Saturday, December 21, 2013

Support Women Poets: No More Measuring Bathing Suits

See this photo above?  It's about women in the 1920's being judged whether they were too sexy in their extra fabric one-piece bathing suits.  If they were, they had to pay a fine.  Now it's 2013 and some people still question if women are showing "too much skin" or dressing too sexy.

Pull out your one-piece bathing suits, ladies.  We're heading back to 1920... well, kind of.


The NY Daily News wrote this story about poets.

Young women poets like Camille Rankine, Trisha Low and Lisa Marie Basile bring new

 energy to world of words: 

In the article features a photo of each poet, a short sample of her work, and her age.

I started seeing this story show up in my newsfeed, first with praise "Look at these featured poets!" and "Congrats!" then with concern "Why do these women have to undress?"  

Conversations began. 

So I went back to look at the photos.  No one is naked.  Some women are in jeans, a tanktop, a crewtop t-shirt.  All the parts of a woman's body that might be censored are covered up.  It's tame.  It's summer attire or cocktail party attire or I-want-to-wear-this-today attire.  There are no nipples, no bare butts, no bellybuttons even. All vaginas are safely hidden from view. 

I kept reading responses to this article-- There was disgust, concern for these women "selling sex," being in their underwear (they aren't, in my opinion), using their sexuality to get noticed, making other women (maybe some men too? I'm not sure) uncomfortable.   

One man wrote: "pretty freaking lame. Just write your damn poems, ladies and save the d├ęcolletage for your love lives."

(This is me making my "yikes" face.)


Sometimes as women, we say, It shouldn't be about the way we look, but about our minds!  Then we trash women for not dressing the way we would.

My first thought when I read the article?  -- Oh, I wish they would have had some poets over 40 in there. Though I do realize "young" was in the headline, but 40 is young.  So is 50, 60, in my eyes.

My thoughts were "Am I old? Am I an old poet?"  The oldest poet is 36.  I wasn't even thinking about what they were wearing.  

Here were my thoughts as I looked at the photos:

Where do you get a blow-up clear plastic couch? Bizarre. I've never seen one.
Cute red rain jacket with plaid.  I could use a red rain jacket.
Oh, I know her.
She looks like her Facebook photo.

In all the comments, no one mentioned this quote by Lisa Marie Basile: 

      I'm inspired by everyday women: their loves, beliefs, fears, pain, their secrets...

Or Monica McClure's

    Women are writing the most interesting work,

People were having a hard time getting past the photos.

Women have it hard enough as poets without people bashing them for what they are wearing (or not wearing).

Are they too pretty?  Not pretty enough?  Too revealing?  Not revealing enough?  Photos aren't good enough?  Are too good?  Are they trying to hard?  Not hard enough?  Can they be taken seriously?  Are they too serious? Too sexual?  Are they wearing too much make-up?  Is their lipstick too red?  What are they suggesting?  Maybe they're not edgy enough? Hair is too frizzy? Hair is too big or too long? Too old for that hair or that outfit? Too much cleavage?  She shouldn't wear that. 
And we wonder why one in four women are taking anti-depressants or drinking a couple glasses of wine at night just to feel at ease.

We wonder why women hold back, are fearful in sharing themselves.

      I'm inspired by everyday women: their loves, beliefs, fears, pain, their secrets... 

I return to this.


Here's a comic from a young 20-year-old artist named Katarzyna Babis, which shows what women face in their lives:

Babis writes: 
[I wanted to start a] discussion about the problem with the way women are perceived by the society, about huge and often contradictory expectations that are put on their shoulders," Babis told the Huffington Post in an email. "In this reality, a woman’s body doesn’t belong to her –- it is either a public property, intended only to be admired, or a source of sin, shame and guilt."

It bothers me when I see poets knocking down other poets.
It bothers me when I see poets judging poets on what they are wearing, their bodies, or on images of them.

Yes, you may disagree with their choice of attire.  Yes, you may choose not to wear a bustier.  Yes, you may feel someone is in their underwear (or halter top, as I saw it) and it's not appropriate. 
Cool.  All fantastic opinions. 

I respect your opinions and your right to have them.  In fact, I love that you are passionate about them.

So don't dress that way.

And maybe, don't believe because you feel something in "inappropriate" for you that it's inappropriate for others.  Or that others are judging them as harshly for it. . .some of us may not care.  Or even notice.  

Some of us may have focused on the poems.  Or the ages.  Some of us may have been wondering who made that cute red raincoat.  Or noticing how much we love red shoes.  Or thinking what's for lunch.  Some of us are writing a blog post eating a tin of homemade toffee.


These women are smart and they are writers.  Let's focus on that.  And that an article was written about them.  Let's not bring down the women.  

Women have it tough.  So let's have conversations about our culture, acceptance, changing things in positive ways for our daughters and our sons, but leave the women alone. (And for the record, I did see some very good conversations about this happening, where individual feelings were discussed, but the women poets were not slammed.  These were the conversations I appreciated.) 

When it comes to poets-- read their poems and decide if they are someone you want to read more from.  Read their thoughts and opinions.  Knocking down another woman (and for what she is wearing) helps no one. Change the culture, not the women who are just trying to do their best in it.  

Your choices may not be my choices.  My choice may not be yours.  But I will support you as women and as artists.  Yes, sometimes it may be hard (or confusing, or complex, and we may not always understand each other or our choices), but it's worth it for all of us in the end.  Extend love, not judgment.

And everyone, poets, non-poets: please don't tell them (tell us) what to do, what to write, or what to wear.  It's sort of like grade school, "Focus on what you're doing, not what your neighbor is . . ."  It works in life too. 

For me, here's what it comes down to-- I don't care what you are wearing (male or female). Show up to a poetry reading in a giraffe suit, jeans & a blazer, a formal gown, a bowtie and boxers, or lingerie.  Just bring good poems.

And be kind.

You know the quote: 

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

~ Kells

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  1. Once again, you captured it, Kelli. We seem to be living in a disturbingly retrograde time. The most disturbing thing to me about the NY Daily piece was that it seemed completely ignorant of the context these poets are working in, and the lineage of female poets that precedes them.

  2. Great piece! Your perspective helped me reexamine/redefine my own. Personally, I took issue with a couple of the generalizations in the NY Daily News piece (feel free to check out my own post,, but I don't get why people are freaking out here. Jealousy, maybe? Insecurity? As I said on my blog, it seems like any article on poetry, no matter how innocent, is apt to get tossed onto the national poetic discussion board like raw meat tossed into a canyon roiling with fifty thousand hundred wolves.


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