Guernica Magazine

Letters to Mothers: Crones, Hags, Witches, and Killjoys

Mother’s Day is a joke we are all in on, and yet it continues—straight-faced, deadly serious, and poisoned. The post Letters to Mothers: Crones, Hags, Witches, and Killjoys appeared first on Guernica.
Illustration: Ansellia Kulikku.

Crones, Hags, Witches, and Killjoys consists of short letters between two writers/mothers/feminist co-conspirators in Portland, Oregon, as part of an ongoing conversation we’re having—not just with each other, but with artists, activists, and troublemakers across time and space. This two-year dialogue delves into sexism (institutional and internalized), ambition, ambivalence, capitalism, motherhood, art-making, child-free-ness, selfishness, self-sacrifice, backlash, and the many uses of rage.

There will be no more ink for pedophiles and cock-waggers. We must archive women’s voices. In response to current national conversations about abortion, equal pay, domestic labor disparities, transmisogyny, sexual harassment, and assault, we are spotlighting the witches, killjoys, crones, spinsters, dykes, and nasty women who have been calling bullshit on misogyny for a long, long time.

The authors dedicate this piece to those who have lost their rights to abortion in Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio (and the list grows).


It was supposed to say “Great Artist” on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say “such a good teacher/daughter/friend” instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is FUCK YOU ALL. 

The Woman Upstairs (Claire Messud)

4 December 2017

Dear LZ,

We met in a windowless classroom almost exactly five years ago. We both had jumbo milk lumps where our dry breasts used to peacefully exist inside our garments. I was bleeding; we were both healing from our stitches and stretches. Our kids were infants, six weeks apart. I brought my daughter to your grad fiction workshop and nursed her, through your firm and steady voice managing some guy across the table from me trying to turn every conversation into a battle of wits. He quoted Borges and inserted himself into things rather than asking questions; sharp elbows, condescending smile, summer scarf, dumb mustache, vacant. I remember you gently reminding this dude, a few times, to turn in a writing sample as part of the requirement you set for undergraduates entering the course. You seemed unsurprised when he stopped showing up. He was working on his novel. We were lady writers raising babies and asserting our space within a world of self-obsessed men who were alternately blind to our circumstances and happy to scrutinize us.

When I sit down to write you these letters—in the long tradition of women scribbling away their “dirty” thoughts, furiously, like polishing silver to reveal mirrors for each other—a polyvocality provokes and pushes phantom words from silent throat to keyboard. I am not alone. We are not proud of our singular and original thoughts. They are all for other women. They are all for each other. Our legacy is that of finger-wavers and plate-smashers—bitchy and bruised from a distance, but wise and determined in our eyes—who say, “It would be a great time for men, basically, to go on vacation. There isn’t enough work for everybody. Certainly in the arts, in all genres, I think that men should step away. I think that men should stop writing books. I think that men should stop making movies or television. Say, for 50 to 100 years,” like Eileen Myles did. I also think of Jessica Hopper, Yoko Ono, Rebecca Solnit, Bernadette Mayer, Kathy Acker, Kathleen Hanna, Lee Miller, Marguerite Duras, Sabina Spielrein, Angela Davis, Vanessa Bell, Aileen Wuornos, Doris Lessing, Sara Ahmed…the roll call of our dreams to counteract the nightmares of “jobs” and jobs filled with the grime and sludge of a toxic masculinity we have barely begun uncovering. It is a brutal red winter of our feminine discontent; our bodies left out in the cold. Here’s to the cover crop of crones, hags, dykes, witches, and killjoys who went hoarse screaming out for a revolution

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