LITERARY ANALYSIS: First (and Last) Date: A Sexist Sestina

Author’s Reflection and Interpretation

When I began research for this poem, I went straight to the Vagina Monologues 2014 Facebook page, which sounds a bit unreliable, but the girls in our group are constantly finding examples of sexism and rape culture.  The article I found most helpful for First (and Last) Date was posted on Upworthy by Ari Isaacman Astles. “A Glimpse at How the Media Treated Women This Year” is a compilation of news stories and commercials that marginalize women into silent sex objects or power-hungry monsters. I won’t break the entire poem down as I did with “Knockout,” but I will highlight some of the news stories I used.  Primarily, I tried to bring attention to the phenomenon of “slut-shaming,” carefully choosing my words so that the feminist voice in the poem didn’t use the word without quotations.

Upworthy’s video:

I chose begin the poem with a question about pro-choice because frankly, it made me chuckle.  If a traditional, hetero-normative male were to effectively destroy a first date with a woman, I would not be surprised that trying to discuss abortion would have gotten him there. The Texas passage of anti-abortion law was an absolute battle in the Senate, and Senator Wendy Davis was labelled “stupid” and earned the name “abortion barbie,” which I reference in line 7 of First Date.  I also try to battle the notion that intelligent women are either a joke or complete fallacy through the poem.

When I refer to a woman as a “looker” in lines 8-9, I am referencing a stories found on BBC and CBS.  A presenter for BBC stated that tennis champion Marion Bartoli is “never going to be a looker.”  This was a prime news story, and rather than comment on the athlete’s success in on the court, the news person chose to draw attention to her appearance.  A similar story was found on CBS regarding a Houston cheerleader, questioning if she was “too chunky,” a quote I also borrowed in line 16 of the sestina.  I see this all the time with women athletes (compare Bartoli’s objectification to that of Maria Sharapova, for example.

Maria Sharapova Related Google Searches

These are related Google searches for Sharapova In order of “importance.” Notice a pattern?

Meanwhile, when I Google search Lebron James I find nothing but stats, game highlights and articles concerning NBA trades.  The stigma against women in sports is still so negative that radio host Damon Bruce was quoted, “sports has lost his way because women are giving directions.”

In line 11, I write, “I’m not saying you women deserve it.” I was going to use the phrasing simply because it’s pretty well known when discussing rape culture. When I watched the Upworthy video, I knew it was something I couldn’t ignore. When covering the story on a rape accusation, a FOX news reporter rationalized “I’m not saying she deserved to be raped, but…” That “but” was exactly what I needed for that last end word, for the sestina.

The last stanza of this poem was written on a whim, when I was reminded of Beyonce Knowles’ song “Bow Down.” Controversy surrounded the lyrics, and she gained a lot of attention from conservative reporters like Rush Limbaugh, who decided that because the singer married wealthy rapper, Jay-Z, she might choose to bow down or bow out. (With this sweeping generalization of women’s dependence on men, Limbaugh fails to note that Beyonce earned $2 million per night during her tour this year, and has been a successful solo recording artist for 15 years).  In reality, Beyonce is telling her fellow women to respect her position as a powerful woman and to not make assumptions about her personal life.  (This topic is discussed much further in Disruptions and Reinforcements of Gender: An Analysis of Daenarys Targaryen and Beyonce Knowles-Carter and Hardly ***Flawless:The Complications of Feminism and Identity Categories as Illustrated by the Study of Romanticism and Beyonce).

Ban Bossy Campaign

Beyonce taking a stance against the stereotypes that gendered language creates.

***Flawless lyric

Beyonce states that she is more than the wife of a powerful man.

Other lyrics I borrowed were from Beyonce’s “Upgrade You,” and “Why Don’t You Love Me?” Lily Allen’s “Fuck You” and “Hard Out Here,” Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” and Natasha Bedingfield’s “These Words.” The piece is a little vulgar at times but as one last reporter insists “You’re beautiful, but you have to be honest as well.”


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