Guest post: An Open Letter to Sandy Bartky

My open letter to my friend, Sandy Bartky, on this sad day of her passing:

October 17, 2016
Dear Sandy,

Maya Angelou once said that there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. When you first entered my life, in my sophomore year of college, you validated so many feelings inside of me and so many perceptions that I held of the world around me. Your work on body image, feminism, oppression, objectification, performance, and power gave voice to the silent anger festering inside me and inside all women who are paying attention. You provided syntax and context to the story that I was bearing inside me and gave me words to let it out.

In college, I devoured your work like a starving child handed bits of food. I drowned myself in the complexity of your feminist theory, submerging my entire being into the pages of explanations of why we feel so inadequate, so disenfranchised, and so objectified. I pondered and questioned and wrote responses to your position on the fluidity of masculinity and femininity; I facilitated passionate debates on whether it was true or not that to be a feminist, one has first to become one. I used your work to introduce idealistic and naïve young students to the realities and legacies of oppression that most of the privileged elite will never experience. I used your work to teach empathy and to inspire understanding. I tried to give my young students skills and strength to rise up to fight the systemic oppression that you so eloquently described in two short sentences, but that explains the realities of a fog that settles upon many and is invisible, yet stifling to us in our daily lives – “One of the evils of a system of oppression is that it may damage people in ways that cannot always be undone. Patriarchy invades the intimate recesses of personality where it may maim and cripple the spirit forever.”

So to have the chance to meet you in person twenty years after first reading your work was an honor and privilege. I expected you to be impressive and smart. I expected you to be well-read and politically savvy. What I did not expect was your ability to make me feel so loved, so quickly; to feel so welcome each time we met, and to be held so tightly each time you hugged me goodbye. I did not expect for us to go so deep into our histories and to share so meaningfully. I did not expect to find in you a confidante and a mentor and for that, please know that my gratitude extends beyond anything that can be explained in this letter. I thought that we would have more time together and that we would finish so many of the conversations that we have only just begun. I thought that I would finish the rest of my writing so that I could share it with you and you would see your influence within the sentences and your touch within the paragraphs.

I accept now that we will not have that time together on earth. So I leave you with this letter as a small expression of my gratitude for the myriad of ways that you have influenced my life, my work, and my being. You said in the introduction of one of your books that you had hoped that your work be consciousness raising, but also be an instrument for political intervention. Please know that you have succeeded. You have made a difference and that the feminists that you helped to create will nurture, mentor, and support the next generation and the one after that… for years to come. You gave us the tools and we will take it from here. Rest well my sweet friend. May you find on the other side the peace, the love, the equality and everything that you’ve fought for here on earth. Thank you for the love that you have shown to me and for the lessons that you have taught me. Few have been as influential, directly or indirectly, in contributing to the woman that I have become. I love you and I will miss you.

Until we meet again,
Juliet L. Rogers, PHD, MPH
Asst Professor, University of Michigan