ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for essays, poetry, fiction, comics, and artwork by women and non-binary people that engage with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence.
The series runs every Tuesday afternoon. Each week we will highlight different voices and stories.
1. It is often said that one of humanity’s greatest advantages is our ability to create and control fire. Darwin believed this was what made humans superior to other animals.
2. Fire, though, was difficult for early humans to produce. Once achieved, a blaze was kept alive for days or weeks at a time.
3. In sixth-century China, foraging for firewood could be dangerous for women. When the men went to fight, the women who remained had to make the most of a limited fuel supply. The first match was born when one of these women combined sulfur and pinewood.
4. The Vikings used flint and steel to make fire. In one Viking story, the widow Hildigunnur avenges her husband’s death by enlisting another man to burn the killer’s home. First, though, all women, including the man’s wife, were invited to leave. The wife refused.
5. Joan of Arc was nineteen years old when the English burned her at the stake in Rouen. Her body was set on fire three times to ensure only ash remained.
6. During the seventeenth century, a Hamburg alchemist accidentally discovered phosphorus. He could have used the substance to create modern matches, but instead he exhausted his wife’s fortune attempting to forge various metals into gold.
7. Around that same time in the Netherlands, the bodies of sixty-four witches, most of them women, were burned to death over a period of thirty days.
8. Two hundred years after phosphorus was discovered, a Frenchman created a paper matchstick. But the invention, which involved exposing an explosive phosphorous compound to air by shattering a glass bulb, was far too dangerous and expensive for common use.
9. The Chinese sulfur matches were known as “light-bringing slaves.”
10. The first American woman to fight fires was a slave named Molly Williams. Her wealthy owner lent her to a Manhattan firefighting company as a helper and cook. During the winter of 1818, a blizzard struck the city. While most of the Oceanus Engine Company was sick with the flu, Williams hauled the company’s heavy pumper through the deep snowdrifts.
11. The first mass-produced phosphorus matches were sold in London in the 1830s. They quickly became popular for home use, so to supplement factory production women were hired to make matches in their apartment kitchens.
12. Women’s fashion at the time favored hoop skirts and diaphanous fabrics that rendered the female body an ethereal softness. The garments were also highly flammable. In a world before electric light, it was not uncommon for women to burst into flames when they came into contact with a stove, a gas lamp, a candle, or a cigarette.
13. Fanny Longfellow, wife of Henry Longfellow, burned to death as her children watched when her dress caught fire in the library of their home. Oscar Wilde’s two half-sisters died a few years later when one of the sisters’ dresses caught fire at a party and burst into flames. The other sister tried to help and instead caught fire herself.
14. The white phosphorus used to make matches was highly poisonous, causing severe facial deformities in the workers who produced them. Many women had to have their entire lower jaw removed. The substance was finally outlawed in 1888 after the London Matchgirls’ Strike.
15. The super-powered fuel that helped launch the first US satellite into orbit was invented by rocketry pioneer Mary Sherman Morgan. She wanted to call her highly flammable propellant “Bagel,” since to work it needed to be paired with liquid oxygen, known as “LOX.” The US Army rejected the name.
16. Trauma victims are said to have the violent incident “burned in their brains.” During confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology, described the phenomenon. She testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the laughter of her attackers was “indelible in the hippocampus.”
17. Every hour, an Indian woman is killed by her husband when he sets fire to her body. In 2015, a Bangalore woman threw her burning body at the man who had, with his mother’s help, doused her in accelerant and set her alight. The woman was discovered abandoned on the steps outside her home. She died three days later.
18. In a photolithograph, artist Sue Coe depicts Anita Hill being burned at the stake as members of the Judiciary Committee watch.
19. After Molly Williams’s service, the men of the Oceanus Engine Company called her “Volunteer No. 11,” a moniker meant to recognize her heroism. More than a century and a half later, in 1982, a class-action discrimination lawsuit on behalf of four hundred and ten women mandated that the New York City Fire Department allow women to serve.
20. A woman was arrested in Philadelphia in 2018 for attempting to set fire to an American flag. Among the charges brought against her was “risking a catastrophe.”
21. Darwin believed the other characteristic that set humans apart is our use of language. In an experiment, a scientist taught a chimp named Moses words in different languages. The word Moses learned best was “feu,” French for “fire.”
22. Four hundred years after the Qi dynasty fell, the Chinese sulfur match was attributed to a single “ingenious man.” “At the slightest touch of fire,” a ninth-century Chinese historian wrote in his book Records of the Unworldly and the Strange, “they burst into flame.”
In the 1970s, Hustler magazine posted a picture of a woman’s face with a pussy for a mouth. When asked about the picture, they issued the following statement:
There are those who say that illogic is the native tongue of anything with tits… It comes natural to many broads, just like rolling in shit is natural for dogs… They speak not from the heart but from the gash, and chances are that at least once a month your chick will stop you dead in your tracks with a masterpiece of cunt rhetoric… The one surefire way to stop those feminine lips from driving you crazy is to put something between them—like your cock, for instance.
Cock: A male bird. A penis. Nonsense. A firing lever in a gun in order to be released by the trigger.
I’m seven years old and a boy who lives on my street is babysitting me. I tell him my grandpa won a Purple Heart in WWII and he tells me to go get it he wants to see it he doesn’t believe me so I do and then he sticks it down his pants and tells me I won’t get it back unless I reach down and get it and boy won’t my mom be mad if I lose it so I do because I’m scared my mom will be mad at me and my small hands push down his pants and into his underwear and I felt something harden against my hands as I grabbed the metal heart and as I do he pulls his penis out. He tells me to put my mouth on it or he’ll tell my mom and grabs the back of my head and pushes my face down and he tells me ssshhh, shut up.
Purple Hearts are awarded to American soldiers that are injured by a “hostile act of force.” Purple Hearts are not given to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Purple Hearts are not given to eight-year-old girls protecting Purple Hearts during a hostile act of force.
When I was a little girl, my mother would kneel next to my bed and sing my songs about cowboys and horses caught in wildfires and I would close my eyes and listen to her voice, all the while wondering if the horses were dying. Did the horses die, Mamma? Did they? Ssshhh, she sang, ssshhh.
A man I had never met before approached me at a bar and invited me and my friends to a party so we went because the bar was closing and when we got to his apartment he cornered me in his kitchen and offered me a red plastic cup full of beer from his refrigerator and even poured it for me. I thought how nice and in hindsight I thought how stupid of me and when he whispered in my ear like an angry animal wanna have sex in the bathroom? everything went black when my face met the floor and I woke up in a bathroom naked on the tile and he was forcing himself inside of me over and over again and when I thought he was finally done two of his friends entered the bathroom and locked the door behind them and the last thing I heard was she’s just a stupid cunt.
The etymology of the word “cunt” derives from Latin “cuneus” (wedge) or “gwen” which is the root of the word “queen.”
Queen, female ruler of a state, woman, an honored woman.
A rape kit is called “processing evidence.” A medical examiner will collect evidence including pubic hair, semen, skin cells, and any other physical traces left on and inside a victim’s body. The medical examiner told me to relax. The medical examiner told me she can’t do what needs to be done if I don’t relax. The medical examiner told me to stop talking.
I couldn’t move for five days afterward because my body was bruised and swollen and my son didn’t know what was wrong with me and I told him Mommy fell down and hurt herself and he believed me because he was only four years old and he brought me cookies and he brought me his stuffed animals to watch over me while I slept and I never wanted to wake up again but the monkey named Fred was giving me this look like get your shit together and I wanted my mamma to sing to me about cowboys and horses burning in wildfires.
Horse experts agree to never ever turn a horse loose during a wildfire. Horses in the wild will always react to fear by running. A horse will die within minutes if a barn catches on fire. A horse will break its own leg to try to escape.
The DA told the detective working my case there wasn’t enough evidence to take my case to trial. The detective stared hard at me. The detective asked me if there was anything I wanted to say. I told him thank you for listening to me. I told him thank you for believing me.
It takes approximately two to three hours for a human body to consumed by fire. What’s left behind is a three- to four-pound (on average) pile of ash and fragments of bone. A fire will continue to burn through flesh and bone and ash even when it appears dead.
Tell me how you would run through a fire. Tell me about the sparks picking apart your clothes your skin your hair until there was nothing left. Tell me how you wouldn’t hear any more ssshhhs and no one would be forcing your head down no one would be forcing themselves on you, in you. Tell me about the sound of your feet and how it would be the only noise as they crushed the rough buffalo grass pushing its way up from the earth until you turned around and saw that you had run for so long the fires had all burned into nothing and yet there you were
no longer running
watching the fires catch on fire from behind you.
Works Cited for “On Fire”:
Adler, Jerry. “Why Fire Makes Us Human.” Smithsonian Magazine, June 2013.
Cole, Adam. “Phosphorus Starts With Pee in this Tale of Scientific Serendipity.” NPR, 2 February 2016.
Cyran, Pamela and Chris Gaylord. “The 20 Most Fascinating Accidental Inventions.” The Christian Science Monitor, 5 October 2012.
“The Death of Mrs. Longfellow.” The New York Times, 12 July 1861.
Dresen-Coenders, Lène. “The Covenant of Witch and Devil.” Het verbond van heks en duivel, p. 227.
Eschner, Kat. “Friction Matches Were a Boon to Those Lighting Fires—Not So Much to Matchmakers.” Smithsonian Magazine, 27 November 2017.
Fried, Joseph. “Women Win Ruling on Fire Department Test.” The New York Times, 6 March 1982.
Hansen, Bert. “Henning Brandt and the Discovery of Phosphorus.” Science History Institute, Distillations, 30 July 2019.
Heigel, Taylor and Bill McKenna. “Remembering the US’s First Female Rocket Scientist.” BBC, 17 July 2013.
“How the Vikings Make Fire with Flint and Steel – Lofotr Viking Museum (2006).” YouTube, uploaded by Geir Are Johansen, 29 August 2009.
“Iceland—and the Change of Faith.” London Quarterly Review, Volume CXL, New York: Leonard Scott & Co., 1862, p. 73.
Koutsoukis, Jason. “India Burning Brides and Ancient Practice is on the Rise.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January 2015.
Liddick, Caroline. “Matchgirls Strike.” BBC America.
Miles, H. Lyn. “Symbolic Communication With and By Great Apes.” The Mentalities of Gorillas and Orangutans, Sue Taylor Parker, Robert W. Mitchell and H. Lyn Miles, eds. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 197.
Needham, Joseph. Science and Civilisation in China Volume 4: Physics and Physical Technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, P. 70.
Nudson, Rae. “A History of Women Who Burned to Death in Flammable Dresses.” Racked, 19 December 2017.
Otis, Ginger Adams. “Molly Williams, a black woman and a slave, fought fires years before the FDNY was formed was a pioneer for fellow female smoke eaters.” New York Daily News, 26 April 2015.
Shephard, Alex. “Christine Blasey Ford: “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.” The New Republic, September 2018.
Smith, Alex Duval. “Solved at Last: The Burning Mystery of Joan of Arc.” The Guardian, 16 December 2006.
Turner, Joe. “A Short History of the Match.” Medium, 12 Nov 2014.
Wisniak, Jaime. “Matches – The manufacture of fire.” Indian Journal of Chemical Technology, Vol 12, 12 May 2005, pp 369-370.
Wrangham, Richard and Rachel Carmody. “Human Adaptation to the Control of Fire.” Wiley Online Library, Evolutionary Anthropology, Vol 19, 27 October 2010, p. 187.
Yinke, Deng. Ancient Chinese Inventions. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 137.
Zhang, Sarah. “The Mystery of How Neanderthals Got Fire.” The Atlantic, 19 July 2018.
Rumpus original logo art by Luna Adler.
ENOUGH is a Rumpus original series devoted to creating a dedicated space for work by women and non-binary people that engages with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence. We believe that while this subject matter is especially timely now, it is also timeless. We want to make sure that this conversation doesn’t stop—not until our laws and societal norms reflect real change. You can submit to ENOUGH here.
Many names appearing in these stories have been changed.
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