Becoming Woman

  • Louise Dupré and Erín Mouré
    Just Like Her. Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd.
  • Jennifer Still
    Girlwood. Brick Books
Reviewed by Amanda Lim

Just Like Her by Louise Dupré and Girlwood by Jennifer Still are poetry collections that discuss mother-daughter relationships and the challenges of womanhood. Both books recall French critic Simone de Beauvoir’s famous argument that one is not born a woman but, rather, becomes one. As such, they illustrate the social construction of gender identity and the interconnectedness of politics, personal relationships, and societal norms of behaviour.
Just Like Her, originally written in French and performed as a play, is translated by Erín Moure in this English edition. The text, divided into three acts and a series of tableaus, presents scenes about a relationship between a mother and daughter. Instead of formulating a single coherent narrative, Just Like Her presents this relationship as a complicated set of interactions in which glib explanations and easy redemptions are not offered. Illustrating the heritage from mother to daughter and the development from daughter to mother, the book highlights the legacies of expectations, pain, habits, attitudes, and emotional barriers that are passed from generation to generation. The book’s themes include motherhood, expectations of femininity, family, identity, generational gaps, and communication.
Through the use of skillful repetition, unflinching declarations and questions, and subtle shifts in tone, Dupré indicates how mothers and daughters are equally entangled within the network of societal expectations surrounding femininity, motherhood, and family. She emphasizes that human behaviour is both social and personal, and that humans are contradictory, complex, and flawed. The repetition of particular phrases and syntactical structures underline the linkages between the generations of women represented, as well as the constant struggle to define the individual self apart from the mother.
Girlwood, a collection of poetry by Jennifer Still, similarly talks about mother and daughter relationships and, more broadly, the development of girlhood into adulthood. The book traces a rough trajectory from young girlhood to adolescence to adulthood, showing the various ways in which gender expectations and norms are produced, constructed, manipulated, reinforced, and resisted. Still addresses a variety of themes in this collection: societal expectations, duties in the domestic sphere, the performance of identity, the exploration of sexuality, friendships, romance, conformity and rebellion, imitation, and alienation.
Although the book traces a (roughly) chronological timeline, it illustrates how girlhood is a girlwood, a complicated and unpredictable terrain with various diversions, obstacles, and circuitous routes. Still’s unique imagery, unusual word pairings, and bold declarations encourage the reader to see familiar phases of life in fresh ways. She borrows the idea of tracks from Lyn Hejinian’s quote in My Life, organizing the book by tracks and using the numbered squares of a hopscotch grid as a visual motif. Her inclusion of quotes from well-known poets such as Lyn Hejinian and Robert Kroetsch indicates the multiple influences in her own writing and how identity is shaped as a multi-layered, multi-directional concept that constantly changes.
Wry, startling, and brutally honest by turns, Dupré and Still capture adroitly the myriad complexities, tensions, and contradictions in the construction of femininity.

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