These subliminal messages about how to be a woman are killing me

Can't Cope Won't Cope creator Stefanie Preissner on modern womanhood in a poem for International Women's Day

Stefanie Preissner: I keep notes in my iPhone about white male dominion

Stefanie Preissner: I keep notes in my iPhone about white male dominion

 

How can I be good? What is it that’s proper?
Making sure to make all my silver hairs copper?
To shave and to wax and to dye and to groom
And not be the loudest person in a room.
I was that good girl that could have been better
That B student, but not A to give it a letter.
I was described as always having room to improve
In a stultifying system with no room to move.
So now I don’t know how to feel if I’m not told
I’m afraid to be labelled disruptive or bold.
I keep notes in my iPhone about white male dominion
And scramble through Jezebel to form feminist opinions
Because I can’t on my own, I find it so tough
To form definitive opinions on that sorta stuff.
I’m finding my way but there’s no goddam map
Wouldn’t it be great if we invented some kind of app
That would tell how us how to be the right kind of lady
But wouldn’t that be the same thing we battle with daily?
Am I doing it right? Am I being a good girl?
Am I staying in my lane on the highways of the world?
We are socialised and raised to be good and compliant
Subliminal messaging to soften us so we don’t get defiant.
Subliminal women will learn to be
Polite and quiet with a flare for maternity
From the very first doll they place in a pram
To knowing what garnishes go well with spring lamb
She can parallel park
She can cook a rare steak
She takes her holidays during midterm break
She has a sixth sense for when something is wrong
She’ll remember her in-laws’ birthdays and look good in a thong.
She’ll be a loyal loving friend who has learnt to share
She’ll have a perfect waist-hip ratio and silky soft hair
These subliminal messages filling me killing me
Coming at me from all sides and silently willing me
To believe I’ll be better if I invest in their stuff
Cause without the right shade of lipstick I am not enough
Without a pout shaded “crimson cherry pop red”
I am not worthy of love is what’s being said
If I can’t climb up a cliff face overlooking the sea
Or do couch to 5k effortlessly
If I can’t resist chocolate or get rid of fat
If I give in to wrinkles, if I’m not a doormat

If I can’t run in a sports bra or spin on a bike
Or go for a predawn meditative hike
All while I bleed excessively and am in pain from the movement
I’m not a good enough woman and there’s room for improvement.
Subliminal women are curated from birth
Like seeds harvested from their mothers and buried in earth
And the soil around is fertilised, augmented
With impossible standards to drive us demented.
I am a woman. “Nice figure,” they shout
Here’s some figures we should try figure out
1 in 10 women experience sexual violence
15 million under 18 are married off in silence
32 per cent of parliamentarians are female
but we earn 14-20 per cent less depending on detail
I’m googling facts to come up with these rhymes
But the figures are depressing and I’m wasting my time
Because no matter what way you swing it, or what way it lands
It seems women’s experience is shaped by male hands.
If all that is so clear to me why am I confused?
Why does knowing how I feel leave me feeling bemused?
Am I allowed to say I don’t know how I feel?
About pregnancy or breastfeeding or chemical peels.
Am I a bad woman if I don’t share the tweets
If I don’t wear the T-shirt or occupy streets
Can I find my own way to support the cause
Can I take time to consider things, just a brief little pause
Or do I have to be certain, steadfast no movement
Can I be a feminist with room for improvement?

Subliminal Women by Stefanie Preissner was commissioned by the BBC radio programme The Conversation

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