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Girl Power: The Role of Women in The Beat Generation

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Michael Lee

ENGL 213: Beat Generation

Dr. Elizabeth Haller

2 May 2016

Girl Power: The Role of Women in the Beat Generation

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.”-  Howl by Allen Ginsburg. 

The Beat Generation was a literary powerhouse foretold as destiny in the stars. Inspired by rejecting conformity and focused on the individual value of the beauty of human experience, these men shifted the concept of normality on its head and twisted it into their own creative, beatnik beast. They lived divided between New York and San Francisco, the group of men rejected themselves from society and created a brand new counter-culture, one that would inspire all counter-culture to come, signifying a major shift in what’s we consider normal. To be beat, to live and breathe beatnik, one must understand the freedom from responsibility and the beckoning call of the open road. And a constant crave for dirty sex, hard liquor, hallucinogenic drugs, and a healthy amount of creativity doesn’t hurt either. And that’s what it takes to be a beat. Normally, when one considers the great writers behind this radical shift, one mentions the likes of Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsburg in one single breath. And you keep going. Hunke. Cassady. Snyder. McClure. Still, these are all men. But one must wonder? Where are all of the women? Why are their hardly any women mentioned throughout the course of the Beat Generation? Where do they play into this massive movement?  We get a large, diverse sample of the male experience, but unfortunately, it’s only the male experience. So, where are all the women?

The Beat Generation formed into existence during the 1940’s and 50’s, and that wasn’t the best time to let your estrogen flow freely. It’s postwar America, and we were becoming a completely different country. Life is completely being changed right before our eyes. Welcome the age of the industrial revolution. Simply, the industry is soaring, and there’s a Puritan-like work ethic amidst in the air again. And women are supposed to assume the role of housewife. They weren’t supposed to be independent. They needed to fit the mold. If you had just splice of irregularity, you’d be sent away or locked inside your own home, chained to the oven with a bottle of Ajax in your hand.  So many just didn’t go beatnik. They couldn’t. There was a construct of exactly everything a woman should be is perfectly detailed and accepted.  And when women abandoned this, life wasn’t necessarily easy. But, that didn’t mean it didn’t happen. Women just had more to lose than man did by embracing beatnik. But the men were “revolutionary” where the women were just being “difficult.” So there’s the difference. The patriarchy is controlling and manipulative.  However, the women who did embrace the beatnik embraced it wholeheartedly. They were smart, ambitious, and extremely fierce. They smoke. They drank. They fucked. They were restless and unhinged. And they were fantastic writers and incredible women.

One of those incredible women includes Diane Di Prima, is one of the finest examples of an undiscovered feminine gem in the midst of the testosterone-fueled sentiment of the rest of the Beat Generation. She’s most noted for bringing the feminine experience to the forefront. And considering her domestic and her literary career, this was an extremely bold move. Born in New York in 1934, Di Prima was fueled with rebellion from her Italian ancestry. Her passion ran incredibly deep. Also a college dropout like her male counterparts, she pursued the beatnik bohemia in order to pursue her passion for writing.  Much of her poetry and prose is destructive in its criticisms of the patriarchal control and the expression of the unhinged and unbound femininity. Allen Ginsburg called her a close friend and an absolute genius. Here in her poem Some Lies About The Loba, she addresses her purpose as a woman and the power of unadulterated femininity. “that she is eternal, that she sings that she is star-born, that she gathers crystal that she can be confused with Isis, that she is the goal, that she knows her name, that she swims in the purple sky, that her fingers are pale & strong.” She published nearly forty books and over a thousand poems.

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