Wednesday, October 05, 2011

from The New Yorker, 10/3/11

GENDER BENDER
by Jennifer Michael Hecht

Evolution settles for a while on various stable balances.
One is that some of the girls like cute boys and some
like ugly older men and sometimes women. The difference
between them is the ones who like older men were felt up

by their fathers or uncles or older brothers, or, if he didn't
touch you, still you lived in his cauldron of curses and
urges, which could be just as worse. They grow already old,
angry and wise, they get rich, get mean, get theirs.

The untouched-uncursed others are happy never needing
to do much, and never do much more than good. They envy
their mean, rich, talented, drunk sisters. Good girls drink milk
and make milk and know they've missed out and know they're

better off. They might dance and design but won't rip out lungs
for a flag. Bad ones write books and slash red paint on canvas;
they've rage to vent, they've fault lines and will rip a toga off
a Caesar and stab a goat for the ether. It's as simple as that.

Either, deep in the dark of your history, someone showed you
that you could be used as a cash machine, as a popcorn popper,
as a rocket launch, as a coin-slot jackpot spunker, or he didn't
and you grew up unused and clueless. Either you got a clue

and spiked lunch or you got zilch but no punch. And you
never knew. It's exactly not anyone's fault. If it happened
and you don't like older men that's just because you like
them so much you won't let yourself have one. If you did

people would see. Then they would know what happened
a long time ago, with you and that original him, whose eyes
you've been avoiding for decades gone forgotten. That's why
you date men smaller than you or not at all. Or maybe you've

turned into a man. It isn't anyone's fault, it is just human
and it is what happens. Or doesn't happen. That's that. Any
questions? If you see a girl dressed to say, "No one tells me
what to do," you know someone once told her what to do.

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Wow. Part of me wants to quibble with the suggestion that non-abused women are duller than their abused sisters, which reminds me of the rather self-serving, smug quote -- was it by Dorothy Parker? -- "If you weren't molested as a child, you must have been an ugly kid." (I must disagree with the latter: I myself was really pretty as a child, to the point of adult male friends of the family wanting -- and being allowed to -- have me on their laps while they brushed my long blonde hair; strange men at Dairy Queens buying me ice-cream -- while I was sitting there already eating an ice-cream; men at my dad's office telling him that I was "the prettiest girl" they'd ever seen. I think I was never sexually abused because I was a very verbal, opinionated tattle-tale of a child rather than because I was not pretty.)

But that quibble is just a quibble. This is still very powerful psychologically (not as good as Plath, of course, but...like a Plath who'd gotten tired of speaking enigmatically in terms of history/art and decided to just come right out and SAY IT). I love stuff like, "They...won't rip out lungs / for a flag. Bad ones write books and slash red paint on canvas; / they've rage to vent, they've fault lines and will rip a toga off / a Caesar and stab a goat for the ether." I like the whole fifth stanza.

And the last 2 lines are especially for me: "If you see a girl dressed to say, 'No one tells me / what to do,' you know someone once told her what to do." I was not treated very well, emotionally, when I was a child, and nearly every second of my freedom after age 18 has been an attempt to not ever, ever have to be so trapped and degraded again. I've often failed miserably in that attempt (especially in the last year or so!), but nonetheless recognize that the innate desire for autonomy after 18 years of entrapment is a driving psychological force of my adult life.

Ruined as I may be from constantly rejecting... there are few poems or epigraphs written about those who did NOT give in, despite the pressure. The cute girls who simply DISMISSED the older men's comings on, thought them pathetic, and then moved on. I refuse to give any real credence to girls who say they were sexually abused simply because they were unable to say no to the creeps that they might have disliked at the time but thought they'd go ahead and mess around with anyway because they were ever-so-slightly fascinated.

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