Poemsoften convey some deeper meaning than the one they seem tocommunicate at first glance. In some cases, the symbols, devices, andchoice of words in poems may bear a deeper historical meaning.Inherently, uncovering this connotation is essential to understandingthe poet’s intention or motive. “TheDaughter”by Carmen Gimenez Smith is a poem found in her 2013 book Milkand Filth. Gimenezis a renowned American writer, poet, and editor with a Bachelor ofArts and a Master of fine arts from the University of San Jose andNew Mexico State University, respectively. Particularly, she is knownfor the strong feminist themes that occur in all of her poems, aswell as her campaign for the emancipation of the Latina girl child,which is also a predominant issue in most of her compilations (Mottaand Sáez 53). Gimenez has written several other books such asOdalisquein Pieces andTheCity She Was, andshe has won several poetry awards, for example, the 2011 AmericanBook award and the 2013 National Book Critics Circle honor for poetryamong others. True to her style, TheDaughter containsstrong feminist themes it attempts to show women’s longstandingstatus in the society, as well as it has evolved over time.
InTheDaughter, Gimenez,who is most likely the narrator, describes the remarkable beauty ofher daughter. Apparently, she is extremely beautiful she possesseslight skin, lighter than Gimenez’s. Additionally, her eyes areexceptionally gorgeous Gimenez compares them to Neruda’s two darkpools at twilight. In fact, the narrator confesses that she did notexpect her child to be so beautiful, and find its hard, eventerrifying, to imagine how beautiful her daughter’s offspring willbe.
Nevertheless,the narrator hints being unnerved because of the power that herdaughter possesses. In one line, she writes “I unfurl the ribbon ofher life, and it`s a smooth long hallway, doors flung open”(Gimenez 42). Essentially, this statement suggests that Gimeneze’sdaughter has had an extremely easy life, particularly because she isincredibly beautiful. Seemingly, the aesthetic appeal of thenarrator’s daughter has been the key to most good things in lifeGimenez insinuates that the girl does not have to struggle to meether needs. In other words, all she has to do is let her hair down(hinted by unfurling the ribbon), and all she wants is given to her.In such a manner, there is a strong connotation of theover-sexualization of the girl child in TheDaughter. Fundamentally,the fact that Gimenez is frightened by the over-empowerment of thegirl child shows an evolution in gender reforms. Nevertheless, in abid to see the historical significance in the gender overtones ofGimenez’s poem, it is important to understand the past of sexreforms in the United States.
Vitally,the theme of gender in TheDaughterholds an immense historical relevance. In the past, the Americansociety was majorly patriarchal women were considered weaker thanmen were, and they were thought incapable of handling certain tasksthat men could. For instance, it was a popular belief that womencould not handle leadership roles, and that their ideal chores weredomestic, for example, cooking and taking care of children. At somepoint, so little was thought of women in the society that they werenot allowed to vote or own property. They were considered tooemotional to handle tasks that require poignant detachment hence,they were considered unfit for roles affiliated to leadership anddecision-making (Frankel and Dye 86). Besides, they wereexpected to subdue to their husbands and comply with their requestsquickly without a shred of hesitation or protest. In a way, marriagewas a form of slavery for a woman during those days a married femalewas confined to the house, expected to take care of domestic chores.Furthermore, she did not own anything in the marriage, as allproperty was registered under the man (Motta and Sáez 75).
Correspondingly,this negative perception of the female gender elicited cries ofreforms. For many years, activists protested the oppression of womenand demanded to be given equal opportunities as men were. At first,this fell on deaf ears however, in time, the society’s idealsstarted transforming and people became more open-minded aboutopportunities for women. Intrinsically, most gender activists sidedwith racial activists, creating a synergy in the exposition of theircollective grievances this was essential for exposing women’splight on a grander scale. Later on, women were allowed to vote andown property just like men nevertheless, they continued to gain fullequality to men. For instance, even though they were allowed entryinto traditionally masculine professions, they were expected to do ornot do some things because they were women. Consequently, thisresulted in females struggling to gain the respect of men in varioussocial and professional spheres. Effectively, the harassment of womenbecame more of a taboo at work as they became more appealing
FromTheDaughter, Gimenezseems to suggest that the empowerment of women, coupled with thebeauty they possess, have allowed them to pull the strings ofsociety. In other words, she implies that years of gender reformshave empowered the girl child to the point where being a woman hasbecome an added advantage. In TheDaughter, thenarrator’s daughter clearly wields an almost supernatural beauty.Correspondingly, she is so powerful that the narrator sometimesthinks she is a stranger at their home. Interestingly, the narratorstates that she and her daughter are the gradual ebb of her mother’sdarkness. By definition, ebb refers to the movement of a tide intothe sea. Moreover, moving out to sea is seemingly symbolic forbreaking bounds or becoming limitless after all, the sea is vast.Land presents some form of limitation however, the sea is apparentlyendless in such a manner, the narrator seems to mean that her motherhad limited opportunities as a woman during her time. However, withtime, women have been given more opportunities, which is personifiedby recession into the sea. The narrator had more opportunities, andher daughter has, even more, prospects since she is symbolized as thedeepest ebb among them all. Essentially, through this technique, thenarrator notes the milestones that women have made in the societyfrom being oppressed to achieving an equal status to that of men.
Thenarrator also suggests that females in today’s society areover-empowered and over-sexualized gender reforms have been soeffective that women are basically untouchable. As illustratedearlier, the narrator notes that when the ribbon of her daughter’slife is unfurled, doors flung open (Gimenz 42). Inherently, thisshows that women today are powerful because of the beauty theypossess. All they have to do is display their beauty to get whateverthey desire their empowerment has slowly transformed intoover-sexualization. All they have to do is show some skin and manyopportunities this is evident on social media today where the sexualappeal is the basis of advertisement for many products. These days,people are likely to buy a product because it was endorsed by a nudeor partially nude girl than due to the efficiency of the item. In away, Gimenez brings this manner to the attention of her readers.
Notably,the author suggests that many years of gender reforms have ensuredthat the girl child is well protected against any form of abuse somuch that if one girl is offended, it becomes a community affair.Towards the end of the poem, Gimenez writes “Her surface is adeflection is why.Harm on her, harm on us all” (Gimenz 42). Thissuggests that women are extremely protected and their societal statushas improved tremendously compared to several decades ago. Sheattributed this heightened form of security to the beauty that womenpossess. In essence, Gimenez places beauty at the center of theextensive gender reforms that have taken place over the last fewyears. Because of their beauty, females have been placed on apedestal they get everything they want and almost nothing can standin their way. Compared to the era where women were considered aweaker species, this is a tremendous accomplishment.
Inconclusion, in TheDaughter, Gimenezhighlights the evolution of women’s rights throughout history.Though only several lines long, the poem manages to capture how fargender reforms have come by comparing the narrator, her mother, andher daughter. Essentially, the narrator describes both herself andher daughter as gradual ebbs from her mother. Ebbing is the recessionof tide into the sea in such a way, this personification in the poemmarks the progress of gender reforms through successive generationsof women. In the past, females were oppressed and considered lesscapable than men they were not allowed to own property or vote.Additionally, they were assigned to domestic roles alone and were nottrusted with leadership. Nevertheless, activists lamented this mythand demanded gender equality in the society. In time, the societybegan empathizing with women it allowed them equal opportunities asmen. Nevertheless, the negative perceptions of women took an evenlonger time to change completely. In her poem, Gimenez informs thatcontrary to the past, women are extremely empowered today sheattributes beauty as the source of this milestone.
Throughthe use of her daughter character in her poem, Gimenez suggests thatwomen these days have earned a great sense of security due to theirbeauty. Their prettiness is the key to all of their desires, as wellas their shield. Fundamentally, Gimenez seemingly thinks that thestatus of women in the society has improved tremendously, but at theprize of oversexualization. The society does not hesitate to come tothe defense of women due to their aesthetic appeal the beauty ofwomen has hypnotized the community. Overall, in TheDaughter, Gimenezcovers the historical journey of gender reforms in the society fromoppression to dominance. Intrinsically, Gimenez’s poem is a perfectillustration of the historical connotations that poems can bear.Cleverly, Gimenez manages to communicate the historical significanceof her poem using extensive, but intelligible symbolism.
Frankel,Noralee, and Nancy S. Dye. Gender,Class, Race, and Reform in the Progressive Era.TheUniversity Press of Kentucky, 1991.
Giménez,Smith C. Milkand Filth.Universityof Arizona Press, 2013.
Lauer,Brett F, and Lynn Melnick. PleaseExcuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation.Viking Publishers, 2015.
Motta,Cristina, and Macarena Sáez. Genderand Sexuality in Latin America Cases and Decisions.Springer,2013.