The Common Woman

Judy Grahn and her collected poetry, The Work of a Common Woman, highlights the struggles women, especially those that identify as a part of the LGBTQ+ community, endure in their everyday life. Specifically her poem “IV. Carol, in the park, chewing on straws,” with a seemingly unrelated, futile title. To the outside observer, a woman is doing mundane tasks, going about her everyday life without a thought to her actions. However, the woman is facing conflicts that a passive observer cannot understand, and her actions and tasks are not mundane to her. Grahn’s diction purposefully imitates a feeling of despair ends with triumph. Some of those struggles are about how difficult it is for “women [to] go without protection from men,” the idea that women are not able to be fully independent and need men to survive (67). It is difficult to survive in a patriarchal society that constantly works against minorities; eventually she feels the need to go throughout the day and “she smiles and lies and grits her teeth and pretends to be shy, or weak, or busy” (67). Women constantly feel the need to “dumb themselves down” in order to attract a man or seem incompetent in order to not intimidate men. The problem with being confident or assertive is that it is misinterpreted and women get called bossy, conceited, or even a bitch. Yet, the woman “goes home and pounds her own nails, makes her own bets, and fixes her own car, with her friend” (67). Meaning she has no problem being independent, but only feels comfortable enough to do it in the safety of her home. “Her friend” is her partner who “she has taken [as] a woman lover” which was highly criticized especially given the time period: this was written from 1964-1977 (67). Confidently coming out even now is a difficult task for many to do and feel optimistic to share, so one can imagine the fear of doing this over 50 years ago before same-sex marriage was legal or LGBTQ+ rights were recognized. The illustration paired with this poem can be interpreted in two ways; first, either a duality of two faces or second, two women kissing. Nevertheless, both relate to the poem depending on the perspective one views the image. If one views it from the front it looks like one face with two different sides or viewing it as a side profile it looks like two different people kissing. The duality of faces can refer back to Carol feeling the need to hide her independent side from the outside world and the one she shows publicly which is more timid and quiet. The side profile can represent Carol and her partner in an intimate manner. Yet, at the end she may “she may walk around all day quietly, but underneath it she’s electric;… the common woman is as common as a thunderstorm” (67). This simile is comparing women to a thunderstorm being complex yet powerful in nature, which is a beautiful comparison to highlight the strength behind women. 

One thought on “The Common Woman”

  1. Hi! I really enjoyed your analysis of what the common woman means through Judy Grahn’s poems. I did my blog post on the representation of Ella in a square apron on highway 80 and I couldn’t think of a better way to put it then the quote you said which is “Women constantly feel the need to “dumb themselves down” in order to attract a man or seem incompetent in order to not intimidate men”. How do we give the lives of woman value if they are only being represented in relation to men? The representation of woman is consistently shaped by stereotypes and Grahn persistently draws women’s experiences like Ella as a waitress through patriarchal discourses.

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