by Kay Ryan
Turtle Women and Femininity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Line)
She can ill afford the chances she must take (3)
Here, in the third line of the poem, the speaker first describes the turtle as female. Closely tied to this initial identification of the turtle's gender is an explicit acknowledgement of the turtle's at-risk status. Life is full of risks, for men as well as women. But in many parts of the world, women have been especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
[…] almost any slope
Defeats her modest hopes. (6-7)
Think of the uphill battle American suffragettes faced in seeking the right for women to vote; think of the many setbacks and defeats they had to overcome. In isolation, the words "slope" and "defeats" have no specific connection to women's rights. But consider the context. With its connotations of "shy," "meek," and "unassertive," the word "modest" has strong connections to the "lady-like" notions associated with traditional women's roles.
She skirts the ditch which would convert
Her shell into a serving dish (10-11)
Once you become sensitized to the connotations of individual words in the poem, the word "skirts" may jump out at you. Here, "skirts" clearly means "avoids," but it also can refer to a woman's garment (for more on this, check out our "Detailed Summary"). The term "serving dish" also connotes the domestic realm traditionally overseen by women. Plus, notice how the turtle protects herself: through avoidance rather than confrontation. (Unlike the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this traditional gal has not cultivated her martial arts skills.) In these ways, the poem again subtly links women with ideas of repression and violence.