PRO FEMINA PART I
From Sappho to myself, consider the fate of women.
How unwomanly to discuss it! Like a noose or an albatross
The clinical sobriquet hangs us: cod-piece coveters.
Never mind these epithets; I myself have collected some
Juvenal set us apart in denouncing our vices
Which had grown, in part, from having been set apart;
Women abused their spouses, cuckolded them, even plotted
To poison them. Sensing, behind the violence of his manner--
"Think I'm crazy or drunk?"--his emotional stake in us,
As we forgive Strindberg and Nietzsche, we forgive all those
Who cannot forget us. We are hyenas. Yes, we admit it.
While men have politely debated free will, we have howled for
Howl still, pacing the centuries, tragedy heroines.
Some who sat quietly in the corner with their embroidery
Were Defarges, stabbing the wool with the names of their
Oppressors, who ruled by the divine right of the male--
I'm impatient of interruptions! I'm aware there were millions
Of mutes for every Saint Joan or sainted Jane Austen,
Who, vague-eyed and acquiescent, worshiped God as a man.
I'm not concerned with those cabbageheads, not truly feminine
But neutered by labor. I mean real women, like you and like
Freed in fact, not in custom, lifted from furrow and scullery,
Not obliged, now, to be the pot for the annual chicken,
Have we begun to arrive in time? With our well-known
Respect for life because it hurts so much to come out with it;
Disdainful of "sovereignty," "national honor" and other
We can say, like the ancient Chinese to successive waves of
"Relax, and let us absorb you. You can learn temperance
In a more temperate climate." Give us just a few decades
Of grace, to encourage the fine art of acquiescence
And we might save the race. Meanwhile, observe our creative
Flux, efflorescence--whatever you care to call it!
I suppose I should say this was written twenty years ago, so some lines that seemed strikingly original to me then, now seem less so. I was what you might call a premature feminist, you know, like being called a premature anti-fascist. Then I read Simone de Beauvoir and everything I had ever felt, all those wounds I had sustained when I had read about men this, and men did that, and poets "he" and so on--all my pains and doubts were confirmed by that great book.