A shocking study from CBC News revealed: around 97% of women have negative thoughts about themselves at least once a day (CBS News). The problem of negative body issues is not a new dilemma and has been around for some time. The poem Barbie Doll written by Marge Piercy explores this issue and makes a connection between the negative body issues in relation to society.
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In order to fully comprehend and analyze the poem rhetorically, Doug Down’s article, Rhetoric: Making Sense of Human Interaction and Meaning-Making is used to draw the connections and clearly define what Piercy is trying to show. The poem exposed the atrocities that women experienced in society in order to create changes for the way women looked and felt about themselves.
The poem demonstrates the unrealistic expectations placed on girls starting from a young age. As the girl in the poem is followed from birth to death, it is evident that society puts her down because of her body and looks. After society has beaten her down for so long she commits suicide, and her funeral is the first and the last time anyone views her as beautiful, which was her only goal. In order for the audience to not only understand the poem, but feel the emotional aspect, Piercy used mythos. According to the article by Downs, mythos is, a way to associate the problem and solution they’re advocating with their reviewers’ existing knowledge (472-473). Within the text, this element is evident in order to make the argument stronger and allow the audience to make connections with the girl depicted. Lines 17-18 state, So she cut off her nose and her legs and offered them up (Piercy). This appeal is used during the girl’s death to display what is happening and how it conflicts with values. The audience is able to relate to her story and see how society wore her down and she could not handle the pressures any longer. The time period that this poem was published in allowed for people to view society in a new light.
Barbie Doll allowed for an advance in the way women thought about themselves as it was published in 1971, during the second wave of feminism. It was different from previous movements as it was focused on a variety of issues, but mainly on family life and women’s sexuality (Burkett). Women were beginning to question their place within society and wanted expanded roles. It was a time when new opinions were accepted and not immediately dismissed. Piercy’s educational and feminist background allowed her to take an active role in the movement with the publication of Barbie Doll. From a young age, Piercy was inspired to read from her mother allowing her to have a strong writing and reading background (McManus). This love of reading followed her as she was the first in her family to receive a college degree. She never fit into normal stereotypes and was able to lead a crusade for women’s rights through this poem. Her feminist viewpoints influenced her poem as she wrote it with the same view in order to create change. Readers are able to identify with her and her argument throughout the poem. She captures the essence of identification which, according to Downs, is when the reader identifies with the author and the argument made so that the audience agrees with what is being said (475). This rhetoric element is so important because it allows for a connection between the reader and writer so that they understand what is being said. The last line of the poem solidifies the identification as it says To every woman a happy ending (Piercy). The irony shines very clearly, as it is not happy because she died, but it makes her thoughts very well known about society allowing for the final piece of identification to occur. Her poem was accepted because she established herself through her educational background and feminist roots. Piercy saw a great need for the ideas in this poem, because she felt society needed change.
There was a need for this poem in order to help create change. Piercy felt that society needed to be exposed for how it was treating women and the generalizations that were being made. According to Rhetoric: Making Sense of Human Interaction and Meaning-Making by Doug Downs, exigence is the need for the interaction to occur (467). The exigence in this poem was to show what was happening in society and to help spur change. In the poem it says, This girlchild was born as usual (Piercy line 1). This is the opening line to the poem and the words as usual make it evident that she believes that every girl is treated the same, and has equivalent roles in society. She wanted to show how there was a lack of individualism. Another element that was important within the poem was its rhetorical ecology, Downs says, Not only does the notion of a rhetorical ecology help us know to look for as many influences and factors shaping a text but it reminds us that writers neither write alone nor have perfect control of their texts (467). Rhetorical ecology applies to the poem because society affected the content along with Piercy’s background. After the poem was published there were many different interpretations that Piercy may not have intended for, proving that an author does not always have control. The need to explain what was happening in society was motivated by the opportunity for transformation.
Piercy was motivated by a plethora of factors to demonstrate what was happening within society. The article by Doug Downs says, To say that rhetorical interaction is always motivated is to say that it is moved by forces, causes, and desires (465). In lines 21 through 22 Piercy says, a turned up putty nose, dressed in a pink and white nightie. Piercy understood what was happening and was motivated by her desire to bring about change for women. She wanted to show the unrealistic standards and treatments of women. By publishing this poem, she could get people thinking and join in the movement in order to see change brought for women. Another motive was to help the younger generation by using the metaphor of a Barbie doll in order to show how early these problems began. She aims to inform people about what was truly happening in society and for them to then apply it to their lives. The first step was for them to be informed of the problem, the second step was for them to take action and help change society.
Even though there are many different conversations surrounding the poem, Piercy’s most impactful argument surrounded society’s poor treatment of women. Two conversations that can arise from the text is that it is ludicrous to blame society for the body image problems girls are having and that Piercy is exaggerating the issues. Some also believe that Piercy was correct in depicting society as judgemental and fake and something must be done about it. Piercy’s biggest argument; however, was to divulge into a part of society that is not always talked about. The rhetorical principle of narrative helps to prove her argument. In his article, Downs explains the importance of a narrative. He says One line of thought in rhetorical theory is that humans know by storytelling (468). She tells a story about a superficial society by describing its focus on external images and how the only thing people saw were flaws (Piercy, line 6). She wanted to show how people were fixated on the negatives. Through this central argument, a flawed society is evident and it is clear that internal images are not of value. Women should be celebrated rather than face negative body issues. It is clear that Piercy believes society is mainly at fault. The girl the poem follows began with a good personality, but since this was not considered valuable within the society portrayed within Barbie Doll she eventually loses the good within her altogether (Piercy, line 15-16). Piercy calls for a change of values in society by seeing the wealth in a beautiful internal and external image.
Marge Piercy’s poem Barbie Doll discloses society’s wrongdoings in regards to women in order to see an advancement of women’s place in society. In this poem, Piercy shows the dangers of idealizing and reveals ugly truths about society. Doug Downs’s article Rhetoric: Making Sense of Human Interactions and Meaning Making allows for the poem to be looked at rhetorically in order to better understand what Piercy intended the text to accomplish. The solution to the problem of negative body images may start with the changing of society’s standards. While this poem may have been published over forty years ago, the message is still very relevant. Today Barbie Doll shows it is important to look for more than external beauty and not allow society to corrupt internal images. In order to truly see a change, people must be celebrated for who they are, proudly accepted for breaking away from social norms.
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