Founded in 1956, Dear Abby is a newspaper column in which readers ask for advice on a variety of topics, including etiquette, relationships, sex, health, and career guidance. A historical survey of Dear Abby and other advice columns paints a distinct portrait of the evolution of societal views on identity. Most expressed misogynistic and heteronormative opinions about gender and sexuality. Columns frequently advised women to obey their husbands, give up their careers, tolerate domestic violence, and always smile. Reading these old columns is telling of society’s limited perception of gender roles and how the definition of gender has evolved. This piece, DEAR ABBY, explores how society often attempts to pigeonhole others into fitting into narrow gender roles that may or may not contradict with their own identity and the internal reactions that one might face as a result. Many thanks to David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony for commissioning this piece.
do you paint your toenails red
with blue and golden sparkles?
do they glow like shimmering stars,
polished to catch his eye?
do you shave your hairy legs,
shave so close they start to bleed?
don’t you know that men like smooth?
bare is best in bed.
do you sing like baby swans,
as soft and sweet as you can be?
do you want to be a wife?
do you feel your skin ripped off,
your bones so frail, you cannot breathe?
do you feel your lungs collapse?
i can’t come up for air
do you hear your voice,
your mouth held shut