Pretty Girls, Phallic Symbols and the Mysterious Human Brain
I don’t know why, but I wrote my first poem when I was six. It was an ode to female beauty that started, “Her face was the color of peaches and cream, with strawberry juice in between.” Not exactly subtle, huh. Born already of stories about blushing princesses and sleeping beauties that so shape the young lives of women. I say women and not girls because I think that the images and parables of such stories, though created in youth, last for a lifetime – even when we decide that we don’t want them to…
What’s wrong with that? First, the princess is chosen and rewarded for her beauty alone. Where is her intelligence? Her creativity? Her ambition? Her kindness? Her wisdom? Her quirky sense of humor after one martini? And then secondly, the reward is … the prince. What about her aspirations? Is she ever going to win an award? Go to college? Play soccer? Does she have a career? Or at least do some volunteer work with those pretty, idle hands? Finally, there’s the prince himself. After all, he’s human … sort of. Does he cheat on her? Holler at her? Withdraw into video games and internet porn? Does he refuse to go to counseling? Struggle with rapid ejaculation?
Of course, the girl reading the storybook fantasy knows nothing of such things. And so we end up, adult women who still want to meet our ‘Prince Charming,’ be ‘swept off our feet,’ and ‘live happily ever after.’ The prince is going to be a great guy, have lots of money, take care of us forever, and of course, sublimate his every desire so that we can be happy!
Good luck with that.
(In Licking the Spoon, my book about food, sex and relationships, Chapter 6, “Viva la Difference,” turns some of the myths about what women and men want on their ear, so to speak.)
Well, at age six, I had not studied women’s history or feminism. I had not yet heard of men with antisocial personality disorder or hypertrophic prostate. I believed that a woman’s beautiful skin was the start of a great life. Clearly I was in for lessons in the school of hard knocks.
But why was I compelled to commit my reverie to paper? What motivates a six-year-old, whose ABCs still look like pick-up-sticks, to write a poem? I can’t explain it, any more than I can explain why a 13-year-old boy plays guitar until his fingers hurt. Or a child who does water-colors in elementary school goes on to paint in oils and spend a year in Paris to hone her skills. I don’t know why a dancer pirouettes until his toes become hard knobs. Or a horticulturist breeds new flowers, or a chef creates a culinary masterpiece.
Apparently we’re in good company, though. Anthropologists trace the arts to the Venus figurines of roughly 30,000 years ago. And just like my rather immature poem, those rough-hewn images of fertile women may have been an awe-struck prayer to the role of feminine beauty in carrying on our species.
In the meantime, I’m happy to say that my writing has improved a bit with time. Here’s a line from a poem I published some years back in an out-of-print women’s anthology called Herself: Portrait.
“When I love to watch those low-down rock stars rolling slender hips on rocking guitars…”
I look back on some of my earlier writings with embarrassment, but I still like that image. It took our hunter-gatherer ancestors about 20,000 years to understand the male role in fertility and pay artistic homage in the form of phallic symbols. I’m kind of happy that it only took me about 15.