examinations: 1.4

By Danielle Susi 

The night before Minneapolis I rode the 82 bus north to my reading at the bar on Fullerton & Western. As I got off, my female bus driver tells me to Be Careful and what I feel is Be Cautious. It isn’t a watch-your-step remark. Her voice is an identification of what it means to be a woman alone at night. 

I have a female student who frequently writes poems about the burden of being beautiful. About how men touch her on the train, but also how she flirts with a barista for free coffee. She epitomizes the dichotomy. 

What is it about being a woman that makes me want to carry a knife in my coat pocket?

On the plane to Minneapolis, after my editor and I enjoy a three-hour delay and a few Bloody Marys in the lounge, I read Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic. In one particular article entitled “Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t,” Hopper, too, struggles with her love of emo music and the way it depicts women:

Girls in emo songs today do not have names. We are not identified beyond our absence, our shape drawn by the pain we’ve caused. Our lives, our day-to-day does not exist, we do not get colored in. Our actions are portrayed solely through the detailing of neurotic self-entanglement of the boy singer—our region of personal power, simply, is our impact on his romantic life. We’re vessels redeemed in the light of boy-love.

She continues to write about the conflict between loving music for what it is, but knowing that the lyrics are not representative of the female experience—or rather, that they are representative of the female experience through the male lens. Hopper questions whether to disregard a poor portrayal of women simply because the music is enjoyable:

Who do you excuse and why? Do you check your politics at the door and just dance or just rock or just let side A spin out? Can you ignore the marginalization of women’s lives on the records that line your record shelves in hopes that feigned ignorance will bridge the gulf…?

She fears, primarily, for teenage girls at the front rows of contemporary emo shows. Girls who are looking to “stake some claim to punk rock,” who are seeking self-expression and inclusion. And I believe we all truly want that. To be a part of a maneuvering society while also forging an independence and protection of self, while simultaneously trying to figure out what sacrifices—if any—must be made to be a part of something.

In her book, New Organism: Essais, Andrea Rexilius considers her own version of the female social dichotomy, to be silenced but also demanded of: 

I am a girl, and what does it feel like to be a girl. It feels like a hand over the mouth. A hand over your mouth and on your thighs. Some say it is the sound of a rabbit before it is caught. It is the sound of the sky before it comes crashing down. 

Danielle Susi is the author of the chapbook The Month in Which We Are Born (Dancing Girl Press, 2015). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Knee-Jerk Magazine, Hobart, The Rumpus, Lines+Stars, DIALOGIST, and Midway Journal, among many others. She is a READ section contributor for The Angle and Newcity recently named her among the Top 5 Emerging Chicago Poets. Find her online at daniellesusi.com.