The Backstory – “An Attempt at Feminism”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: I’m three to four months into the legal drinking age, and feel so deeply betrayed by the intensity of my sexual impulses that I contemplate suicide. The guy I tell myself I like has been driving me around in his mom’s minivan since the fall term, explaining how badly he wants to live on a root-vegetable farm in Idaho and why it’s not the right time for me to meet his friends, who are all married with one on the way. I suspect he’s a cult-member, and that if I play my cards right, he’ll be asking me to change my name to Martha Marcy May Marlene before another year’s end. I won’t put it past myself to be strangely flattered. And I won’t be changing my name. But for now, I’m attracted to his scraggly ginger beard and the faux-flannel shirts he wears to go hiking along the Chattooga River (without me, but on my recommendation).  

When we kiss—often inside the minivan—he stares me down and fitfully bites my lower lip. I’m prone to laughing in the middle of it, which hurts his feelings. The quavering apology I’m obliged to deliver is getting to me: I wasn’t trying to pull away! Honest! I thought I tasted blood for a split second. I announce to my young nephew that I’m dating the shark from Finding Nemo, and despite the aggressive exuberance in my voice and his child-apathy, we can both hear how wrong it sounds.

I write “An Attempt at Feminism” at two o’clock in the morning, following my inaugural gig as the host of trivia for Clemson’s literary festival. The boyfriend didn’t make it out because of a vague permaculture disaster over at the Student Organic Farm, something to do with an old tractor leaking coolant on the crops. That I can’t muster one sensation of having missed him, or even the smallest faith in his story is no revelation for me.  He’s wooden and weird, a composite of hip social media presences, the sort of person who takes selfies in front of greenhouses but hasn’t a word for food justice. He says that Langston Hughes is lost on him. And I’m selfish and deprived and hormonal. I know that I am.

The poem below is the result of a highly specific anger I harnessed for a few lines. I am proud that something good came out of it all. Older and wiser women than me have put up with far worse. Honestly, wherever he is and whoever’s lip he’s chomping on now, I just want him to be happy. And every day I’m thrilled it’s not me responsible for his happiness.


An Attempt at Feminism - Five colorful cartoon shaped woman

(Graphic by Martine Ehrhart)


An Attempt at Feminism, By Miriam McEwen


I misplaced my womanhood in a passage of blood

and whatever passes for glory in those parts:

Suppress that nature thing some girls learn to nurture after

they read a Brontë

because the taste of anesthesia clings to my tongue

in times of famine,

Feel the sexlessness of my age biting through the urges

I was supposed to have

by now stop now start now go now wait a minute come back stay back,

Stammer on Andy Johnny Jenny; androgyny is almost, but not really?

Watch your mouth, you-

and me sittin’ in a tree reading Abraham Lincoln’s speeches

in the event our house divides in the middle of the night and we

decide to come undone.

You can stop pushing so hard now.

I think she might be done now.


By Miriam McEwen

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Read other writings by Miriam:

Time With Me Is Wasted

Seduction Technique

Broke Down Morning – A Short Story

The Young Women’s Guide to Making Bad Matters Worse

Mother’s Milk

Notes on Fight Club

Tuesday’s In September

A Brief Record of Interrupted, Rural Solitude

Graduation, period

Creature Comforts