Ask three people about Angela Davis, and you’ll probably get four or five different descriptions.
Feminist? Communist? Criminal? Scholar? Vice Presidential Candidate?
If nothing else, she’s a #blaxit superstar. Her escape and the wisdom she brought back had a powerful impact on societal discourse in the United States.
Born black and female in Birmingham, Alabama in 1944, Angela’s life might have been brief and violent. She knew the four girls killed in the Birmingham Church bombing in 1963.
You’d have to ask Angela if she participated in a Junior Year Abroad in order to escape America, or to expand her own mind.
The experience certainly informed much of her life. According to Alice Kaplan, Angela’s time in France transformed herself, and “in turn transformed the cultural and political life of the United States”.
Kaplan’s book, Dreaming in French takes a look at the lives of three American women whose time outside of the United States influenced the rest of their lives.
Here’s an article featuring Angela that should be required reading for intelligent, empowered women considering an escape abroad.
Dreaming in French: On Angela Davis
“…once women begin thinking about sexual pleasure, things get particularly terrifying. It begins with sexual parity and ends… where? What will women want after orgasmic equality? Equal opportunity? Equal pay? Equality, full stop? (Answer: All of the above.)”
Sarah MacLean’s article in Bustle, “Bashing Romance Novels is Just Another Form of Slut-Shaming” gave me life. She looks at why this genre is looked down upon, and quite honestly, feared.
I’ve been telling stories since before I could write. A lot of the stories I’ve written since my teen years have been romances, of varying heat levels. Writing nourishes my soul, but I’ve been reluctant to share my most powerful work.
Why? Good girls don’t read or write about sex. Truly good girls don’t even think about it.
But there’s a problem with that concept: Sex is important. Sex is power. Our approach to sex and our own sexuality is formed by and informs how we view the world and exist within it. MacLean put words to something I’ve felt, and need to express through my writing:
It’s very difficult to be fulfilled when we reject or are ashamed of part of who we are. I want my readers to see themselves in my work – both who they already are, and who they could be. I hope my readers are entertained, but also inspired when my characters aren’t ashamed of enjoying sex, and believe that their sexual partner’s pleasure is important.
All genres aren’t for everyone. But it’s important to recognize that each genre has something for someone. When we mock a category of art, we may discourage someone from finding the inspiration they need in their own lives. We’re also saying something about our own constructs. In mocking romance, are we saying that a woman who embraces her sexuality should be ashamed? Are we saying that women should squeeze themselves into a mold that accepts less? Less curiosity, less pleasure, less self-determination?
I think we’re beyond that, don’t you?
circa 1930: American singer and exotic dancer Josephine Baker (1906 – 1975), of the Parisian Folies Bergere, poses in one of her many elaborate costumes. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw”.
Time Magazine called her a “Negro wench”.
Most people just call her Josephine Baker.
After leaving the US at 19, she rose to fame in the City of Lights, eventually becoming the most famous American entertainers in Europe. While she was at the right place at the right time, Art Deco influences and interest in non-European art, Josephine’s willingness to take risks, to step out before conditions were perfect, was what allowed her to free herself from the painful experiences she had back home.
The Ziegfeld Follies came calling in 1936, and Josephine returned to the US, only to encounter virulent racism, as expressed in the quote above. What else could she do but return to France?
She fought for her country of adoption, working as a spy for the Free French during WWII. Her efforts gained her one of France’s highest honors, the Legion of Honor. But her allegiance to the difficulties faced by American blacks remained. She supported the Civil Rights Movement, even speaking beside Martin Luther King, Jr. Though France remained her home until her passing.
Josephine is an inspiration as an artist, an expat, a philanthropist and a mother.
If you should find yourself in Paris, don’t forget to stop by Josephine Baker Square in the 14th arrondissement, or go for a swim in her piscine in the 13th.
Learn a little more about her here.