The Women, by Ashley Farmer
Ashley Farmer’s The Women (Civil Coping Mechanisms 2016) is many things: the result of unpacking and repacking research, a careful methodical exposure of the subjugation of women, a call to action, and a book of poetry. Farmer takes fragments of information from the results she encountered as she searched women-related phrases and presents the reader with entries that do not regurgitate the research but collates and engages with the results.
In many ways, The Women is not just another collection pointing out the existence of a problem. Its poems warn us about the danger of treating women as subservient, but they are also calls to action, encouraging us to reexamine our perspectives on women and encouraging women to be proactive in defining their images for themselves. Though this collection is about women, it is not merely written for women. Farmer’s poems offer a how-to guide that moves away from “just another woman complaining” and suggests solutions through active “chopping up, stitching together, and writing through the texts.”
One of the major strengths of Farmer’s poems is the variation in style and structure since she presents fragments that we can then take and add our own personal experiences or observations. The book is divided into three sections where she plays with the notion of time by dealing with the past, the present, and the future. Each section elaborates on how women were seen, how they are seen now, and ends with an argument for how women should be seen. The idea of time is also emphasized with the different poem styles: prose poems, list poems, and narrative poems. The diverging styles offer us different ways of viewing and addressing the way in which women have been undermined and rendered powerless.
What I found to be more compelling about her entries are the ones that almost read like a list. The repetition of key phrases like “women are” or “women fall” reminded me, as a woman, of many instances where I have heard those same phrases being directed at myself or at others. Though the book is not extremely long or difficult to comprehend, there were times where I had to step away from it because of the reminded that, even in the twenty-first century, women are still subjected to oppression by both men and women. I see rejection of women online and in person and it saddens me how we often fail to see it. Farmer’s poems shed a light to the areas of subjugation women face —areas that might go unnoticed and as a result get perpetrated over and over again. One of the two epigraphs in the collection illustrates how we sometimes fail to recognize these small instances:
Q: “Why has society always been hard on women?”
A: “Society hasn’t always been hard on women. Hope I helped!”
—Exchange between strangers, Yahoo! Answers
No, it didn’t help. The individual who answered the question chose to ignore a question that could have had many answers. Though answering a Yahoo! question will not solve the ongoing problem of women being perceived as unassertive, unable to think for themselves, and dependent, providing a proper answer is one step in the right direction. At least, I think, Farmer would agree.
The Women is available now through Civil Coping Mechanisms