the human validation system

A cute doll

8/8/12 Stuck at BWI for the next several hours. The only appropriate thing to do is people-watch and write.
Attention BWI animal owners: The BWI Marshal service animal and pet relief area is located on the lower level …

People with loud cell phone ringers. White girls with R&B ringtones. White dudes who stare and shake their heads. Me being the girl who loves the flamboyance but doesn’t want anyone to stare too hard. Uncomfortable even with the over-the-spectacles stare of first class passengers.

Ellie says I have MFA voice. Actually, I said it, and she confirmed it. I said it tentatively, hoping to be contradicted but believing it to be true nonetheless. Ellie was honest: Yeah, I think you’re right.

I have had a fear of being labelled a “confessional poet” as male academics once labeled Sylvia Plath. And why should that bother me? I love Plath, after all, but do I believe in the value of her work? To me personally, yes. But to the world at large? The phrase “daddy issues” comes to mind, a cultural joke to dismiss the unquiet mind of the lady author, model, artist or entrepreneur. Are you angry? Daddy issues. Are you lonely? Daddy issues. Are you horny? Daddy issues. Because what else would drive a woman to express herself so flagrantly? She needs attention. She needs validation. She’s got daddy issues.

Me and my promiscuity and my daddy issues

But I don’t have daddy issues! I might have some third grade math issues (I never memorized my multiplication tables completely and still imagine “touch points” on numbers for basic addition), and seventh grade dance issues, but not daddy issues.

What I do have for sure are issues making friends with other women, not because I dislike them or they dislike me but because there has been bred in us a distrust of one another. We want to be friends, to support one another, and receive the support that can only come from a woman friend — someone who sees what we see and knows what we know.

But our cultural habit of dismissing women in general — their writing, their art, their ideas — keeps us from seeing one another truly as humans and as peers. Every intelligent woman thinks she is different from “other women.” We all think we’re alone. We feel, furthermore, that we have to prove ourselves. We feel like aliens. An intelligent woman feels like a toy that came to life on the shelf one night and looked around alarmed at the dead glassy eyes on either side.

Doll face

“I can’t be one of these! I’m not one of these! I must convince the shop keeper that I am not a toy.”

We have become trapped by the metaphor. Of course we’re not toys. But if we’re not, then how can we believe that they are?

Noticing something about my writing: I tend to start out meta, go macro, then go micro … then what?

The issue at hand is personhood. You’d think that was resolved ages ago when women secured the right to vote. “Congratulations — it’s official now — you’re a fully valid human being.” Except not. Because you have daddy issues or something. Because your value is dependent on factors: your taste in clothing and music; your choice of friends and romantic partners; the color of your skin; your ethnic heritage and its associated genetic traits; your weight and by association the foods you choose to eat. If all of these factors fall into the acceptable range, then you can consider expressing your opinions, beliefs and ideas as a valid member of society. Should your baseline criterion fall outside the acceptable bounds at any time, your status may be temporarily lowered or revoked entirely. It is therefore of utmost importance to keep up appearances whilst expressing any thoughts whatsoever. The thoughts themselves must be fact checked, sanity checked, sensitivity checked, and double checked — just to be safe.

Aside: Has anyone written a guide for the acceptability of women in the past few years? Someone should get on that. I keep proposing one but no one seems to have taken me up on it. It would be complete with sizing charts and a points system for various ethnicities. I’m scared to do that because a lot of people will hate it, especially if I am honest about the way people (men? women? everyone?) value women of different races on a different scale. For example, if you’re Asian, you get bonus points for being pretty, but if you’re overweight, you get some points subtracted. I guess you could say it’s a sliding scale. Anyway, I’m not sure if women would find it hilarious or horribly offensive. I’m afraid people find this type of honesty insulting, even if on some level they know you’re right.

Korean Dolls

After all the required forms for thought checking have been signed and your Valid Human Status has been confirmed, you may venture to express one opinion at a time. When submitting an opinion, keep in mind that should you make any future statements that deviate from the prior submitted opinion, points will be deducted from your overal Human Validity score.

Go back. Go back, Mary. Get this under control. I am urging myself to stay focused and also to keep writing, to see where this leads. Because this is not about “society at large.” We all know society is this way, don’t we on some level? But this is about me. For now, at least.

I have let this fear trap me. The mere threat of being harassed into submission has effectively caused me to submit voluntarily. I may not look like it with blue hair and tattoos and self-employment, but I have censored myself, stifled my voice, and shut myself up in deference to haters, shit kickers, and judges of all stripes. They are anonymous commenters, the boys club of reddit, condescending intellectuals, conservative relatives, and even the yoga community which is full of secretly self-righteous pseudo-sages.

Endings are the hardest part to write. The question is splayed wide open: So what now?

How does one reclaim a voice? Reclaim the right to full expression? Opt out of the bullshit TSA-ized Human Validation System?

I thought transcribing these pages would give me time to process it and come up with an answer, but I don’t have one yet. I’ll just leave this here.

the poetry journal
The Poetry Room

2 thoughts on “the human validation system

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *