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October 30, 2017

Crying Over Spilled Milk (and Honey)

The Rupi Kaur meme trend disparages a voice that stands up for women.

I am tired of people making fun of Rupi Kaur.

Yes, her writing is simple; yes, her poems are short; yes, she lacks the esoteric metaphors and allegories that HUM courses have taught us to both despise and revere. But every parody on the Facebook meme page reeks of retrogressive ignorance because, although Kaur is no Shakespeare, her poetry lends an honest, raw and most importantly, necessary voice to the modern young woman. 

People ridicule Kaur’s work because they assume she is only capable of employing her trademark straightforward style—hence the copious memes mimicking her seemingly juvenile writing. But hasty critics need to understand that the plain simplicity of her work is not only deliberate but also advantageous.

Who else speaks so nakedly in a society where far too many important issues, spanning from sexual assault to gender paradigms, are tinged with taboo and consequently either embellished or obscured? The immediacy of her poems is empowering; she wastes no time proving her intellectual ability to a culture that consistently questions the competency of women.

In poems such as “the rape will/tear you/in half//but it/will not/end you,” Kaur bluntly embraces the issue of sexual assault without shame, delay, or embroidery. She leaves the reader no wavering room to ignore the issue, and thus propels change. Kaur’s conciseness allows young women stemming from completely different backgrounds to build off of her simple backbone and draw from their own diverse, yet related, experiences, fostering a resolute acceptance of all histories, traumas, and taboos. 

Unfortunately, Kaur’s message of self-love and female pride has been marred by the recent barrage of memes that deride the very qualities so fundamental to her work and valuable to the community of women that have grown around it. As a fellow dark humor appreciator, I welcome the meme culture of exaggerated communal misery, but a line must be drawn when this humor corrupts an emerging model for female empowerment. Especially with this past week’s retitling of University of California, Berkeley’s meme page as “uc rupi kaur memes for deeply poetic teens,” college campuses nationwide, including UChicago’s, have hopped on the deleterious bandwagon of derision. And although perpetrators may claim the memes are created in harmless jest, this transient humor is not worth the lasting shame experienced by young women who have derived strength and individuation from the original poems, but now feel alienated. Leave Rupi Kaur alone; sleeping Dean Boyer memes have yet to be exhausted.

Kathleen Cui is a first-year in the College. 

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