This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs.
She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
She went to and fro apologizing.
Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.
She was advised to play coy,
exhorted to come on hearty,
exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.
Her good nature wore out
like a fan belt.
So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up.
In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.
— by Marge Piercy
Is this powerful poem too easy? Does Marge Piercy, a poet capable of subtle and even obscure work, swing a sledge hammer in this condemnation of society’s treatment of girls?
Perhaps, but I think it’s still a heck of a poem. I love the metaphor – “Her good nature wore out/ like a fan belt.”
And I love the universality at the end. “To every woman a happy ending.” Not everyone commits suicide – not everyone suffers exactly as this particular girl, but all women are exposed to the lipsticks and dolls of childhood, and, Piercy suggests, all seek that consummation of being viewed as looking pretty.
I’m curious about this poem – how does it strike the women who read it? Other men?