Monday, May 14, 2012

My First Period - Staceyann Chin

Staceyann Chin performed her poetry through spoken word at the 2009 Campus Progress National Conference. In the second half of the video, her poem of choice was “My First Period”. In this poem, she described her sexual maturation and what it meant to her. Staceyann began the poem by sharing how excited she was about her first period and how she confided in her best friend about it. The ultimate excitement about the beginning of her menses was that she could finally have babies. Staceyann then turned to the darker aspect of sexuality when she shares that her cousin in Jamaica had raped her when she was just a girl. “You smell like a woman in a girl’s body”, Staceyann mimicked his rationale to the audience.  “Years later, he still smiles at me. No apologies. I was just a girl,” Staceyann confidently exclaimed. She continued on to relate her experience to the experience of other girls and women concerning rape when she said “Quick and quiet, girls learn to wash those details away”. Staceyann connected elements of personal experience to a greater and widespread problem of shame of the female body despite its unique ability to support and give life.
An overarching theme in Staceyann Chin’s “My First Period” is sexuality. First, it is important to discuss the diction and tone that Staceyann uses and what it means. The poet says to her audience, “The most radical thing a woman can do is own her sexuality”.  Her poem alone is a testament to the ownership of her sex, as she strongly uses words like “vagina” and other slang, without hesitation, to explain how powerful her sex can be. Typically, the word “vagina” is masked as the words “punani”, “pussy”, and “cunt” (to name a few). Two out of these three words can be used to negatively describe someone nowadays. This speaks volumes about the shame and negativity some of us feel towards the female genitalia. In The Body Through Women’s Eyes, Frueh discusses how the female genitals are typically seen as objects of shame and disgust (Frueh, 190-192).  
Staceyann’s initial excitement over menarche and her ability to give birth was temporarily quieted by the male dominance that her cousin represents with his offense of rape.  The violation of the female body ironically becomes the shame and guilt that the girl in question must bare. This was intensified by the lack of shame and regret of her cousin, who acted as if nothing had happened. Frueh mentions that in the 1970’s, feminist artists were “wanting to reclaim the female body for women, [and this] asserted women’s ability to create their own aesthetic pleasures by representing women’s bodies and women’s experiences” (Frueh, 190). Staceyann makes her poem not only a representation of her own experience as a woman, but also a representation of all women who are sexually violated. Her epiphany is that the word “vagina” is commonly silenced and that rape seems to be something the victim must adapt to and be ashamed of. Through her poetry, she reconciles with her fertile body and its great abilities.  
“Even Jesus had to pass through a punani,” says Staceyann, “Angels and messengers aside, Mary had to lend passage to God”. I see Staceyann tying religion, which tends to be patriarchal, to being a woman. Her quote reminds me of how important the role of being a woman is and sadly, how often this is forgotten. In western society, the female body is not cherished as often as we would like for it to be, despite its incredible power. Staceyann’s finishing lines of her poem feeds back to the portion of her work that speaks about rape and the violation of not only the female body but also the female psyche. After proving that the female genitalia are important and good, she finishes the poem by yelling repeatedly that it was not her fault. In The Body Through Women’s Eyes, it says,  “They [feminist art depicting positive female body images] also show that women could become makers of meaning, as opposed to being bearers of man’s meaning” (Frueh, 190).  The female body is not only that to be a vessel for the child of a man, but also a contributor to the making of said child, which is one more thing that a man cannot ever do. Staceyann Chin comes to terms with her body through her poetry, reclaims her sexuality, and proclaims her innocence in the offense that was committed against her.
I absolutely loved this poem. It reminded me of the hushed way certain girls discuss their periods as if it is something nasty and evil. It also reminded me of how minimal things such as pubic hair and labia size are common things to be ashamed of in our society, even though they have critical biological functions. It inspired anger and indignation in me when she spoke about her rape. However, what made me most proud to be a woman was her reminder that even Jesus was born from a vagina.

Eduarda Q.

Works Cited

My First Period- Spoken Word of Staceyann Chin. Prod. Campus Progress. Perf. Staceyann Chin. YouTube. Campus Progress, 17 July 2009. Web. 13 May 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGk3-OJX7KE>.

Frueh, Joanna. "The Body Through Women's Eyes." Ed. Mary D. Garrard. The Power Of Feminist Art. Ed. Norma Broude. 1994. 190-207. Print.

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