The Wife of Bath's Tale
He saugh a mayde walkinge him birforn,
Of which mayde anon, maugree hir heed,
By verray force he rafte hire maydenheed.
“The Wife of Bath’s Tale” tells the story of a knight who undergoes a trial for raping a maiden. Rather than being immediately put to the death for the crime, the knight is allowed one year to answer the question ‘What do women most desire?’ The answer which saves him is that women want sovereignty - mastery over themselves and their desires.
What’s A Name?
By Gwynne Dulaney, Bryn Mawr, ‘20
A story’s worth a thousand words.
A reporter named Alice tried to tell mine once.
Nice of her, but could’ve asked for my side of it first.
What’s in a name? Never heard of mine, I bet.
Who wants to hear the name of a whiny little bitch anyway?
That’s what they all say.
At least that’s what he told me
With my face pressed against the dirt,
Grit in my teeth and blood in my eyes.
No one wants to hear your name, darlin’,
No one wants to hear you squeal.
He was from the States, as a matter of fact.
New York, or California, or something like that.
Sleek-looking chap, with his shiny cuff links and his stone-grey suit.
Foreign-type, you know what I mean.
Never had to ask for anything in his life.
Came riding in on his big ol’ mustang
Like a bat outta hell.
Looked me up and down like a plucked peony
With my Dolce dress and rhinestone heels.
Spent two weeks’ worth of smiles and lies on that dress
Shoving perfume bottles at rich old women in F&M.
Hey there gorgeous,
You look good enough to eat.
Like I’m a bowl of crisps sitting on the bar inside
Next to my third Guinness for the night.
Let’s go for a walk by the pond
Got something to show ya.
Told me he was a big-time surgeon
Spending his free time volunteering in Africa.
Should’ve known to stay behind
From a man like that
Nothing good ever happens in a marsh.
Told him I wanted to go home
That me mum was waiting for me.
She never sleeps when I’m out this late.
That Dad would be out lookin’ for me
If I was gone too long.
Lies. Lies. Lies.
Smiled at my shivering.
Too cold, my love? No jacket?
Let me warm you up.
Grabbed my chest, my arse,
Breathed his vodka breath in my face.
This’ll only hurt a little bit.
You know the rest.
We tried to take him to court
Figured we could at least get enough for university,
But society’s a bitch
And the harpy of a judge was soft.
Listened to people who said I deserved it
With my too-short skirt and cherry-red lips.
Should’ve chopped off his balls
But instead he got off scots-free
Took a year and a day to end
Just to say it never happened.
Now he’s married to some hag
To prove he isn’t like the rest.
Heard he fought it tooth and nail
But it was the only way to save his reputation.
Heard her family paid for his lawyer
To get her settled for life.
At least he doesn’t have to worry about her running off
When he gets old and gray.
So now he cares about everything but the looks.
Heard her great-great-great grandmother was a witch.
Who knows what fair concoctions she could come up with
To make him not see the crone he’d married?
He only sees what good he wants to see.
Rose colored glasses, but he broke mine.
And me? I’m still here
Hawking flowery scents,
Trying not to hate the world
And the way that it has silenced me.
I Know I’ll get hate mail every week for this
From employers and friends and people
Who don’t even know him or me.
University is just a dream.
I don’t want people to know
It’s none of their business
Yet I must share my story
So white knights never hurt simple maids like me again.
When we were in court, the judge asked him,
What do you think this girl wants most?
He paused and turned to his witch
Who gave him a crooked smile.
Your honor, I’ve asked this question
Far and wide.
Some women say riches, some say honor,
Some say lust or humor or clothes,
Some want to be considered secretive.
Bullshit, I thought.
He wants me to seem sneaky
Like I’m lying up my arse.
Read your Ovid, you two-headed pig.
You’ll see why women can’t lie.
But my wife, he continues,
the wisest person I know,
Tells me that women want sovereignty
From their husbands and lovers.
She leered at me from her seat.
I could have slapped her.
How could she mock me like that
In front of all these people?
I feel that I will never have sovereignty from him
After what he did to me.
But I am determined in myself
That even if she said this in jest
I will have that sovereignty.
I will have that freedom.
He will not dominate me again.
Someone’s just dropped a bottle.
Good perfume splattered all over the floor
Never to be collected and fully put back together again.
Worth a fair price that one.
I think it’s called Truth.
What’s my name?
The Loathly Lawyer
By Shayleah Jenkins, Haverford, 22’
One evening the weather was warm and the heat of the setting sun became trapped inside the man’s car as he sat in traffic. He pondered who he might hire to fill the secretary position in his office. Preferably a pretty little thing, he thought to himself. But the heat interrupted his thoughts, forcing him to unroll his window. In doing so, something caught his eye: a long, bare leg, attached to a heel-clad foot. His eyes chased the limb upwards, reveling in the miniskirt that hung far above her knee. The trajectory of his gaze continued onwards, until he had ogled her from head to toe. He shifted the car into park (traffic won’t move any time soon, he thought) and continued watching as the beautiful waitress cleaned tables in front of the restaurant.
He couldn’t restrain himself. He poked his head out the window and gave a long wolf-whistle. The young girl caught his eye and immediately began to blush but continued wiping down the tables. The man wanted a direct response– so he continued catcalling her. She pulled her shirt down to cover her exposed navel, hung her head, and turned to gather her things. She’d had enough, and clearly so had the woman who had witnessed the entire transgression. The man hadn’t noticed before, but another woman had been sitting a few tables away from the young girl. The woman rose from her seat yelling: “Where do you get off whistling at her like that? You really think she needs that from scum like you? Fuck off with that!” She began to walk toward his car. “Men like you just don’t know what women want,” she shook her head, reaching in her pocket to pull out her phone. She snapped a photo of him.
“What are you doing?” he yelled from his car, panicking. There was no way for him to escape.
“I’m posting your face all over the internet. I can’t have you roaming the streets behaving like this,” she said, shaking her head.
He begged her not to post it, offering her money, his Rolex, anything. She would not accept. Finally, she gave him terms.
“If you can come back and tell me what women want most, I’ll take it down. I’ll be waiting. I’m a regular at this restaurant and you can come back any day of the week to tell me answer.”
And with that, the light turned green, traffic began to move, and the man sped away. He had to get that photo taken off the internet. Even though the chances of someone he knew seeing it were slim, if the photo were to make it onto his employer’s feed, his career– his livelihood– would die.
And so he began the search for what women wanted most. He googled it, but found too many conflicting answers. He had to find out– and fast. He whipped out his phone and opened Tinder. He endeavored to create a series of profiles to see which would get him the most matches. He began by taking the approach he thought most likely to be met with results: adopting the persona of a strong and capable man, like knights in fairy tales. He uploaded photos of himself at the gym. And he waited. Within hours, he had matched with someone– a woman he deemed to be quite beautiful, naturally, or else he never would have swiped right himself. He thought he had the answer: women wanted a strong man. But when he met with her and asked if this was true, if women most desired a strong man, she replied that what women wanted most is money.
And so he went to update his profile, snapping photos of himself in a suit and tie, careful to include his Rolex. Again, only one woman matched with him. When they met, she said women most wanted joy. And so he changed his profile again, this time to portray a fun-loving character. Only one match again. This went on for weeks, each profile change only setting him up with one match. All the women he met with told him differing answers: sex, love, freedom, flattery. It didn’t add up; it seemed women equally desired these things he offered up in the different personas he portrayed– after all, they swiped right– yet kept telling him that he wasn’t at all what women wanted.
One day, coming home from a particularly unhelpful Tinder meet-up, he took a different route home, cutting by the edge of the park. Night was falling fast, so he quickened his pace to match the setting sun but soon realized he was being followed. He glanced behind him. His eyes met with the figure of an older woman in a thin jacket and worn-out jeans. She was not handsome, but he figured in her older age she might be able to answer his question, so he posed it to her.
“I can tell you… but I have to ask a favor first,” she replied. He nodded in agreement and urged her to continue.
“Women want equality,” she said. He thanked her profusely and began to quicken his pace once more but she grabbed his arm.
“You’re forgetting something,” she said. “You promised me a favor. I saw you coming out of that ritzy building where the law firm is, and I’m down on my luck these days. I need a job– anything you’ve got.”
The man panicked. There was a secretary position open, but he was hoping to give it to a much younger woman– one more easy on the eyes. But a deal was a deal.
“I guess I’ll see you Monday at 8:00,” he said.
And so he went back to the street corner, told the woman that women most wanted equality, and the picture was removed. All was well, except that he had to see the homely older woman every day when he walked into the office.
Months passed, and eventually years. The older woman asked for a raise, explaining that she had been loyal and dutiful to him throughout the years. The man protested, still believing only an attractive woman should be his secretary, let alone receive a raise. But eventually he gave in. With her increase in pay, she began to dress in much nicer clothing. He noticed that it accentuated her feminine features, and before his very eyes he saw the years melt from her face and form. With time, he even began to pine for her. One morning, he got the courage to ask her to dinner. She scoffed.
“Sorry boss. You gave me the raise, but you still make three times as much as me! Bill, the secretary in accounting, makes a whole dollar more than I do! I won’t get dinner with you until women get equal pay, ” she laughed.
The man argued that he had made her equal as possible by giving her that raise, but promised to pay her as much as Bill. However, he argued, he could not promise equal pay for all women. He reminded her of the kindness he had shown her by even hiring a woman over thirty, feeling his generosity should make up for his shortcomings.
“No dice,” she said. “My wife wouldn’t like me skipping out on her to eat dinner with a man who sees himself as my savior. Sometimes what women want, men simply can’t give!”
The Devil Stands in the Door
By Claire Nicholas, Haverford ‘19.