3 min read

Daughters of the Swan

They say feminism goes to such extremes, A woman is a vessel for the species’ dreams.
a photo of some expensive chocolate bars in beautiful wrappers
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Originally written in 2018. I wish I had a more nuanced understanding of gender back then, so take the binary gender roles in this piece with a hefty grain of salt.

This poem was based entirely on real news stories (except allusions to Greek myth).
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TRIGGER WARNING: explicit mentions of violence and sexual assault.

As you tuck away at the edges of your clothes
You’re a caged bird plucking out its feathers,
Lace adorns your noose, with a thin line of fabric
Meant to push against your trachea;
Your words are never heard, for even your underwear,
– which no one was meant to see –
Has become a sign of consent.
When you ask for things, you are a girl.
When others demand, you are a “woman”:
How can you be a woman at 17,
When you were coming back from band practice?
How can you be –– attracted ––
To a man a decade older, in a dark muddy alleyway,
Even when you screamed?
How can you be interested in a ––
Monster, whose face is obscured by  
Shadows of the night, who hides his sins in shame.
Yet you are the one to blame.

Virginity is valued when it can be taken away.
Your thighs caressed by the dark webs,
Your nape caught in his bill,
Leda, Antiope, Callisto, Europa,
Swan, satyr, bull, a goddess of chastity,
When gods can rape and be praised for it,
What hope is there for mortal men
To learn
And listen
To smothered cries of their sisters and mothers.

Don’t be distressed,
Look at the way you were dressed –
In baggy jeans and a hoodie,
Of course you were meant to be raped.
The system allows it. Remember,
Contents of your purse control
The content of your soul.
Your taxi driver can testify that you sobbed
On your drive home and that your jeans
Were covered with blood from lacerations
In your bleeding vagina.
But that is not proof that you were raped, or even had sex.
You were just a “merry-go-round” in a text message.
Because boys will be boys
And our bodies stay toys.

The judge did not respond to requests for comment.
She was not sure the law really contemplated something
Like the death of a woman, like the rape of a woman,
Like the voice of a woman who
Could actually speak
And not lie in an alleyway
Dead.

It is not a crime for someone to not get help
If someone is dying next to them
Unless they are a parent,
Or the person dying
Is elderly, pregnant, or a child.

Because a woman is only valued
When she is a child or is carrying one.
They say feminism goes to such extremes,
A woman is a vessel for the species’ dreams.

Just reach out for help, they say.
But the campus police won’t help you.
911 will decide it’s not their problem.
They don’t have time for background checks,
It’s not their job to find that someone
Is listed on the sex offender registry,
Or convicted of enticing a minor,
Or spent over a decade in prison.

Your death was not preventable,
You didn’t reach out for help enough.
You should have gotten it before you were born.
So that you wouldn’t speak with a woman’s voice.

Lost at 4am, no public transport running,
On the wrong side of the city.
He offers help, he sees that you’re upset.
You thank your lucky stars for kind strangers
Who beat you.
Who take your phone away.
Who hit you over and over until you can’t fight.
Who hit you over and over until you can’t scream.
Who hit until you can’t see through the blood in your eyes.

You pretend to be dead, hoping that he won’t beat a corpse.
You’re right - he’ll rape you instead.
And leave you in a puddle of your blood.

Your freedom as a woman is contingent upon
Men allowing you to act
And dream empowered dreams:
If a man decided to rape and kill you, he could.
If a group of men decided to enslave you in a basement,
they could.
If a country decided to strip you of any rights,
it could.

None of you matters
At the mercy of a man.