Give Us Bread But Give Us Roses, Too

‘Bread and Roses,’ the Judy Collins version, has been on repeat in my iPod, mind and soul for a while now. This song, based on a 1911 poem by James Oppenheim, is really speaking to me right now. It became a suffragette and working class anthem back in the day. Now, as we gear up for another election next year and look around at the grim political and economic landscape of our country and our planet in general, this song pops out as call for people to vote for hope. I’m seeing a lot of positives to point out as well. One thing that has got me grinning is the wonderful influx of female content out there. From TV and the Internet to films and music, there is a major girl moment happening right now. A moment celebrating not just the gains we’ve made over the years, but celebrating a very feminine version of this empowerment.

Back to the song. “Bread and Roses” was a poem inspired by a 1912 Mill Workers strike. During the protest, a group of women workers carried banners proclaiming, “Give us Bread but give us Roses.” This was a beautifully poetic presentation of the demands of women workers for equal pay together with the belief that the world and its abundance belongs to all of us – not only to a privileged few. These women weren’t content with improvements in the bare necessity of life and work: they wanted opportunities to enjoy their lives and families, to find beauty in the world and to be treated with dignity and respect. We want equality and we want beauty!

The lyrics go like this:

As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,

A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,

Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,

For the people hear us singing: Bread and Roses! Bread and Roses!

As we go marching, marching, we battle too for men,

For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.

Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;

Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.

As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead

Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread.

Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.

Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.

As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,

The rising of the women means the rising of the race.

No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,

But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses, bread and roses.

Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;

Hearts starve as well as bodies; bread and roses, bread and roses.

See, beautifully powerful, right? They were saying they wanted equality AND beauty/love/family. Bread and Roses is a metaphor for the two aspects of caring for others and ourselves. Without both, life is not whole. We need to care for body and soul, physical and spiritual. I suppose this especially resonates with me right now. As a mom of two youngins, I’m trying to find the balance between family and work, between mothering while still nurturing all that makes me… ME! I’m finding that these two  things aren’t mutually exclusive but that I also ain’t gonna kill myself trying to do it all! Bread and Roses people, I sing for Bread and Roses!

I was watching the amazing Gloria Steinem doc on HBO and she said, “Hope is a form of planning.” I love that. She said it and I jumped out of my seat in recognition. As an overly earnest, non- witty girl, this meant something real to me. In the last decade, witticism and frivolity were heavy-handed in the land of the culturally relevant hipster. I think this is mostly cool, but as someone who has been labeled completely “unfunny”, it was a dialogue that I couldn’t participate in. Lately I see a trend, though. It’s a tender, soft, epicene trend. Sometimes a bit too cupcake and macaroon heavy for my taste, but a best friend loving, pro-girl, anti-competitive trend nonetheless. I guess the other main quality I’m spotting in this trend is hopefulness, an optimism that is buoyant with expectation. Not the gloomy, despondent grumpster of the last decade.  It’s just plain positive and I love this. As a firm believer in the transformative power of the positive, I want to celebrate this new bias with you all! I know, I know, some people are hemming and hawing. They feel that some of this girly current is “infantilizing” women, or that celebrating the fluffy pink in all of us is somehow holding back the movement. I say “no way” to this.

People, it takes all kinds – we all gotta let our freak flag fly and be whatever kind of woman/girl/feminist we wanna be. If that means wearing knee socks and headbands, great! If that means wearing pants and suspenders and a pork pie hat, awesome. If that means you’re a jeans and t-shirt kinda gal, wonderful! If  sports are your passion or  cupcakes, My So-Called Life, Car Talk or fashion shows.  We have to represent in whatever way is true each one of us. From what we wear, to what we love to who we love and how we love em! To me, a feminist is someone who believes in equal rights for all  men and women – simple as that.

I’m going to be bold and get onboard with the thought that we are in an upswing of a pro-girl new kind of feminism.  A movement toward celebrating BFF’s and away from fostering competition between girls. I believe strongly in the idea that the personal is the political. That if people treated their own life as litmus for how we’d like society to be, the world would be a much better place. Sometimes we get bogged down in the bigness of the world’s troubles. One thing each one of us can do is to act consciously in our everyday lives. This goes for everything from parenting and being green to voting and random acts of kindness. It’s a small idea with big ramifications. Ya know, think globally, act locally, etc etc.

I am heartened as a lifelong feminine feminist to see sites like HelloGiggles, Rookie, Stylelikeu and Tales of Endearment; bloggers like Tavi from Stylerookie, Rebecca from Girls Gone Child; magazines like Lula; filmmakers like Miranda July and Lena Dunham; fashion designers like Rodarte, Erin Fetherston, Rachel Antonoff, Vena Cava, to name just a few. These gals, in different ways, all celebrate the uber-feminine and pro-girl.  I’m a fan of unapologetically over-the-top vulnerability, emotional honesty, pro-BFF, pro-healthy body image, Pro- ruffle, sparkle, and glitter but also pro-nerd, pro-girl . It may not be the biggest step but it’s an important one. As we look back at the prevalent cooler than thou, hipster, non-emotional, cynical paradigm, I’m heartened to see an upswing of earnest, smart, caring, silly, emotional art, music, and culture.

The super awesome Cezanne Colvin notes that this kind of female dialogue is anything but the rejection of femininity. “It is about embracing that femininity and asking that the world embrace it the way they have embraced masculinity for most of our history. It is about ensuring that women always have both a choice and a voice.” Seems to me that the aforementioned lady crusaders are doing just that. Lending one more voice to the feminist movement. (Read Cezanne’s excellent Hello Giggles Article “I’m Not A Feminist, But..”) Civil rights movements take time. Sadly, it can take 100 years of fighting and defining to see important gains.

When the feminist movement began, it was important to prove that women could do all the same things as men. We could be as tough, we could put career first, we could be as manly as the men! Little by little, things have changed, thanks to the hard work, pounding of the streets and tireless hours put in by our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Now we are reaping the benefits and can be both mothers and career women, we can be vulnerable and badass simultaneously, We can dress up and still take charge and we can giggle, gossip and be girly and still be whip smart, intellectual and political.

So, I’m not saying anything you don’t already know. I’m not proclaiming that we are the new feminist movement but I do want to recognize and tip my hat to all you girly girls out there, promoting the sweetness and the light, by celebrating all that is super girly and super smart. For all of us who wade in the contradictions, embrace them and forge forward holding the hands of our sisters, daughters, BFFs, mothers and grandmothers in a new kind of female identified flouncy feminism! HUZZAH! Now, I guess the question remains: can we do it all without dropping dead from exhaustion? Herein lies the new frontier to be forged!

Maximilla and I made a little film celebrating all our (S)heroes It’s called  “God Ain’t Gonna Put It In Your Lap”. You can watch it HERE.

Bread and Roses ladies! Bread and Roses!



P.S. As I’m writing this, there are people occupying Wall Street a few blocks away. Looking at the suffragette images, listening to “Bread and Roses”, thinking about all the struggles over the many many years, makes me so proud of all those braves souls down there! We are heading down once I sent this in. And the beat goes on…