Adrienne Rich, poet and essayist, died last week at 82; she was a forthright and inspirational voice for women struggling to describe the change many sought during the '60s and early '70s.
In these words from "Transcendental Etudes", Rich offers her vision of self-responsibility as it pertains to women:
“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you...it means that you do not treat your body as a commodity with which to purchase superficial intimacy or economic security; for our bodies to be treated as objects, our minds are in mortal danger. It means insisting that those to whom you give your friendship and love are able to respect your mind. It means being able to say, with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre: 'I have an inward treasure born with me', which can keep me alive if all the extraneous delights should be withheld or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.
Responsibility to yourself means that you don't fall for shallow and easy solutions, predigested books and ideas, marrying early as an escape from real decisions, getting pregnant as an evasion of already existing problems.
It means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short...and this, in turn, means resisting the forces in society which say that women should be nice, play safe, have low professional expectations, drown in love and forget about work, live through others, and stay in the places assigned to us. It means that we insist on a life of meaningful work, insist that work be as meaningful as love and friendship in our lives. It means, therefore, the courage to be "different"...The difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies, is an immense difference.
Once we begin to feel committed to our lives, responsible to ourselves, we can never again be satisfied with the old, passive way.”
Her words do not seem like artifacts of another era; they have life and power today.
Tributes abound. Artist Lisa Congdon's blog, today is going to be awesome, shows her hand-lettered rendering of a section of Rich's poem, "Sources", long an important piece to me. (Congdon also sells her work on Etsy, at her store, Lisa Congdon Illustration & Art.)
She has permitted me to share her work here, in memory of Rich's gifts and courage.