Tuesday’s Teaching Memo:
by Marge Piercy
This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs.
She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
She went to and fro apologizing.
Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.
She was advised to play coy,
exhorted to come on hearty,
exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.
Her good nature wore out
like a fan belt.
So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up.
In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.
Marge Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” is an example of every little girl’s life in our world. She is born naturally, a clean slate full of potential and self-identity, but soon, she is introduced to the roles she will play in life via her toys: peeing baby dolls for motherhood, irons and kitchens for her wifely duties as a domesticated woman, and lipstick with which to beautify herself. She must be all these three things: perfect mother, wife, and woman.
Even though she is intelligent, strong, healthy with a normal sex drive, she is told that she is not perfect physically. Her life is then spent in pursuit of physical perfection, trying to please those around her who ” advised to play coy, exhorted to come on hearty, exercise, diet,
smile and wheedle” (12-14). Born into a world, a society in which the rules and norms of gender behavior have already been written, girls have no chance at individuality, at loyalty to one’s self, and self-definition. From the moment she is wrapped in pink at the hospital, she is continually defined — her potential, her intelligence, her career choices, her sex, her body, her choices are all prescribed — and if she is to be different, to be herself as she defines herself, then she has to be strong. She has to be like Marge Piercy. She has to fight for her voice and her right to be self-defined, and this is a hard fight because everyone will turn against her. She will be told each and every moment of her existence that she is an anomaly, an aberration of true femininity. She will live her life like an outcast, her voice reverberating in the echoes of angst and silence. She will be alone.
Piercy states in her last line, “To every woman a happy ending,” which is an ironic statement since it has a double meaning. Every girl is told that to have a happy ending, she must find her prince. All the princesses we introduce our daughters to have happy endings when they are saved by their princes, handsome prizes of masculinity. What’s ironic about this last line, laced with cynicism and disdain, is that the girl in this poem does not have a happy ending despite the fact that “she cut off her nose and her legs and offered them up” (17-18) for approval and acceptance. Pressured by society’s needs, she sacrifices her own needs, her true and authentic self just so at the end of her life, the onlookers can call her “pretty.”
Question:How do you fight against these social constructions set in place to define our girls?
Do you feel great resistance? Were you ever told to act coy, give in, stop fighting? Share your views.
Copyright© 2010 by Marina DelVecchio. All Rights Reserved.