Sunday, November 23, 2008

Just Like a Girl: A Manifesta!

Review by Michelle McEwen
Michelle Sewell (Editor), Just Like a Girl: A Manifesta!
Girlchild Press, 2008
346 pages

Just like a girl, I started reading this book only because I needed something to do while waiting for a boy to phone. Even though I’m an avid reader and passionate writer, my world is put on hold (but not all the time) whenever a boy is involved. While waiting for the ring-ring-ring that would never come, I scanned my sister’s towering pile of books and selected a thick anthology to pass the time— that anthology being Just Like a Girl: A Manifesta; an anthology containing all women writers. I had started reading this book months earlier, but boy-duty called me away. This time, nothing or no one would or could pull me away for the foreword, written by poet Sonya Renee Taylor, drew me in, kept me in my seat:

“Superman learned how to change clothes in that tiny phone booth from a college sophomore working nights at the local go-go club. At least that’s my guess. With her g-string and pumps in her book bag … she made rent and the Dean’s List every semester. Maybe it’s a lesson he garnered from the single mom on his block, scheduled to work a double shift starting five minutes after the biggest audition in her life. It’s likely that he may have even sat backstage at a local drag show and watched earnestly as Lady GivenEmMore applied her false eyelashes and … red lipstick, then offered a compulsory, ‘WORK BITCH!’ in admiration of her fabulous saunter onto the stage … there is no other way any man could have obtained this secret information. Not once have we ever noticed one run in Superman’s tights; a clear indicator that some fierce creature … schooled Clark Kent in the delicate balance of pulling up itchy … nylons in cramped … places. That fierce creature must have been a woman!”

And a schooling is just what we readers get! The snippet above is taken from the book’s foreword— and what a forward foreword it is! Perfect— as it sets the readers up for the work (poetry and short stories) found in this anthology. It also prepares you for the type of women you will discover in this book. You’ll come across “the girl next door [who] is fucking your wife.” You’ll be introduced to a “…129 [pound] caramel brown [woman who is] separated [with] two kids … able to watch football games and understand the plays.” You’ll meet a girl-woman named Yvette who “[gets] down under cafeteria tables to autograph the underside.” Mainly, you’ll meet women who are a breath of fresh air— more like a heaping helping of fresh air. You can shake hands with them if you like, or bow, but however you greet them, just know that these girls are not to be played with or made fools of. Even though – as editor Michelle Sewell says in her introduction – “she cries like a girl … throws like girl … runs like a girl,” she will “[take] what is rightfully hers, just like a girl!” In Just Like a Girl, the women (the authors and the ones written about) are not quiet and well-behaved, they have a voice and they have advice to give. They aren’t whispering either!

In the poem “Girrl,” we are schooled by poet Nikki Herd who tells us to

“Find one thing to love
inside yourself
carry it like a gun
in guerrilla hands
and when government
defeats you, mountains fall
lovers leave
…hold this love between
your hands, sing its name
like the alphabet
and shoot woman. Shoot.”

Find one thing to love inside yourself— that seems to be the heart of the poems and stories in this book. There is a lot of high self-esteem here, a lot of self-love and women proud to be who they are. In LaDeidre McKenzie’s poem “Yes, I am Full,” she lets us know:

“Yes, I am full…
I have boobs,
butt, and hips…

…nobody is fazing me…
I like my body…”

Courtney Burback’s poem “Yay, Carbs” – which comes before LaDeidre McKenzie’s poem – seems to serve as its prequel. “Thank you, Mom,” Courtney Burback writes, “for telling me that chocolate ain’t a sin, the girls here in L.A. flee from it like it’s gonna do them in.” Later—

“Thanks, Grandma, for showing me
all those films of Marilyn Monroe;
they convinced me that it’s prettier
when your ribs don’t show.
Thanks, Dad, for reminding me
that not all men want some skinny twit
… thanks to all my boyfriends,
who savored every curve …”

Even though I’m that skinny twit, I found myself expressing gratitude, too. Thanks, I said, for this poet who isn’t letting this awfully cruel world get her down. Thank you, I said, for showing me that the world can't be all bad if there are mothers and grandmothers and dads and lovers like this out there somewhere schooling their kin/their girl the way the poets and storytellers are doing in this book.

And, boy, what stories the storytellers tell! Women-writing is at its best in Meghan Fox’s excellent story “Sleeping in our Mother’s Beds.” Fox’s story, which feels more like a very long poem, is about a different kind of mother— mothers who “did not worry about combs and soap,” mothers who sang to their children instead and let them “sleep in their beds.” It is about mothers (divorced, single) who readied themselves for dates while their daughters sat on the toilet and watched. It’s about mothers who “wore clogs, lipgloss, [and] no bras.” It is also about the daughters of these mothers. Fox writes, “We are the girls of the seventies, and what our mothers gave us was no less than the right to ruin ourselves.”

Meghan Fox’s story shows it best: the women in this book are not of the what-you-see-is-what-you-get variety. The women in this anthology can be anything, are everything. They are women who have no need to get their groove back because they never lost it; they are superman’s muse. They might even be Superman— the S upon their chests/breasts standing for numerous things: sexy, satisfied, strong, smug, self-righteous, size 14, skinny twit, sweet-on-women, sick-&-tired-of-bullshit, somebody’s savior, sophisticated, soft, sturdy, student-mother, supreme lover, sister, selfless, selfish, solo, smart, super bad.

Just Like a Girl: A Manifesta is available for purchase at