Female Potential and Marge Piercy

8 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

Tuesday Teaching Memo: "A Work of Artifice" by Marge Piercy

A Work of Artifice

The bonsai tree

in the attractive pot

could have grown eighty feet tall

on the side of a mountain

till split by lightning.

But a gardener

carefully pruned it.

It is nine inches high.

Every day as he

whittles back the branches

the gardener croons,

It is your nature

to be small and cozy

domestic and weak;

how lucky, little tree,

to have a pot to grow in.

With living creatures

one must begin very early

to dwarf their growth:

the bound feet,

the crippled brain,

the hair in curlers,

the hands you

love to touch.

I haven't taught this poem since I was a High School English teacher, but it has stayed with me throughout the years. It especially rings out to me today because my little girl looked me square in the eyes and told me that she couldn't like something because she was a girl. And every once in a while these past few weeks, she hits me with phrases like, " this is for girls/that is for boys." Where does she get this from? Not me. But at three, the world around her -- kids at school, tv, commercials, and perhaps even her older brother -- have told her that because she is a girl, she cannot like certain things. And I don't like it. It goes agains what I want to teach her -- what I want her to know about womanhood -- that she can be anything, do anything she wants -- and that being a girl is not a disability. She is not weak, small, cozy, and domestic. Her potential is limitless, relentless.

Marge Piercy's poem is not about Bonsai trees -- it is about female potential that is "dwarf(ed)," "crippled" and "bound." The same way a bonsai tree is whittled and re-shaped into a small and domestic plant, so is a woman whittled -- reduced to a small-minded and nurturing domestic animal. Both have the potential to be great, bigger than life itself, but society and its gardeners -- people, in general -- appreciate the tree and the woman better when they are small, cute, and manageable. If either grew too big -- they would be out of control -- out of man's control. Thus both the bonsai tree and the girl have to be contained, bound, and shaped to miniature versions of their full potential when they are young, so that they know nothing more, they know nothing else.

And what is so wrong with being great, being just as big and strong and powerful as men? Why do they get the dibs on logic, power and ambition? Why are we associated with the home, the domestic, the artificial -- the powerlessness? This is not what I want my daughter to learn -- it is not how I want her to see herself. And I don't know if my voice is loud enough, commanding enough to drown out the voices that tell her she is a girl, and therefore "domestic and weak." How do I teach her to be empowered when the world tells her otherwise?

What stories do your daughters come home with that tell them who they are --- what their nature as girls are?

Copyright© 2010 by Marina DelVecchio. All Rights Reserved.



Marina DelVecchio



Web site:http://Marinadelvecchio.com


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