Dorothy Allison’s Autobiographical Narrative
“Dorothy Allison’s autobiographical narrative Two or Three Things I Know for Sure examines how a lower-class upbringing has affected the identities of the women in her family. Beauty, inadvertently, becomes one of the most valued things among her family members, a perceived lack of which shapes Allison as a person. Through a lens of intersectional feminism – a branch of feminism that helps identify and develop how different aspects of social and political discrimination overlap with gender – a store of male entitlement, the way Allison combats it, and the female solidarity is woven into her lyrical prose.
The women in Allison’s family were taught that beauty did not exist from them and they are the women whose photos were taken at “mining disasters, floods and fires” (Allison, 33). They are the ones in the background with their mouths open in print dresses or drawstring pants and collarless smocks, ugly and old and exhausted. Solid, stolid and wide-hipped baby machines. The men of her family constantly degraded women, an outdated mindset that says women are inferior and that their only purpose in the world is to be mothers. From birth, men are socialized to believe the world owes them something and that they deserve everything. Women’s upbringing in the society, under it believes and norms, teaches women to minimize themselves, while simultaneously lifting men and allowing them to take up as much space as they could possible desire. Allison’s story of her rape at the hands of her stepfather is a narrative which helps the readers in today’s society and culture understand how the foundation of this system was built and lead to consequences such as the rape culture it has built allows and even encourages men to act vigorously without social repercussions. This is something that does not change across race or class.
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Due to fact that she was born in a poor family, she always struggled with the lack of wealth in childhood. This restricted from believing she had any economic mobility; a perceived lack of beauty barred her from feeling worthy of love. Allison talks about high school and how “the pretty girls in high school … wore virgin pins on the right side or knew enough not to wear such tacky things at all. She and her cousins were never virgins, even when they were” (Allison 36). As the poor, “ugly” girls in high school, Allison and her cousins were disposable to boys; they were the “easy” girls, Allison suggests. Combines with their lower-class status, the question in posed, “shit, who could love a girl like her?” (Allison 36). Throughout the novel, Allison is shown as a person full of hatred against the family and blaming them for all the societal repercussions, however, in this case, she is partly to be blamed as well because her ideology of beauty being everything a women’s characteristic is false, she was supporting this at the time. However, she failed to realize that her thinking was false and intersects with her current mindset to what she had portrayed in the novel.
Allison’s fascination with the “ongoing tragedies, great novels, secret and mysteries and longings no one would ever know” (Allison 17) – mostly in regard to the women in the family – speaks to the weight Allison put on history in her identity. The value she places in women she is often build around each other: not a system of privilege, but a system of love and strength that is only found among those who understand what they have suffered at the hands of men.
However, this understanding of the necessity of women supporting women is not an easy one to come by. The simplest way to understand this journey is to examine, once again, the role of beauty in Allison’s life. The conflict between society judging beauty and Allison’s family leads to the tension between Allison and her sister Anne. For example, Anne says, “We didn’t like each other much,” “We didn’t know each other,” replies Allison. “Yeah? Well, Mama always thought you peed rose water.” “But you were beautiful. Hell, you didn’t even have to pee, you were so pretty. People offered to pee for you” (Allison 77). The jealously is a product of a lack of body autonomy: her body is not hers; she and her body are not “beautiful” – according to the men in her life” – resulting in a desire for the normative ideal of beauty. This is not to discredit simple sibling jealously, but there are clear patriarchal undertones. Societal norms of beauty are shaped by men and their ideas of what makes a woman beautiful. This is the connection between a nation of starving, self-obsessed women the continued success of patriarchy. This toxic mindset is what causes women, even women like Dorothy Allison to believe that beauty is one of the only things of value in the world and that she must compete against other women.
Lastly, poverty genders man and woman and portrays intersectionality by showing both sexist and racist views. “The problem is her $42.10 allowance. She hates having to ask her husband for money every time she needs a pair of shoes but won’t trust her with a charge amount… as I continued with my cooking, cleaning, cooking, washing, ironing, cooking” (Friedan, 45). What Friedan said in her article The Happy Housewife Heroine is extremely stereotypical and sexist in some ways. This is because the entire text is based on the topic of women fighting for their rights, women who want to be treated equally to men and ask for allowances.”