Friday, August 4, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Olivia Gatwood's "Ode to My Bitch Face"

If you've read Let's take the 'bitch' out of 'resting bitch face:' About not smiling, you know that I see "resting face" as a normal quality of men and women. But that's the research side. Spoken-word performer and poet Olivia Gatwood tackled the shame side by writing an "Ode to My Bitch Face." And the video of her performing the poem has more than 15 million views on Facebook, so it's safe to say it's striking a chord.

Here's how she introduced the poem:
So does everyone know what this term “resting bitch face” is? So that’s a term coined by someone who was just generally unhappy with the fact that women aren’t smiling literally all the time. So you’re like sleeping, and he’s like, “you have a bitch face!” and you’re like, “I mean I’m literally taking a nap, so I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

So I’ve been doing this thing lately where I write odes to things I think I’m supposed to feel ashamed of, which is largely how shame works. We think we’re supposed to feel it, we’re told we’re supposed to feel it, about the way that we live and act and walk and speak and dress and are. And then we feel it because someone told us to, it’s not an organic feeling really. So I’ve been writing odes to things like that to counteract that feeling. So this is an “Ode to my Bitch Face.”
And here's the poem itself, short enough that I've had it transcribed for you:
You pink armor lipstick rebel steel cheek slit mouth head to the ground mean girl. You had ‘phones in but no music. You house key turned blade, you quick step between street lights, strainer of pricks and chest beaters, laughter is a foreign language to your dry ice tongue. 
Resting bitch face, they call you, but there is nothing restful about you, no. Lips like a flat-lined heartbeat, panic at the sight of you, scream for their mothers, throat full of bees, head spun 360 exorcist bitch. 
Just trying to buy a soda. Just trying to do your laundry. Just trying to dance at the party and then someone asks you to smile and the blood begins to riot. Smile and you chisel away at your own jaw. Smile and you unleash the swarm into the mouth of a man who wants to swallow you whole.
One theory is that you are born like this but I don’t believe it. You came out screaming and alive and look at you now. Look at how you’ve learned to hide your teeth. What’s wrong with your face, bitch? Your face, bitch, what’s wrong with it? Bitch face, I don’t blame you for taking the iron pipe from their hands and branding yourself with it. For making a flag out of your body bag. 
Another theory is that you put it on every morning. Screw it tight like a jar of jelly but I don’t believe that either. You woke up like this and have been for years. How can you sleep pretty when there are four locks on the door and the fire escape feels like break-in bait. They will tell you home is safe zone. 
No, bitch face is safe zone. Bitch face is home. Bitch face is cutting off the ladder, willing to burn in the apartment if it means he can’t get in.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • What's your approach to your topic? There's more than one way to put a speech together. In this case, the approach is using an ode--defined as "a lyric poem in the form of an address to a particular subject, often elevated in style or manner and written in varied or irregular meter"--to address topics of shame. That's a category she can turn to again and again. You might consider looking for an approach you can use more than once, for more than one topic.
  • Feel free to introduce yourself or your talk: That's normal in a poetry slam, but any speaker might add some introductory comments as Gatwood does here to provide context and set up the poem for us.
  • Play with voice: The title refers to "my bitch face," suggesting it's about Gatwood. But by referring to herself in the second person, addressing herself as "you," she's giving the listeners two options: Is she talking to herself and her bitch face? Or is she talking about you? The ambiguity lets more listeners in, and helps them relate to the commentary, perhaps one reason this has resonated with so many.
Watch the video here or below:


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