The poem outlines the life and death of a young women struggling to live in a society where all anyone notices are her “fat nose and thick legs.” Worn down by trying to be “feminine” according to normative gender roles, she commits suicide by cutting off the offending nose and legs. As she is lying dead in her coffin, the mourners, seeing the fake nose and legs that the undertaker has provided, comment on how pretty she finally is.
The poem is a very clear and accessible treatment of feminist protests against restrictive and harmful norms of femininity.
I taught this by first talking through the content and themes with them, then asking them, in small groups, to write a “Hawkeye Ken” version of the poem. This way, they have a template for critically understanding masculine gender roles, which can then be brought back into conversation with the feminine gender roles that Piercy outlines. The students had a lot of fun writing the poem, but then the mood shifted pretty sharply when we read through seven of them in a row and everyone started to get depressed. My strategy was to try to mobilize that depression into outrage at oppressive gender roles. [Sonia Johnson]