Wednesday, March 28, 2007


HYMEN: Art by Georgia O'keefe


O to be free at last, to sleep at last
As infants sleep within the womb of rest!

To stir and stirring find no blackness vast
With passion weighted down upon the breast,

To turn the face this way and that and feel
No kisses festering on it like sores,

To be alone at last, broken the seal
That marks the flesh no better than a whore's!

HYMEN: Mixed media installation by Jehanne-Marie Gavarini

"Revolt from Hymen" and the Feminist Thought

by Jacquiline Dy

The hymen is a fold of mucous membrane the wholeness of which differentiates someone who is a virgin from someone who is not. In Angela Manalang-Gloria's poem, the hymen becomes a symbol for the society's concept of femininity. The persona in the "Revolt from Hymen" can be compared to a woman writer who aims to free herself from the constricting boundaries of the feminine position. The lines "O to be free at last… / To be alone at last" echoes women's pleas for independence from the society's controlling grip and its social constructs. The persona wants to be a woman who is free to write without experiencing the "anxiety of authorship," the "blackness vast / With passion weighted down upon the breast"; a woman who can attempt the pen without worrying whether she has the right to do so; a woman who can express herself, her desires and her story without being ashamed of it.

The kisses on the third stanza are a symbol of patriarchal society's high regard for women who conform to the stereotypical female attributes of purity and passivity. These kisses then turn into sores whenever women, in exchange for social acceptance, confine themselves just to what society constructs them to be. The persona believes that these kisses, just like festering sores, are things that women should not want for themselves. A woman should learn how to "turn [her] face this way and that," to assert herself within the Order and to do her own thing in spite of the condemnation she would probably receive as its result.

The last two lines of the poem lead to the virgin/whore dichotomy. The virgin, whose hymen is still intact, is a symbol for all the women who chose to submit to the standards connected with femininity. The whore, and her broken hymen, meanwhile, comes to stand for everything that the virgin is not—active, aggressive and subversive. Women writers are like whores because both of them transgress the society's concept of femininity. A woman writer ceases to become passive at the moment she is able to create a story of her own. Her writing is a practice that gives her power and yet transmogrifies her. Both of them—the whore and the woman writer—are subversive because they chose to rebel against these stereotypical roles.

The persona in the poem chose to write and free herself despite being labeled a whore than to be a virgin and remain forever muted. The lines "[breaking] the seal / That marks the flesh no better than a whore's" pertains to the process of severing the chains that bind the feminine role to the female body, as well as the deconstruction of the virgin/whore, angel/monster dichotomies to which women are circumscribed, things that the poem "Revolt from Hymen" sought to address.

Jacquiline Dy is from Journals.

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