Women We Read This Week

A gathering of some of the best pieces by women we’ve read this week.

Lauren Westerfield’s “Twenty-Seven” in The Rumpus

This essay tackles a figure: one in four young women will become a victim of sexual assault. It is hard to imagine that figure, to understand what it looks like in personal terms. The author writes about how she and her friends have somehow manage to escape the norm, about how she has arrived at 27 “unscathed.”

But others didn’t. Like my mother. My mother became a statistic when she was just about my age, the age I am right now as I sit typing this, alone in my apartment by the beach, unafraid, with the windows open and the door unlocked and the soft sea breeze wafting in over the smell of dinner cooking, of incense burning. She was twenty-seven. Now I’m twenty-seven.

I didn’t learn the story until she was sixty.

I like the way the essay progresses from a daughter trying to help her mother fill out a mental health form related to alcoholism and depression to a story about the last time the mother was truly happy. Her mother remembers when she was 27, when she was happy with her body, her job and her friends. And then, she says, “Of course, all that changed after the rape.” This line, this scene with the 27-year-old daughter and her 60-year-old mother, gives such shape and weight to the mental impact of rape. It silently touches on shame (why didn’t the mother tell her daughter about the rape earlier?), depression, feelings of self worth, and the way in which a statistic–one in four–has real life implications for mothers and daughters. — Alice

Manjula Martin’s “The Best Work in Literature,” on Virginia Quarterly Review‘s Blog

I’ve been writing about work lately–jobs, careers, passions–and so Manjula Martin’s essay really struck a chord with me when I came across it. She circles around themes that have been particularly plaguing me lately (as a post MFA graduate who’s patching together the “what next”): what it means to work as a writer, how to cope with the love/hate (okay, mostly hate) relationship with day jobs, the frustrating sense of feeling trapped by financial woes and then the acceptance when you realize you’ll never be able to quit your day job. So instead of stressing and complaining about it, you can use all that ranting energy to just…write.

“The Writing Life is one such fantasy,” Martin writes.

another is quitting your day job. Both scenarios imply there is something else—something more—for artists around the bend. Freedom, unfettered expression, fame. Legend, even. Take my high school-era hero: Emily Dickinson, hard at work at her little table, free from the bothers of having to earn a living (and an unseen maid hard at work cleaning up after her, no doubt). I know it’s not real for me, but also, even now, I believe in it a little.

From seamstress to server to secretary to copywriter and, of course, to writer–Martin entertainingly leads us through her various day jobs, all the while pontificating upon the writing life. — Amanda

Mira Ptacin’s Is a Baby a Luxury? in Guernica

Possibly the foremost question in my husband and my’s debate about whether to live in the U.S. or move back to his native Mexico is whether or not we could possibly afford to raise a baby in this country. And if we were wavering slightly, deluding ourselves into thinking it might be possible, Ptacin’s recent Guernica story nearly sealed the deal: we can’t support a family here. Both because it will not be financially possible for us to do so and live the kind of lifestyle we want to live – essentially, scraping by on less than $2500 a month, pursuing our careers without taking corporate jobs – and because we don’t believe in living in the kind of country in which health care for children and mothers is a matter of class.

But I’ll let Ptacin get into it, since she does it with just the right balance of anger and thoughtfulness. Her piece is both a personal essay about the life decisions that led her into motherhood, and the way in which these decisions – not to be completely consumed by a careerist pursuit of money and prestige and success; to live with more balance and with a greater connection to her husband (and soon, her child) – may simply not be possible or sustainable under the contemporary American system. This is what I, too, have found: in a country that fetishizes individuality, any move away from corporate-consumer culture towards a more independent lifestyle is punished, and the punishment is the health of children and mothers. Political campaigns repeat a saccharine chorus about family values, and yet pregnancy, as I learned from Ptacin, is often defined as a “preexisting medical condition” and an excuse to deny coverage.

I respect Ptacin’s willingness to take a stand without being strident or righteous. Political haranguing or moralistic finger-wagging are deadly in writing about issues like this, and she avoids both. Instead, she writes:

To me, the moral is clear: pregnant mothers should have the right to adequate prenatal care to ensure that they, and their developing babies, stay healthy through pregnancy and birth. All of us are better off when that is the case. All of us are worse off when that is not the case.

Which is why we’re moving back to Mexico. — Sarah

Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby

Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby is a book about threads, and a book made up of threads: “in the old way of saying it, tales were spun; they were threads that tied things together and from them the fabric of the world was woven.” Solnit spins familiar tales. Her mother gets old, and sick. She herself gets sick, and then well. A child falls down a well and is rescued, but ultimately her rescuer can’t rescue himself. An artist paints an escape route and sets himself free. Scheherazade tells her stories to save her own life and the lives of countless others. People die, or are born, or reborn.
‘All stories are really fragments of one story, the metamorphoses,’ Solnit tells us, and there’s an undertone of resignation or acceptance of this, of the slow march of time, the inevitability and invisibility of change: the soldier survives his war but is not the same man he was, and the cannons are melted down and reconstituted and eventually become a weapon for another war.

Read Miranda’s full review on Vela’s blog here.

Recent stories you might have missed on Vela:

Lauren Quinn on the race gap in publishing and at Vela.

Simone Gorrindo on moving from NYC to Columbus, Georgia and becoming an army wife.

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About Simone Gorrindo

Simone Gorrindo is a writer and editor currently based in Columbus, Georgia, where she lives with her husband, a soldier stationed at Fort Benning. She is a Contributing Editor at Vela and the former Senior Editor of Kindle Singles. Her work was recently included in Byliner's "102 Spectacular Nonfiction Stories from 2012." You can follow her on Twitter @SimoneGorrindo, and she can be reached at simonegorrindoATgmailDOTcom. Read her full bio here.

Thoughts?