“Shrinking Women”

This is one of my favorite spoken word poems–it’s about a  young woman struggling with her identity and empowerment as she confronts conditioning and history of being told to be quiet and submissive. The instances and anecdotes she uses to describe this struggle align perfectly with the content we’ve been discussing in class, and reveal the consequences of gendered child rearing in our still highly patriarchal world.
The poet describes how she and her brother were raised differently; she was raised to be more dismissive and quiet while her brother was taught confidence. “My brother never thinks before he speaks,” she says. “I have been taught to filter.” This is an example of how gendered parenting can create more effects than simple color and toy preferences in youth, but lasting effects in confidence and personality.
For much of the poem, the poet also describes the body issues she has experienced as a woman. Like The Cult of Thinness and Reading the Slender Body and Killing us Softly 4 all agree, women feel enormous pressure to maintain a thin and nonthreatening physique while men are allowed to have hulking presences that symbolize their dominance. This issue becomes extremely poignant in her descriptions of her own and her relative’s frail bodies, and in her words “my brother has been taught to grow out, I have been taught to grow in.”
The struggle she describes is a personal one, as the poet tries to straddle the boundary of defying her ancestry while maintaining a relationship with her mom. But as we’ve learned through various readings in this class, the personal is often political, and her personal struggles reveal larger oppressive gender structures. Now, within that context, this poem not only moves me on intimate level, but compels me to address historic discouragement and oppression of women.

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