Next month will see the release of a collection of feminist essays and poems by 31 South African feminists. The collection, published by Kwela and edited by Jen Thorpe, includes writing from some of South Africa’s most exciting feminists.
The collection, Feminism Is, explores what feminism is to the contributors and touches on issues as wide-ranging as motherhood, anger, sex, race, inclusions and exclusions, the noisy protests and the quiet struggles.
Pumla Dineo Gqola
Danielle Alyssa Bowler
Haji Mohamed Dawjee
Aaisha Dadi Patel
This collection will challenge your thinking and inspire you to action, reaffirming the urgent necessity of feminism in South Africa today. A portion of the proceeds of the book will be donated to the amazing Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.
The collection will launch on 13 March 2018 at the Book Lounge in Cape Town, with launches to follow in KZN and Gauteng. The book will be available at all good bookstores from 26 February. Contact your favourite store to pre-order!
American poet and feminist Adrienne Rich has been gone for over a year now, following her death at the age of 82 in March 2012. We should not forget what her work meant, however.
Born in 1929, Rich was always a poet and a writer. She was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize by W.H Auden himself in her graduation year in 1951 for A Change of World and published a second volume of poetry, The Diamond Cutters in 1955. Her talent is undisputed.
What is interesting about Rich is how her poetry and the changes in its content over the years reflected her own personal struggles as well as what was happening in the world at the time. She was married in her early twenties to a Harvard University economist named Alfred H. Conrad and had three sons before the age of 30. During this time her poetry was described by Randall Jarrell as, “The poet [behind these poems] cannot help seeming to us a sort of princess in a fairy tale.” In a time of female suppression, when women were merely the perfect domestic goddesses with no careers, finances or rights, it is no surprise that Rich’s poetry took on fairy tale proportions. However, her unease as a woman and a wife in this type of society is already implied. In Living in Sin she writes:
Meanwhile, he, with a yawn,
Sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard,
Declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror,
Rubbed at his beard, when out for cigarettes,
While she, jeered by the minor demons,
Pulled back to the sheets and made the bed and found
A towel to dust the table-top,
And let the coffee-pot boil over on the stove.
By evening she was back in love again,
Though not so wholly but throughout the night
She woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming
Like a relentless milkman up the stairs.
These first attempts at trying to understand feminism became increasingly confrontational over the next few decades with Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law and Leaflets exploring issues like a women’s role in society, the Vietnam War, and racism.
By 1997, Rich had completely established an identity as a feminist and an activist poet when she refused the National Medal of Arts and said,
“I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. [Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.”
One of Rich’s most famous collections is Diving into the Wreck, which she wrote during a time of women’s liberation, war and the civil rights movement. It was also during a time when she was struggling with her own sexuality and had separated from her husband. The poems are angry and beautiful and earned her the National Book Award in 1974.
In 1976 Rich and novelist and editor Michelle Cliff began a relationship, which would become lifelong. Her poetry began to explore lesbianism with Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution where she wrote,
“The suppressed lesbian I had been carrying in me since adolescence began to stretch her limbs.”
Rich’s development as a woman and the way she used poetry to explore these developments, eventually resulting in work that celebrated and came to terms with lesbian sexuality and a new found freedom in a difficult society, is a story of success.
Why it is important to remember Rich is because of how her poems and her words will never die. Her art exists for an eternity as a tribute and a beautiful example of how one woman went from a ‘50s wife to a feminist and an activist who had fully come to terms with her own sexuality. She is an example of how art can change the world and is a reminder of why we should continue to write about the issues currently destroying our own society like lack of education, rape, violence, abuse, unemployment and environmental pillage.
Firstly, I have to admit that I read 49 pages of the second book in this “erotic” trilogy – Fifty Shades Darker – so I have at least given it a shot and am not basing the below on hear-say. The second book was more available to me than the first so I thought I’d give the first few chapters a whirl to see if I might be interested in actually reading the series and picking myself up a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. I can satisfactorily conclude that I will not be and more so, that I’m utterly shocked that this is a best seller.
I’m not even going to use the poor quality of writing and the insult that it is to the literary world as my argument in this case. However these factors are noteworthy and deserve mention. If you’re into reading about sex, there are thousands of books out there that are just as erotic, but at least include some skill when it comes to the actual writing style. If you don’t care about the literary merit then you can pick yourself up a copy of any old Mills and Boon rag and be none the wiser. The point here is that not only is not revolutionary in its graphic and detailed sex scenes, but it’s not even a good book?
But the reason why Fifty Shades of Grey is so problematic is that it has completely sexed up an abusive relationship. It’s the most typical Psychology 101 form of abuse – man is abused as a child, man does not overcome or cope with the violence inflicted on him, man repeats cycle. It doesn’t matter what “electricity” they feel between them or how madly in love our delightfully one-dimensional protagonist is, he dominates – in more ways than one – her to such an extent that she is intimidated, abused, controlled and overpowered. Just because he is honest about his “darker side” and the joy he feels in inflicting pain on her doesn’t make it any less so.
What is more alarming is that the sex scenes, designed to be erotic, blend into the abusive and violent scenes. One minute they are flirting and the next the poor girl is absolutely terrified of him. This is exactly what the problem was with Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. The reader goes from feeling sexually turned-on by a scene to suddenly disgusted by the gruesome and violent turn the narrative takes. The positive connotations of being turned on and feeling good during a sex scene should never bleed into violence, domination and abuse. It brings about completely conflicting desires and emotions and merges them into one, leaving the reader feeling rather confused at their own reactions. American Psycho displayed this far more starkly and while a great social dig at American consumerism, readers didn’t need the chapters and chapters and chapters to get the point.
I honestly believe that BDSM relationships, where there is a dominant and a subservient, can be played out far more safely and without those involved maintaining these roles in every aspect of their relationship. Fifty Shades of Grey is an example of how a woman can be crushed into subservience in every sphere of a relationship. The fact that there are some kinky scenes and some good, old healthy, liberating sex shouldn’t shadow this.
Perhaps I’ve completely missed the point and I’m very, very open to correction. All I could think when I read those pages was how glaringly obvious it was that an older and established man had completely captivated a much younger, shier woman and dominated her in every aspect – from the things she eats to the people she is friends with to the way that they have sex. To me it seems about much, much more than BDSM and yet we’re celebrating it? Or perhaps the author is trying to tell that exact story – where boundaries can get blurred – and it is the public that has missed the underlying message? I do doubt it though – I sneaked a look at the first few pages of the last book in the trilogy and it seems as though our protagonist marries the guy so I’m not so sure about this theory. Hey, but while we’re normalizing abusive relationships, Ana is such a good subservient, letting Christian order her food for her and dictating when she leaves a friend’s party even though E.L James has made it clear she doesn’t want to. Is it just me that finds this vomit-worthy?
In any case, I look forward to reading what others have to say on the topic.