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She Works Like a Man; If a Woman’s Word

Anita Hill in Kansas City

Attorney and professor Anita Hill in Kansas City discussing the documentary, Speaking Truth to Power on August 26, 2014. Photo credit: Kansas City Public Library via Flickr.

She Works Like a Man

“She works like a man,” that’s what
the neighbors said. To her daughter’s
intensest shame, she works in the fields,
like a mule, or man. While the mothers
of others hide behind lace-pretend curtains,
hers wades, ankle-deep in mud,
apron hitched high, planting onions,
hoeing, raking, putting in corn,
pulling green worms off tomatoes
calling cows, feeding hogs, piling up
a wall of fat against the inevitable
winter. Birth–women’s work–that
never stopped her for long, nursing,
mending, binding what was broken,
chopping wood, hauling water, and
on Sunday, the wheezing pump organ
sings, the sewing machine keeps time.
No praise, little joy. Plucking chickens
an art more practiced than tricks with hats
and veils, mirror and eyebrow. Duty
is her sister, steadies her hand
with axe, hatchet, shotgun. A woman alone
because she has no choice. Necessity
is her angel, truth, her beauty. The common
gossip sings her alleluias:
She works like a man.

If a Woman’s Word

i

If a woman’s word had weight,
these things would not happen.
He pinched. He squeezed. He cupped. He
thrust. He didn’t ask. I didn’t
scream. He said keep your mouth
shut. Or
it happened without words,
in a camp, built for that purpose, square,
surrounded by barbed wire, and explosives,
because
I was Muslim, in Bosnia, because
I was Tutsi, because
I was born in Bangladesh.
And when at last they left, they scrawled
on walls: We left,
but we left
our seed behind.
If a woman’s word had weight,
these things would not happen.

ii

Who remembers
Anita Hill, prosecutor, professor, reduced
to an audience for preening penis jokes,
sitting ramrod straight with a truth to tell to
stopped-up
ears in dark suits? Her words
had no weight, were only
words. She did not say, I had to hide
from him, as best I could,
she only said,
I had to tell the truth. I could not
keep silent.
Her truth made them squirm, but
her words did not
tip the balance.
His word, a terrible weight, even as
a minority of one. He writes in curlicues
about “furtive reconfiguration” to mean
abortion
is not a right. His silence
may mean death.
If a woman’s words had weight
these things would not happen.

References

  • A camp, built for that purpose,” and “We left our seed”: Lisa Sharlack, “Rape as Genocide: Bangladesh, the former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda,” New Political Science 22, no. 1 (2000): 89–102.
  • I could not keep silent”: Testimony of Anita Hill before the Senate Judiciary Committee, S. HRG102-00, PT 4, Nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, October 11, 1991.
  • Furtive reconfiguration”: from Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 136 S.Ct. 2292, 2327 (2016) (Thomas, J., dissenting)

Linda Backiel is a criminal defense attorney practicing in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

2018, Volume 70, Issue 04 (September 2018)
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