Body Politics

Stephanie on Hammock by larry Miller.jpeg

When I came of age, free love, the anti-war movement, and women’s liberation simultaneously hit the streets.  And they wreaked havoc behind closed doors.  The advertising industry and lawmakers, male governors of body politics, means women’s issues have been always been co-opted.  Yet, thanks to other women, activists, story tellers, herbalists, and clandestine crones, I learned sovereignty over my own body.

It started in the sixties when I was introduced to the secret society of liberated midwestern women.  At a Love-In, for a few seconds, I was separated from my twenty-two year old husband.  With the sun at her back, a braless women in a loose T-shirt and jeans handed me a mimeographed flier.   Her buzzed hair bristled like an electric halo.  Without a drop of make-up on her boyish face, she looked right through my Sophia Loren painted eyes.  I folded the page in half and she said, “Open it.  Read it, now.  You need to know this.”

Satisfied with her mission when I opened the sheet, she walked to the next recipient.  Half the page was a primitive illustration of female body parts.  Shutting it very quickly, I waited a beat before peeking at the text, which described the intricacies of bringing one’s self to orgasm.  By the time I got to the part about intercourse and men being unnecessary, even a possible hindrance in achieving this natural wonder, my head felt like it had separated from the rest of me.  My husband’s firm hand placed upon my shoulder brought an end to the euphoria.

“Who was that woman,” he said, as I crammed the paper in my bag.

“Nobody.”  I held the purse to my chest.

“She looks like a troublemaker.  Do you know her?”

“Never saw her in my life.”

“What’d she give you?”


“Let me see it.”  He pushed his thick blonde hair behind his ears and gave me one of his famous eye-darting stares.

“No, it’s BY and FOR women.”

As efficient as a detective finding a gun on a dangerous suspect, he grabbed for my bag and pulled out the paper.  Initially, he did a double take at the drawing, but when he got to the meat of the information, he said, “We’re married and you’re hiding this from me?”

We had strong ideals: us against the Establishment, his identity as an artist and my role as the muse and homemaker, I had not begun to write and didn’t know myself any better than I knew him.  I stared at my feet while he stood firmly planted in this new territory, waiting for a response.  Risking pleasure, our marriage, and not ready to communicate, I took off for the middle of the Love-In with him a few steps behind, calling my name.

Photo credit: Larry Miller, Fluxus Artist, circa late 60’s

The Advocate


Two years ago, I met a curly-headed Adonis at a healer’s meeting and invited him to my memoir teacher’s annual Christmas party.  My date claimed to be a big kahuna in the energy treatment world, but when he came to pick me up, he creeped my out by going through my apartment like his body was carried by wheels instead of feet.

When we arrived in Brooklyn at Pat Willard’s house, quintessentially full of books and ideas, after a brief intro, he made a beeline through the entry hall, he wove through all the cooks in the busy kitchen, and found a dark corner in the pantry where he hid his bottle of wine.

Pouring himself a glass from the community table of alcohol, he revealed he was being thrown out of his living situation.  Pretty sure the way he infiltrated my apartment had been checking it out to see if there was room for him, I silently vowed to get through the evening by keeping my distance, not difficult because the party was a dreamscape for a gigolo.  He made the rounds to every unattached woman, but there were no takers.   At the end of the evening, Pat said, “Do I need to check his backpack for stolen belongings?”

At this year’s party, one of her guests, curious to see me with John, my boyfriend of ten months, politely remembered the gigolo as ‘interesting.’  Pat, my first advocate on men and writing, sequestered John and put him through the wringer, just in case he harbored less than honorable intentions.  Near the end of the evening, to a small group, she said, “Stephanie has to write,” as if it were my oxygen, my blood.  Her tone implied battling the demons of distraction for me, and if I didn’t write, the world would be a lesser place.

Like most obstacles I present to John, he took all this scrutiny in stride.  So that I can write at his house in Woodstock, he  created a sanctuary, a room of my own.  I hung a bunch of paintings around my desk, an intimate gallery consisting only of portraits.  I refer to them as The Thinkers.  Intense gazes can be a challenge to live with in bedrooms and kitchens, but in my writing space, their unflinching expressions exude courage, the support I need to reveal myself.

Unlike spending an evening with an aging gigolo, my relationship with John is rich in connection and promise.  But as if writing and love cannot exist in the same world, I find myself vehemently advocating for time alone without distraction.  John is innocent in this strife, generous and willing in the face of my selfish independence.  He might not understand what drives my passion, and prefers to be busier than I, but the real problem lies in these protests.  They serve only as distractions from the very thing for which I’m fighting: to write.

The above image is one of The Thinkers, by Robin Kappy