The Thing Itself and not the Myth


  Diving into the Wreck is one of Adrienne Rich’s most renowned poems from 1973. Rich was celebrated as an active feminist and some of her ideals were perhaps extreme, but captivating nonetheless. One of the more popular interpretations of the poem online is that Rich focuses on humanity. It focuses on “storytellers as observers, recorders, and explorers; and the isolation of life”, argues Sara Barkat(2014). And although I agree that the isolation component of the poem is essential to its interpretation, knowledge about Rich’s background cannot be ignored when reading the text. Rich was a feminist and her poems reflect her beliefs about the patriarchal society. This exceptional poem illustrates how more women need to partake in the field of literature.

adrienne-rich_photo-by-thomas-victor-courtesy-of-schlesinger-library_305px_0_0 (Adrienne Rich. Photo by Thomas Victor.)

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.

Here Adrienne Rich describes the narrator preparing for her dive. Rich’s language is full of connotations of getting ready for battle. She loads the camera, as a soldier would load a gun. She then checks the sharpness of her knife and puts on a “body-armor”. Rich intentionally sets up a scene that resembles soldiers preparing for war. This particular war is between a woman and a male dominated field.

I am having to do this
assiduous team
not like Cousteau with his
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone

The narrator is alone on her schooner, whereas Cousteau had the support of a crew. This represents women trying to break into the field of literature only to find themselves isolated and expected to do things on their own. Whereas a man  would have support and encouragement from different academics and scholars. And so she sets off on a solo diving mission, inspecting the water.


(Empty Earth Full Sky S1. Ep.16- Diving Into the Wreck (Season 1 Finale))

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.

The ship represents women in literature and the work they’ve done throughout history. The ship has sunken to the bottom of the sea of stories written by men. Adrienne Rich narrates how the purpose of the adventure was to find the treasure of words written by great female authors before her time, and what kind of art was lost in history.

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun

The narrator emphasises her goal to discover something tangible rather than stereotypes and myths that have been told to her throughout her life. I believe the drowned faces represent the female authors who have been lost in history or who haven’t been acknowledged. They stare at the sun for a glimmer of hope, having faith that their work will live on.

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

Here Adrienne addressees the readers, reaching out to women everywhere, uniting them as one. She mirrors her first stanza in her last stanza. This time the narrator is not alone because the readers become warriors joining her for battle, they become fellow wreck divers. Women’s names do not appear in history because of the discrimination they have faced from the beginning of time. So many women would use male pen names or go by anonymous so that their work wouldn’t be discriminated against and for the fear of their safety. And so Rich reminds the readers that there is a perpetual problem in the patriarchal society that only women can combat.


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Lead Us Not into Temptation.


Christina Rossetti narrates the journey of unconditional love between two sisters, Lizzie and Laura, in her poem titled “Goblin Market”.  In the poem, the two sisters struggle as they are tempted to give in to their sexual desires and buy the goblins fruit, a symbol of the biblical account of forbidden fruit. Many critics such as Erika Andersen argue that the poem is a story with the moral of strong friendships and women sticking together. And although this feminist theory is plausible, the poem is more likely about women trying to escape the temptations of losing their chastity and exploring their sexuality before marriage in an era run by popes and priests.

Rossetti recognised how her patriarchal society caused harm to the women who challenged its ideals, and she in turn suggests that women have the freedom of testing the waters of sexuality and repenting afterwards.

While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low:
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never blow.
She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died
In her gay prime,
In earliest winter time
  Rossetti uses Jeanie as a symbol of the fallen women, women who have lost their innocence to the goblins, luring them in with mouth watering promises. According to Rossetti, these women wither and die alone. Society had measured women’s worth by their pureness. Lizzie repeatedly turned to Jeanie as a prime example of what happens to those who drift from abstinence of any sexual act before marriage.
290px-Found_rossetti (A painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1865–1869), Christina Rossetti’s brother, showing a distressed fallen woman who is turning her face away in shame. The unfinished painting illustrates a bridge in the background which implicates the woman is contemplating suicide, which was very common for fallen women in the 19th century.)
“Buy from us with a golden curl.”
She clipp’d a precious golden lock,
She dropp’d a tear more rare than pearl
  In these three lines, Christina Rossetti paints this vivid image of Laura paying the goblins with her most valuable possessions. She is quite literally giving away a piece of her so that she can enjoy their wide variety of fruit. This mirrors women giving up their virginity, their reputation and arguably their worth when they chose to engage in sexual activity with these men. This goes back to the idea of the bible referring to women’s bodies as precious and holy temples.
She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
She suck’d until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away
  Rossetti writes the story of Laura losing her virginity by using vulgar imagery and recreating the scene with fruit metaphors and symbolism. It’s almost shocking how hungry for sexual touch Laura seems as she repeatedly sucks the fruit to the point of physical pain. This echos Rossetti’s subjective desires and fantasies of what it would be like to be sexually intimate, as she was never married and was part of a religious society.
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
  It becomes more and more apparent that this poem is meant to be erotic. Rossetti introduces this idea of two women becoming intimate, as Lizzie asks Laura to kiss her and suck her juices. But this scene is also meant to be a redemption scene, where Lizzie is a Christ figure of sacrifice to pay for Laura’s sins. As Laura sucks her juices, she is cured of her need for the goblin men’s fruit; however, this was a long a painful process.
tumblr_m9i2knYrk31re8d1to2_r1_1280 tumblr_m9i2knYrk31re8d1to3_r2_500
(Images from Playboy, illustrated by Kinuko Craft (1973). The images highlight the sexual context that can be derived from the poem.)
  The poem ends on an unexpectedly positive note, where both women still get the traditional lifestyle women looked forward to in the 19th century. They become housewives and mothers to a number of children. Although most fallen women were shunned from society and expected to take their own lives, Rossetti takes a different route with her story. She implies that Laura’s sins were washed away with redemption, and that having sexual intimacy should not take away from a woman’s worth in society.
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They’ve Been In Your Shoes

                        gender failure

I’ve heard people argue that choosing to be gender neutral rather than identifying as a female means that you’ve given up on feminism. But why? Isn’t feminism the fight for equality of all genders?


Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon are both authors of Gender Failure, a book that explains the reasons they’ve chosen to retire from gender all together and what kind of struggles they’ve had to face when they made that decision. In the book, they discuss the kind of obstacles they faced as women, then as transgender men, and now as gender neutral individuals. Coyote and Spoon have experienced discrimination from different sources because of society’s gender norms and expectations, and yet they refuse to allow society to determine what they are meant to be. This book’s main focus is to celebrate individuals for their accomplishments, regardless of gender.

The authors still use the pronouns she/her when it comes to social media because they want young girls to see the different kinds of women they can be. They look at Coyote and Spoon and see suits, ties, short hair and all things usually associated with being manly. Being represented in media is very important and influential for girls growing up and seeing that they have different options that don’t fit social norms. This is evident in the book Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, where she saw a butch female truck driver with short hair at a diner and saw herself through this woman. The authors are a symbol of breaking down the walls gender norms have built around girls and boys.

                                                                                 SPOOON THO

The authors also wanted to make sure that reporters and people working in the social media industry focused on their actions and accomplishments rather than their identity. They also suggest that in an ideal world, people would be referred to as they/them unless their gender was particularly important or relevant to the story. Coyote and Spoon want people to start being appreciated for what they do and how they change the world without having people question their gender before deciding whether or not the accomplishment is admirable.

Rae spoon goes on to say that they found that people wanted to label to their gender as well as their sexuality. As a female who liked to date other females, people labelled them as a lesbian. As a transgender man, they were labelled as gay. People want to fit others into molds because they don’t like the ambiguity. But Rae Spoon believed that labels were limiting, and that people should feel free to have their sexualities and gender identities be as fluid as they’d like.

Overall, Gender Failure is an awe-inspiring book that I found to summarize what feminism means to me. It suggests that people’s capabilities shouldn’t be questioned based on their gender, because that can change at any given moment. People are unique and their achievements are entirely their own. Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon create a safe space for everyone to feel equal regardless of the gender they were assigned at birth, and where they can be free of labels.

The Unpleasant Fun Home


Alison Bechdel narrates her complex relationship with her father in Fun Home, a graphic novel in which she tastefully articulates her thoughts and emotions through text and imagery. Many people would argue that graphic novels do not truly belong in the “literary” category. However, Bechdel does a superb job at proving that graphic novels can provide just as much of a spiritual journey as any other novel written by the most prestigious authors. On the surface, Fun Home is a memoire Bechdel uses as a cathartic method of explaining her bond with her father and the effect it had on how she explored her sexuality. If you take a closer look, this book reaches a much wider audience who may be suffering from a variety of mental health issues, starting to question their sexuality or gender, and/or have trouble relating to their parents. And that is why most people can relate to Fun Home.

Alison Bechdel accurately depicts what having a mental illness truly feels like. She reveals her struggles dealing with her over compulsive disorder (OCD), where she felt the need to repeat certain actions such as counting the number of drops form the leaking faucet and making it stop at an even number. Bechdel’s drawings illustrate how she’d have to do certain hand gestures or movement before she could have peace of mind, and the visual aid is so effective. You can see the expression of frustration and shame on her face as she repeats the incantation in front of her brothers and has to dress and undress for the third time. I also love how she manages to capture the essence of isolation and loneliness in her drawing on page 134, where her brothers and parents are all dispersed throughout the home refusing to engage. Most teenagers nowadays struggle with the feeling that they’re going through everything on their own, that nobody could possibly understand, and Bechdel’s art proves that mental illness is something they can overcome or at least learn how to deal with it.

Bechdels OCD

Fun Home tackles another problem most teenagers face at some point, questioning their sexuality. Bechdel was lucky enough to have parents who didn’t shun her for coming out to them as a lesbian, but growing up, Bechdel’s father tried to make her appear more feminine. I would argue that it was because of his insecurities and the fear that people would not treat her the way she deserved to because of the discrimination he had to face himself. Bechdel’s mother also had a hard time accepting her daughter’s sexuality and tried to pass it off as a phase. It is hard enough to accept who you are and discover more about your sexuality, but to have your parents question your identity for you can be a whole other challenge. In the end Bechdel unexpectedly starts to connect with her father on a deeper emotional level as they become more open about their sexuality and how they expressed themselves when they were younger. Although it was far from a perfect relationship, Bechdel was able to stay true to who she was and still have a supportive family. And isn’t that what we all aim for?

important moment with bechdel 2

Overall, this book has been an inspiration to many, including myself. Bechdel narrates her life in a way that we can all relate to in different aspects of our everyday lives. Fun Home was anything but fun; it was a stage where problems and secrets were unraveled. But it proves that relationships can be complex and can be in a grey area rather than having everything in black and white. No matter how many obstacles Bechdel went through, she found a way to come out stronger than before.