Poetry isn’t often used as protest in the United States – certainly not as it was in the Soviet Union, where poets were treated as enemies of the state by Stalin, or in China, where dissident poets who stray from Beijing’s party line can find themselves behind bars.
But then there’s the case of Katie Heim, the woman who performed a poem called “If My Vagina Was a Gun” in protest of Texas’s proposed new abortion restrictions.
The poem was read on Monday afternoon as part of the testimony in front of the state Senate’s Health and Human Services committee, which was having hearings on the Republican bill, which “seeks to ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, the point at which some claim fetuses begin to feel pain,” according to CNN.
Heim’s poem reads as follows:
If my vagina was a gun, you would stand for its rights,
You would ride on buses and fight all the fights.
If my vagina was a gun, you would treat it with care,
You wouldn’t spill all its secrets because, well, why go there.
If my vagina was a gun, you’d say what it holds is private
From cold dead hands we could pry, you surely would riot.
If my vagina was a gun, its rights would all be protected,
no matter the body count or the children affected.
If my vagina was a gun, I could bypass security,
concealed carry laws would ensure I’d have impunity.
If my vagina was a gun, I wouldn’t have to beg you,
I could hunt this great land and do all the things men do.
But my vagina is not a gun, it is a mightier thing,
With a voice that rings true making lawmakers’ ears ring.
Vaginas are not delicate, they are muscular and magic,
So stop messing with mine, with legislation that’s tragic.
My vagina’s here to demand from the source,
Listen to the voices of thousands or feel their full force.
As a former English teacher, I can’t help but note that the poem – despite its rather simplistic rhyme scheme – is an excellent example of extended metaphor and leitmotif, with sexual organ-as-weapon serving as the recurring image. Moreover, the poem exemplifies the literary usage of anthropomorphism (“My vagina’s here to demand…”), while its intentional absurdity may recall, for some readers, Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” Moreover, while nobody really knows what irony is, the poem does appear to be ironic, at least in its opening lines.
“Does anyone else suspect she was inspired by Shel Silverstein's "If The World Was Crazy?" Just replace "marshmallow earmuffs" with, uh, "stop attacking my reproductive rights."
Around the same time that Helms read her poem, a hashtag called #IfMyVaginaWasAGun appeared on Twitter:
#IfMyVaginaWasAGun Obama would be blaming America for vagina deaths in Mexico while, at the same time, giving Mexican druglords vaginas.— ryuge (@0ryuge) July 9, 2013
You can also listen to Heim reading the poem below: