Texas. Images of cowboy boots, desert and oil rigs come to mind. That’s all I thought I’d find after moving here in high school. I never expected that my voice would blossom in a land that felt so dry and barren, so opposite the garden on the sea I called home. Texas gave me poetry.
In north Texas, it’s possible to find a poetry slam or open mic where people speak their truths uncensored almost any day of the week. There are academic readings of published writers, critique groups in coffee shops and collections of 20 or more people packed into living rooms laughing and giving each other writing prompts. My home lives in these words. My home is in this community.
My home is a place of cowboy boots, desert and oil rigs. Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the politics. We could reserve a spot in the parking lot of national news coverage and give it to someone wearing a suit who wields pen as weapon. That someone would probably be a man, considering the fact that 143 of 179 seats in our state legislature belong to men. In Texas, when Wendy Davis stood up (for 11 hours) to defend her rights and those of the people she represents, she was called a terrorist by her peers. Men’s repulsion at women speaking candidly is not limited to the Lone Star State. In Michigan, House Democrat Lisa Brown was banned from speaking for saying the word “vagina” because it was offensive to her male colleagues. VAGINA. The part of the anatomy that’s a little important when discussing abortion and regulating women’s bodies.
What is it about the female voice that is so threatening? Across the world, we are trained to ask permission for lips to express mind’s ideas. Often, we must tread carefully lest we upset husband, offend supervisor, give pause to someone who is more comfortable not knowing what we have to say. It is 2015, and the powers that be are still trying to keep us silent. Poetry is a vehicle that gives value to our words.
DRESS CODES is a project that brings women’s voices to the foreground. North Texas artists Tammy Gomez and Crystal Dozier invited about 50 women from three continents to share the experience of living in their bodies through poetry. The poets come from every walk of life. Educators, artists, nonprofiteers, and moms have all wielded their pens, along with 2010 Texas Poet Laureate Karla K. Morton. The poems are being printed onto fabric to create five Victorian-style dresses, visually reminiscing a time quite unkind to women, and contextually bringing them into the 21st century with their words. The dresses will be modeled by local women and girls ranging in age from eight to seven times that for exhibition in art galleries and festivals across the state. These are not the models we see on television who have bodies out of comic books. These are REAL women representing all the stages of life. The youngest, Julia, is in elementary school and will carry the effect of being in such an impactful project into adulthood. Celia Alvarez Muñoz, with the most life experience, is a renowned Chicana visual artist whose work was shown at the 1991 Whitney Biennial.
DRESS CODES is necessary. It is important. After waking up and turning on our phones, how many times are we made to feel inadequate in the privacy of our own homes? How many times, after leaving our house, does the world tell us we are not enough as we are, that we need more to be beautiful? DRESS CODES honors every part of us, celebrates the strength that is required just to get by in today’s world without the unearned privileges of manhood. The poems in DRESS CODES allow women the freedom to be funny and sad and upset without judgment. They shed light on injustices we face every day and spark dialogue about subjects that are often misunderstood or taboo. It forces others to recognize their biases and confront prejudices they may not have realized they had. DRESS CODES creates allies while telling us that our voices matter. Dominant patriarchal culture would have us believe our bodies exist only for pleasure and entertainment and that mouths shouting “Rebellion!” do not contribute to our virtue. Mario Benedetti wrote, “We are many more than two!” and DRESS CODES proves his words true. We are women, and we are many, and we will be heard.
DRESS CODES will make its debut in the land of cowboy boots, desert and oil rigs on March 28 at the second annual WILDCATTER EXCHANGE festival in Fort Worth. For more information and to support the project, please visit our Indiegogo campaign.