Welcome! My name is Dani Cooke, and I am a twelfth-grade student studying gender and media at Watershed School in Boulder, Colorado. (Learn more about me here.)
The contents of this page seek to explore the ways in which societal and personal constructions of gender impact our choices, our autonomy, and our personal identities. Through a combination of form- and free-form poetry as well as narrative personal essay, these subjects will be explored from both an introspective and outward-focused lens.
These pieces are guided by the following questions:
Though they take the form of two different pieces of writing, when viewed together they provide a more complete picture of my experience with gender and its confines within society.
"Bodies of Water," written in free verse, aims to capture the image of the "wild woman" archetype, most recently made famous in contemporary feminism by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés's Women Who Run With the Wolves. "Bodies of Water" paints the wild woman as analogous to bodies of water — bodies that are both incredibly powerful and incredibly nuturing. The persistent and forceful nature of the wild woman is what makes her so compelling, but her relationships — with nature, with family, with time, and with herself — are just as vital. "Linked from riverside to mountainside," they are what allow her to "continue, / & to change, / & to carry."
"What the Women Told Me" alludes to five influential female poets — Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou, Kay Ryan, Sarah Kay, and Emily Dickinson — and some of their works which touch upon feminine identity. These poets, among others, have all been deeply influential on my understanding of both womanhood and poetry.
"S e s t i n a" is drawn from a number of words which describe the woman of Betty Friedan's "feminine mystique" (Specifically, "mother," "child," "beauty," and "object," which are contrasted against the general, more fully-formed and flexible identities of "woman" and, ultimately, "human"). The Feminine Mystique, a seminal feminist text published in 1963, is often credited for sparking the inception second-wave American feminism. "S e s t i n a" seeks to expand upon the idea of the mystique through the relationships between human and nature, mother and child, and person and object.
A man walks in, sweat and the residue of cooking grease settling where my mascara once was.
"What can I get you?" I ask, but he does not answer.
"How old are you girls?" He gestures toward the grill, where another high-school girl preps the steak. I know these things: always answer the customers' questions, politely, and always keep a smile on your pretty makeup-ed face, if you don't want a two-percent tip and a bad Yelp review.
"Seventeen," I answer. "Now, what can I get started for you?"
Again, he does not reply, but winks at my manager, a man more than twice my age, and says, "Seventeen's the age of consent in Colorado, you know."
This is not the most inappropriate thing we might hear as young women in food service, and so the shift ends in relief. At least he didn't try to stay, we think. At least he didn't try to cross the counter. At least those weren't our manager's words.
At least we weren't alone.
I’d been jumpy as I walked the four blocks from University Hill to the downtown bus station — any rustling or misplaced shadow as I passed the frat houses set my heart to rattling — but this was normal, even foolish, and dismissed as the product of my own anxious nature. I’m not used to walking alone this late — 10:00 pm — but the mid-July air cultivates a sense of security after an easy summer day.
A man in his late twenties approaches on a bicycle, skims his foot against the asphalt to come to a stop, and leans in toward where I'm sitting. It doesn't matter that I have my earbuds in, that I'm not looking in his direction, that I have somewhere else to be. "Hey, baby — where are you headed?"
I know that answering might be seen as an invitation, that not answering will be seen as a sign of frigidity. "To a friend's," I reply. (It doesn't feel safe to say home.)
"You're beautiful," he says as he looks me up and down, eyes lingering.
"Thank you," I say, though suddenly I don't feel beautiful. Instead, I hesitate at the tightness of my tank top, the tilt of my heels, and the fall of my skirt. "But I don't really feel like talking right now."
For a brief moment, he pushes his body forwards, and I think he might become aggressive. Then, he strikes his foot against the pavement and speeds into the dark.
I am a young woman alone at a bus stop. It is night, and (left alone) I consider myself lucky. At least he didn't try to touch me, I think. At least he left when he could've moved closer. At least the buses are still running and I know where I'm going next.
At least nobody was around to see my rudeness.
"My body, my choice!" I shout, feel the punch of my voice and the weight of my step. Male voices echo back: "Her body, her choice!"
This march is not the most revolutionary possible act. (I could strike hungrily in jail, as the most powerful women before me have done. I could shelter refugees in my home or picket on the steps of government buildings. I could shout louder, walk further, stand taller.)
At least we're doing something, I think. At least we aren't silent. At least somebody's filling the space that's being made here.
At least mine is not the only voice that's shouting.