Monday Earworm: No Doubt

So last week at a faculty meeting, we all had a conversation about dominant versus subordinate social groups: to put it in extremely simple terms, we self-identified into a number of groups based on our identities that marked us as part of the dominant culture or targeted. For example, a person could identify as male (dominant) or female (targeted), as hetero (dominant) or LGBT (targeted), as middle- to upper-class or poor, as White or POC, Christian or Jewish/Muslim/Hindu, etc. You get the idea. And then we paired with one colleague and talked specifically about our own experiences, whatever we were comfortable with sharing. We were asked to discuss when we realized we were part of a particular group (dominant or subordinate) and then also when we realized how being part of that group would affect the way we were perceived or treated in society.

My conversation was with a male colleague from my department. He talked about being male, and I talked about being female. I realized that the moment I learned that I was female (and that this was different from being male) was when I was about six years old and my youngest sibling was born. My father and I were up at the hospital walking around the maternity ward, looking at the babies in the nursery. A nurse held one baby up in front of a large window, a boy who was naked. Dad pointed out the baby’s genitalia and explained that it marked that child as a boy, and that this was different from a girl’s body. I knew I was a girl, and now I knew on an intellectual level what the biological difference between the binary bodies was. I didn’t really think much else about it.

Then my colleague told me the moment he realized that being male meant he would be treated differently came along in his teaching career (at a different school from ours), when he heard a female colleague lament that her students weren’t showing her much respect, and he realized that if he’d made the same remarks to his students, their reaction would have been completely compliant. He recognized his male privilege in that moment.

The moment I realized I would be treated differently by society for being female had come when I was in second grade. We had to line up in our classrooms every day according to height, and dear reader, I am and have always been short. (Think Queen Victoria short. Literally.) And this was a sore point; I was teased about it for some inane reason on a regular basis. Anyway, we were lining up to go across campus to have our class picture taken, and for once I was not the shortest person in my class! There was one other person shorter than I, by almost an inch: my friend and neighbor and carpool buddy, P.J. Eubanks. And I proudly stood in front of him and smiled, giddy not to be the last person in line for the first time.

And our teacher, a generally kind older woman with short graying hair and a wardrobe full of floral print knee-length dresses, sauntered right over to us, frowned slightly, and moved P.J. to stand in front of me. When I began to ask why she’d done this, she explained that he was a boy and that it might make him feel bad to be the shortest person in the class. So she needed me to stand at the end of the line, as usual, so he wouldn’t get his feelings hurt. She straightened my position at the end of the line, smiled, and walked back to the front of the room to lead the class out the door. P.J. turned and grinned and shrugged, and I walked sullenly behind him all the way to the gym, my feathers crumpled in the knowledge that this was how it was going to be.

At least for a while.

When I told my colleague this story, he was appropriately bemused. He didn’t seem to find it any more important than P.J. had.

 

Poem-A-Day: Shaindel Beers

The thing that gets me is that sometimes people ask questions in the guise of getting to know you, but it’s clear they’re really just challenging you.

The thing that gets me is that sometimes people dismiss women’s poetry because it encompasses a whole range of human experience they just don’t have access to, and they feel that’s a threat to their perceived apexhood.

The thing that gets me is that I won’t ever stop adding poems like this to my April series until people no longer need to be educated about feminism, and not even then, because then everyone will just get it and the poems will be meaningful to them, too, and not just to some of us.

Why, look, it’s another poem I absolutely love!

I Am Not a Narrative for Your Entertainment

The male poet asks, Why are you single? What’s
the narrative? like I’m a show he’s been meaning
to catch up on. The male poet says, Remember  

the sexy poems you used to write? You’re not
writing mommy poems now, are you? I want
to tell him even my mommy poems are too sexy

for him, especially too sexy. I know because
the tongues that have flickered over my C-section
incision have told me. My abdomen, like Zeus’s

head, has sprung warriors. And if that’s not sexy
then nothing goddamned is. I want to tell him
I’m single because I’m a beautiful disaster.

Not the Little Match Girl but the whole fireworks
factory ablaze. You can watch me burn for miles,
hear about it on the national news. My every move

is a trending topic on Facebook and Twitter.
You just didn’t know because you’d been blocked
from my universe.

***

Shaindel Beers is author of the poetry collections A Brief History of Time (Salt Publishing, 2009), The Children’s War and Other Poems (Salt, 2013), and Secure Your Own Mask (White Pine Press, 2018). Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is currently an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, and serves as poetry editor of Contrary.

Poem-A-Day: Paige Poe

It’s important to feature not only established and mid-career poets in this series every year, but also emerging writers who are just coming onto the scene or who have been published but don’t have a book out — yet. Paige Poe is one of those authors to be watching for.

War Paint

Conceal insecurity
and blot blemishes,
Set with flour dusted
From the hands
of your mother’s mothers.

Take a fistful of soil from the nearest
crossroad and trace
the hollows of your power starved cheeks,
your burdened temples, the contour
Of your family nose.

Stain your lids with glamour,
Paint your lips like blood,
Pack on enough glitter to blind your enemies,
Enough color to distract a predator.

Practice a smile, then a grimace,
a giggle, a growl, a war cry—
Practice saying no
and then practice throwing punches.

***

Paige Poe is a feminist poet, writer, and theatre artist based out of Houston. She graduated from Texas Christian University in 2018 with a degree in theatre and English, and her work has been published in eleven40seven, Texas’ Best Emerging Poets of 2017, and Brave Voices Magazine. Inspired by Mary Oliver and the confessional poetry tradition, she strives to present modern femininity, mental illness, and her rich family history in her artistic endeavors. Currently, Paige is working as a freelance ghostwriter, editor, and research assistant.  You can find her at paigegpoe.com and on instagram as paige_outofmybook.

Witchy Weekends: Frank Sinatra and the Question of Agency

Here’s a cute little song from days gone by. It’s kind of fun to listen to, if you have fond memories of the music of this era.

But there might be more to it.

The premise of the song is fairly straightforward, fairly simple: “You’re an alluring lady, so much so that my attraction to you goes beyond normal, and so there must be something supernatural going on here. But that’s cool, I can roll with that.”

The subtext is also pretty clear: “You’re an alluring lady, and I’m going to enjoy pretending I don’t need to take any responsibility for my actions because of how attracted I am to you.”

I can already hear some of you protesting that I’m making this nonsense up. That I’m ruining something sweet and nice.

Buckle up, buttercup.

You can’t denigrate witches as the ultimate evil predator in league with the devil — a Christian concept if ever there was one — and then also say how lovely and fun and exciting and marvelous and sexy witches are at the same time, unless you do some serious introspection on your particular fantasies and fetishes.

***

In my English classes we spend a lot of time talking about character agency, or (rather simply) the ability of a character to make decisions and enact choices that have consequences, which in turn have bearing on the plot. (You can read an excellent explanation of character agency in stories here on Chuck Wendig’s blog.)

This song suggests that part of the allure of the “witch” in the song is the usurping of the singer’s agency, “[stripping] [his] conscience bare,” and he’s totally on board. But why?

In the current miasma of what passes for public debate these days, some of the more socially conscious have been talking a lot about personal responsibility.

When I taught AP Gothic Lit., we spent an entire unit of study on the heritage of the Witch as a political figure and literary archetype. Fascinating stuff. For a very small taste of one part of this, check out this wonderful article on the archetype of the “sexy witch” in literature.

One thing that comes up again and again is that — in fairy tales, for example — witches are those characters who are agents of change. Sometimes for nefarious purposes, such as the crone living in a gingerbread hut in the forest or a wickedly vain queen. And sometimes their magics lead to positive outcomes: think fairy godmothers and Glenda the Good.

In the Burning Times, “witches” were more often than not women; and more often than not, defenseless other than through their own fierce and fearless agency; and more often than not, opinionated or otherwise empowered in a way that threatened the patriarchy (in whatever form that might have taken, be it political or religious or social). These days one might imagine a representation of the greatest perceived existential threat to the patriarchy might be depicted as a flash mob of women, having the time of their lives bellydancing in the streets, wearing pointy hats.

Others have written on this subject more eloquently and more coherently than I. Right now, so much of this subject is just swimming around in a maelstrom in my brain. ‘Tis the season and all.

Please, discuss. What do you think of all of this?

Monday Earworm: Space

When I taught AP Gothic Lit. I included this song as a springboard into discussion about female vampires in 19th-century literature. Now that I’m going to be teaching a different AP class this year, I might still use this song as part of a unit on feminist literature — and why sometimes people who don’t understand the concept of feminism very well still assume it to be threatening.

Please feel free to add your thoughts to this discussion in the comments below.

 

New Year’s Round-Up (Part 2)

Yesterday I posted the first part of this round-up, in which I discussed my blog’s 2017 statistics and some cool author and artist things coming up for 2018.

New Year’s being a traditional time to make resolutions about one’s life, and my general penchant for fresh starts and improved routines being an ever-present concern, I feel optimistically compelled to participate.

Yet I’ve had some real trouble crafting this blog post. All of last week, it was so hard to do it. It’s not just that Continue reading “New Year’s Round-Up (Part 2)”

Witchy Weekends: John Donne

I may have shared this poem with you before? John Donne is one of my favorites of the old poetry masters.

“Witch” is an epithet hurled at many a disobedient or otherwise displeasing woman, and “witchcraft” levied at her actions.

I could go on and on about this for days, but I’ll save it. Instead just have this poem, Donne’s “Witchcraft By A Picture.”

***

Witchcraft By A Picture
by John Donne

I fix mine eye on thine, and there
Pity my picture burning in thine eye;
My picture drown’d in a transparent tear,
When I look lower I espy;
Hadst thou the wicked skill
By pictures made and marr’d, to kill,
How many ways mightst thou perform they will?

But now I’ve drunk thy sweet salt tears,
And though thou pour more, I’ll depart;
My picture vanished, vanish all fears
That I can be endamaged by that art;
Though thou retain of me
One picture more, yet that will be,
Being in thine own heart, from all malice free.