It should not come as a surprise to say that the sexualization and objectification of women has been around for many years. Whether it be in movies, books, poems, advertisement, etc. women are seen as objects or things that are not to be taken seriously. Women are just the pretty distractions that need to be saved by the hero (a man of course). Throughout the years many women have tried to fight back against this phenomenon. In this blog, I wanted to focus on one poem by Judy Grahn called, "I have come to claim Marilyn Monroe's body" In this poem, Grahn addresses the sexualization of Marilyn Monroe and how she wants to handle it. She does this throughout the entire poem, but we are only going to focus on a few different lines.
The first lines are, “Look at those luscious long brown bones /that wide and crusty pelvis /ha ha” In this stanza Grahn writes about the dead Marilyn Monroe’s bones as beautiful features of the dead woman like as to make fun of the people who only adored her for her body and saw her as a sex object. It is as if she says, “Why don’t you want her body now? Look how amazing her bones are!” She is pointing out that if people crave her body they might as well crave it now, too.
Another topic Grahn seems to keep going back to is the irony of her beating the people that wanted to have Monroe’s body for themselves, with Monroe’s body. Grahn writes, “but when one of the reporters comes too close /I beat him /bust his camera with your long smooth thigh /and with your lovely knuckle bone /I break his eye” and “’How would you like to see Marilyn Monroe, /in action, smiling, and without her clothes?” /We shall wait long enough to see them make familiar faces /and then I shall beat them with your skull. /hubba. hubba. hubba. hubba. hubba.” Each of these lines shows how the thing that these people think they have the right to have, in this case Marilyn’s body, is the one thing that is going to destroy them. She is also making fun of these people again by using a common catcall for the time (“hubba”). These people wanted so desperately to have Monroe when she was alive, and they only saw her as a body to be claimed.
Warning: Talk of suicide (suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255)
Talking about people being envious of someone who is dead or wanting to die is not a topic that can be brought up in an everyday conversation, especially in the 1960s. That is why I was truly surprised to read Anne Sexton’s poem “Sylvia's Death” where we see many occasions where Sexton can be seen as being envious towards her friend Sylvia Path who committed suicide in 1963.
The first example I will use is Sexton writing, “Thief -- /how did you crawl into, /crawl down alone /into the death I wanted so badly and for so long” In these two stanzas, Sexton kind of insults Sylvia and then tries to calm death for herself. Sexton calls Sylvia a “thief” for committing suicide before Sexton can. The way she says this makes me think she is thinking that Sylvia stole that idea from Sexton, like Sexton was the only one how was allowed to do it. We can understand Sexton as taking death for herself when she says, “into the death I wanted so badly and for so long” I get the feeling again that Sexton is saying that death is something that was hers and that she was the one that was going to accomplish it first and that she is getting jealous that Sylvia died first.
Another example of Sexton being jealous is when she writes, “And now, Sylvia, /you again /with death again, /that ride home /with our boy” In these lines, Sexton calls death “our boy” referencing her and Sylvia. When I read this, I put emphasis on the “our” like Sexton is in disbelief that Sylvia would “go” with death without her or that she would go at all. It feels like Sylvia took their “boy” for herself.
The next and last example is the lines “what is your death /but an old belonging, /a mole that fell out /of one of your poems” This definitely felt like a final jab towards Sylvia, since Sylvia had written many poems on death and suicide. Sexton seems to be calling Sylvia’s death something imagined up in one of her poems. To me, it seems like Sexton is saying Sylvia could not have done this and I do not know if that is because she is in disbelief or if Sexton is envious of her.
Disclaimer: This poem for me was very are to understand, so in no way am I saying that this is a completely right analysis of the poem. This is just what I got from reading it.
The one thing that stuck out to me the most in A Streetcar Named Desire was the contrast of Blanche and Stanley, especially Blanche’s influence on Stella. We can see many different occasions in the play where Blanche’s personality clashes with Stanley and how she influences the way that Stella acts. I think we can most see this in scene eight when they are having Blanche’s birthday party dinner.
In this scene we see a couple of times where both Blanche and Stella talk about Stanley in a way that he did not like. Blanche says while telling a story, “She had a parrot that cursed a blue streak and knew more vulgar expressions than Mr. Kowalski!”. Then Stella also makes some comments towards Stanley, saying, “Mr. Kowalski is too busy making a pig of himself to think of anything else!” and “Your face and your fingers are disgustingly greasy. Go and wash up and then help me clear the table.” Stanley proceeds to throw the plate to the floor and yells, “them kind of words have been on your tongue and your sister’s too much around here! What do you two think you are? A couple of queens?” Stanley’s quote makes me think that Stella does not normally challenge or tell Stan what to do, especially when he included Blanche in his quote. It seems like when he says this, he thinks that Stella is only talking to him that way because Blanche has been influencing her to do so, because that is the way Blanche talks to/about him. When Stella does finally challenge him and tries to tell him what to do Stanley gets defensive and violent, assuming that she is talking to him like this because Blanche is there. I do think that Blanche did have some influence on what Stella says and how she acted. In the play there are many other times when Blanche called Stanley an “animal” and “common” to Stella. I feel like the repetitive bashing of Stanley made Stella think that it was okay for her to talk to him like that. Stanley obviously did not think it was okay for Stella to talk to him like that telling them that they are not queens, but he is “the king around here”. He feels threatened by Blanche and her ability to influence Stella because he thinks of Stella as his and know one else is allowed to touch her.
In Angelina Weld Grimke’s poems “The Black Finger” and “Tenebris” we can see at least two times where Grimke relates the African American community to that of trees. Although it might seem a little strange, I think this was a really great way to show what it must have been like to be treated as badly as they were in that time.
In the first poem, “The Black Finger”, Grimke writes, “I have just seen a beautiful thing/ Slim and still, /Against a gold, gold sky, /A straight cypress, /Sensitive /Exquisite, /A black finger”. In these lines we can see that she is saying a cypress tree is like a black finger. At first I was pretty confused on why Grimke would choose specifically a cypress tree, but then I did a little digging to see if the cypress tree had a deeper meaning. It turns out that a cypress tree is actually identified with mourning. After finding this out I thought that it fit really well with the times and the epidemic of African American suppression. I took Grimke comparing a black finger (or the African American community) to the cypress tree as saying that they are being put through so much and being treated as less the human, so they should be or be able to mourn and be mourning. The amount of people that were killed because they were different is insane and everyone should be mournful of that time in our history.
Next, is the poem “Tenebris”. In this poem, Grimke writes, “There is a tree, by day, /That, at night, Has a shadow, /A hand huge and black, /With fingers long and black. /All through the dark, /Against the white man's house,”. We can see how Grimke writes again about a tree, but this time describing the tree as black hands and fingers. I think this time Grimke is using the tree to symbolize the strength African Americans can/will have against “the white man’s house”. I looked up some of the symbolism associated with trees and was a little surprised when I found out that liberation was one of them. Especially in this poem, we can see liberation is definitely one of the bigger themes being portrayed. We can see the theme of liberation in the lines “The black hand plucks and plucks /At the bricks.”, where Grimke talks about taking apart the white man’s house. Not only was Grimke stating in her poem that they would take back their own lives by tearing down the white man’s house, but also when she used a tree to represent African Americans.
Whether it be now or in the 1900s, talking about one’s sexuality, especially as a woman, has always been sort of a taboo. No one wants to talk about it, but what I think is really interesting is seeing women from the 1900s write about their own sexuality/women’s sexuality and how they promoted it.
In the poem "Virgins Plus Curtains Minus Dots" by Mina Loy (1914), we can see how some of the lines reference the repression of women’s sexuality. Loy writes, “Nature's arms spread wide /Making room for us /Room for all of us /Somebody who was never a virgin /Has bolted the door /Put curtains at our windows” and also “With the door locked /Against virgins who /Might scratch.” What I took the first lines as was people see women’s virginity as something that is not theirs, locking it up in and hiding it away. When she writes, “against virgins who/ Might scratch” I think she means that women are willing to fight back and take back their sexuality, just like they do in the women’s suffrage movement. Something was kept away from them, so they took it back.
In Edna St Vincent Millay’s poem "I, Being Born a Women and Distressed" (1923) we can also interpret what she writes as promoting women who just want to be able have sex, without having to worry about any attachments or strains. Millay writes “And leave me once again undone, /possessed” (lines 9 and 10) as well as “I find this frenzy insufficient reason/ For conversation when we meet again” (lines 19 and 20). In these four lines when can see how this woman (whether it be Millay or some other women she is writing about) just wants to be intimate with someone with no strings attached, which she should be allowed to do. Everyone should be able to express themselves whether they be men or women. Sex is for everyone and nothing is wrong with that. I think with this poem, Millay is promoting that it is okay to want to be with someone even if it is without any connections.