Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl – Age 21
Vaginas in the oatmeal?!
I enrolled in Dr. Gayles’ Images of Women in the Media in the spring of my junior year in college. She told me that if I looked closely enough at the Quaker oats advertisement I would see the outline of a vagina in the bowl. That the spoon dipped in the creamy breakfast, next to the two berries placed just so for garnish, was a phallic symbol–upright to indicate intercourse. The slogan and accompanying text, which I have since forgotten, a double entendre, supposedly substantiated her interpretation.
I could hardly eat my dinner that night so convinced was I that I was in the midst of a spiritual war with this lady, brainwasher extrodinairre according to the way my classmates drank in her every word with wide-eyed wonder and passed the quizzes–a series of ads we had to decipher. I failed every single one.
So around the third failed quiz I headed to her office, wanting to drop the course but knowing it was one of two I had to take to fulfill some elective requirement, and that we were therefore gonna have to come to an understanding. I didn’t know what the understanding was to be nor what I would say to initiate it, but I had to tell her: I just didn’t see the multitude of vaginas and phalluses.
“You must learn!” she waved her hands in a flourish with all the drama of her former-life training as a dancer and poet. I stammered that I would try harder, my determination to come to an “understanding” wilted. Her husky performer’s voice betrayed her natural nurturing demeanor and I guess I just fell under the spell. That semester I learned more than I ever needed to know about cigarette ads and vaginas in bowls of oatmeal.
That entire school year was a trying time. All I wanted to do was finish my bachelor’s degree in Atlanta. All UNCF, my scholarship benefactor, wanted to do was bounce the checks they sent on my behalf to Spelman, arbitrarily cut the amounts. Or not send the checks at all. That fall they chose the latter. So I made up my mind to temporarily transfer to Delaware State University–home. Boo.
I explored mass communications, writing for television and radio, and miseried my way through Dr. Taylor’s ethics class since I couldn’t articulate my ideas without sounding like a broken, hyper-moral record. And I plotted like a Kentuck’ slave to get back down to Spelman.
Sure my twin was there (when she wasn’t with her now husband) and the co-ed experience offered opportunities that even in the midst of the largest consortium of African American schools in the nation couldn’t, I was my typical grey.
For all the experience eventually taught me–resourcefulness for one (I talked my way into a full scholarship and on-campus room within a week of the start of classes), I was no more prepared to learn it at the time than I was to accept Dr. Gayles’ interpretations of commercial media.
So I resorted to doing what I did best: writing. I wrote whole series of poems and a couple of last will and testaments (because I was dramatic in my unhappiness). I wrote like my life depended on it. Likely it did.