What’s In A Pronoun?

The other day I scribbled this hastily worded poem onto twitter

She ties the night sky
loosely at her throat
a cape of stars trails behind
curls it around the boy
with the cape of sunshine
a gentle kiss

So far, so good.

However, it started differently.

The original line was “He ties the night sky/loosely at his throat”. To me it was reminiscent of children playing superheroes, tying an old towel or something similar around their throats as an impromptu cape (even if Edna Mole says, “No capes!”).

I was halfway through writing the poem, had an ending in sight, and I stopped myself and asked why I had used the masculine pronoun. On Twitter space is a premium and the inclusion of an extra letter could mean tighter editing in other places.

If I am writing poetry I will use pronouns in place of names for the sake of brevity and to give the persona a general facade for the reader to ascribe her/his own interpretation.

However, the masculine pronoun is not my default position; the content of the poem generally dictates my choice of gendered pronoun. Many of my stories focus on the feminine.

In this case, the use of the masculine pronoun was predicated by the content. Boys and capes are familiar tropes. The masculine is the dominant voice in our culture, to the exclusion of the feminine.

Therefore to change the pronoun is to change the emphasis of the narrative. 

There is nothing deep or meaningful on this poem but to change the pronoun order from masculine to feminine is to give agency and power, something our society needs to do more of.

Even in looking over the word choices in the poem as it currently stands, changes would affect meaning. If I used “man” instead of “boy” I alter the emphasis, the perception of the reading. Similarly, replace “boy” with “girl.” How would you read it now?

The written language is the best way we have to communicate, as inadequate as it some times. 

Are you conscious of the gender you ascribe to your work? How do you apply it?

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