Skepticism

I am an Alien Creature

Eve Ensler has released a new book.  It’s a poem about being a teenage girl called I am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World. Here’s an excerpt at the Huffington Post.

I plan to read it in its entirety as soon as I can get my hands on a copy, but I have to say, that excerpt has my hackles raised. This work is Ensler’s interpretation of the thoughts and feelings of girls around the world, from a series of interviews. As is the case with all of her work, this book is intended to validate women and show them that they are not alone; that theirs is a universal experience. But as is often the case when I read things like this, I feel left out.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great for women to come to terms with who they are and celebrate every aspect of themselves. But I often feel alienated by these sorts of things, because I don’t identify myself with traditional ways of being a woman, and I can’t imagine I’m alone in this. When I read this poem, or hear tv psychologists or comedians or friends talking or joking about the things women do or think, I feel like something alien. I feel like they are taking away my womanhood; cheapening it somehow; calling me a fraud.

Nothing in the excerpt falls very far outside of traditionally acceptable ways of being a woman. The continued emphasis on intuition over reason makes me cringe. As I said in my little rant a few weeks ago, I think a huge part of the problem is that so called women’s ways of knowing have a tendency to keep us ghettoized and disenfranchised.

I realize this is all part of the generation gap between second and third wave feminists. Yes, we younger women do have a tendency to take our knowledge and self acceptance for granted. Is there a place for Ensler’s work in helping women become more self aware? Certainly. And there’s no denying all the good work she’s done in raising awareness about violence toward women around the world.

My problem is that to claim to put forward a universal account of womanhood, as I believe Ensler does with the subtitle “The Secret Life of Girls Around the World”, is to unnecessarily create boundaries around what it means to be a woman. I truly hope that in reading the entire poem, I will find some balance; maybe even something approaching my own experience, and not more reinforcement for a societal box that I don’t fit.

In the meantime, I’ll contribute my own poem:

I love being a girl
I can decide
if today will be steel-toed boots
dirt and itch and sweat
no less feminine
than high heels
and that green dress
breasts spilling out
the power of distraction
and sex

I know what I feel
and what I think
two forces, pulling, pulling in my head
always pulling
my actions are driven by reason
but colored by emotion
I am a rational creature
ideas come to me in swirls
often too big for words
I weigh and analyze
I do the math
turn it around in my head
in ways they keep telling me I can’t
because I’m a girl
but I solve the problem
rationally
and my emotions catch up
eventually

sometimes people are tricky
it’s hard to read intention
I am awkward
empathetic but not so intuitive
I often miss the punchline
the subtleties of interaction
I loathe small talk
the shells people build
to keep their true selves hidden
I don’t understand lying
am terrible at it
as a child
my mother tells me
when I’d try to deceive
I’d give myself away
by crying

I live in my head
often feel out of place
but I know who I am
and what I want from life
I know my limits
and my strengths
I am fearless
and I can make things happen
I am a rational creature
and an emotional creature
I love being a girl
and I love being me.

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29 Comments

  1. Woooo! I love your version much better.

    To be honest, when I read Ensler’s poem in HuffPo, a couple of very empathetic, intuitive men I know came to mind. They might be feel just as excluded, being told that this is a “girl” thing.

  2. Thank goodness. I thought I was the only one who felt left out from the (occasionally trite) Celebrations Of Womanhood (TM).

    This line from her poem in particular grates: “Things do not come to me
    as intellectual theories or hard-shaped ideas.” I majored in both math and astronomy in college and am now an engineer. Things ALWAYS come to me as intellectual theories and hard shaped ideas. I really dislike how she’s making that sound like less of a female creature because of that.

  3. I never fit into any groups that have female as part of the definition. If there’s a movie or book that most women love, I generally find it boring, trite, and/or meaningless, but I do still like some”girly” things. I love watching Wolverine kick ass as much as I love watching the Drover get all cleaned up for that hoity-toity party.

    I believe in intuition but I don’t think it’s metaphysical; I think some people are just really good at quickly processing lots of subtle cues and making very good guesses based on that. But I don’t feel like I’m part of some great sisterhood. My friends skew male, and my female friends mostly have male friends too.

    I don’t even fit in with a lot of what I see here on skepchick, because I’m 37 with a kid and while sex is great, I don’t have time/energy for it very often. When I was 27 I couldn’t imagine myself like this, yet here I am.

    I fit into interest-based spheres more than those based on other criteria, even though those other criteria sometimes influence interest.

    So I don’t believe in a universal womanhood, and find the concept a bit la-la and offputting. But I wouldn’t normally say that because women are supposed to be into it and not take it away from others. And I’m too tired and busy to rail against it like I would have a decade ago.

  4. It always sucks when someone is shoved into a sterotype. By pushing women into cookie cutter roles it minimizes us as individuals. It keeps us harmless, little girls. I dont buy into the intuition stuff either. It’s called gut instinct when applied to men. I call it calculated guessing.

  5. Know what I love about Skepchicks? It’s the modern feminism (is there such a thing?). Smart, witty, independent, full of awesome yet still embrace their sexuality and their emotions.

    I may be wrong but I don’t think feminism was always like that.

  6. I found things to identify with in both your poem and Eve’s. I like Eve’s ability to fully embrace her emotional side and I like your more balanced treatment of emotion and reason. There are so many aspects to being a person I don’t think it’s possible to completely sum it up in one poem. You could write an entire series of books and never sum up everything for everyone.

  7. I, too, am an emotional creature.

    Here is how I interpret it.

    I am so tired
    of listening to the desperate sounds
    of a certain type of Baby Boomer
    trying to remain culturally
    relevant to the youth culture.

    You are nearing retirement.
    Get over it.
    Or better yet,
    Get over yourselves.

    We do not care about
    your vagina, or what
    it has to say, because basically
    you ripped off the concept behind Lily Tomlin’s
    The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life In The Universe
    but made it parochial and worthy of artistic
    attention by slapping “vagina” in the title,
    therefore making you appear edgy.

    Some women are smart enough to know better.

    I suppose I am behind
    your efforts to stop violence against
    women – that’s cool.
    And I’m sorry if you were ever
    abused – no PERSON should have to go through that.
    And I have to get behind your
    decision to push Dylan McDermott
    into acting. Thank you for that.

    But otherwise?
    Please stop thinking you
    speak for any woman who
    isn’t you. Your filter is far
    too narrow and uninclusive.
    Until you’ve fired up a
    Scanning Electron Microscope
    or hiked up the side of an
    active volcano or
    dug up a ceratopsian while
    clinging to the side of the badlands
    and did it without managing
    to mention “I am a woman” every
    five minutes?

    You don’t speak for me.
    And I do not want, need or
    care to listen to your opinion.

  8. i swear this rant goes somewhere…

    i worry about the polarization of what it is to be human.

    the degradation of women and celebration of men not only polarized the sexes, it assigned to each sex ways of being, also considered polar opposites of one another.
    with the celebrated male, we can typically see assigned also–the mind (rationality), stoicism, competitiveness, aggressiveness, etc.
    and with women–the body (emotionality), hysterics and melodrama, passiveness, cooperation, etc.
    this is illustrated in our society in how children are socialized. girls play cooperative games, boys play war. we learn through role modeling and through our play how boys and girls behave, typically.
    in learning to identify with our gender, we learn how to emphasize parts of ourselves while stifling others.
    empathy is not a thing of women. as we evolved, it was evolutionarily viable for us to be very attuned to others’ emotions; we all have the capability naturally, but those of us who really attend to it (girls are pushed more socially to do so) have a more developed understanding, or intuition… no, fuck that word, let me try again– people who attend to their ability to empathize are more aware of the multitude of slight ques we unconsciously give and receive about our emotional states.

    there are clear and obvious biological arguments for some otherwise social differences in the sexes, but i will argue that they are not enough to create this distinction. after all, both sexes have all the same chemicals, just in different amounts; and their are still plenty of girls out there with more testosterone than men (a hormone noted for, well, arguably masculine traits) and vice versa.

    SO… excuse me for being long winded, but what i mean to say here is that something that is important to me is to recognize that all of these qualities, those we glorify and those that make us cringe, are really aspects that all well rounded people should be thankful to have.
    i am glad to be discerning, rational, and skeptical. i am equally glad to note when someone i care about is feeling upset. i am proud to be outspoken and garish, to argue and put forth ideas; i am equally glad that i can listen to others ideas, because i am not always right. i love to win, but i love it when people i love win too.
    my sex is female, my gender is girly with a dash of fierce. but most importantly, what i am is a fairly well rounded person.

  9. Yes! Thanks for this. I am a woman. I identify as a woman. I feel feminine but my femininity and womanhood is not generally reflected in our culture.

    I know there must be many women who feel the same way and we need to speak up for all the different experiences and types of women.

  10. Not to stomp on the girl parade here (as I said in the post about that Pattinson jerk off I’m pro vagina) but what does it matter if you’re a strong ‘woman’ specifically? Or a strong ‘man’? I mean the difference isn’t arbitrary but does it really have anything to do with why you’re strong? Or rational? Or smart or beautiful or anything? These are genuine questions and not accusatory passive aggressiveness.

    I don’t really find pride in being black or male or brown eyed or over 6 ft. tall or any other superfluous feature for that matter. I’m not saying to each his own isn’t fine in this case (although I dislike the phrase) but how can one simultaneously say they’re part of a group we should be proud of while also saying that no one (man or woman) can speak of their personal experience?

    Not even sure this is the viewpoint of anyone here but I seem to be getting that vibe. Girl pride? How about individual pride?

    I’ve never gotten this my entire life so I’m hoping the smart folk here can help me understand this. Thanks for any help.

  11. @Alexrkr7: I am grossly oversimplifying (as is my wont), but the concept of ‘Girl Pride’ is basically a response to the many many years of women forced into being ashamed of being girls. More or less the same phenomenon as ‘Black Pride’ or ‘Jewish Pride’.

    When it all snaps back into proper shape, we should end up with ‘Human Pride’.

  12. I got goose bumps and had tears in my eyes.

    The linked poem reinforces all that is wrong with the way women are portrayed – emotional, irrational, “special” and spiritual. But then I read your poem and even though I’m not a science or maths graduate, this spoke to me: as a person, as a woman, and as someone who is sick of having other people define how I should be. Strong women are inspiring because they refused to be defined externally. This was inspiring. Thanks.

  13. @w_nightshade:

    I think (and forgive me if I’m wrong, y’all) that what you’re calling “girl pride” isn’t literally being proud of being a girl. As you say, being a girl isn’t really an achievement any more than being tall is. It’s really more being proud of accomplishing x when traditionally it’s been much harder to do that as a woman.

    The often fierce expressions of this pride serves as a reminder or wake-up-call that the stereotypes are needlessly limiting and mostly unfair. Sometimes people are pushed into those stereotypes out of deliberate bigotry, and sometimes it’s more of a social acceptance thing.

    I had a longer response planned, but I’m on an impressive cocktail of medicine just now and it would probably come out as a Prayer to Carrie, which I’ll save until I see her in person :)

  14. @w_nightshade:

    When it all snaps back into proper shape, we should end up with ‘Human Pride’.

    Fuck yes. I love that metaphor.

    Can I nominate this for best thread of 2010? It’s like everybody’s inside my head, organizing my swirling, messy thoughts for me.

  15. I have friends who operate almost entirely on emotional impulses (male and female). They fuck up a lot.

    Also: I liked your poem, which says something because I tend to hate poetry with very few exceptions. I think my girlfriend is in the same boat as you a lot of times and I’m generally against sweeping generalizations about gender, race, sexuality, etc. so it’s nice to see the exceptions to those rules (especially when it shows they aren’t rules at all).

  16. Thanks for this post. I’m more a fan of Ensler personally than of her writing – I know people who traveled with her to Afghanistan and Africa and they tell me she is one tough woman. I just am not into the big emotional presentation she uses to talk about it all.

  17. @Alexrkr7: Sometimes it helps when you are working in a male-dominated field to see other women who have made it and can say, “yes, I’m a woman and I do this.” And it doesn’t specifically have to be a career-choice, either. It just helps to have role-models in life with which you can identify.

    Anyway, that’s one way that I find the “girl parade” helpful.

  18. Wow. Great post. Everything you said really resonated with me.

    When “girliness” is defined, I often feel like I’m left out. When I was younger, I was labelled a tomboy, and felt I had to live up to that label, and couldn’t be anywhere in between.

    Nicole, I also agree with you about the “girl parade” when it comes to male-dominated things. It’s nice to know you’re not alone.

    I guess we all just want to feel accepted.

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