by Marnie Ball


Open.

A whimsical woodland

Of pastel beauty, and secret pleasure.

Close. 

Cherish the silence

A moment for you, some quiet leisure. 

Sigh. 

Frolic in the foliage

Breathe all that is innocent and true.

Whisper. 

Control the body 

Inebriate in the taboo.

                        *

Threat and theft, theft and threat 

The chant of the whimsy world.

Feel its pulling, humming, swaying

In an organic, muted breeze. 

Potent potions, potions potent

A fusion of nightshade and him. 

What a demure dichotomy is there

In that broth of saccharine splendour. 

                        *

Ill-sought impulses,

An erotic charm.

Romp in the rhapsody 

Blend with the botany.

The power, the vision,

The tenderness of skin. 

A look a glance a touch 

Feeding the holiness within. 

The fallacy of the phallic!

An ephemeral illusion 

A sophistry deceit

A sanctified quick-step, reserved for the elite. 

            *

Embrace the woodland, in all its vibrant mystique 

For beneath the heather is mischief.

An impish delight, and unspeakable pleasure 

Dismantles a palimpsest of scripture. 

Stretch out a hand, and take what’s owing

For you know it cannot last.

So devour the toxic, each drop a blessing

And serve it in a glass. 

            *

The hidden hallucinogen 

Pink, yellow or blue?

Waiting, to be discovered 

Waiting, waiting, for you.

The invisible facade 

Is but a disease.

A little aphrodisiac 

In a fertile dream. 

A little aphrodisiac 

In a fertile dream. 

*


RATIONALE

My poem, “Little Aphrodisiac,” focuses on the subversive and autonomous expression of feminine sexuality. It is inspired by the watercolour botanical scenes of Monika Behrens and Rochelle Haley, which ultimately challenge hegemonic gender constructions.[i] The artworks demonstrate this challenge by exploring the naturalness of sexual pleasure through simple, pastel depictions of flora, fauna and sex toys. The largely subtle yet occasionally notable inclusion of sex toys comments on the “taboo” nature of female masturbation in mainstream society.[ii] Alongside this inclusion, the artists also focus on myths of phallic theft and the history of witchcraft.[iii] In doing so, they transform the “witches” of folklore and fairytales from “devouring monsters” to powerful “owners of their own sexuality.”[iv]

Theory

My poem emphasises the potential inclusivity of feminism when it is concerned with sexual pleasure. I take a second wave feminist approach, highlighting the importance of choice and control in authentic sexual experience. I oppose third wave views like those of Judith Butler, who detail sexual performance as a performed social ritual.[v] I believe this artwork and poem portray the innate, organic and natural aspects of gender and sexuality. 

My poem engages with Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist theory by re-characterising women as active, autonomous and absolute Subjects. In The Second Sex, Beauvoir highlights how women are only perceived as desirable (sexual) objects, with eternal feminine myths characterising them as passive and submissive.[vi] However, my piece encourages the subversion of these ideas by claiming control over sexual pleasure: “stretch out a hand, and take what’s owing.” In accordance with Luce Irigaray’s theories on feminine subjectivity and sexual pleasure, my poem’s emphasis on woman’s independent sexuality demonstrates that woman can become a subject, rather than an object.[vii]

De Beauvoir argues that women struggle to challenge instances of sexism due to the familial connections they have with men.[viii] Through the symbolic dildos, myself, Behrens and Haley express how these familial bonds are separated from the notion of sexual independence. 

Furthermore, I take an existentialist viewpoint, and argue that gender is not determinative of identity, because we are all radically free to express our individual sexuality. My poem thus attempts to subvert the shame surrounding feminine pleasure (“inebriate in the taboo”), while characterising the expression of desire as a transformative tool. This connects with bell hooks’ emphasis on restoring feminism as a political rather than purely socio-cultural movement.[ix]

In respect to Marxist feminism, I argue that the use of sex toys constitutes feminine leisure, as symbolised in the alliterative line “romp in the rhapsody,” rather than a consumerist contribution to patriarchal capitalism. I also engage with Louis Althusser’s theories regarding ideological state apparatuses by depicting religion as an oppressive, patriarchal construction which intrudes upon the freedom to express feminine sexuality: “a sanctified quick-step, reserved for the elite.”[x]

Form

My poem is divided into sections of different structures and tones, and contains an irregular rhyming scheme. This reflects the diversity of feminine sexualities and the dichotomous nature of the artworks, where “what’s man-made appears organic” and “what’s erotic appears innocent.”[xi] The repetitive use of enjambment emphasises words poignant to female sexual experience. 

My poem’s first section introduces an authoritative encouragement of sexual exploration within the metaphor of the garden scene. Sections two and three highlight the artworks’ background in its themes of witchcraft, folklore and power. In the final verse of part three and the opening of part four, I employ a critical tone of the male fear of castration, instigating a broader critique of patriarchy and its influence over ideological state apparatuses like the Church: “the fallacy of the phallic,” “dismantling a palimpsest of scripture.”[xii] Section four is the climax and complication, containing an existential commentary on the ephemerality of female sexual pleasure: “for you know it cannot last.” And lastly, the volta in part five brings the hopeful conclusion that societal expectations (“the invisible facade”) regarding feminine sexual expression as discreet and submissive may be overcome through authentic and independent sexual experience: “a fertile dream.” 


Marnie Ball is a second year undergraduate student of Arts and Law, majoring in History and minoring in Drama and Gender Studies. She is passionate about gender equality and has a particular interest in feminist philosophy. She relates strongly to the idea of writing as an emancipatory tool for women within patriarchal societies. 


ENDNOTES

[1]   Monica Behrens and Rochelle Haley, Witch’s Hammer; Love Potion; Hemlock; Holy Trinity; In Search of Long Life; Henbane, 2011, watercolour on paper, University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane. 

[2]   J De La Hunty, “Bedknobs & Broomsticks,” Artwrite 45 (2011): 34, https://blogs.artdesign.unsw.edu.au/artwrite/files/2011/08/Artwrite-Issue-45.pdf

[3]   Anna Johnstone, “Plants, Potions and Love Magic,” in The University of Queensland Australia: Art Museum, March-April 2019, accessed 11 April 2019, https://stories.uq.edu.au/art-museum/2019/plants-potions-love-magic/index.html

[4]   Prue Gibson, “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” MOP Projects (2011): 5. 

[v]   Liz Kotz, “The Body You Want: An Interview with Judith Butler,” Artforum 31(3) (1992): pp. 82–89. 

[vi]   Simone de Beauvoir, “Volume I: Facts and Myths,” in The Second Sex, trans. Constance Borde, Sheila Malovany-Chevallier (New York: Vintage ebooks, 2009), 26. 

[vii] Luce Irigaray, “The Question of the Other” Yale French Studies 87 (1995): 7-19. 

[viii] De Beauvoir, “Facts and Myths,” 28. 

[ix]   Lux Alptraum, “Bell Hooks On The State of Feminism and How to Move Forward Under Trump,” Bust Magazine, February / March (2017), unpaginated, https://bust.com/feminism/19119-the-road-ahead-bell-hooks.html?fbclid=IwAR0XUBUk-4K7amggyE3mDLJIEHKSprZH1ssesqUQD4EebsiFOT8E-CgpeZs

[x]   Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001), 85-126.

[xi]   De La Hunty, “Bedknobs & Broomsticks,” 34.  

[xii] Johnstone, “Plants, Potions.”


WORKS CITED

Alptraum, Lux. “Bell Hooks on the State of Feminism and How to Move Forward Under Trump.” Bust Magazine (February/March 2017). Online: https://bust.com/feminism/19119-the-road-ahead-bell-hooks.html?fbclid=IwAR0XUBUk-4K7amggyE3mDLJIEHKSprZH1ssesqUQD4EebsiFOT8E-CgpeZs

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” In Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, translated by Ben Brewster, 85-126. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001. 

Behrens, Monica and Rochelle Haley. Witch’s Hammer; Love Potion; Hemlock; Holy Trinity; In Search of Long Life; Henbane. Watercolour on paper. University of Queensland Art Museum Brisbane, 2011.

De Beauvoir, Simone. “Volume I: Facts and Myths.” In The Second Sex, translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, 26-325. New York: Vintage ebooks, 2009.

De La Hunty, J. “Bedknobs & Broomsticks.” Artwrite 45 (2011): 34-36, https://blogs.artdesign.unsw.edu.au/artwrite/files/2011/08/Artwrite-Issue-45.pdf

Gibson, Prue. “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.” MOP Projects (2011): https://www.mop.org.au/pdf/Monica&Rochelle_bedknobsandbroomsticks.2010.pdf

Irigaray, Luce. “The Question of the Other.” Yale French Studies 87 (1995): 7-19.

Johnstone, Anna. “Plants, Potions and Love Magic.” The University of Queensland Australia: Art Museum, March-April 2019. Accessed 11 April 2019, https://stories.uq.edu.au/art-museum/2019/plants-potions-love-magic/index.html

Kotz, Liz. “The Body You Want: An Interview with Judith Butler.” Artforum 31, no. 3 (1992): 82-89.


Featured image ‘Witch’s Hammer‘ by Monika Behrens and Rochelle Haley via UQ Art Museum. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and the Alex and Kitty Mackay Collection.