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Casting a Spell with Words & Images

Women’s stories matter—that includes yours.

By Christine Sloan Stoddard


Power in Vulnerability Christine Stoddard_sm.jpg

You’re so dramatic’

I bet you girls had a slumber party last night’

Don’t worry your pretty little head’

Come on, sweetie’

Girl problems’

I think every woman can relate to facing discouraging or condescending words more frequently than the men in their life do. Too often, my life is made out to be dainty, pretty, vapid, and overall less important than a man’s. I watch strangers listen to my spouse or male friends with rapt attention while brushing off what I or my female friends have to say. We get pet names we didn’t ask for or irrelevant questions if we’re “lucky.”

I’ve learned that as a woman, I have to stand up and tell my story. It’s only after I started doing that and building an audience that more men have attempted to listen. Every woman deserves control over her own narrative to the same extent that men have theirs. (Or, more broadly, people of lesser social privilege deserve to have a platform to tell their stories and not be silenced.) That is one of the reasons why I began Quail Bell Magazine, a place for real and unreal stories from around the world. I founded Quail Bell as a college student with a team mostly comprised of women. To this day, Quail Bell remains a woman-run publication, with the majority of submissions coming from women. Take a look at our crew to see. Quail Bell is also a place where words and images enjoy an enchantingly symbiotic relationship. Contributors often say that this is what first attracted them to the site or our occasional print projects. 

Quail Bell is a highly visual magazine for society and culture. I believe that some of the most powerful stories are ones that combine words and images. Maybe it’s an illustrated essay. Maybe it’s a poetry film. Maybe it’s a photo tale. With words and images responding to each other in a single piece, there are opportunities for tensions and illuminations that are not possible with words or images alone. 

When I authored my poetry and photography collection, Water for the Cactus Woman (Spuyten Duyvil Publishing), I knew I wanted to combine words and images in the manuscript. The stories I wanted to tell captured multi-layered, multi-generational relationships between mothers, daughters, and grand-daughters. They needed visuals to tease, undercut, and obfuscate. (You can read what others thought about the interplay between words and images here on the publisher’s site and here on the Poetry Foundation’s site.)

This kind of double communication is essential for women and our stories. Don’t we all live double lives as it is? The women we are and the women we’re “supposed to be”? In too many societies around the globe, women are seen as one-dimensional. We are sex objects or we are homemakers. The reality is that we are multi-dimensional, just as men are. Women can be scholars, scientists, architects, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, and more. And those are just our occupations! Don’t forget that we are also friends, partners, parents, neighbours, and citizens of this world in so many respects.

We live in the era of smartphones. Now that Instagram is so prevalent, we live in a society of fervent photographers. Why not re-imagine what your iPhone photos can become? They don’t have to stay locked on your phone or posted to Instagram without a bigger story in mind. Please keep posting photos of your dog and your lipstick (I love them) if that’s how you use Instagram now, but please also use it to speak in your own voice and communicate deeper messages. You can pair your smartphone photos with poems, essays, even short play plays. You can make short films or slideshows. You don’t have to limit yourself to using your smartphone, either. It’s simply a tool. Take up a pen and draw or bust out your watercolours. Then add your words. It’s up to you. The process is yours. Tell your story and if you’re so inclined, submit it to Quail Bell. We’re excited to hear from even more women, all kinds of women, from everywhere. 


Christine Sloan Stoddard is a writer and artist. She is the founder of Quail Bell Magazine and the author of Water for the Cactus Woman (Spuyten Duyvil), Hispanic and Latino Heritage in Virginia (The History Press), Belladonna Magic (forthcoming, Shanti Arts), and other books. Her work has appeared in Ms. MagazineBustleThe Feminist WireMarie Claire,The Huffington PostYes! Magazine, and elsewhere. She recently completed her term as the first-ever artist-in-residence at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, a 124-year-old settlement house in New York City. iwd css

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