I came across this work—it’s poetry, really—in the comment stream of an article from the New Yorker that had been making the rounds on Facebook. The article, a lively if sometimes trite treatise calling for the abolition of high heels from everyday wear, turned fashion into a feminist issue: The author argued the almost painfully obvious position that footwear that constricts, pains, and even damages the body does not belong in a world where women are working tirelessly to maintain sovereignty over their bodies. I shared it most vigorously—being myself unable to wear high heels as they are expensive and I would rather pay for something pleasant—and it was well received by those in my online cohort who have also revoked diets, body hair removal, and other painful “necessities” of womanhood that are really just bullshit if you stop to think about them.
At any rate, the article crossed my digital path again earlier today, and I thought I might check out the comments to gauge public opinion on the issue—I knew that my friend group was likely not a representative sample. There was, of course, the usual nastiness that one encounters whenever women exercise their voices in public online spaces—from men who would rather the author have stopped wearing heels in silence than complain about it, to men who thought the article’s topic disqualified the author as a feminist when she could have been building homes for burn victims in Somalia. And then there was “Women Like This,” a singular work of verbal mastery—a poem, truly—that left all the other hecklers and supporters and “Becky have you read this”ers in the dust.
The comment reads, in its brutal brevity, thus: “Women like this writer make me wonder why women even have brains.” It bears noting that the commenter herself was, by all appearances, a woman (of course her account could have been a trolling farm set up by a sad, lonely man). But since a good scholar ignores authorial identity and intention in order to scrutinize more effectively the text at hand, we must kill the author and soldier on—although I’m going to take her Facebook profile at face value and assume she is a woman, for pronoun reasons.
Most notable and remarkable in this comment is the author’s use of alliteration. The one verb in the comment, and all the major nouns, begin with the letter W: “women,” “writer,” “wonder,” and then, again, “women.” All these words are trochees, too, which lends a delicious consistency of rhythm to the line. Although the beginning makes the poetic reader hopeful for a true trochaic verse, after “wonder” the meter deteriorates—suitable, because the subject’s action, her wondering, is where the sentence takes quite a thrilling turn.
Prompted not by the article in question, nor even by the article’s writer, but rather by “women like this writer,” the commenter is made to “wonder why women even have brains.” This provides quite a dizzying conundrum, for the act of wondering, as all brain-bearing women are aware, necessitates the presence and viability of a brain in the skull of the wonderer. If, indeed, a 500-word essay in the New Yorker made this woman despair of her own sex to such an extent that she felt the privilege of having brains ought to be revoked for us all—much in the same way that an entire swimming pool must shut down if just one child vomits in it—then surely she must recognize the peril she risks to her own brain. Surely the act of writing, itself the highest possible expression the human brain is capable of (except for math), precludes any notion that the statement’s creator might dispossess herself of her own mind.
There is only one possible explanation for such cognitive dissonance, for such tensile contradictions strangling themselves within the span of a breath: The commenter does not recognize herself as part of a network, cannot identify that she and the demographic to which she refers are connected, are indeed inseparable. From her shabbily syllogistic attribution of her sentiments “women like this writer,” to her willing abandonment of her own brain, the commenter displays a clear inability to transfer her thinking completely from the imaginary realm to the symbolic realm.
From a Lacanian lens, this means merely that the commenter is not quite able to conceive of herself as a member of a network, does not yet see the way she operates as just a small part of a system, of a language. Instead, she is still an infant gazing at her reflection in the mirror, reconciling the cohesive image before her with the clumsy multitudes of her perceptions. Rather than confront an Other that ultimately sways the course of her own movements and doings, the commenter is happy to relegate womankind to a lowercase other, to a seperate and inferior entity she can easily cast aside in favor of narcissistic, navel-gazing witticisms.
It is easy to dump 3.5 billion women into one tiny box, and leave yourself outside this box as the one shining exception, when your gaze turns only inward, when illusions of autonomy and alienation rule your sad, lonely reality. One can only hope the writer was, in fact, a man-troll trying desperately for cheap laughs. The alternative—a woman who hates women so much that she would blithely sacrifice her own sentience for the sake of a pleasantly alliterative Facebook comment—is too confusing to fathom without invoking the theories of a dead white guy.