So my burden I began to divest

30 Mar

When I was small, my father, on those days when he’d had just about enough of me and my endless questions and comments, would tell me to go play in traffic. I’d tell him to come with me and we’d both smile and giggle and he’d tell me no, seriously, go play in traffic. Or run with scissors.

Of course, he’d also let me play with the large wood planers and chisels when my mother’s back was turned. He was just that kind of father. My mother spent her time running me away from bogeymen that didn’t really exist-my father pointed me in their direction and whispered “Go get em”.

This morning, I spent my commute listening to the new Decemberists album, and just before getting to work, listened again to “The Rake’s Song”, this time paying attention to the lyrics.

What can one do when one is widower
Shamefully saddled with three little pests
All that I wanted was the freedom of a new life
So my burden I began to divest
Alright, alright, alright
Alright, alright, alright

Charlotte I buried after feeding her foxglove
Dawn was easy, she was drowned in the bath
Isaiah fought but was easily bested
Burned his body for incurring my wrath
Alright, alright, alright

I do look at the song as I do many of theirs, as a narrative story, much like “The Mariner’s Revenge”

“Find him, bind him
Tie him to a pole and break
His fingers to splinters
Drag him to a hole until he
Wakes up naked
Clawing at the ceiling
Of his grave

Good ole, bloody thirstyness.

What struck me this morning, as I giggled at the line about incurring wrath, is how differently this song would be received if the narrator was a woman, or even the singer/songwriter. I giggled hearing this song, knowing it was outlandish and satirical and a story. But would it be different if it was a widow reciting how she killed her offspring? Would it be different if a woman was singing a song about another woman, or a man?

I personally can’t help but feel like there’s this huge chasm in terms of what a woman is allowed to say as opposed to a man. The average listener can infer that the songwriter here might possibly recently had a child, and channeled the adjustment, the sleep deprivation, the sudden lurch of a change of life into a song, into horrifying words that signify nothing more than a fantasy one would never act on, a story that would never truly act out.

Now, change the sex of the narrator in your mind, and tell me what your impressions might be then.

How dare a mother. How dare she say something bad about her darling children. It’s nothing to laugh at. It’s horrifying, that any mother, any woman could say those things. The sanctity and purity a vagina bestows upon a woman.

It really hit me this morning-I could never write something like that. Most women couldn’t write something like that, or if they have, they’ve paid a price on some level. Accused of being unfeeling, monsters, undeserving of their children.

Men? It’s a giggle, a chortle, a knowing glance, a grin. A father, a man is allowed to feel, to acknowledge, to say the horrible, no good, very bad things. Women? Women have to fight for even that small allowance, especially mothers.

No one ever says that these are good things that are aired. I just don’t understand why my womanhood might make me a monster for saying the same things a man suffers no ill will for.


10 Responses to “So my burden I began to divest”

  1. sweetsalty kate March 30, 2009 at 10:37 pm #

    Oh my, my. How fascinating. All I’m registering right now is that those lyrics are pretty raw regardless of the speaker, and it’s not so much gender that matters to me as it is tone and delivery, of course.

    Then again, the context would be different from man to woman, wouldn’t it. The woman would be suspected of being deficient in that serenity of motherhood, somehow damaged – and the man would be suspected of having anger issues…

    The only thing that’s proven beyond any doubt or speculation is that days that make any of us feel this way — they suck, and they’re universal.

  2. sweetsalty kate March 30, 2009 at 10:42 pm #

    Can I also just add? I am one idiot mofo. Switched from the godforsaken bloglines to google reader ages ago, and somehow, your feed didn’t follow.

    And so I’ve been missing everything, and just now you twittered this new post and I was like “Where’s she been hiding?”

    So duh. I’m onto you now, missy. Again.

  3. thordora March 30, 2009 at 10:44 pm #

    I feel the finger wagging from here.

    I do think it’s perceived as “bad” for both sides, but the forgiveness tends to err on the side of men.

  4. Jennifer March 31, 2009 at 7:29 am #

    Yup. There is a huge chasm as you put it between how men and women are portrayed.

    Just look at the jail time given to women who kill their children vs. men. When men do it, its a blip on the nightly news. When a MOTHER does it? Drama ensues.

    Its a much more horrific act for a woman to kill her flesh and blood, because doesn’t she have some sort of maternal instinct that prevents her from doing so? No she doesn’t. This notion of a maternal instinct is pure bunk.

    I’ve mentioned the book before, Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer-hrdy. She rips apart this purely male construct of “mother nature”. She also delves into the darker side of the midwife, and the wet nurse. Very interesting reading.

  5. de March 31, 2009 at 8:38 am #

    I’ve got to get ahold of that CD.

    Today anyway, rather than protest that women must bear the expectations of being endowed with goodness, I consider that men have borne the burden of depravity throughout history.

    I shudder to hear the phrase, “Be a man!”

  6. Hannah March 31, 2009 at 8:55 am #

    Coming off a week of screaming, tantrums, defiance, interrupted sleep, and destructiveness, I have chosen to just not blog rather than say what I’m really thinking about my kids.

    I love them but I’m not all that fond of them just now.

    I do have to say that as long as women really exaggerate the point it seems to go OK – like, “my kids were driving me nuts today, I’d like to leave them out with the recycling LOL!!” And then their friends leave comments like “break out the wine, sister!” Even though child abandonment and alcoholism are not funny, or acceptable.

    Yes, women are held to a higher standard as parents (and partners, and caregivers) – but I think rather than relaxing standards for women, we should demand a higher level of accountability for men. After all, if The Decemberists had written a graphic song about killing a wife (but called it satire) would it be acceptable? I kind of don’t think so. And even on my worst days I don’t actually think in that kind of specific language; for me personally, I find that a bit harsh, even if it is satirical in its intent.

    I may not be expressing myself quite right (see first paragraph for reasons why I am sounding Pollyannaish, it’s been that kind of week). But I’m hoping you know what I’m getting at.

  7. bromac March 31, 2009 at 11:57 am #

    I find the lyrics in very poor taste. Course, I no longer listen to rock of any kind b/c it gets me agitated so maybe I have lost my sense of humor in that regard. I wouldn’t find any song about harming a child funny though.

    Regardless, I think the chasm is due to the fact that, in most cases, we have an acute physical bond to the child. My husband said it took about six months for him to feel the depth of love that I had with our daughter.

    It is wholly unacceptable to harm a child regardless of who you are to that child, but I can understand the perspective that a mother harming her own child, which was physically connected to her for 40-ish weeks, is even more horrifying. Not saying I think it is right, but that I understand and can empathize with the perspective.

    I do consider myself a feminist, but I tend to understand the dichotomy.

  8. bromac March 31, 2009 at 1:11 pm #

    I was very repetitive. Sorry.

    • thordora March 31, 2009 at 4:00 pm #

      Dude, I AM a repeat. Worry pas ta brain. πŸ™‚

  9. thordora March 31, 2009 at 3:59 pm #

    Good points all.

    I suppose that for me, I want both sides to be free to THINK those thoughts without judging. I happen to be someone with a REALLY black sense of humor, and I can see the relief valve it provides, and can provide, for both mothers and fathers.

    But it reaches out into reality, like in the cases where fathers murder their children. It’s so much more horrifying if a woman does it, because out brief physical connection is meant to give us some sort of deeper bond.

    Seeing as my husband bonded quicker and easier with my daughters, I don’t necessarily believe that.

    I do however believe that yes, men SHOULD be held to the same standard-in many ways. how many people shrug when a man leaves his family, but then grow horrified if a woman does the same. A woman must feel more, must be more connected.

    I don’t believe it for the second.

    And for the record, the new album is REALLY cool. Although obviously, this particular song may not be everyone’s cup of tea. πŸ™‚

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