someone is calling me
but who would remember me
mokoš said i would know when the time is right
it has been so long
no trace of my beauty remains
i still have the silver thread
it is here in my hand
i am not trapped in this rock
all i have to do is unspool the thread
Mokoš said i would know when
when i was ready
Mokoš helped me
she said i would know
when it was time
The Eagle and the Wolf
Huntington, West Virginia
Dr. Valerie Kohout looked out over the expectant faces before her and sighed. Every semester was the same. Another introductory women's studies class; another crop of dewy-eyed freshmen hoping to change the world; another smattering of cynical seniors looking to fill out their graduation requirements with a gut class.
Once in a great while – perhaps once every five hundred students or so – she would run across one who understood. One who was more interested in changing minds one at a time than changing the world all at once. One who was willing to be satisfied with the sorts of incremental changes that were the true victories in this work. One who would consider it progress to simply make people think.
Dr. Kohout had long since given up on accomplishing real, meaningful change, just as she had given up on getting anything out of teaching this introductory class other than getting through it. Yes, she had published; yes, she had gained respect in her field; and yet the university had withheld tenure, on the grounds that she had neither published enough nor brought in enough grant money to justify their keeping her permanently. Six years she had labored here, garnering national notice to Marshall University's Women's Studies Department – an unlikely enough setting for a serious women's studies program, on the edge of West Virginia's coal country – and yet, here she was, still teaching introductory women's studies to mostly uncaring students.
Who were still looking at her expectantly.
She sighed again. Then she pasted on a smile, and began. Her standard opening-day spiel rolled off her tongue as if she were on autopilot – which, to a large degree, she was.
"This is W121, Introductory Women's Studies," she told the students. "If you were looking for a class with no homework, I'd advise you to drop this class and sign up for phys ed." The students laughed; a few had the grace to look somewhat abashed. "If you were hoping to learn here how to start a revolution," she continued, "try Latin American history." A few faces hardened. They never want to hear the truth, she reflected, but pushed on.
"If you're still with me," she said, "welcome. We'll be spending a lot of time this semester defining women's place in America and in the world today. Our readings will focus on where we are, and how we got here. Some of it will be dry statistical data – unavoidably so. Some of it will be political, and some of it will be male-bashing – so guys, brace yourselves." Another smattering of laughter. "But most of it will be entertaining, and, I hope, enlightening."
She began distributing a stack of copies to the students sitting in the first row, indicating they should take one and pass the rest back. "This is the syllabus. You will note that the assignments are heavy on writing. The midterm and the final will be essay tests. In addition, you will be required to write a five-page paper on a women's issue of your choice. The paper is due two weeks before the final, so you have all semester to put it off." She expected the laughter, but arched her brows at it anyway as she began passing out another, thicker stack of handouts.
"The bookstore does not yet have all of the texts in stock. I am told that they are on order and will be here by next week. So in the meantime, we will begin with the readings in the handout that's coming to you now. It includes several versions of one of the first skirmishes in the war between the sexes.
"I would like for you to keep a journal of your thoughts on all of the readings. Yes, it will be graded. And as class participation will make up another portion of your grade, your journal entries will be enormously helpful to you in organizing your thoughts prior to the class discussions. Please start your journal with a few paragraphs on this handout. I will not be too concerned about the length of your journal entries; I'll be looking more at quality than quantity." She glanced at the clock. "Questions? No? Okay, I'll let you go early today. Hope to see you all back here on Wednesday. Come prepared for discussion."
She waited while the students filed out of the classroom, then picked up the leftover handouts and her other materials and headed back to her office. Admittedly it was early days, but she had seen no indication that any of these students would be one of those one-in-five-hundred keepers. It was going to be another long semester.
Maggie Ransome sprawled on her dorm bed and kicked off her shoes. Well, she'd been warned about taking Kohout's class and she'd signed up anyway. What a cold fish! The rigid posture, the hard-edged Northern accent, the brittle look she gave when people laughed at her joke. She seemed so angry! And not exactly engaged with the material. At best, Maggie could tell, she was just going through the motions today.
Here Maggie had been thinking about majoring in Women's Studies, but if this professor was any indication of the department's faculty overall, she might have to change her mind. Oh well, maybe things would get better, once they began discussing the readings. Otherwise it was going to be a long semester.
She pulled out the handout and flipped through it. It contained three stories, all titled "The Maidens' War". The first one was by somebody with an unpronounceable name but translated, thank God, from Czech into English. The last two looked like they might be different versions of the first.
What was she supposed to put in her journal? Which version of the legend she thought was most plausible? Or her reaction to the legend overall? The professor had given them so little guidance.
The door opened and Maggie's roommate, Sidney Stone, came in. Sidney dropped her books on her own bed and sank down dramatically, back of wrist to forehead. Maggie grinned at her. "Long first day, huh?"
"You said it," Sidney said. "Whatever possessed me to schedule six straight hours of classes, anyway? I might as well be back in high school. How was your class?"
"Well, Jenny and them were right," Maggie said in her soft Appalachian twang. "I should never have signed up for a class with Kooky Kohout. She looked like she wanted to be anywhere but in our classroom today. Why do people keep teaching when they don't want to be teachers?"
She glanced up as Jenny Gregg passed by and, hearing her name, stopped in their doorway. "Maximum annoyance factor for the students," Jenny said as she leaned against the door frame. "I really don't know why Kohout is still here. The department's grand poobahs aren't going to offer her tenure. They think she's too radical."
"Well, judging by our first reading assignment, they may have a point," Maggie said, waving the handout.
Jenny took the packet and glanced over the top page. "Ah yes, the Girls' War," she said. "She trots this out every year. Have you read it yet?"
"I'd just started to when Sidney came in."
Jenny handed the packet back to Maggie. "Brace yourself. It gets pretty graphic."
"Oh, great," Maggie said. "Wonderful."
"Welcome to college," Sidney said with a laugh.
"Jenny," Maggie said, "you're a Women's Studies major, right? Are all the professors in the department like Professor Kohout?"
Jenny waved her arms in dismissal. "No, not at all. That's what I'm saying. Everybody else is really nice. Really easy to get to know. It's too bad that they give Kohout all the intro courses – I think she scares a lot of people away."
"Because I was thinking about majoring in Women's Studies," Maggie began.
"Well," Sidney broke in, "I'm thinking about dinner. You ladies interested?"
"You bet," Maggie said. "I'm starving."
"Just let me get my meal ticket and I'll come with you guys," Jenny said. Then to Maggie again, "Is she making you do a journal?"
"Yeah, and I have no earthly idea what to put in it," Maggie said.
Jenny smiled. "Write down a lot of objections and doubts," she advised. "The more hopeless you sound, the better. Kohout really goes for that."
Maggie grinned. "Hopeless. Got it."