If You're Not Dolled Up, Will People Still Listen? / by Shanelle Gabriel

It's the end of rehearsal for a performance I and two other poets are doing at a local high school. We're performing some of the kids poetry from a friend's writing class, and it's run by theater folk. (Side-note: while many poets see aspects of theater in their performance, theater folk tend to be more 'technical' and dwell on how the two genres are soooo NOT alike.) We're there talking about what we'll wear to unify the show. Dark jeans, shoes, colored top. Fine.

So as I and the other 2 poets leave rehearsal, the female poet (Eboni) reveals to me that the head of the theater program said to her, "You should let your hair down and wear make-up because you're really such a pretty girl. Keep in mind, the boys here are used to seeing women a certain way, you know, from TV and videos. You should dress up, so at least if they don't catch your words, they'll still pay attention." Yes, Women's Liberation has come to this.

Now, it makes me go "Hmm," because I know I don't dress to turn on little boys in high school. My words work very well, and any rudeness is not tolerated. I come from a long line of women who strike fear in the hearts of children everywhere. Make-up or not, they are going to listen. But to suggest that the exterior be used in such a way shows the problem with what society deems as a "female performer." If you don't appeal to the lower regions of a man, can you be taken seriously? Can you be sure that you have their full attention? I know that we're a society that focuses on aesthetics, but is the message ignored if the messenger isn't bejeweled and glittering?

Makes me want to put on some Timbs, a tank top, some overalls and complete with boxers, 1992- TLC style. I'll wear that, jump on stage, and perform "A Message to My Girls" and see if anyone takes me seriously.