I Will Not Be a Paper Doll

A confession: I’m a bit of a literary-anything nerd. I love books. I love bookstores. I love good writing. I love poems and short stories and really anything composed of words. So when I discovered a beautiful poem about unrequited love on a friend’s tumblr, I couldn’t wait to read more by the author. After a quick Google search, I learned the poem was written by Sierra Demulder, an accomplished slam poet. An hour later, I had watched all of the videos of her performing on YouTube. My favorite, by far, is entitled “Paper Dolls.” You can watch it below:

Once you’ve digested all those beautiful metaphors and pushed your lower jaw back into place, consider the meat of what Demulder is saying. She argues that a woman’s worth is not—or at least, should not—be linked to her sexuality. We believe that our “worth lives secretly wrapped in lace and cotton panties.” We find our worth in how, when, and with whom we choose to have sex, and when that choice is taken away from us, we believe we are no longer worth anything.

And our sexuality is something we have to guard. We’re constantly patrolling the boundaries of this supposed definition of our worth. As Demulder says, our sexuality is “armored with pepper spray and mace.” In a way, all women are soldiers fighting off advances ranging from an unwanted arm-around-the-shoulder to the violence of rape.

What gets to me is that it’s not that our worth is partially derived from our sexuality. Demulder argues that it is completely formed by it. My favorite line of the poem is this: “You weren’t just violated we tell her/You are an empty museum, a gutted monument which used to hold so much worth.” If this is our response to victims—that their rape or assault is more than a violation—then it only implies that everything making up their worth was stolen from them in that moment. They are worth nothing after it.

Does all of this have to be true?

When Demulder says that “the person who did this to you is broken—not you,” I want so much to believe her. I wish that the thousands and thousands of rape victims around the world don’t feel broken. I hope they can believe that “nothing was stolen from [them.]” But I’m afraid that they probably do.

I’m not a rape victim nor do I closely know anyone who is a rape victim, so maybe I’m not fully qualified to make these statements. Nevertheless, I think we all need to remember that “nothing sits inside of [us] holding [our] worth.” Our bodies are not “hand-me-downs.” We are not “collapsible paper dolls.” We are more than our sexuality and fertility. Our worth does not equal sex. Maybe if we can see this for ourselves, the rest of society will eventually agree.

If you liked Demulder’s poem, check out the “Top 10 Feminist Spoken Word Artists” in Fem’s Fall 2011 issue (see page 4).

Photo credit: Pearlmatic/Flickr

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