The Traumatic Experiences Overcome in "Birdie" by Tracey Lindberg

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Birdie focuses on immense difficulties five different women - Lola, Maggie, Bernice, Valene, and Freda - face in their lives due to the oppressing men within them. Through the feminist critical theory, Birdie, written by Tracey Lindberg, demonstrates that in order to overcome traumatic experiences, one must allow time to heal the damage that has been done. This is evident through the sexual harassment Bernice faces by a family member, the rough men in Lola’s life, and Freda’s abusive experiences.

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Bernice overcomes her scarring experience of sexual harassment by freeing herself of all the rough memories she deals with. When Bernice reaches her lowest point in life, she recounts memories of when she first begins to be sexually abused by her uncle Larry, as her mother, Maggie, and aunt Maisie would go out every Sunday to play Bingo. She is reminded of her sexual assault every time she looks at her body and realizes “the skin, which she peeled and let thicken, looks nothing like the new skin from the fresh cut now. It resembles a peeled section of a grapefruit, with the layering of tissue organized and neat. As the blisters spread she feels, instead of alienated from her skin, more at home in it”. Since Bernice's skin is described as “thick,” it symbolizes the idea that her traumatic experiences are extremely rough to deal with and difficult to remove from her memory. The new skin from the fresh cuts resembles a “peeled section of a grapefruit” representing the idea that Bernice is stripped of her identity and personality when she is abused by her uncle Larry. Additionally, the “organized and neat” layering of tissue represents that Bernice is an object in the eyes of her uncle as he uses her in whatever manner he desires. As the blisters - roughness of her abuse - tends to worsen, Bernice is accustomed to the uncomfortableness she feels within her own skin. Furthermore, Bernice does not only experience feelings of confinement, but, she faces an internal emotional conflict. She is perceived to be vulnerable - a female incapable of defending herself - against the powerful and dominating male: Larry. Bernice attempts to recover from painful memories alongside coping with other hardships: living on the streets and an admission into a psychiatric hospital. After years of a continuous cycle of pain, “Bernice lies in her bed, motionless, but feels the gentle rush of water against her as she makes her way upstream. Past her past. It feels peaceful. She knows she will have to push her way upstream some time. For now she floats, feeling anything but free”. Bernice remains traumatized from the occurrences; however, as time progresses, she begins to “push her way upstream.” The rush of water represents that time and life will always continue and are forever in motion. Even though Bernice is not physically moving, her mind constantly attempts to forget the frightening memories and move forward. In addition, it mentions that Bernice is “floating” which signifies that finally emerges out of her deep troubles after sinking within them for so long. Alongside her ability to cope with the situation solely, she recieves unconditional love from her family - the strong women. Bernice begins to rise. Many years later, she emotionally reunites with her family members when she suddenly decides to wake up from her “sleeping state” of recalling unwanted memories. She decides to take an offering to the Tree of Life with her auntie Val, cousin Freda, and Lola. After she returns from providing the gift, she realizes that “the colours of the night sky stripe and smudge across the windowpane of the cab and out of her vision”. The blue or black colors of the night sky represent the hardships - the bruises - that Bernice has faced over the years. The smudge across the windowpane symbolizes that her hardships have finally begun to fade and disappear from her peripheral. The dark colors - nightmarish memories - are no longer visible to the naked eye which concludes that Bernice moves on from her horrifying past. Overall, she realizes it is time itself that plays a critical role in the road to recovery. Likewise, time plays an important part in Lola’s relationship with her significant other.

Lola moves past the misery that she felt in her previous relationship, and becomes a strong independent woman who empowers other female figures of her family. After Lola and her husband, Stan Manklow, are married for a few weeks, he starts to become rough in his lovemaking and thrusts into Lola in unfamiliar ways. Considering Lola has a very bold personality, she tries to defend herself just before she realizes “he wanted a submissive woman in the bedroom [and did not] really care who was boss outside of it, and he was going to make her one, dammit”. Stan attempts to transform Lola into a complaint woman in bed whom he can control over physically, but he also restrains her emotionally as she feels trapped within herself. The female character is portrayed as a possession because the male, Stan, is objectifying her identity and uses her as the “object” in the bedroom. Lola is treated as a toy which Stan feels he can utilize anytime for his private pleasures - he believes he has the authority to toss her around and treat with disrespect. When Lola ends up in the emergency room for the fourth time because of Stan’s mistreatment, her father and brother decide to physically assault him. As time moves on and Lola is no longer confined within the abusive relationship, she notices “that the bruises, which he never had but enjoyed raising, had healed. And the ironic thing was that after he left her, for a time she become the subservient woman that he was looking to create”. The emotional damage starts to negatively impact Lola’s personality on a long term basis as she becomes a different individual in comparison to her past. Lola, who was initially considered to be a fearless and daring woman now transforms into a controllable, passive female. Her exterior indicates that the bruises have healed on a cellular level; however, she may face emotional scars on the inside on a spiritual level. To be feminine is synonymous with being submissive and compliant. Just as Lola begins to move on from her previous relationship and enter new ones, history repeats itself. “Two relationships later, and the physical violence starts again. She wondered, wonders, if there is something about her that inspired this. Invites this. She didn’t have her dad to beat the hell out of him the next time. The next time, she did it herself. And found herself pleased at the power she possessed”. Lola ultimately blames herself for attracting abusive men reinforcing the common stereotype that women are responsible for every wrongdoing. However, she does have a different attitude towards the situation in comparison to her last romantical relation. She does not let her father or brother her strike her boyfriend, but instead she takes this matter into her own hands. Lola was “pleased” at the power she had - this reveals how her personality and character has developed once more in a positive manner. She was once an empowering woman who let a man dominate her life with negativity; however, she has now become that exact individual by remembering the strength she always possessed. Women are represented as weak with the inability to take a stand for themselves. They are often portrayed as fragile and powerless which stimulates the common male belief that females are insignificant, worthless items that only obtain value when they provide sexual benefits. In this specific quote, it displays Lola’s self-doubt and feelings of insufficiency, yet it also shows the power that she gains. Healing and moving past experiences not only requires time, but it also requires the gradual increase of confidence. Similarly, Freda recognizes her self-worth and utilises it to remove any toxic men from her life.

Freda recovers from her disparaging marriage as she returns to her old self: an outgoing woman with the freedom to control her own life. When Feda met Wes, her ex-boyfriend, at a bar in Edmonton, she thought he was different from her ex-husband, Louis. She instantly feels enchanted by the charm in his glimmering eyes and beautiful smile; however, she realises her first impression of him was completely wrong. After engaging in sexual relations with Freda on multiple occasions, Wes states that he is not ready for a relationship and the commitment it requires. Freda does not understand his wickedness until “that roughness in his mouth extended to his hands and she recognized now that her bruised breasts and scraped thighs were something more than passion. Less than passionate”. It is evident that Wes was both physically and verbally abusing Freda. Although he informs her of his inability to be devoted to a relationship, he continues forcing himself onto Freda. This reveals that he was an abuser. As Wes left bruises on Freda’s breasts and scrapes on her thighs, he was responsible for more than just physical injuries: he is the cause of her emotional distress. Based on the location of her body which Wes targets - breasts and thighs - it indicates that he was able to pinpoint two of the most fragile feminine parts of a woman’s body. This is a reflection of how he views her: weak, passive, and inferior. To continue, the word passionate is defined as an extremely strong emotion which reveals how Freda sees Wes: an overpowering and uncontrollable man. When she begins to understand Wes’ cruel intentions, she self-reflects and realizes that “She thinks it is love and as a result, gives in to that part of herself that she wants to be hurt. And that piece of the hope of something bigger, something loving, [turns] into a kernel of something indescribably hard”. When looking at the definition of love, it is clear that it can be defined as a warm and soft emotion. This statement can be used to describe how Freda feels towards Wes; however, the deep affection is lacking in their relationship. Although she is very affectionate and delicate, Wes is rough and strong. The relationship that Freda and Wes had resembles a kernel; the softness is a reflection of Freda’s pure intentions and the robust, sturdy exterior is a physical representation of Wes. Not only is he considered to be the authority-figure in their wholly-sexual relationship, but he dominates and controls her decisions as well. He hides her inferior feelings from the world - confines her - and takes advantage of her little size. As time passes, Freda realizes that she is not worth being seen as someone delicate, but rather daring and fearless - “she starts wearing stretchy pants again then, wears them to this day, with long sweaters and vivid tops and high heels with the skinniest of heels”. The colorful tops and high heels represent the boldness Freda feels on the inside, happiness that enters her life, and her rich outgoing personality. The high heels indicate that she no longer considers herself to be a ‘low-life’ or inferior female - she is sharp herself and capable of making her own decisions. Freda was able to show that she entirely overcomes the dark period in her life and is moving on towards the brighter and something better future free of oppressing men. Freda is once again comfortable in her own skin. She is able to recognize that it was her self-esteem and time which functioned together to form peace as she is finally able to accept the past as the past and move only forward.

To have a full recovery and take a step forward from something traumatizing, such as sexual assault, it is imperative that an individual be patient and allow time to do its work. The physical torment left on the surface of the skin may be easier to heal from; however, the recovery of the soul is not as simple nor painless. In order for one to truly regain the strength they once had, time must go on.

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