Hidden Chapters

Author’s Note: This poem came out of my anger at how women’s histories and stories are hidden from them, deemed unworthy to be learned. This judgment of these stories’ worth perpetuates itself in girls’ and women’s sense of self-worth: if you do not see yourself represented, what ground are you standing on?  Not only does this lack result in personal detriment, it is a political sedative. Women have always existed, thus women’s history has always existed. To be taught otherwise is a betrayal, and the absence of women’s stories in the classroom is deplorable. I wanted this poem to explore some darker emotions as well, rather than cater to any sense of moderacy or expectations of the “nice girl” stereotype. A radical betrayal merits a radical response.

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I flip through the pages

of my ‘American Studies’ textbook

And feel

Betrayal

At the gaping lack

Sucking, eviscerating

A hole where my sisters should be.

 

Men fighting men

Men writing of men

Men making mistakes

Men winning

Men losing

Starring men

Their HIStory

 

Sold to me

Forced down my throat

For me to regurgitate

To make the grade

To pass the class

To move forward

 

 

It’s normal, they say

You didn’t exist back then

Do I exist now?

 

Joy when I realize we were always there

Rage when I realize we were always there

 

Tubman, Grimke, Thatcher,

Bowser, Angelou, Beauvoir,

Sanger, Paul, Steinem

Kahlo, Davis, Keller

 

They stare back at me with unwavering eyes

Steadfast spirits

Hiding in the margins of my book

In the footnotes

In the conclusions

In the readings that won’t be on the exam

 

So no one reads them.

Tubman, Grimke, Thatcher,

Bowser, Angelou, Beauvoir,

Sanger, Paul, Steinem

Kahlo, Davis, Keller

Their footprints shaped the world

But the waves wash away their names

Steamrolled over with monuments

With textbooks

With unquestionable ‘facts’

 

Written,

Built,

Created

By

Men.

 

I slam the book of history propaganda shut

The one that validates and undermines

Them: better, faster, stronger

More interesting

They who were benevolent too—

Giving us, out of kindness and morality,

Rights they held in their hands like breadcrumbs.

 

Their image cast in rose gold

Ours with scarlet letters

 

Troublemakers

Bra burners

Unwanted uglies

Lesbians

Man-haters

Communists

Traitors

Complainers

Killjoys

Witches

Bitches

Sluts

Nags

Girls.

 

We fling our own words back

But nothing sticks.

 

They are too high up

Resting on the shoulders

Of the men in the book

Who could do no wrong.

 

I make the grade

I pass the class

I burn the book.


Author: Caitlin Panarella

Caitlin Panarella is a writer, reader, and grammar enthusiast. She is currently studying English and Women and Gender Studies at Georgetown University. After watching Miss Representation in high school, she developed a passion for analyzing media and literature portrayals of gender. When she’s not planning out trips around the world, you can find her running her favorite routes all over D.C., sipping tea while reading a book, or (re)watching Stranger Things. She’s thrilled to be a part of the Make Muse team and support women telling their own stories!