Growing up inside the patriarchy as a cis-gender male, the world taught me to objectify women and girls. This despite the fact that my favorite people were the women responsible for much of my upbringing, my mother and grandmother. When I listened to hip hop, the view of women was either derogatory or, at best, patronizing. TV commercials and movies featured women only as secondary characters as window dressing to the male gaze. I’ve been a musician my whole life. Somewhere, I learned to compare the hips of a woman to the pleasurably curvilinear shape of the instruments I played: the violins, basses, and guitars. Generally, the world had a difficult time passing the Bechdel Test. So did I. The world told me to see my sisters from the outside in. So I did.
Then one day, well into adulthood, I came across Lucille Clifton’s “homage to my hips.” I’d spent my life as an objectifier without realizing it. In the way that only a wonderful poem can, Ms. Clifton’s poem rearranged the furnishings of my mind. All of a sudden, I understood what I was missing, the great chasm between us (men) and them (women) was self-created, non-existent, the product of a failure to care. “Hips” was a declaration of agency in a strong, clear, voice. The connection between the strong women I admired and the countless women I failed to see. Clifton cut through my fog and allowed me to understand the object was actually the subject, the protagonist of her own story, and probably much more interesting than me.
“these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top”
Maurice Carlos Ruffin is a graduate of the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop and a member of the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance and the Melanated Writers Collective. Some of his work has appeared in Kenyon Review, Callaloo, Massachusetts Review, The Pinch Journal, The Knicknackery, Scars: An Anthology, and Unfathomable City: a New Orleans atlas edited by Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedecker. Maurice has work forthcoming in AGNI, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Situate Magazine. He is the winner of the 2014 Iowa Review Fiction Award, the 2014 So to Speak Journal Short Story Award and the 2014 William Faulkner Competition for Novel in Progress. Maurice was the recipient of the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop thesis prize in 2013 and the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2015.