By: Camryn Ellis ’21 (she/her)
I grew up believing that having a vagina was a secret. Comments like, “always cross your legs when you sit” or “don’t wear anything too revealing”—heaven forbid someone mentioned a period—made me feel like I should be ashamed and uncomfortable with my body. Growing up, if ever the topic of periods found its way into a car ride conversation, I’m convinced that everyone, including myself, would have considered opening the door and jumping out. My teenage self would have been mortified at the idea of writing an article about vaginas, but considering that I aspire to work in maternal healthcare, I figured I’d just rip off the bandaid. I’ll start by acknowledging how women have been made to feel physically inferior to men, and then I’ll explain how these impacts of oppression intersect with race.
First off, I’m really confused about the dialogue used by some people in this society. When someone is scared of doing something, people say, “don’t be a pussy” and “grow some balls.” What does that even mean? Because honestly, balls are incredibly sensitive, and if you kick them too hard, you may or may not hear screaming interrupted by a slew of curse words. But the female body can take a pounding. We literally carry entire humans inside of our bodies. And they distort every single organ around them and plunge themselves through the body in ways that can make you feel invincible. If anything, people should be saying “grow a uterus.”
In addition to not getting our much deserved she-cred, I find it so strange that we give birth to the very people telling us that we shouldn’t have rights. And don’t get me wrong, some of the people infringing on our rights don’t stop at suppressing and degrading our sexualities; they fuck us over racially, too. I’m so tired of watching and hearing about so many Black men only dating white women because they view whiteness as the epitome of feminine beauty. Like really? To think that Black women ride for Black men in so many ways that this society does not and then to find ourselves being so disrespected and disregarded is honestly embarrassing.
Originally, this piece was going to be solely about why I am so passionate about maternal healthcare, but as I write, I can’t help but get annoyed when thinking about its related social issues. Moving forward, when I consider my role in maternal healthcare, I cannot ignore the different experiences among Black and white women. While we are united in our oppression as women, only one of us is three to four times more likely to go into a hospital and not come back out. With these heavy thoughts on my mind, I had a conversation about it with my hallmate, Sophia Beall ‘22, a white woman, and art major, who is passionate about reproductive justice. We had a discussion about the differences of our existences and how this has impacted our experiences of womanhood.
To better understand one another, we played a game of word association, which highlighted our intrinsically different experiences. We found it compelling how the same word invoked two very different responses. The dichotomy of our reactions called us to further explore this concept of intersectionality through the art of poetry, where each line is inspired by a word from our game.
The Birth of Brown Eyes
God sets the timer,
and my eyes fall upon myself.
My road is dirt and winds towards the midnight wall,
a deliberate dark dead end.
Twice-lit fires beckon beyond the gate,
melting the revelations frozen in my innocence,
exposing the blessings grounded in my labor.
Such fertile soil upturned, but melanin-saturated, tamped down, and unplanted.
Instead, my blood is siphoned from the darkness into gilded basins to paint their houses,
my mind sterilized to clean their floors.
a surrogate for the benefit of others.
I scrape at my walls,
until I am grated;
Unrecognizable hope heaped upon that ground.
Beyond the gate, a bee fumbles in the alley of a flower,
and life is born anew.
But the contractions lack sure footing,
unnatural crimson waves earthlocked,
and my blood is ignored —
Unless it’s collected and recycled,
an expensive, monthly charge.
But its iron is the heavy stone that rolls to rest, moonlit in the
tenuous cradle of the fertile valley,
heralding the birth of brown eyes, captive again,
despite screams of joy.
Co-Authored by Camryn Ellis & Rebecca Simmons. Poem inspired by a conversation with Sophia Beall
Throughout this poem, I conveyed the realities of Black womanhood—labored and ignored. We intersected this identity with our reproductive systems and the common experiences Black people share within maternity. Through these intersections, we express how this society is only able to function because it oppresses and capitalizes on the mental, emotional, and physical abuse of Black women.
This poem was crafted to create space to voice the hurts and traumas that Black women face. From the slurs of everyday language to the vast array of people who perpetuate our oppression, this piece was designed to publicly address these disheartening frustrations. Discussions around this topic at Davidson are not as nearly talked about as they should be; to publish an article about the oppression of women and the degradation that I feel as a Black woman takes more than just guts; it takes ovaries.
Camryn Ellis ’21 (she/her) is a Sociology major from Laurinburg, NC. Contact her at email@example.com