I am a product of the 21st Century. I am currently a college undergraduate, pursuing a Bachelors degree in Political Science and Global Studies. I listen to NPR on a daily basis, and read the news frequently. I hate being treated like an idiot. I hate that when I walk into a room full of the opposite sex, it is automatically assumed that I don’t know anything about anything. However, I don’t understand how other girls, with similar attitudes as I- don’t want to be called “sexy.”
Today in my English class, we read a poem by Pablo Neruda called “Body of a Woman.” And the title says it all:
Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
you look like a world, lying in surrender.
My rough peasant’s body digs in you
and makes the son leap from the depths of the earth.
I only was a tunnel. The birds fled from me,
and night swamped me with its crushing invasion.
To survive myself I forged you like a weapon,
like an arrow in my bow, a stone in my sling.
But the hour of vengeance falls, and I love you.
Body of skin, of moss, of eager and firm milk.
Oh the goblets of the breast! Oh the eyes of absence!
Oh the roses of the pubis! Oh your voice, slow and sad!
Body of my woman, I will persist in your grace.
My thirst, my boundless desire, my shifting road.
Dark river-beds where the eternal thirst flows
and weariness follows, and the infinite ache.
The night we were assigned to read Neruda’s poetry, all I could think to myself was “goddamn, do I want to make sweet love to this man and his words.”
The girls in my class thought much differently.
We read the poem aloud, and my professor asked us how we felt about it. Four girls raised their hands and claimed they found the poem to be “objectifying” and that Neruda only saw the “woman as a body.”
I sat in the back of my class half sinking into my chair and half raising my hand. Was I encouraging the stereotype that I have been fighting so hard against?
So I raised my hand, cleared my throat and confidently spoke the worst:
“I thought the poem was sexy.”
I thought I was going to be gunned down.
My professor smiled, and began to expand on what I said. We broke the stanzas down and talked about each one individually- we finally came to the conclusion that Neruda fell in love with the woman despite his original intentions.
The class moved on from the poem, but I didn’t. I was trapped with this one question ringing through my mind- “am I being a stupid girl?”
After class, I went to the bathroom to wash my hands and I looked in the mirror. I thought about how I would swoon over that poem if Neruda wrote it about me. If he wrote about how much he adored my body and that he fell in love with me despite all odds.
I decided the rest of the girls in my class just didn’t get it.
Girls of our generation are constantly fighting this crazy battle that deals with “sexiness.” How can I be sexy, but still respected? If a man tells me I’m beautiful is he just telling me that because he wants to sleep with me? If a man writes a love poem about me, it’s only about my body- right?
We need to embrace sexiness. We need to recognize that we are women, and we have curves and we are inherently beautiful creatures. So, why are we fighting this idea? When did being “sexy” become being “slutty” or “stupid”?
Neruda may have been writing about this woman’s breasts, and her pubis- but he compared her to wonders of the world. And what’s so wrong with that?
So, let’s stop with all this only business, no pleasure nonsense. It is possible to have an intelligent conversation and feel sexy. We need to embrace and redefine what “sexy” means. Just because I wear a slightly revealing top and flirt a little doesn’t make me a slut. Just because I wear 5 inch heels to a party doesn’t make me stupid. But I want to be sexy and respected. It’s up to all of us to define those two things- we can’t call each other whores or sluts or idiots because then guys will call us the same thing- and we’ll just be proving them right. So, if we allow our fellow ladies to embrace their sex appeal and respect them for it- the men will most likely follow.
I can talk politics until the sun comes up. I can analyze the crap out of any movie you make me watch. I earned a 3.8 GPA last semester. I plan on pursuing my Masters degree. I have read more books in the past year than most people have in a lifetime. I wear turtle necks to parties sometimes. And if Pablo Neruda wrote a poem about me, and what a lovely creature I am, I would be okay with it.