I have always considered myself a feminist. Even as a little kid. I don’t know why or where it came from. My mom was never a very liberal lady. It’s not like we sat around the dinner table talking about Gloria Steinem. Still, I considered myself a feminist because I didn’t like the assumptions boys made about me as a kid, the way they acted with an unspoken air of superiority when I was clearly (clearly!) smarter than them, more interesting, and bound for much greater things.
And yet, as I work on my new poetry collection, I’m feeling surprised at the intense feminist stuff coming from my pen. Today, I worked on a poem tentatively titled, “Anthem of the Great American Slut,” which is … something I never would’ve had the nerve to write or blog about a couple years ago. And I’m surprised at how strongly I feel about it. It’s a poem of intense female desire and shame, two things that are intimately linked if you grew up in Catholic schools right at the dawn of internet porn.
At the same time, I’m remembering that scene in Austin Powers when a young woman invites Austin back to her apartment. She offers to read him some of her poetry, and he excitedly agrees, assuming it’s going to be erotic poetry. She informs him that actually she writes political poetry and he resigns himself to a night of boredom, yawning rudely and rolling his eyes while she blithely reads on. While I write,I see a little Austin Powers in the back of my mind with a sarcastic face just yawning like, “Ugh. This. Is Not. Sexy.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m gonna write it anyway. I’m just having a bit of anxiety about how it will be received, if it’s received at all.
This may have to do with the fact that I’ve been studying Ginsberg again. I watched Howl the other night. The movie was not great. There’s a lot of unconvincing animation and not much action. However, the glimpse into Ginsberg’s personality and what prompted the poem is really valuable. And now, I find myself wanting to curse more and use the word “cunt” as liberally as he uses the word “cock,” because why not? But it feels more transgressive. It feels scary, even.
What Ginsberg had on his side was the fact that even though homosexuality was taboo, being a male and talking liberally about male homosexuality was shocking but still more acceptable than being female and openly acknowledging your (whisper) lady parts. That kind of talk was reserved for doctors’ offices and brothels. Maybe one awkward conversation with your mother while she bathed you at some point and explained that your privates were your special little secret.
I think this secrecy and shame around women’s bodies is bullshit and I want to blow the whole thing apart, but I’m still a product of my time like everyone else, which means I’m subject to the same shame and fear. But Ginsberg believed in writing what scares you, and I think he was onto something there. If I’m scared of it, then other people are probably scared of it, too. And if I’m lucky, maybe there’s someone out there just waiting for a poem that can hold their hand and look the fear in the eye with them.