey might as well put that misogyny to good use. If anyone rifles through your purse they’ll probably be tempted by your wallet, but we doubt they’ll reach for your stash of pads–so try hiding a twenty in there (wrapped up in a handy-dandy wrapper).

7. Uh – you could use it for a surgical mask.

Let’s face it, Orange is the New Black has really taught us almost everything we need to know (from racing cockroaches for cigarettes to turning duct tape into flip flops). Putting maxi-pads to good use as masks, to keep from catching a cold or inhaling pollution, was a surprisingly great tip we never knew we needed.

8. Or become the ultimate cat lady.

If you’re as in love with cats as we are, you know that they love chasing string (hello basket of yarn) and batting around small toys. What you might not have realized though is that a tampon is the perfect combination of these fun toys.

Next time you find a tampon that’s wrapper has popped open, consider tossing it at your cat and seeing what kinds of mischief you can both get up to!

9. Plus, it comes in handy if you need to remove nail polish!

Keep your tampon in its applicator for a handy nail polish remover. It’s like a cotton swab, only you get way more control because you have a whole applicator to work with. You can try the same thing with your sanitary pads, too (they’ll soak up a ton of nail polish remover and help you wipe off your polish in just a few swipes)!

10. Oh, and don’t forget – they’re perfect for shower shoes.

Hopefully, you packed a pair of shower shoes before moving into your college dorm. But, if you happen to be stuck in a new place (like Piper in the first episode of Orange is the New Black), pads can double as a super useful alternative to flip-flops. The sticky backing of maxi-pads should help them adhere to the bottoms of your feet, and while they might not be the most stylish solution we can guarantee that they’re way less gross than dorm showers.

We always knew that pads and tampons were useful things to have on hand, but never quite realized how great they were. The next time you find yourself stuck in a tricky situation, don’t be afraid to whip out a tampon and put it to good use!

Gender Love Inequality

Don’t tell me to be obedient to the men in my life

I’ve always been a non-conformist when it came to the traditional female role in Colombia. To be a woman in my country meant that I had to be obedient to the opposite sex, suppress my sexuality, and focus on looking perfect 24/7. Not to mention the fact that I shouldn’t be “wasting my time” on career goals, but rather be prepared for the day that I became a wife and mother.

Even if some people back home think that this role is “natural,” I think there’s a lot of pitfalls to it.

Since a very young age, I was taught that I should take special care of my appearance if I wanted the attention of men. One way or another, society taught me that I should fit a certain definition of “woman” physically, and if I wasn’t born that way, then I should work hard to achieve it.

For instance, when I was a child I used to love my curly hair, but when I reached adolescence, I started to notice that to fit in, I had to straighten my hair every week. Also, my life became all about dieting and trying to be thinner.

Since I had a slow metabolism and was chubby as a kid, I had to work extra hard to meet the crazy body image standards. Even today, all my friends talk about at dinner is who is looking thinner this year. Now I realize that by changing aspects of my physical appearance, I was trying to be someone I wasn’t simply to fit into the role society had given me.

Aside from having to look a certain way, the traditional female role has an even greater pitfall: having to suppress your opinions and your intellect. The myth about “men preferring them dumb” is actually part of Colombian reality (in fact, there’s a TV show devoted to it). There’s something about women being smart that threatens the status quo and goes against the obedient and quiet role women “should” play.

When it comes to playing dumb, I was always a terrible actress. I’ve always been the type who says scandalous things at the dinner table and who doesn’t mind pointing out the elephant in the room. At family gatherings, whenever I say something “too taboo” (like why corrupt politicians suck in Colombia) my mom looks at me from the corner of her eye and seems abashed, but inside, I know she’s proud that I’m able to speak the words that never came out of her mouth.

With time I learned to embrace the fact that I wasn’t going to conform to these expectations; I wear my hair curly and I’m not afraid to share my opinion (no matter how radical). I also found that a lot of us weren’t meant to fit into this traditional female role anyway. Take my mom for example: she’s a CEO who defied tradition by getting a divorce, or my grandmother, who was never a stay-at-home mom and became the main provider for her family. I don’t come from a line of dumb, obedient women, I come from a line of women who have defied society’s expectations. So then, how could I be a conformist?

The truth is that traditional gender roles in Colombia and Latin America as a whole, ignore the fact that sex is not indicative of gender. A woman shouldn’t have to “feminine” simply because society tells her to, she should instead be allowed to freely choose the role she wants to carry out instead of it being predetermined from the moment of birth. Not only is this way of thinking outdated, but it also limits our freedom to be who we truly are.

Dear Madame Lestrange Love + Sex Love Advice

Should I get a perfume or do something for down there?

Dear Madame Lestrange is The Tempest’s love, sex, and relationships advice column. Have a question? Send it to Madame Lestrange here.  It’s anonymous!

Dear Madame Lestrange,

I’m getting married next month, which means I’m also going to be having sex for the first time. I haven’t been too worried about it until recently… my aunts keep trying to give me advice. One mentioned something about getting me vaginal perfume so it smells nice for my first time.

Should I get some? I hadn’t even thought about it. But yeah – vaginas smell right. I don’t want to gross him out on our wedding night. What should I do? What brands are good? Help, please!

Smelly and Concerned

Dear Smelly and Concerned,

Congratulations on your upcoming marriage and sexual experience! Also, sorry you’re getting unsolicited sex advice from aunts. Sometimes that can be super helpful (and obviously awkward), but other times it can be nerve-wracking and harmful – like your aunt who thinks vaginal perfumes are a good idea.

They’re not.

A healthy vagina has a pretty specific pH of ~3.8 to 4.5, which tends to lead to the particular vaginal odor. The bacteria in your vagina work to keep it healthy, clean, and how it should be. Messing with these bacteria and the natural makeup of your vagina with douching or perfumes or whatever is *unhealthy*! It’s not like using deodorant on your armpits, which doesn’t harm you – it’s just staying outside and making your pits not smelly. Perfumes for the vagina fuck with vaginal bacteria, alter its natural pH and cause different infections. The vaginal odor you are accustomed to smelling should be a sign to you that your vagina is healthy and happy. Again: perfumes are bad and cause bad things to happen.

Your vagina is good and causes good things to happen. It doesn’t smell bad. You are taught in so many ways (socially, through media, everywhere) that the vagina is a bad, smelly place and we must do everything to make it more pleasing to the man.

Naaaah. If your almost-husband can’t take your wonderful and pleasant vagina as it is naturally, he doesn’t deserve to be up in it. Seriously. If someone y’all are having sex with has a problem with your vagina, then your vagina should have a problem with them!!

Take the time to unlearn all of your bad associations with the vagina that society has taught you through its lies. Research vaginal health, its anatomy, what other women are feeling about theirs, etc. It is a strong, flexible, and elastic part of your body that does so much for you and your body and the world. Everything it does is beautiful and cool and beneficial for you. And, honestly – chances are your fiancé will love the smell of it once y’all start having sex. Be proud of your vagina and get him to love it too.

Summary: Your vagina rocks and fuck perfumes.

**With all of this said, sometimes your vagina will tell you it’s unhealthy by a particularly foul odor that is unlike its regular smell. If this is the case, do not turn to perfumes, but go to a gynecologist to get it checked out.

You’re welcome,

Madame Lestrange

More Dear Madame Lestrange

I’m planning on having sex with my boyfriend soon. It’ll be my first time but not his and while I’m very excited, I’m also very nervous. I want to make this a pleasurable experience for us both and I have no idea what I’m doing. I gave him my first handjob too and while he did cum, I feel like I could’ve done better. Do you have any tips?

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Culture Gender & Identity Life

Here’s why God’s gender matters

During my last semester of college, I took a theology class with Father Whalen. One day, he asked us, “If I told you that God would be here tomorrow, ready to meet with anyone who would come, right in Marillac Hall, the first floor – would you go?” The question spurred students to think about their faith or doubt, their guilt or their love.

But I was struck by the image of God that came to my mind when he asked that question: an old white man in a suit, sitting awkwardly in one of our typical classroom desks.

As a Hindu, who grew up with hundreds and hundreds of images from which I might visualize God, why did I end up thinking of an old white man?

I thought again, conjuring up another image. Krishna, the beloved raincloud-dark god, came to mind. Though the image was more familiar, why again did I think of a male form?

Is God an inherently gendered word?

Regardless of their spiritual path, many argue that God is beyond the confines of the gender labeling superimpose on the human experience. Why, then, is it so jarring to hear God referred to as “She” or “Her” in colloquial speech?

We readily ascribe traditionally feminine characteristics to God: tenderness, softness, an enveloping presence, nurturing, accommodating. But something within us might bristle against thinking of God as our Mother, though we frequently refer to God as our Father.

At our deepest essence, we are beings beyond the construct of gender, but we occupy bodies in a world where gender matters. Maybe there’s some relationship between how we think of femininity and the sacredness ascribed to femininity in our faith.

In Hindu literature, stories of the major forms of Shakti (the feminine principle) such as Durga and Kali are frequent. But people know less of female scholars and poets like Gargi, Lopamudra, Mirabai, and Mahadeviyakka. Women often occupy significant leadership roles in Hindu temples and organizations and are prominent scholars and teachers as well.

However, these same Hindu women may face situations where their gender seems to be a hindrance in their work, for example, when their opinion is not taken seriously unless a male speaks to it. How we engage with women in religious spaces often reflects societal issues women face everywhere.

Engaging with the Goddess is a powerful way to increase egalitarianism across the gender spectrum. If we can see God with a feminine face, we can disentangle spirituality from patriarchy.

Let me be clear: celebrating the nine-night festival dedicated to the Goddess, Navratri, does not make you a feminist. Many worship the Devi while simultaneously contributing to the abuse and degradation of women.

It’s not just about seeing God as having abstract “feminine” qualities. It’s about seeing divinity in the female body. It’s empowering to hear the female body being associated with sacredness because globally, female bodies are the most objectified, trafficked and abused. Loving and ascribing sacredness to a female body is a radical act.

By using the various manifestations of Shakti and exposing more people to female-centric illustrations of God, we’re refusing to accept the stereotypical ways for females to be. We can empower women, giving them a choice in their personal concept of femininity.

It was when I planning a women’s panel for the upcoming Dharma Conference that gender floated to the forefront of my mind.

On a community or organizational level, are we supporting authentically female-led spiritual work? Are there female-led spiritual spaces that are well-supported by the organization? Whose stories do we tell, and who is in charge of telling them? Do we make a point to promote the work of female scholars? Are any of our service initiatives specifically aimed towards helping with global women’s rights issues? Do we provide people or spaces in which experiences of gender identity, menarche, childbirth, marital status, menopause, and other developmental issues can be discussed? Are we afraid of having any awareness of third-gender issues?

The answers disappointed me. Even in my personal life, outside the institutional level, I see room for improvement.

How does it feel to address God as “She” on a daily basis? How does it feel to have a relationship with God like that of a mother, sister, female friend? If women are to be viewed as keepers of the home, while men are viewed as keepers of the temple, how can we reflect on the importance we are giving the shrine of the home? Which goddesses’ spirits do we see reflected in our own personality?

Considering sacred femininity will not impose dualism on our concept of God. Instead, it will restore balance. Across cultures and religions, we have always recognized a strong, fascinating pull from the vama-marga, the “left side” of God, the feminine aspect of spiritual experience.

We can move humanity towards the dance of the inner masculine and feminine, a dynamic balance left unbound by gender.