Report from the Field: Youth Poetry Slam

Every year, a poetry slam is held at Poets House in Manhattan. Boys and girls from high schools and middle schools all over NYC come in and share their poetry. I’ve been participating in the poetry slam for three years. Every year, the poetry is magnificent. One thing I love to do is make observations. I listen closely to see what people are talking about in their poetry. I’ve noticed that each year, the majority of girls talk about heartbreak or being hurt by someone they loved. Girls as young as 13 years old rant about how the boy they loved treated them poorly, and how they run back to the boy. It hurts me because that is such a stereotypical scenario. “Boy treats girl like dirt. Girl still goes back to boy.” Why must this generation of boys treat girls so poorly and why do girls return to them? More importantly, why are these young girls so focused on relationships at that age? The media has brainwashed these children.

The boys on the other hand talk about the opposite. Some boys talk about how much of a womanizer they are and that they could get any girl. Other boys talk about being young and carefree. Compared to the girls, the boys have a more easy-going vibe. A few boys, as well as girls, touch on important topics in the world like police brutality, homosexuality or the media.

Creative Commons photo by Steve A Johnson on flickr
Creative Commons photo by Steve A Johnson on flickr

As the last poetry slam concluded, people gathered around for the best part of the event. It was time for people to show off their freestyle skills in a cypher. Both boys and girls quickly huddled into a circle anticipating the moment they had all been waiting for. The boys cheered each other on, shouting each other’s names, making the crowd hype. As I pushed my way through the crowd so I could enter the circle, I made an observation. It was predominantly males who participated in the cypher. There, however, were a few girls who took part, including myself. But mostly boys were the ones who dominated the cypher.

The boys and the girls were treated differently from each other. It’s not that the girls were seen as irrelevant, but there weren’t as many girls included in the cypher and there wasn’t as much hype. The hype seemed to flow towards the boys. That puzzled me. I had just earned first place in the slam and people wanted to hear me to freestyle. After I participated, I got some recognition. But the crowd was eager to hear from the next boy. In this day and age, are females not as recognized in the world of rap as much as males are?

Aside from gender, I made another observation. Most of the people who participated in the cypher were African American or Hispanic. As I scanned the crowd, I saw a few Caucasians, but none who participated in the cypher. That also puzzled me. Not only is there a gender issue with the world of rap, but there is also a race issue.

Females used to be seen as fragile and not as competent or strong as males. You still sometimes hear people say, “Girls can’t do that.” When I ask people why, they say that girls are weaker than boys or boys are smarter than girls. As women have made progress in proving themselves to society, there are still cases of discrimination. For example, many people believe that women can’t be the president because they can’t handle the pressure or the stress. People feel more comfortable and assured with a male president. I believe that women could do anything a man can do. Usually it is the white man who gets his work published rather than the black woman. It is hard to escape the reality that women are just not treated equally as men are.

I believe that in order to change this, women must challenge this belief and continue to push themselves to obtain positions that normally a white man would get. I believe that white men and women should raise awareness for women in general. From being a writer to a mechanic, women should show the world that they are just as valuable as men. I hope one day that change will happen, and women will be on the same level as men socially. I plan to disregard all the gender discrimination and chase my dreams, and to reach out and empower other women.


Gayle MendezGayle Mendez is a senior in high school. After being a part of the Journalism class for two years, she has grown to enjoy writing articles for her school newspaper, The Baltic Blast. She especially enjoys writing about societal issues, including gender inequality, modernized slavery and the gay rights movement. She is also a poet who has competed in poetry slams and won first place in the poetry slam at Poets House in Manhattan in May 2014. Gayle enjoys helping others. She volunteers after school as a tutor. She has also volunteered at Global Citizen.





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