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smigliori's picture

Form: What Is Feminist?

Many of the essays we read earlier in the class required a "feminine" form - a renunciation of the "masculine" which is seen as inherently oppressive of "women". I object to this on obvious grounds - the categories of "women" and "men" are culturally constructed. There are no biological differences which result in a difference between the way "men" and "women" think, act, or feel; any such differences are completely an effect of socialization. I find an insistence of these differences to be profoundly anti-feminist because it buys into the notions that “women” are inherently less logical, less capable of reasoning than “men”. It goes back to the idea that “women” are too emotional (for example, the word hysterical comes from the Greek word for the womb). Therefore, the juxtaposition of Gertrude Stein's poetry with Marilyn Hacker's creates an interesting contrast. Stein creates a new form, apparently ignoring the literary tradition to create hir own poetry, defying grammatical conventions. Hacker, on the other hand, uses the form of the sonnet to express hir own experiences.

I pointed out in an earlier post that these poets were both "lesbians" - people possessing female genitalia who engage in sexual intercourse with like-bodied people. I find that I dislike Stein's poetry. I am unable to process and understand it on even a basic level. On the other hand, I find Hacker's moving, erotic, filled with imagery and symbolism that speaks to me. Perhaps this has something to do with the generational gap - Stein is one of the foremost writers of the early 20th century, Hacker one of the most well-known sonneteers of the late 20th and early 21st century.

I suppose what I really find interesting is a comparison of their descriptions of sex. Googling “Lifting Belly” (I couldn’t access the link and tried finding it online before giving in and going to Canaday) makes it clear that Stein’s poem is apparently a description of sex. What I would like to do for comparison is present one of Hacker’s poems from Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons. I don’t believe it’s on the online list, so I’m going to post it in full here.


First, I want to make you come in my hand

while I watch you and kiss you, and if you cry,

I’ll drink your tears while, with my whole hand, I

hold your drenched loveliness contracting. And

after a breath, I want to make you full

again, and wet. I want to make you come

in my mouth like a storm. No tears now. The sum

of your parts is my whole most beautiful

chart of the constellations—your left breast

in my mouth again. You know you’ll have to be

your age. As I lie beside you, cover me

like a gold cloud, hands everywhere, at last

inside me where I trust you, then your tongue

where I need you. I want you to make me come.[1]


Now that is a lesbian sex poem. It’s a Petrarchan sonnet, just in case anyone isn’t aware. If we take as true the idea that “masculine” forms are limiting, then how is it possible that something which would seem to completely exclude the masculine – two lesbians having sex which is clearly not mimicking the heterosexual – can be expressed so clearly and so fully in a form even older than Shakespeare?


I can’t help but consider the question raised in Tuesday’s class of the way Stein’s conscious lack of grammatical markers relates to gender markers. I suppose what I am advocating is not a stripping bare of gender, a making of everyone the same, but an awareness that what is important is not a biological form, but the way we use that form. There are no inherent biological differences; gender does not necessarily follow from sex. There was a lot of backlash when my proposal of a “gender-blind” future was brought up, especially when compared to being color-blind. I find this a much more useful way to discuss form. The color of someone’s skin doesn’t matter – that alone does not tell me anything about an individual. Culture cannot be determined by skin-color alone, and gender cannot be determined by biological sex – it may be connected, but the true marks of culture are the ways an individual marks hir body, the way it is used to show hir thoughts and beliefs. The way an individual dresses, speaks, carries hirself – these are markers of an individual. Stein’s removal of grammatical markers simply makes hir poetry difficult to comprehend. This isn’t the same as mixed markers, “masculine” and “feminine” inscribed on the same body. Hacker takes a basic form and makes it hir own. Ze uses a form which is “traditional” to describe an act which has been consistently erased from history. Hacker’s poetry fits in better with my own feminist stance – an appropriation of a form considered to be gendered for hir own purposes, which therefore undermines the notion of two fixed genders altogether.


Besides, Hacker’s poem is hot.

[1] Hacker, Marilyn. Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986. 21.


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