Sian Norris https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/14267/all cached version 21/02/2018 15:47:38 en “Our strategy is visibility”: the fight for LGBT rights in Romania https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/strategy-visibility-lgbt-rights-romania <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Violence and anti-LGBT hate crime is on the rise in Romania, says activist Vlad Viski. But he and his colleagues refuse to stay silent.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563363/Trans Day of Remembrance vigil in Bucharest.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563363/Trans Day of Remembrance vigil in Bucharest.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Trans day of remembrance vigil in Bucharest. Photo: Sian Norris.</span></span></span>It was freezing cold outside the Italian embassy in Romania’s capital city, Bucharest, on a late November evening. But the sudden drop in temperature didn't put off a group of LGBT right activists who gathered here for <a href="https://www.glaad.org/tdor">Trans Day of Remembrance</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Holding candles, they stood in front of a rainbow flag with "TransMem" penned across it. On the pavement were photocopied pictures of a young Romanian trans women, Laura, who was recently murdered in Italy.</p><p dir="ltr">A couple of people held each other, tears in their eyes, as a trans woman in jeans and a jacket shared Laura’s story. “She could have been me,” the woman said, her voice clear and determined. “She could have been so many of our brothers and sisters.”</p><p dir="ltr">Why have you come here today? I asked a young man carrying a tote bag emblazoned with a rainbow, the symbol of LGBT pride. “Because it is important to show our solidarity with the trans community,” he said. “It is the first Romanian trans person that we know who was killed.”</p><p class="mag-quote-right" dir="ltr">“Because it is important to show our solidarity with the trans community,” he said. “It is the first Romanian trans person that we know who was killed.”</p><p dir="ltr">Handing out candles to the assembled group was Vlad Viski, founding member of the activist group <a href="http://mozaiqlgbt.ro/">MozaiQ</a>. Two days after the vigil we met in a Bucharest cafe, to discuss the challenges facing the LGBT rights movement in Romania.</p><p dir="ltr">“I came back to Romania in 2015, having studied abroad,” he told me, as tinny Euro-pop blared out from the TV screen behind us. “And there was already a group of activists, artists and people from the corporate world coming together to discuss the need for a new LGBT rights organisation.” </p><p dir="ltr">“At that time, there was only <a href="http://accept-romania.ro/en/">Accept</a>, who focused on the legal and lobbying side of things,” he said, referring to the established, leading LGBT rights charity. “We wanted to create a group that dealt with the community itself, and MozaiQ became the missing piece of that puzzle.”</p><p dir="ltr">Viski and his colleagues wanted MozaiQ to be a political activist group, but also to provide social and cultural activities for the LGBT community. From sports clubs to board game nights, it aims to “forge bonds between people and take a more social approach to issues,” said Viski. “Not everyone wants to get involved in direct activism.” </p><p>But, a few months after MozaiQ was founded, the atmosphere around LGBT rights in Romania became a lot more hostile.</p><p>In November 2015, the Christian ‘family rights’ group, <a href="http://coalitiapentrufamilie.ro/">Coalition for Family</a>, published a ‘Citizens’ Initiative’ and collected 3 million signatures seeking a referendum to change Romania’s constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman exclusively.</p><p>Same-sex marriage is not currently legal in Romania; the proposed constitutional change would preempt efforts introduce marriage equality in the future. Last year, the Romanian parliament approved a referendum on the issue. However, the 2016 parliamentary elections delayed the vote and a date for the referendum is yet to be set.</p><p dir="ltr">This very public backlash against LGBT rights caused MozaiQ to evolve – and quickly. “On the day Romania’s constitutional court gave the green light to the Citizens’ Initiative,” Viski told me, “we went out in the streets to protest the decision.”</p><p dir="ltr">“A few months later, during the 2016 parliamentary elections, we organised a march called God Doesn’t Do Politics,” he added. “Our strategy now is visibility.”</p><p dir="ltr">But visibility in a country where homosexuality has only been legal for 16 years (same-sex relations were decriminalised in Romania in 2001) is not easy.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563363/Bucharest.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563363/Bucharest.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bucharest. Photo: Sian Norris.</span></span></span>Since the Coalition for Family launched its citizens’ initiative, Viski said there has been “an increase in hate speech in the public arena from the Coalition and from the Orthodox Church.”</p><p dir="ltr">Viski said he and and his colleagues in MozaiQ have seen “an increase in violent physical attacks against LGBT people, with more people being beaten on the streets and coming to us.”</p><p dir="ltr">This has not forced the LGBT community into hiding. Rather, Viski believes that being confronted with an emboldened and vocal opposition “kind of gave a boost to the community and the movement itself. It shook things up.”</p><p dir="ltr">“More LGBT people are coming out to their families and in the media,” he said, and the threat of a referendum has given MozaiQ and its allies more public exposure and attention.</p><p dir="ltr">MozaiQ has worked with partner organisations to host public debates in town halls across Romania, inviting politicians to share their views on LGBT issues, equal marriage and civil unions.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563363/Pride poster in Accept offices in Bucharest.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563363/Pride poster in Accept offices in Bucharest.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="454" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Pride poster in Accept offices in Bucharest. Photo: Sian Norris.</span></span></span>Last year saw the country’s biggest ever Pride parade in Bucharest, with a sister march in Cluj. Viski became a familiar face on TV screens, keeping his cool as he debates conservative and Orthodox figures determined to, in his words, “trash gay people.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Before, maybe people were on the fence,” Viski told me. “Maybe they didn’t care about the issue. But having this public national debate has forced them to take a stand and join the movement. That’s the positive side of it.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Maybe they didn’t care about the issue. But having this public national debate has forced them to take a stand and join the movement. That’s the positive side of it.”</p><p dir="ltr">However, there’s a long way to go to create an LGBT-welcoming environment in Romania. There’s still a lack of LGBT voices in the media, where “conservative voices...are always present,” said Viski, adding: “we don’t have gay couples that are present in TV shows.”</p><p>We left the giddy Euro-pop behind us to go and sit on the upstairs terrace, despite the chilly weather. I asked Viski if he feels optimistic about LGBT rights in Romania. He smiled.</p><p dir="ltr">“I kind of have to be optimistic, it’s like – my job!” he said. But, he added: “We live in a regional context where you have a backlash against progressive rights in Poland, in Hungary, in Russia, in Turkey... you see this slip towards authoritarianism and that’s being done against gay rights.”</p><p dir="ltr">“At the same time, for the very first time since 2001 when homosexuality was decriminalised, we have this chance to tell our story. To shape our identity in the public arena,” he said.</p><p dir="ltr">The young man at the vigil told me something similar. He said: “Our greatest hope, whether we win or lose the referendum, is that the LGBT community will come together and be stronger. That we’ll be able to use that strength to one day win.”</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Translation and research assistance by Alexandra Mitrofan-Norris.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/romania-battleground-backlash-lgbt-rights">How Romania became a battleground in the transatlantic backlash against LGBT rights</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Romania </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 Romania Tracking the backlash sexual identities 50.50 newsletter Sian Norris Fri, 15 Dec 2017 08:28:31 +0000 Sian Norris 115045 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How Romania became a battleground in the transatlantic backlash against LGBT rights https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/romania-battleground-backlash-lgbt-rights <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Romania decriminalised homosexuality in 2001. Today it is witnessing a backlash against LGBT rights, supported by US Christian conservatives.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563363/Orthodox church in Bucharest.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563363/Orthodox church in Bucharest.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="329" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Orthodox church in Bucharest. Photo: Sian Norris.</span></span></span>“What you have to understand,” says a man in his late 30s, “is the influence of the Orthodox Church. It’s…” he puts down his beer, searching for the word in English. “Mind control.”</p><p dir="ltr">In a late night jazz club in downtown Bucharest, I’m sitting with a group of young musicians chatting in a mix of Spanish, Italian and Romanian. “This bar is like our home,” one tells me, when I ask how they are allowed to stay past closing time, swapping stories and discussing music and films.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s my mention of the anti-LGBT organisation ‘<a href="http://coalitiapentrufamilie.ro/">Coalition for Family</a>’ – a <a href="http://coalitiapentrufamilie.ro/despre-coalitia-pentru-familie/">self-described</a> "civic initiative…open to those who share the values of the family" – that provokes a heated conversation.</p><p dir="ltr">The Coalition is “awful,” says one woman. “They come up with these crazy excuses against gay marriage – saying if we allow this, then people will be able to marry their dogs.”</p><p dir="ltr">Romania decriminalised homosexuality in 2001. Today it is witnessing a backlash against LGBT rights from conservative and religious forces determined to protect ‘traditional family’ values, led by powerful domestic groups and their allies in the US Christian right.</p><p class="mag-quote-right" dir="ltr">The Coalition is “awful,” says one woman. “They come up with these crazy excuses against gay marriage – saying if we allow this, then people will be able to marry their dogs.”</p><p dir="ltr">A European Court of Justice case, originating from Romania, could impact definitions of <a href="https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/world/europe/romania-ecj-gay-marriage.html?referer=http%3A%2F%2Fm.facebook.com">marriage across the EU</a>. A national referendum is also expected next year, to challenge how marriage is defined in the country’s constitution, which could frustrate any future attempts to legalise same-sex unions.</p><p dir="ltr">In November 2015, the Coalition for Family published a ‘Citizen’s Initiative’ – the first step in a system that allows Romanian citizens to "<a href="http://akademiai.com/doi/pdf/10.1556/AJur.55.2014.2.6">directly participate in the law-making process</a>." It demanded that the constitution be changed to define marriage as between a man and woman exclusively (it currently uses the gender-neutral wording ‘two spouses’).</p><p dir="ltr">Same-sex marriage is not currently legal in Romania. However, the constitution’s current wording means that it could be legalised in the future without necessitating a constitutional amendment. The proposed change is a pre-emptive strike: this is the ultra-conservative anti-LGBT lobby on the offensive.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2016, the Coalition for Family said it had collected 3 million signatures in support of their citizens’ initiative. This kickstarted a process that led to parliament agreeing to hold a referendum. Parliamentary elections then delayed the vote, and a date is still to be announced.</p><p dir="ltr">In Bucharest, I visited the Coalition for Family to learn more about their campaign. Their office is housed behind huge red metal gates, not far from the city centre. An apologetic woman told me that she was too busy to talk, and said that I should email her instead. (I did, with no reply).</p><p dir="ltr">At leading LGBT rights organisation <a href="http://accept-romania.ro/en/">Accept</a>, I’m welcomed by two tabby cats. The office is blooming with pot plants, and on the walls are colourful posters with messages of equality and freedom.</p><p dir="ltr">Over mugs of fruit tea, programme coordinator Teodora Ion-Rotaru told me that Accept tried to oppose the Coalition for Family’s referendum campaign in multiple ways.</p><p dir="ltr">“We first tried to monitor signature collection to see what was happening,” Ion-Rotaru told me. “We had <a href="http://www.digi24.ro/stiri/actualitate/educatie/copii-implicati-in-luptele-adultilor-elevi-de-liceu-spun-ca-au-fost-obligati-sa-semneze-petitia-pentru-modificarea-constitutiei-482030">multiple reports of teachers collecting signatures in high schools</a>, and we reported that to the Ministry of Education.”</p><p dir="ltr">“<a href="http://www.gandul.info/stiri/marea-miza-a-bor-de-ce-vrea-biserica-sa-scrie-in-constitutie-ca-familia-e-formata-din-barbat-si-femeie-14958248">Churches were collecting signatures</a> by putting lists up in their doorways and asking people to sign. In a homophobic society, it is very difficult for people to refuse to sign publicly, as they fear being labelled as gay if they challenge anything,” she said.</p><p dir="ltr">The Coalition did not respond to requests for comment on the collection of signatures, or their goals for the referendum.</p><p dir="ltr">Accept also prepared submissions for judicial and constitutional committees, Ion-Rotaru said, but “political parties sent their most homophobic members to represent them at the committees...There was no possibility of dialogue or middle ground.”</p><p dir="ltr">When parliament approved the referendum, Accept established a platform called Respect, which united more than 100 civil society organisations against the proposed constitutional change.</p><p dir="ltr">Ion-Rotaru said the backlash against the LGBT population has made many groups realise “that signing a piece of paper agreeing with Accept’s aims wasn’t enough.” Instead they needed to “take action” and come together in solidarity.</p><p dir="ltr">Accept and the wider LGBT community face a powerful enemy in domestic conservative groups such as the Coalition for Family, the Orthodox Church, and evangelical churches in Romania, as well as their international allies – including US-based Christian legal charity <a href="https://www.lc.org/">Liberty Counsel</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Described as a <a href="https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/liberty-counsel">‘hate group’ by the Southern Poverty Law Centre</a>, Liberty Counsel calls itself an organisation dedicated to “restoring the culture by advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the family.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563363/Coalition offices in Bucharest.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563363/Coalition offices in Bucharest.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="329" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Coalition offices in Bucharest. Photo: Sian Norris.</span></span></span>In July 2016, it sent an <a href="http://lc.org/072016RomanianMarriageAmicusBrief.pdf">amicus briefing</a> to the Romanian government presenting a case for a referendum to change the constitutional definition of marriage and protect ‘traditional’ values.</p><p dir="ltr">It makes for difficult reading: it suggests that gay parents are more likely to commit child abuse, and makes wild claims that children of LGBT parents are more likely to be gay or asexual, mentally ill, or develop substance abuse issues.</p><p dir="ltr">This year, the group also sent <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Davis">Kim Davis</a> on a speaking tour of Romanian towns and cities. As a Kentucky clerk whose job it was to issue marriage licenses, Davis won fame when she was briefly jailed in 2015 after refusing to do so for same-sex couples. </p><p dir="ltr">Liberty Counsel lawyers defended her case; last month the group <a href="https://barbwire.com/2017/11/10/battle-marriage-fundamental-nations-identity-harry-mihet/">described</a> her as “courageous” in her refusal to “compromise...her faith.” Like the Coalition, this organisation also did not respond to requests for comment for this article.</p><p dir="ltr">Over nine days in October, Davis met the Coalition for Family and four of the six top archbishops in Romania’s Orthodox Church, as well as representatives from family rights groups.</p><p dir="ltr">The aim of the tour, said the <a href="https://barbwire.com/2017/11/10/battle-marriage-fundamental-nations-identity-harry-mihet/">Counsel’s radio show</a>, was to talk about “what happens when a country… goes the wrong way on the issue of marriage.” (Referring to the US, where in 2015 the supreme court guaranteed same-sex marriage rights in all states).</p><p dir="ltr">Davis spoke to thousands of ordinary Romanians in churches, cathedrals and conference halls. According to the Counsel, the tour <a href="https://barbwire.com/2017/11/10/battle-marriage-fundamental-nations-identity-harry-mihet/">would</a> show: “unless you define marriage in your constitution, then you invite activists, judges or runaway legislators to bring in same sex marriage in a very anti-democratic fashion.”</p><p dir="ltr">The involvement of organisations like Liberty Counsel in Romania’s battle over LGBT rights clearly frustrates Ion-Rotaru. Having failed to stop equal marriage from being introduced in the US, she says, “they come to countries that are a lot more vulnerable.”</p><p dir="ltr">“They come to Romania where you have LGBT people who are more vulnerable to public pressure...who are a lot more vulnerable to hatred, to being discriminated against in their daily lives, in their workplace, and in school.”</p><p dir="ltr">“I cannot understand how these people speak about Christian values,” she added. “They are actually just trying to spread hatred... to mobilise Christians against other human beings. What they are doing is so much against the values they are preaching.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“They are actually just trying to spread hatred... to mobilise Christians against other human beings. What they are doing is so much against the values they are preaching.”</p><p dir="ltr">The involvement of Liberty Counsel, and the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/12/world/europe/kim-davis-romania.html">welcome they received</a> from the Coalition for Family, also angers activist Vlad Viski. A founding member of the grassroots LGBT organisation <a href="http://mozaiqlgbt.ro/">MozaiQ</a>, he believes that Liberty Counsel is using “the referendum as a tool to further their agenda.”</p><p dir="ltr">“These organisations see eastern Europe as fertile ground to spread their anti-LGBT ideas,” he told me. “Having got involved in anti-LGBT work in Africa, they are reproducing here what they did there and using our popular consultations as a tool.”</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/5050/claire-provost-ella-milburn/christian-legal-army-court-battles-worldwide">ADF International</a>, the global wing of the controversial US legal advocacy group <a href="http://www.adflegal.org/">Alliance Defending Freedom</a> (ADF), has also supported the referendum campaign. In April, it <a href="https://adfinternational.org/detailspages/press-release-details/one-man-and-one-woman---romanian-referendum-on-marriage-definition">co-hosted a "referendum for the family" conference</a> at the Romanian Parliament in Bucharest, along with the Coalition for Family. </p><p dir="ltr">"The union between one man and one woman is timeless, universal, and unique. It expresses the reality that men and women bring distinct, irreplaceable gifts to family life," said ADF International lawyer Adina Portaru at the conference. The group also filed a&nbsp;<a href="https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/international-content/docs/default-source/default-document-library/resources/media-resources/europe/interventie-constitutionala-adf-international.pdf">friend-of-the-court brief</a>&nbsp;with Romania's constitutional court in favour of the referendum.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/5050/claire-provost-ella-milburn/christian-legal-army-court-battles-worldwide">A spokesperson for ADF International told 50.50</a> this week: "We should respect the sovereignty of countries when it comes to family and marriage law. We should let the people of Romania decide how they want to live and let not Brussels impose on them.”</p><p dir="ltr">Initially expected to happen in November 2017, <a href="https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/world/europe/romania-ecj-gay-marriage.html?referer=http%3A%2F%2Fm.facebook.com">some commentators </a>are now saying the referendum will likely take place next year. Whatever happens with the vote, the fight to defend LGBT rights goes beyond the ballot box.</p><p dir="ltr">“The work of the Respect platform is not only about being against the referendum,” Ion-Rotaru told me. “Because the pushback from conservative forces is not going to stop with that… This is just the beginning.”</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Translation and research assistance by Alexandra Mitrofan-Norris.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/claire-provost-lara-whyte/tracking-the-backlash">Tracking the backlash: why we&#039;re investigating the &#039;anti-rights&#039; opposition</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/claire-provost-ella-milburn/christian-legal-army-court-battles-worldwide">Christian ‘legal army’ in hundreds of court battles worldwide</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Romania </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 Romania Tracking the backlash sexual identities 50.50 newsletter Sian Norris Thu, 14 Dec 2017 07:30:12 +0000 Sian Norris 115043 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Living without men: women-only organising is as old as time https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/living-without-men-women-only-organising <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As long as patriarchal societies dominate, we shouldn’t be surprised to see women turning to single-sex spaces for safety and solidarity.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/11094357895_3134e48daa_k.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Reclaim the Night demonstration in Brisbane, Australia, 2013."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/11094357895_3134e48daa_k.jpg" alt="Reclaim the Night demonstration in Brisbane, Australia, 2013." title="Reclaim the Night demonstration in Brisbane, Australia, 2013." width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Reclaim the Night demonstration in Brisbane, Australia, 2013. Photo: Ursula Skjonnemand/Flickr. Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Women-only space has always been important. From the political meetings where women share their experiences, plan for change, or rally together for <a href="http://www.reclaimthenight.co.uk/">Reclaim the Night</a> marches against male violence, to the personal ‘girls night out’, they have the potential to be transformative, safe spaces, enabling us to speak up and express ourselves.</p><p>I’ve often treasured the support and solace that can be found in women-only spaces, and have long been intrigued by the history of women forming single-sex communities – from Lesbos in 600 BC, to 1790s Wales and 1990s Yorkshire, to contemporary Kenya.</p><p>Today women-only organising may be less common than in the past, and whether and how to involve men in feminist organising have become faultlines in the movement. Some radical feminists insist that women-only spaces must be protected, while others contend that men must be included.</p><p>Amid these debates, it’s important as well as fascinating to explore the reasons why women have sought support and solidarity in women-only organising throughout history – and ask whether those reasons still exist today.</p><p>In Ancient Greece, the poet <a href="https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/sappho">Sappho</a> is believed to have lived in a female-only community. In reality little is known about the poet, and her biography is the subject of considerable academic debate. Some say Sappho’s poems were <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/16/girl-interrupted">expressions of homoerotic love and lust</a>, written from a women-only community.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/15455071068_87f20b7f4e_k.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Sappho."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/15455071068_87f20b7f4e_k.jpg" alt="Sappho." title="Sappho." width="460" height="329" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sappho. Photo: AK Rockefeller/Flickr. Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0). Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Queer women many centuries later continued to be inspired by this story of an early all-female community, where women could express same-sex desire and sexuality, away from men. </p><p dir="ltr">In the early 20th century, charismatic American heiress and “notorious lesbian” <a href="https://www.theparisreview.org/letters-essays/3870/a-natalie-barney-garland-george-wickes">Natalie Barney</a> travelled to Lesbos to set up "what she hoped to be a lesbian school for poetry and love." This didn’t come to pass, but Barney “gathered a similar community of women around her in Paris,” says writer Andrea Weiss in her book <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Paris-Was-Woman-Portraits-Left/dp/004440929X">Paris was a Woman</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">Other women-only communities have been documented by historians, including those established in Europe in the 18th century, centred on utopian politics rather than lesbian sexuality specifically.</p><p>Rachel Hewitt is author of the new book <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Revolution-Feeling-Decade-Forged-Modern-ebook/dp/B075JPYBZH/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509484691&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=rachel+hewitt">A Revolution of Feeling</a>, about the “politically turbulent” 1790s. I asked her why this period in particular saw women coming together to create single-sex “utopian” communities, some of which endured for decades.</p><p>She told me that there was an “emphasis on the social role of the passions in the 18th century,” and that “for radical men and women, it became an important idea to found utopias based on the regeneration of emotion... in which 'social passions' might flourish, and anti-social emotions (anger, hatred, envy) might wither away.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">"utopias based on the regeneration of emotion... in which 'social passions' might flourish"</p><p>Men also dreamed of establishing sexual, utopian communities. Hewitt said the romantic poet <a href="https://www.bl.uk/people/samuel-taylor-coleridge">Samuel Taylor Coleridge</a> wanted to travel to Pennsylvania to form a new community where “male libido might be liberated and marriage abolished.” Writer George Cumberland envisaged a sexual utopia on an island, free from the “suppression of the natural fires.”</p><p>But while these men’s visions never came to pass, numerous women-only communities were actually attempted. Unlike men, women in 18th century Europe would have been driven by very real material concerns and the need to escape the constraints of patriarchal society (including forced marriages, forced pregnancies, and the lack of independent status).</p><p>One detailed vision for a woman-only community came from British writer Sarah Scott, in her 1762 book&nbsp;<a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/90244.Millenium_Hall">Millennium Hall</a>. It included schools, businesses and something of a ‘welfare state’ to help impoverished and vulnerable women to thrive. Sexual desire was not her concern. Instead, it was liberating women from marriage and sexual exploitation.</p><p>Scott’s vision was an imaginative exercise. Other women formed real communities. Often, they “began from the same starting point: from a reaction against, and evasion of, the constrictions placed on women by 18th century marriage,” said Hewitt. “Finding a viable alternative… was both an ideological imperative and a pragmatic, personal necessity.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“finding a viable alternative…was both an ideological imperative and a pragmatic, personal necessity”</p><p>One of the most famous examples is that of the <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ladies-Llangollen-study-Romantic-Friendship-ebook/dp/B005CPHSXA/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1509440115&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=ladies+of+llangollen">Ladies of Llangollen</a>. The story is that two women Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby ‘eloped’ in the late 1700s to escape unwanted marriages. Speculation remains as to whether their relationship was sexual. If you visit their house in <a href="https://www.denbighshire.gov.uk/en/visitor/places-to-visit/museums-and-historic-houses/plas-newydd.aspx">North Wales</a>, as I did in 2015, the audio tour discusses this at length.</p><p dir="ltr">More recently, in the 20th century a flurry of new women-only and lesbian communities were established in the 1970s and 1980s. Some drew on separatist feminist theory and called themselves ‘womyn’s lands’.</p><p dir="ltr">Others had anti-war activism at their core, including the Seneca women’s encampment in the US, and the Greenham Common peace camp in the UK, the latter of which was founded in 1981, and only disbanded in 2000.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/PA-1253726.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="At the Greenham Common women&#039;s peace camp, 1983."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/PA-1253726.jpg" alt="At the Greenham Common women's peace camp, 1983." title="At the Greenham Common women&#039;s peace camp, 1983." width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>At the Greenham Common women's peace camp, 1983. Photo: PA/PA Archive/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Feminist activist and writer <a href="http://people.uwe.ac.uk/Pages/person.aspx?accountname=campus%5Cf-mackay">Finn Mackay</a> moved to a women-only anti-nuclear peace camp in <a href="http://www.cnduk.org/campaigns/no-to-us-missile-defence/menwith-hill">Menwith Hill</a>&nbsp;in north Yorkshire at the age of 18, inspired by the women of <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/mar/20/greenham-common-nuclear-silos-women-protest-peace-camp">Greenham Common</a> and a “vision of women being powerful and living powerfully.” She lived there for a year and a half in the mid-1990s and describes it as a transformative experience.</p><p dir="ltr">Mackay told me it felt “like together we could change the world, because in a way we were. We took our politics and our values to the very gates of the industry we were protesting, and we forced them to engage with us. There is really nothing like sitting in a road... singing songs and staring down a nuclear convoy or military police or soldiers with guns.”</p><p>She added that living in the peace camp gave her and other feminists the chance to learn new skills – from chopping wood and building toilets, to defending themselves in courtrooms after arrests – and empower themselves in every sphere of their life.</p><p>Planning and carrying out large demonstrations, amid terrible weather, evictions, and police violence, “did bring a great sense of sisterhood and togetherness,” Mackay said.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">a “feminist protest” against a “patriarchal, capitalist, military industrial complex”</p><div>She describes the Menwith Hill camp, which has since disbanded, as clearly a “feminist protest” against a “patriarchal, capitalist, military industrial complex.” It was understood, she said, that “this machine was run by mainly men and that meanwhile women and children often paid a great price.”</div><p><span>She told me she’s “sorry that young women today can not benefit from those types of political communities.”</span></p><p>However, across the global south, women are still coming together to create their own communities away from men – again, often in reaction to male violence. One example is Umoja, Kenya, an all-female village whose name means “unity” in Swahili.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/2217031070_ba4b707d7d_b.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="A woman in Umoja, Kenya."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/2217031070_ba4b707d7d_b.jpg" alt="A woman in Umoja, Kenya." title="A woman in Umoja, Kenya." width="460" height="615" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A woman in Umoja, Kenya. Photo: Madelinetosh/Flickr. Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Established in 2004, <a href="https://unitywomensvillage.wordpress.com/home/">its website</a> describes it as: “a refuge for women looking to start new, independent lives with their children free from oppression, abuse and other inequities.” In 2015, writer Julie Bindel visited the village and wrote <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/aug/16/village-where-men-are-banned-womens-rights-kenya">in the Guardian</a> about a unique place where women can live without fear of male violence.</p><p dir="ltr">I tried to contact the village to ask the women why they chose to live in an all-female community. Their partners, The Unity Project, an international development charity based in Canada, got back to me to explain their role providing education and literacy programmes for village residents. However I was unable to speak to any of the women directly.</p><p dir="ltr">Some of the women-only and lesbian communities established in the 1970s and 1980s still exist today – including <a href="https://alapine.org/">Alapine</a> in Alabama in the US. In 2009 the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/01/fashion/01womyn.html?pagewanted=all">New York Times</a> said it was one of “about 100 below-the-radar lesbian communities” in primarily rural North America, though the report cited concerns about its survival.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2015, artist Leah DeVun documented some of the remaining 'womyn's lands'&nbsp;in a photography series. She told <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/30/leah-devun_n_7690580.html">the Huffington Post</a> she hoped more women would “revisit some of the more radical, more utopian visions that were central to [past] movements.”</p><p dir="ltr">Also in the US are the <a href="http://www.sugarloafwomensvillage.com/Welcome.html">Sugarloaf Women's Village</a> in Florida and Mississippi’s <a href="http://unityms.org/news/history-the-hensons-and-camp-sister-spirt.html">Camp Sister Spirit</a>, founded in 1993. There are <a href="https://www.ic.org/wiki/feminist-ecovillages/">feminist ecovillages</a>, women-only squats, and in north London an&nbsp;<a href="http://www.owch.org.uk/">Older Women’s Co-Housing</a> collective has recently formed.</p><p dir="ltr">In Rojava, in northern Syria, Jinwar is an ecological women’s village under construction. The project’s <a href="https://www.facebook.com/pg/jinwarwomensvillage/about/?ref=page_internal">Facebook page</a> says it will be a place for women to “collectively rediscover, reestablish and reclaim” freedom.</p><p dir="ltr">Women-only communities have a long and varied history, therefore – as spaces to express lesbian desire, refuges from male oppression, and sites of political protest. For me, they show the empowering potential of organising and living away from men. As long as patriarchal societies dominate, we shouldn’t be surprised to see women continue to create and turn to such spaces for support, safety, and solidarity.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/12-feminist-authors-for-your-college-reading">12 feminist authors who may not be on your college reading list – but should be</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 Equality Ideas women's movements women and power violence against women patriarchy feminism 50.50 newsletter young feminists Sian Norris Thu, 02 Nov 2017 10:47:38 +0000 Sian Norris 114378 at https://www.opendemocracy.net 12 feminist authors who may not be on your college reading list – but should be https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/12-feminist-authors-for-your-college-reading <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>These writers and their work span the globe and its history and would complement any degree. What would you add to this list?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/books 99129170_7d542023a6_b.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Books."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/books 99129170_7d542023a6_b.jpg" alt="Books." title="Books." width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bookshelves. Photo: Flickr/ Stewart Butterfield. Creative Commons (CC by 2.0). Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>If you’re starting, or heading back to, college or university this month then hopefully whatever course you’re studying will include some key feminist texts on your syllabus. But there is more to feminist writing than Woolf and Wollstonecraft (as vital and needed as their work is). There are centuries of feminist texts, stretching across disciplines and around the world.</p><p dir="ltr">In medieval France, <strong>Christine de Pizan</strong> – frustrated at male writers composing screeds damning women – wrote her literary masterpiece <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Book-City-Ladies-Penguin-Classics-ebook/dp/B002RI930Q/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1502019717&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=christine+de+pizan">The Book of the City of Ladies</a>. In it, she takes an empowering shot at the cultural misogyny of the Middle Ages, celebrating the achievements of women throughout history.</p><p dir="ltr">In the late 19th and early 20th century, Indian author <strong>Rokeya Sakhawet Hossain</strong> wrote poems, essays and short stories arguing that women and men should be treated as equals. A passionate advocate of women’s education, her 1905 story <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sultanas-Dream-Rokeya-Sakhawat-Hossain/dp/B001H8RN8Q">Sultana’s Dream</a> imagines a world where women rule and men live in seclusion. </p><p dir="ltr">There is a rich tradition of Indian women writers including the Sangnam poets from 100 BC – 250 AD. This includes the work of <strong>Venmanipputi Kuruntokai</strong> <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=u297RJP9gvwC&amp;pg=PA73&amp;lpg=PA73&amp;dq=Venmanipputi+Kuruntokai&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=dpBvaD0rJO&amp;sig=Z4bsVK968vDgCdmlbTpdEo0v1ME&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwjwqrDzwYvWAhXGKsAKHV3cB7YQ6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&amp;q=Venmanipputi%20Kuruntokai&amp;f=false">celebrating women’s bodies and sexuality</a>. In one poem she wrote: “when we made love my eyes saw him and my ears heard him; my arms grow beautiful in the coupling and grow lean as they come away”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">‘There are centuries of feminist texts, stretching across disciplines and around the world.’</p><p dir="ltr">The 20th century saw a rise in feminist publishing – including Marie Stopes’ texts on reproductive and sexual rights. In journalism, <strong>Martha Gellhorn</strong> – too often dismissed as “Hemingway’s third wife” – disrupted the male-dominated field with incisive and intelligent reporting from around the world.</p><p dir="ltr">Gellhorn reported on the Great Depression, the Spanish Civil War, World War Two’s “D-Day landings” (she sneaked onto a boat to witness the invasion), the Nuremberg Trials, Vietnam and much more. </p><p dir="ltr">Her novel <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stricken-Field-Novel-Martha-Gellhorn/dp/0226286967/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1502020753&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=a+stricken+field">A Stricken Field</a>,<a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stricken-Field-Novel-Martha-Gellhorn/dp/0226286967/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1502020753&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=a+stricken+field"> </a>based on her experiences in Praugue in the autumn of 1938, also resonates today. Its descriptions of columns of people fleeing Nazi occupation, trudging from country to country, their lives carried on their backs as their children cry, are chillingly familiar amid our contemporary refugee crises. </p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fierce-Attachments-Vivian-Gornick/dp/1907970657/ref=sr_1_sc_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1502021076&amp;sr=1-1-spell&amp;keywords=firece+attachments">Fierce Attachments</a>, the fiercely-written memoir of journalist <strong>Vivian Gornick</strong>, is also recommended reading. It explores growing up in an eastern European immigrant community in 1940s New York City and women’s relationships – with each other, with their husbands, and with the places in which they live. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“merciless as well as curious and sympathetic accounts of family, sex, gender, marriage, and class”</p><p dir="ltr">Katherine Angel, British author of <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unmastered-Book-Desire-Most-Difficult/dp/1846146674/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1504526210&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=katherine+angel">Unmastered: a book on desire, most difficult to tell, </a>told me over email that Gornick’s book is “merciless as well as curious and sympathetic in her accounts of family, sex, gender, marriage, and class” and that its “beautiful” writing “should put to rest any lazy dismissal of memoir-writing as not simultaneously political or literary”.</p><p dir="ltr">As a journalist for the New York City-based weekly The Village Voice in the 1970s, Gornick reported on a growing women’s liberation movement in the US campaigning for the rights of working women, against male violence, and for women’s sexual and reproductive rights.</p><p dir="ltr">At this time, writer, feminist and civil rights activist <strong>Audre Lorde</strong> was also publishing <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Collected-Poems-Audre-Lorde/dp/0393319725/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1502021631&amp;sr=1-4&amp;keywords=audre+lorde">powerful political and sensual poetry</a> that explored issues of women’s rights, race, sex and sexuality. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/lorde 820298895_7b4b7ce887_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Lorde."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/lorde 820298895_7b4b7ce887_o.jpg" alt="Lorde." title="Lorde." width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Audre Lorde (left) in 1980. Photo: Flickr/K Kendall. Creative Commons (CC by 2.0). Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>When a white, conservative senator declared Lorde’s work to be “obscene”, she <a href="https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/audre-lorde">responded</a>: “My sexuality is part and parcel of who I am, and my poetry comes from the intersection of me and my worlds… [his] objection to my work is not about obscenity… or even about sex. It is about revolution and change”.</p><p dir="ltr">Almost contemporary to Lorde was Senegalese writer <strong>Mariama Bâ</strong>, who explored the position of women in African Muslim societies and the impact of polygamy on women’s equality. Her novels include <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/151374.So_Long_a_Letter">Une si longue lettre</a> and <a href="https://www.amazon.fr/chant-ecarlate-Mariama-B%C3%A2/dp/2723608263">Un Chant Ecarlate</a>. Bâ also wrote non-fiction, including on <a href="https://booknode.com/la_fonction_politique_des_litteratures_africaines_ecrites_04511">the political function of African literature</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">Born two years after Bâ (who died in 1981), is the Egyptian writer <strong>Nawal el Saadawi</strong>. At 85 she remains an outspoken critic of political and patriarchal oppression.</p><p dir="ltr">El Saadawi’s 2007 book <a href="https://bookshop.theguardian.com/hidden-face-of-eve.html">The Hidden Face of Eve </a>explores political struggles of women in the Arab world – and includes a devastating description of her own experience of female genital mutilation (a form of abuse against girls that she has campaigned to end). </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/nawal 7097465077_d59df85159_k.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Nawal."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/nawal 7097465077_d59df85159_k.jpg" alt="Nawal el-Saadawi." title="Nawal." width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nawal el-Saadawi at a women's march in Cairo. Photo: Flickr/ Gigi Ibrahim. Creative Commons (CC by 2.0). Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>In 2015, another Egyptian writer <strong>Mona Eltahawy</strong> published her book <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Headscarves-Hymens-Middle-Sexual-Revolution-ebook/dp/B00Q8JK05C/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1502022678&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=mona+eltahawy">Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution</a>, which takes aim at religious fundamentalists of all faiths.</p><p dir="ltr">Eltahawy told me that she wrote this book “because as important as our revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa were, unless women's equality and liberation are centred and prioritised, all those revolutions will fail”. </p><p dir="ltr">She said: “I'm often told, when I say feminism is my top priority, that no one is free, including men. My reply is if the state – which was the target of those revolutions – oppresses everyone, then we must remember that the state, the street and the home together oppress women. That trifecta of misogyny, as I call it, is why I wrote my book”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">'we must remember that a trifecta of misogyny (the state, the street and the home) oppresses women'</p><p dir="ltr">In the field of “science and technology studies” there are also powerful feminist texts including the 2016 book <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Staying-Trouble-Chthulucene-Experimental-Futures-ebook/dp/B01KO84OPE/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1502035548&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=donna+haraway">Staying with the Trouble</a> by <strong>Donna Haraway</strong>. It asks how, in the midst of ecological catastrophe, we can reconfigure our relationships to the planet and our fellow inhabitants. </p><p dir="ltr">For students of economics, often seen as a male-dominated field, why not pick up the 2015 book <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Who-Cooked-Adam-Smiths-Dinner/dp/1681774445/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1502035875&amp;sr=1-1-fkmr0&amp;keywords=katrin+marcal">Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner?: A Story About Women and Economics</a>, by Swedish writer and journalist <strong>Katrine Marcal</strong>.</p><p dir="ltr">The book challenges Smith’s model of “the economic man” arguing that it ignores all other motivations for our actions other than self-interest, and therefore also ignores the value that society does ascribe to women’s domestic and caring work. </p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Trans-Memoir-Juliet-Jacques-ebook/dp/B015GWWB8A/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1502091663&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=trans+juliet+jacques">Trans</a>,<a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Trans-Memoir-Juliet-Jacques-ebook/dp/B015GWWB8A/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1502091663&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=trans+juliet+jacques"> </a>by <strong>Juliet</strong> <strong>Jacques</strong>, is another recent title to add to this list. Published in 2015, it is a memoir of transition and sex reassignment surgery. </p><p dir="ltr">In her book, Jacques blends personal and political reflections to share her own journey, and tell her own story. The result sheds needed light on the often marginalised, unacknowledged and silenced experiences of transgender people. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong><em>Which feminist authors and books would you add to this list? Leave your recommendations in the comment thread below, or message Sian Norris on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/sianushka">@sianushka</a>.</em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/books-dark-times-british-feminists">Books for bleak times: a reading list from six British feminists</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/pride-2017-british-lgbt-books">Pride 2017: five British LGBT writers on books that inspired them</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 Culture feminism 50.50 newsletter young feminists Sian Norris Mon, 11 Sep 2017 10:26:32 +0000 Sian Norris 113284 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Pride 2017: five British LGBT writers on books that inspired them https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/pride-2017-british-lgbt-books <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>50 years after the UK decriminalised homosexuality, authors and activists talk about literary representations of gay relationships&nbsp;<span style="color: #545454; font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: small;">–&nbsp;</span>and more.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Pride PA-26707357.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Pride in London 2016."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Pride PA-26707357.jpg" alt="Pride in London 2016." title="Pride in London 2016." width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Pride in London 2016. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>2017 marks 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK – so this year we’re celebrating Pride with even more oomph than usual. There’s an exhibition on gay life and law at the <a href="https://www.bl.uk/events/gay-uk-love-law-liberty">British Library</a>, a series of <a href="http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2017-03-27/sherlock-star-mark-gatiss-to-oversee-eight-new-dramas-charting-100-years-of-being-gay-in-britain">BBC plays</a>, and a collection of documentaries on <a href="http://www.channel4.com/programmes/50-shades-of-gay">Channel 4</a> marking the anniversary – as well as the annual<a href="http://prideinlondon.org/events/2017/07/08/parade"> Pride parade</a> in London this weekend, now in its 45th year. </p><p dir="ltr">I grew up in a gay family – my mum came out in 1989 when I was four. We lived under state-sanctioned homophobia. Homosexuality had been legalised more than two decades earlier (lesbianism was never criminalised), but an LGBT person still couldn’t serve in the military, lesbian and gay couples couldn’t adopt children, and equal marriage seemed an impossible dream. <a href="http://www.youngstonewall.org.uk/lgbtq-info/legal-equality">Until 2001</a>, the age of consent for gay sex was 18, while for heterosexual couples it was 16.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-right">'We lived under state-sanctioned homophobia.'</span>In 1988, the Conservative government passed a law called <a href="http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/9/section/28">Section 28</a> which banned the “promotion of homosexuality in schools”. Only <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3120924.stm">repealed in 2003</a>, it was this legislation that arguably had the most impact on me as a child and teenager. I felt unable to talk about my family at school.The education system banned any representation of LGBT people. From classes on literature to history to sex and relationships education, it was as if gay people didn’t exist. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, at the local library I discovered literary examples of LGBT communities – memorably in the early 20th century French writer <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Claudine-Novels-Twentieth-Century-Classics/dp/0140183221/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1498577323&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=claudine+novels">Colette’s Claudine novels</a>. This was the first time I’d read novels featuring bisexual women characters – the first time outside of my family group where being LGBT wasn’t the punchline of a joke or deemed wrong and disgusting. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Pride books PA-23171713.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Books on a shelf."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Pride books PA-23171713.jpg" alt="Books on a shelf." title="Books on a shelf." width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Books on a shelf. Photo: Ryan Phillips/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>From there, I discovered a whole range of exhilarating work from other French and expat lesbian women living in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s, writing, painting, publishing and supporting one another. I felt like I’d found my people. Today I’m writing my own novel set in that very community. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">There is of course a long tradition of representations of gay and lesbian desire in literature – from ancient Greece and Shakespeare’s sonnets to Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, 1950s pulp fiction, and Alice Walker. And so, as we celebrate Pride 2017, I asked five LGBT writers in the UK about the authors and books that inspired or influenced them.</p><p dir="ltr">Some responded with examples of other gay and lesbian writers. Some chose other authors who include representations of queer relationships in their work. Their selections are diverse – as are the ways in which literature can impact us. It can satisfy our desires to see our own experiences reflected at us, for example. It can also be subversive and make us think differently.</p><h2>Paul Burston</h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Paul Burston Krystyna FitzGerald-Morris 2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Paul Burston."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Paul Burston Krystyna FitzGerald-Morris 2.jpg" alt="Paul Burston." title="Paul Burston." width="460" height="539" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Paul Burston. Photo: Krystyna Fitzgerald-Morris.</span></span></span>Author of novels including <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-Path-Paul-Burston/dp/178615045X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1498577370&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=the+black+path">The Black Path</a> and <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gay-Divorcee-Paul-Burston/dp/0751542369/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8">The Gay Divorcee</a>,<a href="http://www.paulburston.com/Paul_Burston/Home.html"> Paul Burston</a> is also founder of the Polari Salon and Prize which awards LGBT writing. Which books have inspired him? He points to the <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tales-City-1/dp/0552998761/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&amp;qid=1498464769&amp;sr=1-1 ">Tales of the City</a> novels by Armistead Maupin – a nine-part series chronicling San Francisco life from the 70s to the present day. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-right">'part of life’s rich tapestry'</span>Burston said: “Before I discovered Maupin, most of the gay novels I’d read were written in the first person singular, where the first person was a gay man – e.g. <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Boys-Own-Story-Picador-Classic/dp/1509813861/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1498577431&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=a+boy%27s+own+story">A Boy’s Own Story</a><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Boy%27s_Own_Story"> </a>by Edmund White. Maupin wrote in the third person, and focussed on a variety of characters, male and female, gay and straight. His Tales of the City<a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tales-City-1/dp/0552998761/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&amp;qid=1498464769&amp;sr=1-1"> </a>were the first books I read where gay people are presented as part of life’s rich tapestry. They are part of a gay community but also part of the wider world – they are sons, brothers, uncles. For me, this was game changing. This is the life I live. It’s what I know, and it’s what I write about”.</p><h2>Eley Williams</h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Eley Williams cred Chris Williams_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Eley Williams."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Eley Williams cred Chris Williams_1.jpg" alt="Eley Williams." title="Eley Williams." width="443" height="406" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Eley Williams. Photo: Chris Williams.</span></span></span>Short story writer Eley Williams’ debut collection <a href="https://www.influxpress.com/attrib-and-other-stories/">Attrib </a>was published earlier this year. Exploring life’s microdramas in subtle and experimental ways, it was described by <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/01/attrib-and-other-stories-by-eley-williams-review">the Guardian</a> as “elegant” and “beautiful”.<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/01/attrib-and-other-stories-by-eley-williams-review"> </a>Williams told me about the multi-faceted work of Bryher, a modernist British writer who re-named herself after her favourite Scilly island and wrote memoir, poetry and fiction. Williams shared this snippet of her poetry:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">‘If I am a needle on a disk / got to play the record out / got to go on / whatever voices break across me / or what shadows / knees or shoulders / silverpoint the blackness / got to play the record out / til I break or am lifted / I don’t choose the sound I make / you don’t choose the groove.'</p><p dir="ltr">What about Bryher inspires her? Williams said: “The breadth and range of her work: from modernist film criticism to collections of poetry, ‘science fantasy’ and historical novels to commentaries on the work of Amy Lowell via essays discussing the figure of the ‘Girl Page’ in Elizabethan drama. She was a prolific, chameleonic and acclaimed writer throughout her life”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">'a complex, delightful-strange take on traditional ‘coming-of-age’ and ‘coming-out’ narratives'</span>Williams said <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bryher-Novels-Development-Lesbian-Autobiographies/dp/0299167747/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1498465141&amp;sr=8-7&amp;keywords=bryher">Bryher’s quasi-memoirs</a> Development (published in 1920)<a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bryher-Novels-Development-Lesbian-Autobiographies/dp/0299167747/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1498465141&amp;sr=8-7&amp;keywords=bryher"> </a>and Two Selves (1923) feature a “kaleidoscoping exploitation of ‘accepted’ forms,” blending aspects of “prose-poetry, bildungsroman and a camp, tender mythology”. These books, she said, “offer a fascinating insight and a complex, delightful-strange take on traditional ‘coming-of-age’ and ‘coming-out’ narratives as well as notions of gender.” There is, she says, “wistfulness as well as urbanity, celebration, mess, mindful absurdity alongside searing precision and political engagement”.</p><h2>Saleem Haddad</h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Saleem HaddadCopyright Adam Barr.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Saleem Haddad."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Saleem HaddadCopyright Adam Barr.JPG" alt="Saleem Haddad." title="Saleem Haddad." width="460" height="460" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Saleem Haddad. Photo: Adam Barr.</span></span></span><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/through-eyes-of-queer-arab-man-review-of-guapa ">Guapa</a>,<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/through-eyes-of-queer-arab-man-review-of-guapa"> </a>Saleem Haddad’s debut novel, was published by Europa in 2016. It tells the story of a young gay man called Rasa living in an unnamed country during the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Set over one day and littered with flashbacks, it explores Rasa’s own personal turmoil over his grandmother discovering him in bed with his lover amid the political turmoil around him.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-right">'underworlds, unspoken experiences, and life on the margins of society'</span>Haddad said: “I would recommend Jean Genet's<a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Prisoner-Love-Review-Books-Classics/dp/1590170288/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1498043942&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Jean+Genet%27s+Prisoner+of+Love"> Prisoner of Love</a>. It was his final piece of work, and recounts his time with Palestinian resistance fighters in the refugee camps in Jordan in the 1970s. He approached the Middle East's complex and long-running conflict, and those fighting on the frontlines for freedom, with a certain sensitivity and a queer sensibility”.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1986/04/16/obituaries/jean-genet-the-playwright-dies-at-75.html?pagewanted=all">Mid-20th century French writer Genet</a> spent much of his life in and out of prison including for thievery and ‘lewd offences’. His work attracted controversy for its frank depictions of homosexuality at a time when it was still illegal. Genet wrote about underworlds, unspoken experiences, and life on the margins of society – from criminal gay life to Palestinian refugee camps to civil rights movements.</p><p dir="ltr">Haddad’s own novel is named after the secret nightclub where his LGBT characters congregate. Both writers explore the tension between public and private gay identity – secret spaces created by queer communities, and how one negotiates queer identity in a world where to be gay is to be threatened by violence and exile. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><h2>Deborah Cameron</h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Pride books 2PA-23171712(1).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="An old book in a bookshop in Wales."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Pride books 2PA-23171712(1).jpg" alt="An old book in a bookshop in Wales." title="An old book in a bookshop in Wales." width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An old book in a bookshop in Wales. Photo: Ryan Phillips/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Deborah Cameron is a professor in language and communication at Worcester College, Oxford. Her books include <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Myth-Mars-Venus-Different-Languages/dp/0199550999">The Myth of Mars and Venus</a>,<a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Myth-Mars-Venus-Different-Languages/dp/0199550999"> </a>which challenges popular assumptions about how men and women communicate – and how those assumptions impact on women’s equality. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-right">“I am woman, hear me roar” </span>She recommended the essays and poems of American second-wave feminist writer Adrienne Rich. She said: “My pick would be<a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dream-Common-Language-Poems-1974-1977/dp/0393346005/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&amp;qid=1498043895&amp;sr=1-1"> The Dream of a Common Language</a>, the first poetry collection she published after coming out in the mid-1970s.” In this book, Rich speaks about women’s bodies and lesbian sexuality with largely unprecedented openness. Her line, “I am woman, hear me roar” was picked up by feminists and gay rights activists and still appears on protest placards today.</p><p dir="ltr">Cameron also highlighted another US poet, Marilyn Hacker, author of<a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Changing-Seasons-Marilyn-Hacker/dp/0393312259/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&amp;qid=1498043921&amp;sr=1-1"> Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons</a>. She said this collection of sonnets, published in 1986, “has a combination of sexual explicitness and literary formality – I remember that making a big impression on me when I first read it”.</p><h2>Claire Heuchan</h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/claire heuchan self portrait.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Claire Heuchan."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/claire heuchan self portrait.jpg" alt="Claire Heuchan." title="Claire Heuchan." width="460" height="460" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Claire Heuchan. Photo: Claire Heuchan.</span></span></span>A self-described black radical feminist, Claire Heuchan is currently collaborating with novelist and <a href="https://unbound.com/books/the-good-immigrant">Good Immigrant </a>editor<a href="https://unbound.com/books/the-good-immigrant"> </a>Nikesh Shukla on a forthcoming children’s book called <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/news/shukla-writes-childrens-book-about-race-radical-feminist-heuchan-573916">What is race? Who are racists? Why does skin colour matter? And other big questions</a>. Which authors inspire her? She points to novelist and short story writer <a href="https://www.irenosenokojie.com/">Irenosen Okojie</a>, who she describes as “one of the most exciting writers on the British creative scene”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">'a poignant reminder that there’s beauty in everyday life'</span>Born in Nigeria, Okojie moved to England when she was a child. Heuchan highlights Okojie's exploration of relationships between women in her short fiction – and compares Okojie’s “use of magical realism to explore grief and trauma” to the writing of Toni Morrison, the American Nobel-Prize winning author of<a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beloved-Vintage-Classics-Toni-Morrison/dp/0099511657/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1498577734&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=beloved"> Beloved</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">“But her writing has its own character – it’s very vivid,” said Heuchan. Okojie’s book <a href="https://www.irenosenokojie.com/">Butterfly Fish</a>, she said, “really touched me... It was a poignant reminder that there’s beauty in everyday life, even when the world around us becomes desperate”.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/books-dark-times-british-feminists">Books for bleak times: a reading list from six British feminists</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/things-i-would-tell-you-british-muslim-women-anthology">The things I would tell you: British Muslim women speak out in new anthology</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/testosterone-rex-masculinity-reality-complex">Testosterone Rex: is the hormone the essence of masculinity, or is it far more complex?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 Culture 50.50 newsletter Sian Norris Mon, 03 Jul 2017 10:46:23 +0000 Sian Norris 111973 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Books for bleak times: a reading list from six British feminists https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/books-dark-times-british-feminists <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">We asked Caroline Criado-Perez, Sarah Ditum, Helen Lewis, Nimco Ali, Joanna Walsh, and Bidisha which books inspire and empower them during bleak political times.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/PA-310691172.jpg" alt="Margaret Atwood." title="Margaret Atwood." width="460" height="343" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Margaret Atwood. Photo: SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>After Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States in November 2016, two classic non-fiction books by women started to sell… and sell… and sell. The first was Rebecca Solnit’s manifesto <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/07/rebecca-solnits-hope-in-the-dark-sells-out-after-trump-victory" target="_blank">Hope in the Dark</a>. First published in 2004, it argues that political protest can take a long time to manifest results <span class="st">–</span> but is not worthless. The second was Hannah Arendt’s 1951 <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/01/totalitarianism-in-age-donald-trump-lessons-from-hannah-arendt-protests" target="_blank">The Origins of Totalitarianism</a>, published in the wake of World War II. </p><p dir="ltr">Readers have also turned to fiction written by women, including Margaret Atwood’s dystopian 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, set in a near-future America ruled by a theocratic dictatorship. The main character, Offred, is one of many women “handmaids” forced to bear children for the ruling class. Sales of this <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/11/margaret-atwood-handmaids-tale-sales-trump" target="_blank">novel also soared after Trump’s election</a>. A <a href="https://www.hulu.com/press/show/the-handmaids-tale/" target="_blank">TV adaptation</a> of the novel is now streaming on the online service Hulu and is on the UK’s <a href="http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-handmaids-tale">Channel 4</a> too. </p><p dir="ltr">In moments of crisis the need for empathy and understanding becomes acute. It’s one of the reasons I often turn to Atwood when the world looks bleak. Her work so often focuses on women’s stories and experiences. I draw strength and determination from that moment of recognition <span class="st">–</span> when elements of my own experiences living as a woman in an unequal society are reflected back at me. I also find myself rereading a novel written in secret by a woman more than 150 years ago: <em><a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0141441143/ref=abs_brd_tag_dp?smid=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE" target="_blank">Jane Eyre</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">In moments of crisis the need for empathy and understanding becomes acute.</span></p><p dir="ltr">Amid rising right-wing populism, and a global backlash against women’s rights, the wisdom embedded in books by women writers provides clarity, hope and inspiration on how to act and react in the world today. As Jane, a heroine who rebels against attempts to mould or change her, declares: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.” </p><p dir="ltr">What are you reading? Is there a book that has empowered you in particular? </p><p dir="ltr">I asked six British feminist writers and activists for their answers. I chose these women because each, in her own way, is campaigning or writing against the assault on women’s rights by right wing populism, or is using her platform to highlight women’s contribution to history and culture. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Caroline Criado-Perez: Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake trilogy</h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/CCP(1)_0.png" alt="Caroline Criado-Perez." title="Caroline Criado-Perez" width="460" height="335" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Caroline Criado-Perez. Photo: Tracy King.</span></span></span>Caroline Criado-Perez is a writer and feminist campaigner. Her first book,<em> </em>Do It Like A Woman profiled various women activists who are changing the world. An activist herself, Criado-Perez successfully campaigned to feature a woman on UK banknotes, and has spoken out on issues of violence against women and women’s equality. She’s reading Atwood’s<em> </em>Oryx and Crake trilogy <span class="st">–</span> a story of survival in a post-apocalyptic world.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">“Atwood is just so brilliant at visualising the logical (horrifying) extension of where we are going,” Criado messaged me. “And even when the book isn’t directly about women, as in the trilogy, you can always rely on her to weave in the impact on women of the world and powers around us with a light but devastating touch. I never read Atwood without feeling *yes*, that’s what it feels like.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Sarah Ditum: Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis </h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/sarahruthditum_0175(1)_0.jpg" alt="Sarah Ditum." title="Sarah Ditum." width="170" height="170" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sarah Ditum. Photo: Darren Strange.</span></span></span>Sarah Ditum is a writer and journalist who regularly reviews books for the New Statesman, Guardian and Spectator. I was keen to know what she finds hope in. Her answer?<em> </em><a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Persepolis-Marjane-Satrapi/009952399X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1494835015&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=persepolis+book" target="_blank">Persepolis</a>, a memoir by Marjane Satrapi. Published in 2000, this graphic novel set in Iran tells of a girl’s coming of age under an authoritarian regime. </p><p dir="ltr">Ditum explained her choice: “It's such an intimate rendering of what it means to live in tyranny, the tiny acts of submission that lead to a defeated life, the profound loneliness of exile, the joy in resistance even if that resistance is only drinking and dancing in a blackout-curtained room.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Helen Lewis: Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven </h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Helen Lewis.jpg" alt="Helen Lewis. " title="Helen Lewis. Charlie Forgham-Bailey " width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Helen Lewis. Photo: Charlie Forgham-Bailey.</span></span></span>Deputy Editor of the New Statesman Helen Lewis told me she is about to re-read the dystopian novel <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Station-Eleven-Emily-John-Mandel-ebook/dp/B00JQ9FYAM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1494834912&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=station+eleven" target="_blank">Station Eleven</a> by Emily St John Mandel. A word-of-mouth hit when published in 2014, it tells the story of the end of civilisation after a deadly flu virus sweeps the world, and the intertwined lives of a group of survivors. </p><p dir="ltr">How can the near destruction of the human race offer hope? “I worried that it would be too bleak, but it’s not,” Lewis told me. “Even after losing the internet, aeroplanes, central heating, processed food and everything else we’ve come to rely on, the novel shows how most people can still carve out a life for themselves and find happiness.” </p><p dir="ltr">“The central character Kirsten, who was only eight when the pandemic hit, has a line from Star Trek tattooed on her arm: 'Survival is insufficient.' That’s so true – however tough life seems, we have to make time for art, music, friends, laughter, caring and compassion. Those aren’t luxuries or extravagances; they’re what make us human. Station Eleven makes me feel resilient – and it makes me value how much I have now.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Nimco Ali: Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing</h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Nimko.JPG" alt="Nimco Ali." title="Nimco Ali." width="460" height="460" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nimco Ali. Photo: Marie Claire.</span></span></span>Nimco Ali is a campaigner against female genital mutilation. Our talk about books leads her to recommend Yaa Gyasi’s debut<em> </em><a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Homegoing-Yaa-Gyasi-ebook/dp/B019GF5YH8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1494834964&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=yaa+gyasi+homegoing" target="_blank">Homegoing.</a> Published last year, it's a historical novel that follows the lives of women descended from an Asante woman named Maame. </p><p dir="ltr">What was it about this novel that appealed to Ali? She explains that Gyasi’s work is “the story of the strength and survival of women. We all have the blood of those who came before and stood up so we can rise too.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Bidisha: Andrea Dworkin's Right Wing Women</h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/bidisha no credit(1).JPG" alt="Bidisha." title="Bidisha. " width="460" height="358" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bidisha. Photo: Bidisha.</span></span></span>Bidisha is a writer, broadcaster and journalist who has been outspoken on issues of cultural femicide and the silencing of women’s voices in the arts. Her writer of choice is Andrea Dworkin, and in particular her book <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Right-Wing-Women-Andrea-Dworkin/dp/0399506713/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1494834987&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=right+wing+women+dworkin" target="_blank">Right Wing Women</a>, which “always puts me right.” Why? Because “everything she predicted there came true <span class="st">– </span>Reagan, Bush Senior, Bush Junior, Trump, the rollback of women's rights, the mainstreaming of sexual exploitation. It's all there and it's terrifying.”</p><p dir="ltr">Published in 1983, Dworkin’s essay collection explores how the American political right mobilises women to its cause. At a time when we are forced to examine why women might vote for Trump, and his fans Coulter and Conway defend his sexism, her writing can help us find answers and advocate for change. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Joanna Walsh: Hannah Arendt's Men in Dark Times</h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Joanna Walsh Author Photo 3.jpg" alt="Joanna Walsh." title="Joanna Walsh." width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Joanna Walsh. Photo: Sarah Davis-Goff.</span></span></span>Author and illustrator, in 2014 Joanna Walsh also founded the Read Women project. Initially a self-imposed task to read only women writers for a year, this lively Twitter account is now dedicated to sharing news, articles, recommendations and essays by and about women writers. </p><p dir="ltr">She told me she’s also joined the Arendt revival by recently picking up <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Men-Dark-Times-Hannah-Arendt/0156588900" target="_blank">Men in Dark Times</a>, an essay collection published in 1968 in which the philosopher explores the lives of diverse writers and thinkers <span class="st">– </span><span class="st">Rosa Luxembourg, Pope John XXIII and Brecht </span><span class="st"><span class="st">– </span></span>who illuminated the darkness of the twentieth century. </p><p dir="ltr">Walsh has also been reading <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Posthuman-Rosi-Braidotti/074564158X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1494834779&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=the+posthuman" target="_blank">The Posthuman</a> by Rosi Braidotti (2013); <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Garments-Against-Women-Anne-Boyer-x/dp/1906496382/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1494834762&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=anne+boyer" target="_blank">Garments Against Women</a> by Anne Boyer (2015), and <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Staying-Trouble-Chthulucene-Experimental-Futures-ebook/dp/B01KO84OPE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1494834798&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=donna+haraway" target="_blank">Staying with the Trouble</a> by Donna Haraway (2016) <span class="st">–</span> which she says examines our relationship with nature and helps her “cope with dark times, social, political, ecological.”</p><p dir="ltr">I also asked Read Women's followers on Twitter for their recommendations with included feminist utopias such as <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Herland-Charlotte-Perkins-Gilman/dp/1546444556/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1494834818&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=herland" target="_blank">Herland</a> by Charlotte Perkins-Gilman, along with other books like <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Argonauts-Maggie-Nelson-ebook/dp/B01F5CLAS8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1494834835&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=the+argonauts" target="_blank">The Argonauts</a> by Maggie Nelson. Margaret Atwood was again a popular choice. One reader put it this way: “she always conveys that life is never easy for a woman <span class="st">– </span>be that past, present or future.” </p><div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 Culture patriarchy gender feminism 50.50 newsletter young feminists Sian Norris Thu, 01 Jun 2017 08:30:31 +0000 Sian Norris 111298 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The things I would tell you: British Muslim women speak out in new anthology https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/things-i-would-tell-you-british-muslim-women-anthology <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Edited by Sabrina Mahfouz, this timely collection of essays, plays, short stories and poetry celebrates the creativity and diversity of British Muslim women.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/SN things i would tell you_1.jpg" alt="Sabrina Mahfouz" title="The things I would tell you, edited by Sabrina Mahfouz" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Right: Sabrina Mahfouz. Photo: Simon Annand. </span></span></span><em><a href="http://www.saqibooks.com/book/the-things-i-would-tell-you/">The things I would tell you</a></em>, an anthology of British Muslim women’s writing edited by poet and playwright Sabrina Mahfouz, celebrates the diversity of Muslim women’s voices. Published by Saqi books in April 2017, it was described as "important, and timely" by novelist Eimear McBride. Writer Nikesh Shukla meanwhile called it an “exquisite collection… full of energy, experimentation, honesty, beauty, fury, heartbreak and laughs.”</p><p>In her introduction, Mahfouz says one of her goals was to “dispel the narrow image of what a Muslim woman — particularly a British Muslim woman — looks and lives like.” To do this, she brings together women whose heritage stretches from Pakistan to Palestine, Yemen, Somalia and beyond. More established writers are included along with new, young talent. There is also a rich range of styles: from short fiction and poetry to plays and essays.</p><p dir="ltr">The collection begins with Fadia Faqir’s experimental short story <em>Under the cypress tre</em>e, about a relationship between British pensioner Doris and her new Bedouin neighbour Timam. A story of neighbours trying to understand each other in a British seaside town, it is also an exploration of sisterhood and how we come to terms with the ghosts of our pasts. Although set in the present day, Faqir uses flashbacks to explore memory and how Doris is haunted by earlier trauma. </p><p dir="ltr">Neighbours are key characters in Kamila Shamsie’s <em>The girl next door</em> as well. Shamsie is one of the collection’s better-known writers and she takes on religious shame in a story about patriarchal power bringing two women together in modern-day Pakistan. I found it both chilling and hopeful — with the suggestion that, through bonds of sisterhood and female friendship, we can fight back against male dominance. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Launch5.jpg" alt="The things I would tell you, London book launch." title="The things I would tell you, London book launch." width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The things I would tell you, London book launch. Photo: Elizabeth Briggs.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Shame and male power are also at the heart of Shaista Aziz’s painful non-fiction essay on “honour killings” in Pakistan, entitled <em>Blood and broken bodies</em>. In it, she looks at the 2016 murder of Qandeel Baloch, a young social media celebrity. Her brother <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/17/qandeel-baloch-brother-admits-killing-her-say-pakistani-police">confessed to killing her</a> for “family honour” because she had posted “shameful” pictures on Facebook.</p><p dir="ltr">In two short stories, British-Palestinian writer Selma Dabbagh explores romantic love alongside the Israel-Palestine conflict. The first tells of the breakdown of a woman’s relationship set against a bombing in Jenin. In the second, another couple react to the Israeli wall being built around their home. The male character asks his partner to transport him back to 1989 Berlin and describe the moment that city’s infamous wall came down.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">People from across the whole city, old men and women, boys, girls, they all came to take it down [....] They grew up under it, families were separated by it, people died trying to cross it and yet they came the people of that city, they came and broke at it with sledgehammers and pickaxes and anything they could find.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s a story about hope for the future — for freedom. But it’s also an exploration of how occupation encroaches not just on a family’s physical space (at one point, the woman wonders how they’ll get compensation for the olive trees growing on land that is now behind the wall), but on their emotional space too. There is no escape from the constant oppressive presence of the wall except into dreams and memories. </p><p dir="ltr">Several of the collection's pieces explore pressures on Muslim women in Britain today — including an increase in violence and hateful rhetoric in the wake of the Brexit vote to leave the European Union. </p><p dir="ltr">Chimene Suleyman’s short story <em>Us</em> tackles Islamophobia specifically in this context. As a woman walks home past a gang of racist men, her mind races with an angry and frightened internal monologue:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">Us. She had heard this word so much. ‘Us’ did not come alone. ‘Us’ was paired with ‘They’. They are uncivilised. They are brutal. They are savage. ‘They’ had accomplices: ‘Them’ and ‘Those’. What did I tell you about those people? You know you can’t trust them. This wasn’t racism. No, it was self-preservation.</p><p dir="ltr">Aisha Mirza’s non-fiction essay <em>Staying alive through Brexit</em> also looks at the rise in hate crime following the referendum on leaving the EU — and the impact this has had on her own mental health. In the process, Mirza probes the relationship between politics and trauma. </p><p dir="ltr">Many of the pieces look at the position of women in society — and the intersection of racism and sexism in Muslim women’s lives. </p><p dir="ltr">One of the most startling contributions is Seema Begum’s <em>Uomini cadranno</em>. Written during a workshop when she was just 14 years old, Begum’s poem states:</p><blockquote><p dir="ltr">And within this mist of darkness,</p><p>there are flowers desperate to bloom, pure and spirited.</p><p dir="ltr">But they are weak. They are fragile. They are a mistake because they are girls. </p><p dir="ltr">You men in power have the audacity to prevent a woman from</p><p dir="ltr">achieving great ambitions.</p></blockquote><p dir="ltr">Azra Tabassum’s <em>Brown girl</em> meanwhile reflects the silencing of women’s voices:</p><blockquote><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Brown girl,</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; be quiet, quieter,</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; softer. Dumb</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; yourself down, read less,</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; don’t think so much</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; about the knots in your belly. </p></blockquote><p dir="ltr">Through their writing, Begum and Tabassum demand space. They refuse to be overlooked and silenced. In doing so, their pieces reflect the anthology’s spirit and aim to provide a platform for British Muslim women to speak out and be heard. </p><p dir="ltr">The issue of identity also features prominently in the collection, including in Samira Shackle’s essay on travelling to Pakistan as an adult, and then choosing to move there from London for a year, “figuring out my place in this complicated land and putting back together the two “halves” of my identity, halves I hadn’t realised were fractured.” </p><p dir="ltr">Other pieces reflect the politics not of Brexit — but of international conflicts. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Sabrina Mahfouz’s play records a fictional conversation between an Iraqi plastic surgeon and an undercover British secret service agent. As they reveal more about their past experiences of war and loss, the reader witnesses a power struggle between the two women. The play’s inconclusive ending is perhaps a metaphor for the ongoing struggle for peace and safety in Iraq.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Shazea Quraishi’s shocking and deeply upsetting <em>Fallujah, Basrah</em> poem references birth deformities that appeared in Iraq and Afghanistan “following bombing with DU incendiary devices”:</p><blockquote><p dir="ltr">Where is my baby girl</p><p dir="ltr">the one I dreamed?</p><p dir="ltr">I long for sleep</p><p dir="ltr">to return her.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">[Extreme hydrocephalus. The line running down the right side of the head would appear to show that potentially two heads were forming.]</p></blockquote><p dir="ltr">Her poems are short and stark, mixing the grieving monologue of the parent and the clinical diagnosis of the health professional to illustrate the horrifying impact of war.</p><p dir="ltr">One of my favourite contributions is Leila Aboulela’s remarkable play <em>The insider</em>, which tells the story of Fifi and Joseph — two characters in the French writer Albert Camus’ novel <em>The outsider. </em>In this alternative, women-led take on the classic text, Aboulela gives Fifi a life, history and future of her own; a subjectivity she was denied in the original novel.</p><p dir="ltr">While in Camus’ story Fifi is an object of male gaze, with little voice of her own, Aboulela calls her by her Algerian name Fatima. She pushes back against stereotypes of North African women under colonialist rule. Aboulela also gives Fatima a life beyond Camus’ novel — showing her grow old with her memories and living with her grandson in the modern day. </p><p dir="ltr">Too often, British Muslim women are the objects of media conversations. Repeatedly we see white British men, in particular, discuss issues that affect Muslim women — sidelining their own voices and stories. Worse, studies suggest <a href="http://jantrust.org/blog/224-muslim-women-misogyny-and-islamophobia">Muslim women may be more likely</a> than men to face <a href="http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/muslim-women-more-likely-be-victim-islamophobia-report-452800693">Islamophobic attacks</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">In this context, <em>The things I would tell you</em> is more necessary than ever. Bringing together a rich diversity of voices from different ages and backgrounds, Mahfouz tackles this objectification head on. </p><p dir="ltr">Exploring love, politics, violence, home, history, family, war, occupation, patriarchy, Brexit — this rich collection paints a vivid and complex picture of the lives, concerns, creativity and realities of Muslim women living in the UK today. The book is indeed important, and timely.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 women and power patriarchy gender justice 50.50 newsletter Sian Norris Fri, 21 Apr 2017 09:01:12 +0000 Sian Norris 110219 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Testosterone Rex: is the hormone the essence of masculinity, or is it far more complex? https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/testosterone-rex-masculinity-reality-complex <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Cordelia Fine talks about her new book – and how viewing risk as a “male” characteristic can mean we overlook risks to women’s lives.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/PA-15939477_1.jpg" alt="Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur model." title="Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur model " width="460" height="298" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur model. PA/Rui Vieira. All Rights Reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>Cordelia Fine's 2010 best-seller, <a href="http://books.wwnorton.com/books/Delusions-of-Gender/"><em>Delusions of Gende</em>r</a>, explored the science and popular thinking behind sex differences and the idea that gender is an innate and immovable force. In her new book, <a href="http://books.wwnorton.com/books/Testosterone-Rex/"><em>Testosterone Rex</em></a>, Fine turns to the influence of testosterone and its impact on psychology and inequality between men and women.<br /> <br /> It is a rare text: accessible to the non-academic reader while exhibiting rigorous research, drawing on science from evolutionary biology to behavioural studies. It’s an invigorating read that forces you to interrogate your own ideas about gender and testosterone. I found it repeatedly challenging my own assumptions.<br /> <br /> “<em>Delusions of Gender</em> actually ended up as a very different book to the one I set out to write,” Fine told me. “I’d been reading a lot of popular books about sex differences in the brain while looking at the scientific studies these authors were citing as hard evidence for those differences. Initially I wanted to write a book that cleared up what science was actually telling us.”<br /> <br /> But, she explained: “I discovered real contradictions within the studies... It was confusing, and that confusion led to me writing a book that explored the problems in the science.”</p><p> <span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/TRexbookjacket_0.jpeg" alt="Testosterone Rex book cover" title="Testosterone Rex book" width="160" height="243" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>WW Norton & Co (2017)</span></span></span>“To me, <em>Testosterone Rex</em> is the natural sequel,” Fine continued, describing how she “wanted to look at the evolutionary backdrop to the story...at the relations between circulating testosterone and gendered behaviour.” The question: can this help explain enduring inequalities, where men are more likely than women to occupy positions of power and influence?</p><p>For example, Fine explores the concept of risk-taking—often considered a “male” characteristic, connected to the idea that risk is reproductively advantageous for males. (That story goes: male ancestors, taking extra risks foraging for food and fighting rivals, found more mates and had more babies as a result).&nbsp; </p> <p>Fine says these popular narratives draw on “this vintage version of sexual selection to claim an evolutionary imperative for male risk-taking. The next obvious step is to argue that this is a major contributor to persistent sex inequalities, helping to explain why fame, fortune and corner offices are disproportionately acquired by men.”<br /> <br /> But, she cautions, things may not be how they seem. </p><h2>Risk: to whom?</h2> <p>For example, in some species there are reproductive advantages for females in competitive and risky behaviour. Fine adds: our conception of risk itself often ignores the diverse contexts in which individuals live. And as risk-taking is intimately linked to masculinity in our minds, we may fail to notice risks associated with women’s lives.</p><p>She explains: “although women routinely take risks, these often seem to slip under the research radar...Going on a date can end in sexual assault. Leaving a marriage is financially, socially and emotionally risky.”<br /> <br /> In her book Fine gives other examples, including the risk of “misogynist backlash by writing a feminist opinion piece,” or sex-based discrimination or harassment in the workplace, that might not even be considered by researchers studying risk. <br /> <br /> She told me: “I think there’s a general phenomenon that we think of risk and then we think male.” As a result, she warns: when people think about what counts as taking a risk, they tend to overlook examples that are gender-neutral, or more typical for women.<br /> <br /> What can be done to challenge this? Fine says she and colleagues are exploring how the association of risk with male lives may “create a form of unintended confirmation bias in research.” </p> <p>She said: “We’ve been looking at what happens when you modify a commonly used risk-taking survey that looks at health, social, financial, and physical risk-taking, to include items that are more gender neutral or even more feminine. We’ve found this makes a difference.”</p><p> In both of her recent books, Fine challenges gender stereotypes and the idea that gendered ways of being are innate. In <em>Delusions of Gender</em> she examined the belief that a “female brain” made women more empathetic. In <em>Testosterone Rex</em> she does the same to the idea, for example, of promiscuity being hard-wired into men as a result of the hormone.</p><h2>Sticky stories</h2><p> Why do stories that men are like Y, and women are like X, remain so sticky? Fine says: “The idea that gender differences were critical for achieving reproductive success has a strong intuitive plausibility... [and] if we think that a particular kind of behaviour was important in our ancestral past, we assume that it must be deeply biologically rooted.”<br /> <br /> “One of the things I do in <em>Testosterone Rex</em> is to take a closer look at this idea that biology must always be playing the leading role in creating adaptive masculine and feminine behaviours.” </p> <p>As part of this, Fine reviews a range of research into the behaviour of animals, from crickets to clownfish to hedge sparrows. She gives a thought-provoking example: “One thing we can all agree on is that having sex with the same species is important for reproductive success...And yet, a study on baby goats being fostered by ewes, and baby lambs being fostered by nanny goats, found that the fostered male offspring would grow up with a strong sexual attraction to the foster mother species, rather than their own.”</p><p> She said: “That’s an unintuitive phenomenon, but is an example of an understanding in evolutionary biology that offspring don’t just inherit genes, but an entire ‘developmental system.’”<br /> <br /> I also asked Fine how our notions of masculinity impact realities of inequality and violence. She said: “There was an interesting study showing that when you present male sexual violence as rising out of an evolved adaptation as opposed to power dynamics, young men perceived perpetrators as having less control, and being less morally responsible for their actions.”</p><p> This is why <em>Testosterone Rex</em> is an important book. It consolidates data and evidence to interrogate the narrative that men have evolved to be more competitive, more risk-taking, and more status-seeking. In doing so, it helps us think about the kind of society we expect to see or hope to build. It questions whether we have to accept existing gendered norms about male and female behaviour.</p><p>Not only is that exciting, but it offers hope. As Fine put it to me, at the end of our talk: “The research I put forward in <em>Testosterone Rex</em> gives a sense of confidence that we can do better. Of course there’s nothing easy about creating cultural change but the campaign for greater gender equality isn’t us 'going against nature.'”</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 women and power gender feminism 50.50 newsletter Sian Norris Fri, 07 Apr 2017 06:55:07 +0000 Sian Norris 109952 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Should domestic abuse have its own law? https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/should-domestic-abuse-have-its-own-law <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the UK, there is no specific offence for 'domestic violence'. Is the law failing women seeking justice?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="BodyA"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/domestic violence.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/domestic violence.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tricia Bernal, whose daughter was murdered by an ex-boyfriend, looks across a line of silhouettes on Potter's Field in London, representing the death toll taken by domestic violence. Credit: Johnny Green / PA Images</span></span></span></p><p class="BodyA">“When the police told me they wouldn’t charge my ex, I felt like there was no justice for women,” Naomi* explains.</p> <p class="BodyA">Like most survivors of domestic abuse, 31-year-old Naomi didn’t go to the police the first time her boyfriend kicked her. She didn”t go to the police the first time he broke her finger, the first time he punched her, the first time he tried to strangle her. Only after she found the courage to leave him, and had begun to process the trauma of enduring 18 months of emotional and physical abuse, did she turn to the police and ask for justice.&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">“I spent over five hours giving a statement,” Naomi tells me. “They didn’t offer me a glass of water or a cup of tea. They asked me why I hadn’t gone to the police before. Weeks later I learnt that because the ‘common assaults’ were committed more than six months before I reported, my ex wouldn’t be charged with them. That there’s a statute of limitations on common assault, and it had run out.&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">“As a result, I felt like the state agreed with what my ex used to tell me during the abuse - that being punched, strangled, and having things thrown at me was all okay, was normal, and that I should just shut up and forget about it.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="Body">So is Naomi’s situation the exception? Or is the law as it stands failing survivors of domestic abuse? Currently there is no specific offence for ‘domestic violence’. Instead, offenders who commit violence against their partners are prosecuted under existing laws prohibiting rape, grievous bodily harm, attempted murder etc. In 2004 the <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-domestic-violence-crime-and-victims-act-2004">Domestic Violence, Crimes and Victims Act </a>defined what domestic violence should cover in law, and the crimes committed in inter-personal relationships were separately criminalised. What I want to understand is whether this act went far enough or whether this lack of a specific law is hindering enforcement and leaving women like Naomi struggling to access justice. Is the problem facing survivors that there isn't a specific law, or that existing laws are simply not being enforced correctly or effectively?</p> <p class="BodyA">Let’s start with the statistics. Women are overwhelmingly the victims of sustained and repeated domestic abuse. In fact, women make up 89% of victims who endure <a href="http://www.refuge.org.uk/about-domestic-violence/domestic-violence-and-gender/">more than four incidents of abuse</a>. &nbsp;Meanwhile, men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators - in cases of domestic violence between 80-90% of violence against the person reported is by women assaulted by men. On average, a woman experiences <a href="https://kareningalasmith.com/2013/04/29/this-thing-about-male-victims/ ">35 incidents of abuse</a> before calling the police.</p> <p class="BodyA">These incidents may have gone on for months or even years. Many of them will be <a href="http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/l_to_o/offences_against_the_person/#a07">classified as the ‘common assault’</a> experienced by Naomi - defined as a crime that’s committed when a person either assaults another person or commits a battery. Because common assault is a <a href="http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/summary_offences_and_the_crown_court">summary-only offence</a> normally dealt with in the magistrates court as opposed to in trial with a jury, it has a statute of limitations that expires after six months. As a result, men who assaulted their partners more than six months before the incident is reported to the police cannot be charged under the current law.</p> <p class="BodyA">To classify assaults committed by a partner as “common” and therefore under a six month statute of limitations is to misunderstand the dynamics of domestic abuse. It’s to ignore the fact that many women wait before they report abuse for a multitude of reasons - including fear, the belief that he’ll change, distrust of the authorities, panic that their children will be taken away, or simply because they have no where safe to go. Surely when a woman finally turns to the police for help, she should not be told that the crimes committed against her will never be heard in a courtroom, just because they happened seven months, a year, five years, before?</p> <p class="BodyA">I spoke to Olivia Piercy from the organisation <a href="http://rightsofwomen.org.uk/">Rights of Women</a>, who offer legal advice to victims and survivors of domestic abuse. I wanted to better understand the law as it currently works.</p> <p class="BodyA">“You’re right that there isn’t a specific law on domestic abuse,” she explains. “However, all the incidents that constitute domestic abuse are already crimes. So grievous bodily harm, sexual violence, actual bodily harm and harassment are already illegal and a perpetrator who commits those crimes against a current or former partner should be charged with and convicted of them.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">This has been strengthened since 2015 with the introduction of the coercive control law which recognises emotional and financial abuse as criminal behaviour. However, the coercive control law only applies to incidents committed since December 2015, when the law entered the statute books.&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">“For me the problem isn’t that domestic abuse isn’t a specific crime,” Piercy goes on to say. “It’s that the current law is not being applied properly. We still have an issue in this country where policing is a postcode lottery. Women can end up with an officer who is sympathetic and will go after her abuser. Or they can end up with an officer who doesn’t take domestic abuse seriously - one who doesn’t equate a serious “domestic” assault as constituting ABH, for example. So rather than seeing more laws introduced, we need to work harder to make sure the existing laws are understood and enforced so that women have better access to justice.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">This lack of understanding of the current law, or lack of enthusiasm for enforcing it, could account for the low rate of prosecutions for coercive control. In the first six months of being introduced, the law was <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/aug/31/police-failing-to-use-new-law-against-coercive-domestic-abuse">only used 62 times</a>. Considering there are an estimated 1.2 million incidents of domestic abuse in England and Wales every year, we can be fairly certain that 62 uses of the law is a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/jul/22/domestic-violence-conviction-rate-high">devastatingly low number</a>.</p> <p class="BodyA">Harriet Wistrich, founder of <a href="https://www.justiceforwomen.org.uk">Justice for Women</a> as well as the newly-launched <a href="https://www.facebook.com/centreforwomensjustice/">Centre for Women’s Justice</a>, agrees with Piercy that the problem isn”t the lack of laws, but attitudes within and beyond the police.</p> <p class="BodyA">“One of the concerns I have,” Wistrich explains, “is that we still live in a society where domestic violence is not taken seriously. We still have news articles refer to a man murdering his partner as ‘<a href="http://everydayvictimblaming.com/responses-to-media/when-is-a-murder-not-a-murder/">a domestic incident</a>’. I worry that if we introduced a specific law for domestic abuse, then unsympathetic police will take the incident less seriously - will see it as ‘just a domestic’ rather than ABH, rape, assault etc. and therefore not pursue it with rigour.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">Wistrich’s concerns also relate to the application of the coercive control law, in relation to abusers.</p> <p class="BodyA">“We know that perpetrators often accuse their partners of emotionally abusing them, and there’s still a narrative of the “nagging wife” bringing abuse on herself,” she says. “There is a concern that the coercive control law will be used by abusive men as another way to victimise their partners, and the same could be true of a specific domestic abuse law.”</p> <p class="BodyA">Both Piercy and Wistrich are unanimous in their assessment that what needs to change are attitudes, rather than laws. That it is the <em>current</em> law that needs to be enforced, not a <em>new</em> law added to the statute books.&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">“You see it again and again in what police tell victims,” says Piercy. “They don”t understand the current laws. They don’t identify it when a crime is clearly reported and evidenced. That’s what needs to change - and it doesn’t change by bringing in new laws that in turn won’t be understood or applied properly.”</p> <p class="BodyA">I agree that social attitudes need to change - that we need to see violence against women and girls taken more seriously. We need to improve sex education so that young people grow up knowing what is and isn’t acceptable in a relationship; we need to stop the victim blaming narrative that leads to headlines proclaiming ‘<a href="http://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/latest-news/368712/Nagged-to-death-Man-strangles-annoying-wife-and-buries-her-in-concrete-tomb">Man killed nagging wife</a>’; and we need to ensure that men who choose to abuse women are charged, prosecuted and convicted. When a man is convicted of assault against his partner, the sentence must be severe and work as a deterrent. None of these things are currently the case.</p> <p class="BodyA">More than bringing in new laws, we need to have a police force that is fully trained in dealing with domestic abuse, and end the lottery that means one woman may receive help and support, while another woman is told (as one anonymous source informed me) that “I’m just not interested in domestic abuse cases.”</p> <p class="BodyA">But we still have this problem of the statute of limitations applying to summary-only offences like common assault and harassment. For victims of domestic abuse who may not report an assault until months after the event, they can be left with the feeling that the violent acts committed against them have somehow been excused by the state. </p> <p class="BodyA">This was the case for Naomi, who was left feeling that the state had colluded with her ex when they didn’t pursue her allegations against him.&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">“It was as though he knew the law and knew he would get away with it,” she said. “He never took the police seriously because he knew they would never charge him.”</p> <p class="BodyA">So what happens next? Clearly the statute of limitations on crimes such as common assault obstructs justice for women like Naomi. But as Piercy and Wistrich point out, bringing in new laws could worsen the situation for women who already struggle to be taken seriously by the police and the criminal justice system. Personally, I want to see more training for the police and the CPS on domestic abuse, so that every woman reporting a violent partner is listened to and the crime committed against them taken seriously. I also believe that in cases of domestic abuse, the statute of limitations on common assault and harassment should not apply. After all, to put a time limit on this crime is fundamentally to ignore the specific dynamics of gender-based violence and the multifaceted reasons that prevent women from reporting after the first punch is thrown.</p> <p class="BodyA">Naomi is now waiting to see if her ex will be charged with one count of ABH. The realisation that her abuser would not be charged for numerous common assaults simply because she had not reported the incidents within a six month period added to her trauma.</p> <p class="BodyA">“I am beginning to believe there is no justice for women in this situation,” she told me. “That it’s effectively legal in the UK to assault, beat and harass women. What happened to me affected my life in so many ways and now I have no hope for justice. I just want to feel I’ve done enough so that I can walk away from all of this without feeling responsible for what he does next.”</p> <p class="BodyA"><strong><em>*Names have been changed&nbsp;</em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/hannana-siddiqui/lasting-change-to-end-honour-based-violen">What will it take to end honour based violence in the UK?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/marianna-tortell/violence-against-women-in-uk-map-of-gaps">Violence against women in the UK: a map of gaps</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/rahila-gupta/one-woman-s-brush-with-sharia-courts-in-uk">One woman’s brush with Sharia courts in the UK: &quot;It ruined my life forever&quot; </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 UK Continuum of Violence gender justice feminism 50.50 newsletter patriarchy violence against women young feminists Sian Norris Tue, 28 Feb 2017 10:56:02 +0000 Sian Norris 109114 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Through the eyes of a queer Arab man: a review of ‘Guapa’ https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/through-eyes-of-queer-arab-man-review-of-guapa <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="BodyA">The novel Guapa by Saleem Haddad is set in the aftermath of the 2011 revolutions. Reading it during the fall of Aleppo, on the sixth anniversary of the Arab Spring, is a moving experience.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="BodyA"><strong>‘Guapa’ by Saleem Haddad was </strong><a href="http://www.europaeditions.co.uk/book/9781609454135/guapa"><strong>published in the UK</strong></a><strong> in October 2016 by <em>Europa Editions </em>and </strong><a href="http://www.otherpress.com/books/guapa/"><strong>in the US</strong></a><strong> in May 2016 by <em>Other Press</em>.</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Haddad_Guapa.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Haddad_Guapa.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="360" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>‘The morning begins with shame.’</p> <p class="BodyA">So begins Haddad’s revolutionary novel <em>Guapa</em>, a tour de force that encompasses themes of friendship, queer sexuality, state violence, revolutionary hope and revolutionary despair. I read it as the siege of Aleppo reached its horrifying and bloody nadir. To read a novel that explores the lost hope of the Arab Spring in such an unashamedly personal and political way is quite an extraordinary experience.&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">The novel<em> </em>tells the story of Rasa, a young gay man living in an unnamed Middle Eastern city in the aftermath of 2011’s Arab Spring revolutions. The location is never fully disclosed - sometimes the reader is tempted to think it’s Cairo, sometimes our mind drifts to Damascus. He spends his days working as a translator and interpreter for Western journalists determined to tell <em>the</em> story of the Arab Spring. At night, he and his friends inhabit the queer world of the <em>Guapa </em>nightclub with his secret lover Taymour - a man engaged to be married. The novel opens with Rasa waking up having been discovered in bed with Taymour by his grandmother. Since this crisis, Rasa hasn’t heard from Taymour. Soon after, he learns his best friend the drag artist Majid has been arrested by the authorities. These battles between queer lives, shame (or <em>eib</em>) and the state drive forward the novel’s narrative.</p> <p class="BodyA">The novel is set over the course of a day - with flashbacks to Rasa’s childhood and one extended flashback section to his time studying in the USA before, during and after 9/11. The conceit of placing all the action within one single day helps to encapsulate the personal chaos and the political intensity of both Rasa’s and the country’s moment.</p> <p class="BodyA">One of Haddad’s great achievements is his ability to synthesise the personal revolutionary moment, heartbreak and longing, with the wider political revolutions, heartbreak and longing that is happening on the streets around him. In this, the reader is confronted with the politicisation of queer bodies and lives - particularly in repressive states or in states that are seeing a hardening of repressive attitudes following a hope for liberation.</p> <p class="BodyA">Haddad explores the betrayal of the post-Arab Spring moment for many of the young people who gathered on the streets. The descriptions of the early protests are joyous and imbued with the promise of a new hope:</p> <p class="BodyA"><em>Only a few months ago I was on the television screen. My beaming face, along with thousands of others, all crammed together, waving flags and singing victorious songs. The camera panned across our nameless faces and we cheered back [</em><em>…</em><em>] For that moment we wanted to be nameless because we were one united mass against the bullshit we had thought was inevitable. No more hypocrisy, no more fear, no more staying put and shutting up.</em><em></em></p> <p class="BodyA">In an example of how <em>Guapa</em> blends the macro political landscape and the micro internal landscape, this is followed by a return to Rasa’s own personal battle with his longing for his lover, the man who he fears he now has lost thanks to the state’s repressive attitudes towards sexuality:&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA"><em>I turn off the television and pick up my phone. The dark screen of my mobile glares back at me. Still no word from Taymour. I want to call him, just to hear his voice.</em></p> <p class="BodyA">Both the Arab Spring and Rasa’s love for Taymour are celebrations of hope, love and a belief in a better, freer future. The loss of both love and the revolution are symbolic of a backlash against the progressive values Rasa and his friends fought for.&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">And so the protests go from:</p> <p class="BodyA"><em>I was willing to die for this. We were all willing to die for this. Because this was more important than one single life, more important than ten or fifteen lives. And when the president appeared on television that evening, scolding us like misbehaving children, I was sure of only one thing: that to stay at home would be to return to the fear and denial that had ruled us for a generation.</em>&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">To this:&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA"><em>When I arrived [at the protest] I realised I didn</em><em>’</em><em>t recognise anyone anymore. The beards had grown out, the women were segregated, and the chants had changed. I scanned the faces in the crowd and they looked back at me in a different way. The walls had returned. The trust had gone and I felt my own familiar walls rise once again. Looking around, I began to think: If we did manage to bring down the president, and if we tore down every damn picture and statue from the city, what would we replace him with? The protests had felt like the most authentic thing I had done with my life. Now they felt like a martyrdom operation to help a new generation of dictators come to power.</em></p> <p class="BodyA"><em>Guapa </em>shows how day-to-day life went on after the cameras left Tahrir Square or Pearl Roundabout, and that those involved in the protests are now negotiating a new life under a regime that does not reflect the hopes and freedoms they had imagined. It deals with the individual lives behind the headlines - complex, complicated relationships and friendships that existed within the political upheaval and outside of it too.</p> <p class="BodyA">We see Rasa as trapped between multiple identities that are imposed upon him from outside, as well as his own identity as a queer Arab man. Rasa’s relationship with his mother is a central theme - a relationship that is full of lost hope and betrayal. What’s more, Rasa is preoccupied with the question as to whether his sexuality and its discovery is a betrayal of his grandmother and her code of <em>eib</em> or shame. During his time living in the USA, Rasa is caught between the conflict between his sexuality, his desire to express that, and the pressures on him from students of Arab heritage to respect or conform to cultural expectations - while at the same time he is under suspicion from white students as a Middle Eastern Muslim.&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">One of the most upsetting episodes in the novel is perhaps the epitome of how Haddad brings together the personal and the political. Searching for his friend Majid, Rasa ends up in the police station where he is brutally beaten. Both Rasa and Majid believed that the protests would bring greater freedoms and acceptability of LGBTQ rights. In the thud of a police officer’s fist against Rasa’s cheek, it is brought home to us that queer bodies, as well as marginalised bodies and communities, are often among the first to be violently repressed during a backlash.</p> <p class="BodyA">Saleem Haddad’s debut is a pacey, character-driven novel where revolution, sexuality, friendship, family, history and geo-politics collide. It offers a fresh perspective on the Arab Spring and its aftermath, and tells the marginalised story of queer sexuality in the Middle East - a story that has too often been about exoticising the other. &nbsp;</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 North-Africa West-Asia 50.50 newsletter Sian Norris Wed, 18 Jan 2017 11:28:43 +0000 Sian Norris 108180 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Autumn: writing the now as we live through it https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/autumn-writing-now-as-we-live-through-it-0 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Published this autumn, Ali Smith's latest novel&nbsp;<a href="https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/285171/autumn/">Autumn</a>&nbsp;explores the political upheavals of summer 2016, as well as issues of love, loss, art and friendship.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Body"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Penguin Books Ali Smith.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Penguin Books Ali Smith.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ali Smith. Credit: Penguin Books</span></span></span></p><p class="Body">There are a number of reasons that make reading Ali Smith’s newest novel, <em>Autumn</em>, an uncanny experience. Two of them are personal, one is universal.</p> <p class="Body">Let’s deal with the personal first. </p> <p class="Body">Firstly, I am exactly the same age as Smith’s protagonist, Elisabeth. Reading the novel, her significant dates are my significant dates – from starting school to protesting the Iraq War to the age we share in 2016. This makes her timeline, my timeline. Her cultural markers are my cultural markers.</p> <p class="Body">Secondly: for a decade I have been close friends with one of the world’s only Pauline Boty academics – the artist whose life and paintings form a narrative arc throughout the book. As a result, I have witnessed first-hand the process of re-discovering and re-evaluating Boty’s work and the placing of her into art history’s canon where she firmly belongs. </p> <p class="Body">Then there’s the universal uncanniness – and the thing that makes Smith’s work so extraordinary. Because despite being called <em>Autumn</em>, Smith’s novel is set in the summer. This summer. Summer 2016 with all its violence and turbulence and uncertainty. It is an incredible feat to write a novel about a moment in history that is not even history yet. It is disconcerting and astonishing and, to my mind, no other novelist could have pulled it off. </p> <p class="Body">The novel follows Elisabeth, a young woman whose career is in limbo and who has gone home to her mother’s. Her childhood friend and neighbour, Daniel, is sleeping and dying in a nursing home. Through delicately placed flashbacks, the reader witnesses the inter-generational friendship between a young girl and a man in his 80s - a man who introduces her to art and storytelling. As a now-adult Elisabeth sits with him and remembers their early friendship, 2016 rumbles on:</p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <em>All across the country, there was misery and rejoicing.</em></p> <p class="Body"><em>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; […]</em></p> <p class="Body"><em>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing. All across the country, people felt it was the right thing. All across the country, people felt they’d really lost. All across the country, people felt they’d really won.</em></p> <p class="Body">The passage continues, beautifully encapsulating the emotion and conflict of those post-vote days - where ‘all across the country, people looked up Google: <em>what is EU</em>? All across the country, people looked up Google: <em>move to Scotland</em>.’ Again, it is uncanny to read a novel that is so centred in the <em>now</em> of this summer and this political moment. As I write this review, the news ticker on Twitter is telling me about a new Brexit row post the Richmond by-election. As I was reading Smith’s version of Jo Cox’s murder, the trial verdict flashed up on my phone. </p> <p class="Body">The novel opens with a riff on Dickens:</p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<em>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; It was the worst of times. It was the worst of times. </em></p> <p class="Body">We are thrown into an unworldly place of limbo, where an ‘old old man washes up on a shore’. He’s dead, or, if not dead, in some place between death and life. </p> <p class="Body">It’s significant that Smith throws us into this limbo existence. After all, hasn’t 2016 felt rather like living in limbo? Uncertainty has defined the period since 23rd June - be it the uncertainty of the markets or the uncertainty of EU residents or the uncertainty of <em>what exactly happens when Article 50 is invoked</em>. There’s a sense that the country has been suspended in limbo, just as Smith’s Daniel finds himself in neither this world nor the next. </p> <p class="Body">It’s significant too that Smith has her character washed up on the shore. At the end of the first chapter, the reader is confronted with the horror of death on the beaches:</p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <em>On the shore, though, there’s a washed up body. He goes to look. Is it his own? </em></p> <p class="Body"><em>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; No. It is a dead person. </em></p> <p class="Body"><em>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Just along from this dead person, there is another dead person. Beyond it another, and another. </em></p> <p class="Body"><em>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; He looks along the shore at the dark line of the tide-dumped dead. </em></p> <p class="Body"><em>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Some of the bodies are of very small children. He crouches down near a swollen man who has a child, just a baby, really, still zipped inside his jacket, its mouth open, dripping sea, its head resting on the bloated man’s chest. </em></p> <p class="Body">Even typing up that passage brings tears to my eyes (I burst into tears reading it on the bus for the first time). In Smith’s limbo we are confronted with the horrors of the refugee crisis - an issue Smith <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jun/27/ali-smith-so-far-the-detainees-tale-extract">has written on </a>before.&nbsp;There are no people living more in limbo, more stuck between one world and the next, than the refugees arriving on Europe’s shores. </p> <p class="Body">The graphic depiction also challenges the reader to consider how quickly we forget the news stories that at one moment seemed defining. A year before I read <em>Autumn</em> I was gaping in horror at the pictures of children washed up dead on Greek beaches. Now their struggle has almost been forgotten in the endless rush for fresh, new news. Smith explores this speeded-up, desperate news cycle later on in the novel, when Elisabeth hears that MP Jo Cox has been murdered:</p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<em>&nbsp;&nbsp; Someone killed an MP, she tells Daniel’s back as she struggles to keep up. A man shot her dead and came at her with a knife. Like shooting her wouldn’t be enough. But it’s old news now. Once it would have been a year’s worth of news. But news right now is like a flock of speeded-up sheep running off the side of a cliff. </em></p> <p class="Body"><em>Autumn</em> captures the political upheaval of this moment and the disillusionment so many people felt in the run-up to, and the aftermath of, Brexit, as voiced by Elisabeth’s mother:</p> <p class="Body"><em>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; I’m tired of having to wonder whether they did it out of stupidity or on purpose. I’m tired of lying governments. I’m tired of people not caring whether they’re being lied to anymore. </em></p> <p class="Body">However, it is also a novel about love and friendship and art. </p> <p class="Body">The genuine warmth between the child Elisabeth and the old-man Daniel is written with real heart. Smith pulls off the clever trick of imbuing their friendship with joy and colour, while also using their dialogues to explore the political messages found elsewhere in the novel. Smith’s gift, of course, is that she is such a subtle writer. Her reader never feels hit over the head with politics. Instead, we understand how even our own individual choices within relationships and friendships are themselves political, or political metaphors:</p> <p class="Body"><em>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; I’ll tell you what will happen, Daniel said. This. You and I will know I’ve lied, but your mother won’t […] We’ll all be lessened by the lie. So. Do you still choose the ballet? Or will I tell the sorrier truth?</em></p> <p class="Body"><em>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; I want the lie, Elisabeth said. </em></p> <p class="Body">It’s not a huge leap to go from that childish conversation to the mass desire to believe the lies offered in the run-up to the EU referendum, or during Trump’s election campaign. </p> <p class="Body">Art is hugely important in the book, as it was in Smith’s last novel <em>How to be Both</em>. Daniel introduces Elisabeth to the work of Pauline Boty, a woman he knew in the 1960s.</p> <p class="Body">Boty was a pop artist who created bold, beautiful paintings and collages that engaged with many of the key themes of pop: celebrity, sexuality, ‘low’ vs. ‘high’ culture. However, Boty was written off as a dolly bird, as someone who couldn’t paint, as a hanger-on in the movement. After she died tragically young, her paintings were lost until the 1990s. My friend Dr Sue Tate curated the first full retrospective of Boty in 2014, along with the publication of her <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pauline-Boty-Pop-Artist-Woman/dp/0947642307/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1480758172&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=sue+tate">critical review</a> of Boty’s work.</p> <p class="Body">Smith writes a section of the novel in Boty’s voice. Through her eyes, we explore the struggle of trying to be taken seriously as an artist and a woman - particularly a woman who was not afraid of embracing both her intellect and her sexuality: </p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <em>rumour is, that one there’s actually read Proust, she put her arm around the boy and said it’s true darling and Genet and de Beauvoir and Rimbaud<strong> </strong>and<strong> </strong>Colette, I’ve read all the men and women of French letters, oh and Gertrude Stein as well, don't you know about women and their tender buttons?</em></p> <p class="Body">Boty is linked with Christine Keeler in the novel - one a woman who painted pictures <em>of pictures</em> of women, the other a woman who exists in the public imagination as <em>only</em> a picture, a surface. </p> <p class="Body">It’s hard to do justice to such an extraordinary novel in one short review. To fully celebrate its complexity, the trickiness of its narrative, Smith’s ‘deadly serious’ playfulness with words and phrasing, and the cleverness of writing the now as we live through it. It really is a stunning achievement to bring together the different threads and weave the news cycle throughout it; to write a novel about politics and death and friendship and art while never feeling heavy or ponderous.</p> <p class="Body"><em>Autumn </em>is the first in a series focusing on each of the four seasons. I can’t wait to see what her <em>Winter</em> brings.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/ali-smith-public-libraries-civic-space-and-intimacy">Ali Smith&#039;s Public Library: civic space and intimacy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 50.50 newsletter Sian Norris Fri, 16 Dec 2016 09:33:27 +0000 Sian Norris 107701 at https://www.opendemocracy.net I Love Dick: what makes a feminist classic? https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/i-have-mixed-feelings-about-dick <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Chris Kraus's feminist classic <em>I Love Dick</em>, reissued in paperback this year, confronts the reader with complex questions about what it means to be a woman artist and&nbsp;a sexual woman in love with a man. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Body"><strong>&nbsp;<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/501857/6F5BB5B4-FF95-4B88-93F8-159396FC7ED4-3493-0000024F926A6DB1_tmp_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/501857/6F5BB5B4-FF95-4B88-93F8-159396FC7ED4-3493-0000024F926A6DB1_tmp_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="363" height="367" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>I Love Dick. Image: Sian Norris </span></span></span></strong></p><p class="Body">For Chris Kraus’ feminist classic <a href="https://serpentstail.com/i-love-dick.html"><em>I Love Dick</em></a> reissued in paperback this year feels like perfect timing. Its republication by <a href="https://serpentstail.com/i-love-dick.html">Serpent’s Tail </a>has come at a time when more and more women are writing auto-fiction and straight fiction that attempts to tell a truth about sexuality, friendship, feminism and the wide variety of women’s lived experiences. From Joanna Walsh’s <em>Hotel </em>and <em>Vertigo</em>, Claire Louise Bennett’s <em>Pond</em>, Zoe Pilger’s <em>Eat your Heart Out</em> and Katherine Angel’s <em>Unmastered</em>, I’m constantly picking up books that explore women’s lives in an often exposing, uncomfortable but ultimately satisfying way. </p> <p class="Body">It also makes sense in terms of the recent resurgence of feminism. Although feminism never went away, there has been an upsurge in feminist publishing and activism over the last five years - and again, particular attention has been paid to the expressions and depictions of female sexuality. The personal has always been the political in feminism, and as we live our lives ever more in the public glare of social media this maxim feels truer than ever. </p> <p class="Body">But is <em>I Love Dick</em> a feminist classic? And what makes a feminist classic anyway? What does this re-embracing of Kraus’s novel say about the struggles we still face as women and writers to express desire and sexuality through literature, and what has changed for the better (or worse) since Kraus’ book was first published in 1997? </p> <p class="Body">'Every letter is a love letter' writes Kraus, and her letters form the vast majority of the book. Kraus tells the story of meeting Dick with her husband Sylvère, and falling in love with him. The married couple embark on a project of writing Dick letters in an attempt to articulate both Chris’ love and Sylvère’s fascination with her love. As the book continues, Sylvère drops off the page and the letters are entirely from Chris. Through her letters, she explores her desire for Dick, as well as her reflections on art, literature, being a woman artist and her own sexuality. </p> <p class="Body">I spoke to writer Katherine Angel about <em>I Love Dick</em>, and the experience she took from reading it. She told me: "I absolutely loved the way Dick is a kind of blank in the book; he is a screen on to which Kraus projects her ideas, her art: a foil for her articulating her subjectivity. The one-sidedness of it was crucial I thought."</p><p>The one-sidedness of the relationship is both crucial and uncanny. Throughout the book the reader is very aware that our understanding of Dick is entirely formed through Chris’ gaze on him. We don’t see Dick except through the prism of her desire. As Angel points out, he is the blank screen where she puts all her thoughts, wants, feelings - we never see him as the subject but only as the object. He is pure projection and pure fantasy. As Chris puts it: </p><p><em>'I’ve projected a total fantasy onto an unsuspecting person and then actually asked him to respond!'</em></p> <p class="Body">It is shocking that in 2016 writing so openly and blatantly about female desire and the female gaze still has that power to surprise and disconcert – to feel so transgressive. It’s no exaggeration to say that much of our cultural depictions of desire and sexuality place the male as the subject and the woman as the object. For Kraus to upend that, and to do it with such energy and disregard for social norms, is both exciting and a little frightening. The book is confrontational because it demands we pay attention to female desire. It demands we pay attention to the female gaze and it refuses to apologise. </p> <p class="Body">One of the few things we actually hear Dick say is an admission of Kraus’ fantasy: </p><p class="Body"><em>'You don’t even know me.'</em></p> <p class="Body">It sums up a lot of the reader’s potential confusion. How can she love Dick after spending one evening with him? What does love mean when she doesn’t even know him? Is she in love with him, or in love with her idea of him? And does that even matter? </p> <p class="Body">This usage of Dick turns him from a human subject to the object of a woman’s fantasy - something that most women will probably recognise as having happened to them.</p><p class="Body">Kraus certainly does. As the book progresses, she uses Dick as an opportunity to explore ideas about women’s marginalisation in the art and literary world - and of course our wider world where men are allowed subjectivity and women are reduced to objects. In one striking passage she talks about the hot young male artists of New York in the 1970s/1980s: </p> <p class="Body">&nbsp; <em>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;'<em>While these men were getting famous. While me and all my friends, the girls, were paying for our rent and shows and exploring “issues of our sexuality” by shaking to them all night long in topless bars.'</em></em></p> <p class="Body">The division is clear. The men are the subjects, the women are objects. The men have the gaze and control the gaze, while the women are fantasy. Men were making art about the big, male issues that got respect. Women were making art that was seen as female and therefore marginal: </p> <p class="Body"><em>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; '<em>Dear Dick, I’m wondering why every act that narrated female lived experience in the ‘70s has been read only as “collaboration” and “feminist”. The Zurich Dadaists worked together too but they were geniuses and they had names.'</em></em></p> <p class="Body">Kraus’ exploration of what it means to be a woman in the art world are some of my favourite sections of <em>I Love Dick</em>. She rails against being reduced to the “wife”, to being the “plus one” on guest lists while her husband is named: </p> <p class="Body"><em>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; '<em>“Who’s Chris Kraus?” she screamed. “She’s no-one! She’s Sylvère Lotringer’s wife! She’s his ‘plus-one’!”'</em></em></p> <p class="Body">She celebrates the women who were transgressive, noisy, disruptive, and who demanded attention - the women like the artist Hannah Wilke who she links her own work with. She writes: </p> <p class="Body">&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; '<em>Who gets to speak and why is the only question.' &nbsp;</em></p> <p class="Body">and criticises how art has been patriarchy’s servant in allowing the silencing women’s subjectivity: </p> <p class="Body">&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; '<em>Art supersedes what’s personal. It’s a philosophy that serves patriarchy well.'</em></p> <p class="Body">This is one of the joys of Kraus’ writing - and one of the things that brings it into 'feminist classic' territory. It is so <em>so </em>SO personal, and joyous in its exposing, personal nature. Kraus writes so beautifully and clearly about how culture is invested in silencing women’s personal experience - particularly personal and sexual experience - and she slams down against the expectation that a good woman is a silent one: </p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<em>&nbsp;'Jack Berman obviously was an expert on what constituted a Virtuous Woman. Someone who keeps her mouth shut and respects the rules of “privacy”.'</em></p> <p class="Body">By Berman’s measure, then, Kraus is not a virtuous woman and she is unashamed of it. She argues that our culture: </p> <p class="Body">&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; '...<em>presumes that there’s something inherently grotesque, unspeakable, about femaleness, desire.'</em></p> <p class="Body">She celebrates the female voice and the need to express the female lived experience: </p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<em>&nbsp;'I think the sheer fact of women talking, being, paradoxical, inexplicable, flip, self-destructive, but above all public is the most revolutionary thing in the world.'</em></p> <p class="Body">But how does one speak/write an honest account of female sexuality? What does it mean to be honest about sex and desire and heterosexuality, in a society where inequality between the sexes means that women’s voices, desires and pleasures are so often silenced? How do we negotiate sexuality in a society which fetishizes and celebrates male dominance and female submission? </p> <p class="Body">These are some of the questions Kraus raises in <em>I Love Dick</em> - and they are some of the most troubling and confrontational ideas in the book. As author Emily Gould puts it: "[It] was the first work of fiction I’d ever read that acknowledged […] that women who love men are going to have to come to terms with their complicity in their own repression and subjugation, and find ways to address it."</p> <p class="Body">This is perhaps the big question heterosexual feminist women have to ask themselves. How do we negotiate loving men, wanting and desiring men, in a patriarchal culture? Can we ever really enjoy equal relationships with men when our whole economic and social structures thrive on male dominance? And how do we talk about or understand our own sexual preferences? These are big, scary and confrontational questions that we are all guilty of shying from. And that desire to shy away from this difficulty and discomfort is one of the things that, at times, makes reading <em>I Love Dick</em> intensely troubling. </p> <p class="Body">Because Kraus does not hide away from these complications – she confronts them head on. And she demands that reader joins her:</p><p class="Body">&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; '<em>My entire state of being’s changed because I’ve become my sexuality: female, straight, wanting to love men, be fucked. Is there a way of living with this like a gay person, proudly?'</em></p> <p class="Body">These questions form one of the central tensions of the book. On the one hand, Chris is a sexual subject: she is the gazer, she is the person who feels desire for Dick and acts on that desire. He is her fantasy - even her object. And on the other hand, the whole process of her desire for him and the hopelessness of her love is incredibly self-abasing. She describes sex as ‘degradation’ and having sex as ‘disintegrating’. So while we have this strong depiction of female lust, we also have this intensely uncomfortable depiction of female debasement to male power. </p><p class="Body"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/501857/(null).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/501857/(null).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="366" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The author with the book I Love Dick</span></span></span></p> <p class="Body">Before I finish I want to quickly mention the recent pilot that brings the action of <em>I Love Dick</em> into the 21st Century. The great challenge for the TV show is the character of Dick himself. Because on-screen, he has to become a character. And as good as the camera is at lingering on Kevin Bacon’s physicality, as soon as we see him and he speaks, he is no longer Chris’s creation. As Angel put it to me: "In the book, Dick is the means through which Chris can articulate herself. In the pilot, he’s a charming, arrogant man."</p> <p class="Body">On TV, Dick is no longer the fantasy. He becomes a subject and that balance of power shifts unavoidably.</p><p class="Body"><strong><em><a href="https://serpentstail.com/i-love-dick.html">I Love Dick</a> </em></strong><em><em>was reissued in paperback this year by Serpent's Tail </em></em><strong><em><em><br /></em></em></strong></p><div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 Culture patriarchy feminism 50.50 newsletter young feminists Sian Norris Fri, 28 Oct 2016 17:45:33 +0000 Sian Norris 106312 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Joyce Girl and the mad wives of modernism https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/joyce-girl-and-mad-wives-of-modernism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Annabel Abbs' debut novel explores the life of Lucia Joyce - daughter of James - whose desire for an independent life is denied, much like those of Zelda Fitzgerald and Vivienne Eliot.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Body"><span>Having spent the last three years working on a novel about the women living on the 1920s Parisian Left Bank, it’s fair to say I’ve become a bit of an expert on the intricacies of these fascinating women’s lives. So it was with a great deal of interest that I picked up Annabel Abbs’ debut, </span><em>The Joyce Girl</em><span>. &nbsp;Through my own research, I was fairly familiar with the details of her heroine Lucia Joyce’s life. I knew, for example, that she was taught ballet by Zelda Fitzgerald’s teacher; and that she was in love with her father’s literary heir Samuel Beckett.</span></p><p class="Body"><span>&nbsp;</span><span>And, of course, I knew that she went </span><em>mad</em><span>.</span></p> <p class="Body">In her novel, Abbs breathes life into Lucia - telling her story in a breathless, energetic voice. Her writing is full of the rich, sensual atmosphere of 1920s Paris, and she provides a new insight into the world of the Joyce family. Most importantly, Abbs explores the overlapping oppressions that drove Lucia, and so many women like her, into “madness”.&nbsp;<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="Body"><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/The Joyce Girl high res.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/The Joyce Girl high res.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="717" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></span></p> <p class="Body">The novel opens in 1934, with Lucia receiving psychiatric treatment in Dr. Jung’s office. Having remained silent during so many appointments, she has now decided to speak:<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Three times a week I come by boat and sit with him. And still I haven’t spoken. But today something inside me stirs and my silence feels oppressive.</p> <p class="Body">Silence is a theme which occurs throughout the novel - and is a common aspect of Jung’s and Freud’s psychoanalysis of women during that time. Freud and Jung noted that many of the hysterical young women they treated suffered ‘aphonia’: an inability to speak following a trauma. It’s unclear in Abbs’ narrative whether Lucia is suffering aphonia. I prefer to think that she has until this point been using muteness as a weapon. Throughout her life Lucia has been effectively silenced. Now that men demand her voice, she can exert power by refusing to give it.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">After this first meeting with Jung, Abbs transports us to the late 1920s and Lucia’s early life: a young woman launching her career as a modern dancer. Living in Paris with her father, mother and brother, Lucia bursts from the page. She’s a woman possessed with vitality and ambition. Abbs describes Lucia as always in motion - she never stops twirling and stretching and jumping. She’s an irresistible character; a young woman on the brink of a bright future:<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; I tossed the newspaper onto the sofa and began spinning around the parlour, turning in wide, emphatic circles. The applause was still ringing in my ears, the euphoria still tripping through my veins. I raised my arms and spun -</p> <p class="Body">However, as the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly clear the pressures borne on Lucia by her family and by 1920s Paris society are silencing her. Her ambition to be a dancer is constantly thwarted by her family. Her mother thinks dancers are whores, and her father jealously guards Lucia as his muse:<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; He didn’t want me to dance for anyone else. That’s why he wanted me to dance at home and not on the stage. He wanted me all to himself.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">The people of Paris say of Lucia: ‘everyone knows she is her father’s muse.’ But Lucia doesn’t want to be a muse. Lucia wants to be the artist; to be a creative woman in her own right.</p> <p class="Body">As her ambitions become more and more curtailed by her family’s demands, Abbs shows Lucia’s mental state begin to deteriorate through her flowering love for Samuel Beckett. At first, the reader sees their love and attraction as mutual - he clearly desires her as much as she desires him:<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; every night after he left the flat, it was as though a light had gone out. I fumbled in the gloam for several minutes, adjusting to the space without him.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">However, as the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Lucia’s idea of Beckett and her relationship to him exists chiefly in her own imagination as a fantasy of escape. When it is revealed as just that - a fantasy - her mental state starts to unravel:<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; And suddenly I saw everything I’d hoped for and dreamed of splitting into a thousand little pieces.</p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; I saw my wedding bouquet exploding above my head, and pale pink rosebuds falling listlessly to the ground […] I saw Mrs Beckett dissolving like an apparition. Vanishing limb by limb.</p> <p class="Body">The visceral sense of her disappearance is key. Already, Lucia’s sense of self has been shaken by her father’s insistence of treating her as his muse. In her father’s eyes, she is a character to be put in his book, not a fully-formed woman with her own ambitions, wants and desires. With her dancing self almost obliterated by her family’s force, she tried to re-construct herself as ‘Mrs Beckett’. When his lack of love for her destroys that new vision of self, she is crushed.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">Lucia’s story is one of a woman whose ambitions, desires, needs and wants have been repeatedly ignored, suppressed and silenced by the men in her life. It’s the story of a woman being used as a character in other people’s narratives (‘He watched me all the time’ she says of her father: ‘Wait until the book comes out. You’ll find me there on every page.’) while being denied her own story. Towards the end of the novel, she says she wants to be:<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Not someone’s muse. Just me, myself.</p> <p class="Body">In this way, her biography is not dissimilar to those two other women of modernism whose names are also always attached to the more celebrated men they were related to: Zelda Fitzgerald and Vivienne Eliot.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">In her absorbing and remarkable book, <em>Heroines</em>, the writer Kate Zambreno examines Zelda’s and Scott’s marriage and dares us to ask many of the same questions Abbs does in her own novel. How would it feel to be seen as nothing more than material for your husband’s characters (or, in Lucia’s case, her father’s)? How would it feel to have your own talent and ambition squashed and silenced in favour of your husband’s? Wouldn’t you get tired of being nothing more than a character?<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="Body"><span>Wouldn’t you be angry when your worth as a character ran out, and your husband’s response is to lock you away</span>?</p><p class="Body"><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="Body">Like Lucia, Zelda was an intensely ambitious woman. However, in common with so many women of the period, she was denied the opportunity to channel that ambition and creativity. Zelda is often portrayed by history as flitting between painting and writing and dancing – unable to settle to any one thing. Never mind that her novel is a sensitively written, modernist work. Never mind that her paintings were exhibited. Never mind that she was a skilled dancer and invited to perform as a soloist - with permission refused by Scott.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="Body"><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Heroines.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Heroines.jpg" alt="" title="" width="333" height="499" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></span></p><p class="Body"><span>Zambreno explores how Scott exploited Zelda’s ambitions and put her writing in his own. This involved scouring her letters and journals for phrases and sentences that would then turn up in his own novels. At first Zelda semi-agreed to this, writing in a mock-serious review of </span><em>The Beautiful and the Damned</em><span>:</span></p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; It seems to me that on one page I recognised a portion an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr Fitzgerald - I believe that is how he spells his name - seems to believe plagiarism begins at home.</p> <p class="Body">One can understand how being a muse might feel flattering… for a while. Just as Lucia delights in her father’s attention… for a while. But how galling it must quickly become to see your own writing ignored and dismissed, while at the same time as your husband is hailed as a modernist master. How frustrating it must be, as Sally Cline describes in her excellent biography of Zelda, to see your own short stories and articles published under your husband’s name. And, ultimately, how maddening it would be to see yourself used as a character in your husband’s books while at the same time that husband wants to put you in an asylum.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">Both Zelda and Lucia raged against being silenced; against being turned into characters and denied their humanity as women. They shouted and screamed and demanded attention - throwing furniture and threatening chaos because for too long they’d been treated as ciphers and models and concepts. Their humanity, their creativity and their ambition was refused. Is it any wonder they were angry? Is it any wonder they raged against a society and the men which denied them their freedom? As Zambreno argues:<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Where is it supposed to go? All of this fury? A woman’s anger: it must be contained, repressed, diffused.</p> <p class="Body">In Zelda and Lucia, we see how women’s anger is seen as so dangerous, so transgressive, that when it is expressed it’s called madness and the women are locked up.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">It’s likely that Zelda and Lucia met - they were both taught ballet by Madame Egorova and indeed Abbs suggests a meeting in her novel. What’s less likely is that they met Vivienne Eliot - another silenced wife of modernism whose husband <em>put her in his work and then put her away</em>.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">Through her marriage, writes Zambreno:</p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Viv’s early inner spirit [was] squelched and doomed into sickness and submission.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">Like Zelda and Scott, there is evidence to suggest that Vivienne and T S Eliot enjoyed some collaboration on his poems, with Vivienne acting as editor and secretary on <em>The Wasteland</em>. What’s not in doubt is that Eliot used Vivienne as a character in his work, the woman whose ‘nerves are very bad tonight.’<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">But Vivienne was more than a character - more than raw material for her husband to use as he saw fit. Like Zelda and Lucia, she was a creative person in her own right. Her stories were published in <em>The Criterion</em>, and she kept journals before and after her marriage. Any journals she kept during her marriage are missing. Despite Vivienne leaving her papers to the Bodleian library, it’s very difficult to access her work. Eliot was determined to ensure that her voice was quashed: warning his estate executor to ‘suppress everything’.&nbsp;<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">In one heartbreaking section of <em>Heroines</em>, Zambreno describes a late conversation between Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, where she shouted to him:<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ‘Because I want to live some place that I can be my own self.’</p> <p class="Body">In her cry, we hear the voices of Lucia Joyce, Vivienne Eliot, and all the silenced women whose creativity, passion and ambition was squelched by the men in their lives. It’s this frustration and anger that Abbs captures so well in her novel. Lucia’s mental state unravels as freedom and ambition is slowly taken away from her. Like Zelda, like Viv, Lucia was driven “mad” by a patriarchal oppression that destroyed her desires and dreams.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">Through Abbs’ novel, we finally get to hear Lucia’s anger, as well as her joy and ambitions. In her story lies the forgotten narratives of so many more nameless women born in the wrong time, living with the wrong men.</p> <p class="Body">It’s good to know that through novels like <em>The Joyce Girl</em>, Zambreno’s <em>Heroines </em>and the continued publication of Zelda Fitzgerald’s work, today these women’s stories are being heard more than ever before.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">Those women who were once so silenced, are finally getting their say.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/fierce-attachments-feminist-memoir-and-female-relationships">Fierce Attachments: feminist memoir and female relationships</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/friendship-and-violence-genius-of-elena-ferrante">Friendship and violence: the genius of Elena Ferrante</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 50.50 Women's Movement Building 50.50 Editor's Pick 50.50 newsletter Sian Norris Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:43:06 +0000 Sian Norris 105388 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Hotel: a meditation on the meaning of 'home' https://www.opendemocracy.net/sian-norris/hotel-0 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="Body">Joanna Walsh’s new book, <em>Hotel</em>, is a memoir of the breakdown of her marriage and the difficulties in leaving a relationship; and an exploration of our relationship with and within hotels.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Body">Part of Bloomsbury’s <a href="http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/series/object-lessons/">Object Lessons</a> - a series of books about the hidden lives of ordinary things - <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Hotel-Object-Lessons-Joanna-Walsh/dp/162892473X"><em>Hotel </em></a>by Joanna Walsh defies genre categories, much like Walsh herself. As an illustrator, writer, essayist, short story writer and founder of the Read Women project, Walsh’s career is varied and fascinating, as she uses art and writing to explore sex, sexuality, psychology, geography, travel and feminism. </p><p class="Body"><img src="//opendemocracy.net/files/Joanna Walsh Author Photo 3.jpg" alt="" width="460 " /></p> <p class="Body"><em>Joanna Walsh: Photo: Sarah Davis-Goff</em></p><p class="Body"><em>Hotel</em> is part memoir, part essay, part meditation and all fascinating. Its subtle and slippery form makes it difficult to pin down. And yet the thoughts it provokes and the questions it asks stay with you long after you’ve closed the last page. </p><p class="Body">At the book’s opening, Walsh explains that there was:</p><p class="blockquote-new">‘A time in my life when I lived in hotels. &nbsp;Around this time, the time I did not spend in hotels was time I did not live. During this other time I haunted a marriage I was soon to leave. There’s no place like home and, as home seemed hardly to qualify as a place any more, I began to look for something elsewhere.’</p><p class="Body">What follows is a memoir of the breakdown of her marriage and the difficulties in leaving a relationship; a meditation on the meaning of ‘home’; and an exploration of our relationship with and within hotels - all interspersed with guest appearances from Freud and Dora, Katherine Mansfield, Mae West and the Marx Brothers. The reader travels from hotel to hotel with Walsh, and is reminded or introduced to portrayals of hotels in popular and intellectual culture. </p> <p class="Body">Walsh is excellent at drawing out the uncanny nature of hotels - how these buildings invite us to make ourselves at home and yet are not home, are not anything like home. She writes about the comings and goings in lobbies and the care gone into creating hotel libraries - libraries designed to make us feel at home and yet, whose home has a library? &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <span class="blockquote-new">‘A library is not something usually found at home […] The books in the library do not matter. It only matters that the books are there.’</span> In the first hotel she takes us into, Walsh explores how in hotel rooms we are encouraged to feel comfortable and yet at the same time the unfamiliarity of the room leaves us feeling like we might be transgressing or breaking some unspoken rule: ‘Hotel bedrooms are invitations to failure.’ </p> <p class="Body">One of the most interesting aspects of Walsh’s <em>Hotel</em> is her analysis of how in hotels we are on display while seemingly being secluded; that ‘hotels are for those who understand performance.’ There’s a link here between the way women exist in the public space - like hotel guests women are on display in public life, we are the gaz-ee to the gaz-er, the spectacle or <em>passante</em> to the <em>flaneur</em>. Women grow up knowing how to perform for the male gaze, we ‘understand performance<em>’</em>. Yet, at the same time, women are brought up not to take up space - we are encouraged to confine ourselves to the domestic or private, leaving the public to men. So women share that duality with the people populating hotels - we are both on display in public space, and yet we are uneasy in public space. Just as in hotels, we are aware of performing while feeling that we are transgressing; that we are one spillage or smash away from breaking those dreaded unspoken rules. </p> <p class="Body">As a hotel reviewer, hotels have become work to Walsh - an inversion of our usual experience of hotels, which should be an escape from the daily grind, a holiday. In an overtly feminist section of the book, Walsh explores the home work expected of her (and women) as a wife - the work she must do to create a home, work that is not expected of her husband and yet required of her. Here, we once again see the relationship between women, the gaze, and public and private space: &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p class="blockquote-new">‘Home work is work done behind closed doors. […] for your part, you liked to look on and&nbsp; approve. […] You liked to see me look after them. You allowed yourself this look, no doubt with the best intentions, with the intention of looking on my home work approvingly. If I didn’t do the home work right your look changed. You could hardly help yourself, but it was awful to be looked on, even when your look was approving.’</p><p class="Body">Throughout the book, Walsh guides us through Freud’s famous hysteria case: Dora. She explains how Dora and her father were staying at a hotel when ‘Herr K’, the husband of Dora’s father’s lover, kisses Dora and she is struck dumb - otherwise known as aphonia. The case gave Freud the chance to look at the <em>unheimlich</em> or the <em>uncanny </em>- which literally translates as un-homelike. This makes it the perfect case to explore in relation to hotels which are both home and not home, and in relation to Walsh’s marital breakdown, the unravelling of what was home to not-home. </p><p class="Body">Dora’s case is apt in another way too. Her hysteria signalled itself by silence - by a loss of language, and Freud believed that she just needs the right words to reach recovery. Walsh writes:</p><p class="blockquote-new">‘[Freud] thought that, though she didn’t complain, she had a complaint that could be cured&nbsp;by new words, by a talking cure. A disease of language, then?’</p><p class="Body">In hotels we develop a new language - we talk in set phrases, thank yous and requests. In hotels we are wrapped up in silence too - which Walsh discusses via a mispronunciation from a hotel manager that turns ‘guests’ into ‘ghosts’ who move wordlessly from rooms to lobbies and from there, to beyond. </p> <p class="Body">However, there is another loss of language explored in the book: within Walsh’s break-up. She describes going to a therapist which her partner refuses to speak to; she compares the words she and her ex don’t say to each other in person with the words they send to each other when apart. Relationship breakdowns often feel like a loss of language and through her interlinking of Dora, hotels and the end of her marriage, Walsh subtly and succinctly brings to life those silences that accompany an ending. </p> <p class="Body">On her writing process of the book, Walsh told me: </p> <p class="blockquote-new">"When I started writing&nbsp;<a title="Hotel" href="http://www.bloomsbury.com/hotel-9781628924732/" target="_blank"><strong><em>Hotel</em></strong></a>&nbsp;I put everything I had on the table: not only all the material--my notes, my recollections of those Hotel years--but everything I thought I could do with structure, with voice, as well as every form I thought I’d like to write in, plus a few more I’d not considered before.&nbsp;Do I regret writing&nbsp;<a title="Hotel" href="http://www.bloomsbury.com/hotel-9781628924732/" target="_blank"><strong><em>Hotel</em></strong></a>&nbsp;over a few intense months? Not at all. I couldn’t be happier with the book if I’d written it over years—and to tell the truth it did take years: years of thinking, of reading, of remembering, years of keeping silent like Freud's Dora, and finally years of learning how to write it down."</p> <p class="Body">The break up in the book is very much about Walsh’s own experience. And yet, as I read it, I found myself increasingly recognising my own life and my own experiences in her writing. It was at times frightening; this sense of reading my own life. And to me, that was where so much of the power lies in <em>Hotel</em>. It is a specific experience and yet it is universal too. </p> <p class="Body">There is so much more to write and explore in Walsh’s hotel - the appearances of Garbo, Groucho and Oscar Wilde; the delving into sickness and health and hotels; the trickiness of misspoken words and twisted jokes; the physicality of her writing on the female body and sexuality. Just as <em>Hotel</em> defies genre in its moving between essay, meditation and memoir, its subtle and slippery content can’t be contained in a single review. Each reader will take something different from it, relate to a different experience or nod to a different allusion. <em>Hotel</em> is a clever little book that packs a punch, and Walsh is a writer whose sparse prose and contained voice endlessly surprises.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/ali-smith-public-libraries-civic-space-and-intimacy">Ali Smith&#039;s Public Library: civic space and intimacy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/heather-mcrobie/martha-nussbaum-empathy-and-moral-imagination">Martha Nussbaum, empathy, and the moral imagination</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/fierce-attachments-feminist-memoir-and-female-relationships">Fierce Attachments: feminist memoir and female relationships</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/reni-eddolodge/women-everywhere-have-their-movement-limited-by-male-gaze">Women everywhere have their movement limited by the male gaze</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/friendship-and-violence-genius-of-elena-ferrante">Friendship and violence: the genius of Elena Ferrante</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/heather-mcrobie/she-left-me-gun-on-story-telling-and-re-telling">She Left Me the Gun: on story-telling and re-telling</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 gender feminism Sian Norris Tue, 05 Apr 2016 11:45:29 +0000 Sian Norris 101105 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Quipu project: testimonies of forced sterilisation in Peru https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/quipu-project-testimonies-of-forced-sterilisation-in-peru <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The mass forced sterilisations of Peruvians is one of the grave human rights violations of our time. But the practice, and its consequences, rarely receive widespread coverage and condemnation.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Body"><em>‘</em><em>I have been in pain since the sad moment I got sterilised. I have stomach pains since the sterilisation. I came only to speak about the sterilisation.</em><em>’</em></p> <p class="Body">So says Testimony 1/58, whose voice has been recorded by the <a href="https://interactive.quipu-project.com/#/en/quipu/intro">Quipu project</a>. Set up as a collaboration between academics, Chaka Studios and Peruvian grassroots organisations, the project has collected hundreds of stories from women affected by the Peruvian government’s mass sterilisation programme that ran in the latter half of the 1990s.</p> <p class="Body">‘Before the early 1990s,’ explains Dr Karen Tucker, an academic specialising in indigenous rights and international politics, ‘women did not have good access to contraception. The influence of the Catholic church was very strong in the country, and reproductive rights were not high on the agenda. This changed when the Peruvian government launched a mass programme offering a range of contraception options, including sterilisation to both men and women. The programme used the language of choice and empowerment – it was sold with the promise that, irrespective of social class or location, families would at last have access to a range of contraceptive options.’</p> <p class="Body">By the time the programme came to a close in the early noughties, it was <a href="https://interactive.quipu-project.com/#/en/quipu/intro">estimated</a> that 272,000 women and 21,000 men had been sterilised – the vast majority from rural, indigenous communities. Many of these women were forced into sterilisation, sometimes with violence. Many more were not given the time or information they needed to make an informed decision about their reproductive choices which is, in itself, a form of coercion. At least 13 women and two men died as a result of complications arising post-surgery, or through poor aftercare.</p> <p class="Body"><em>‘</em><em>They took me. I went for a health check at the clinic. I was pregnant at the time so I went in for a check up. They told me </em><em>“</em><em>you are not pregnant so we will sterilise you.</em><em>”</em><em> They put me in the ambulance by force and took me to the clinic in Izcuchaca by force. --&nbsp;</em><span>Testimony 24/58.</span></p> <p class="Body">The mass sterilisation of Peruvian women is one of the grave human rights violations of our time. Yet beyond the odd special report on the news, it is not often spoken about. The launch of the Quipu project on 10 December hopes to change this. The project has collected the voices of women from across Peru on an interactive website where visitors can listen and respond with a message of solidarity.</p> <p class="Body">‘It’s been a collaborative effort from the beginning,’ Tucker says, ‘between academics in Bristol, Chaka Studio in London, and the women in Peru who have shared and collected the stories. We worked with women’s organisations in Peru to see what they wanted and how they wanted to get their stories out there. We developed a phone line that women could call to share their stories; stories that we can then put online.’</p> <p class="Body">One of the great challenges the project faced was how first to tell women about the phone line, and then to encourage them to call in and share their stories. It was the Peruvian women rights activists in the country who developed an ingenious solution: ‘story hunters’. These were volunteers who took mobile phones into communities affected by the mass sterilisation. Here, they spoke directly to the women living there and asked them to participate by using the mobile phones to call the number and speak out.</p> <p class="Body">‘What was so great for me,’ says Tucker, ‘is that with the story hunters we were very much in the background. It was a moment where grassroots women’s activists had an idea, took ownership of it, and we were able to provide the technology they needed to run with it.’</p> <p class="Body">The story hunters was just one of many ways the project collected testimonials, and now the Quipu project has a rich and growing collection of women’s voices; all speaking out about their experience of the mass sterilisation programme and the impact it has had both on their own lives and their communities.</p> <p class="Body">I asked Karen whether she saw the project as a way of giving women a voice. It’s a term she’s quick to reject.</p> <p class="Body">‘It’s an expression that’s used a lot,’ she says, ‘when we try and shed light on perspectives that aren’t usually heard or visible, or allowed to be heard. But I find it quite a problematic term because it replicates an unhelpful power dynamic where we in the west assume we are the ones “giving” women a voice, we are the ones who decide whether they get to have a voice or not.</p> <p class="Body">‘Because the truth is, these women already have voices. They have voices and they’ve been using them. They problem is, they haven’t been heard.’</p> <p class="Body">The Quipu project is very careful about how it presents the women’s stories. The experience of listening to the women is unmediated – there is no voiceover or presenter putting the women’s narrative into a context. Instead, the women’s voices speak out and the listener hears their stories and truths directly.</p><p class="Body"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/536137/quipu project.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/536137/quipu project.jpg" alt="" title="" width="275" height="183" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Still from The Quipu Project. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p class="Body">‘By not adding in layers of interpretation,’ Tucker explains, ‘the listener hears the women in their own words. It means we could stay true to each individual woman’s vision, as they talk about what sterilisation meant for them. In a world where these stories aren’t being heard, where these voices haven’t been heard, it felt important both politically and ethically to create a space where, as much as possible, no outside voices were mediating between each individual woman and the listener.’</p> <p class="Body"><em>‘</em><em>I was also sterilised and I am now ill, taking tablets and medication. They very least I need is the support of doctors, so they can send medication to Anta. The majority of women in Anta are now severely ill from the sterilisation.</em><em>’ --&nbsp;</em><span>Testimony 18/58.</span></p> <p class="Body">The barbarism of a mass sterilisation programme run with coercion, misinformation and resulting in deaths can make it seem that this is something from the long-distant past – a crime committed at the turn of the last century, not this one. I’m curious to understand from Dr Tucker why she thinks the programme took the abusive turn it did, and what it says about attitudes to women’s bodies.</p> <p class="Body">‘Peru is a very divided country,’ she explains. ‘The only way I can make sense of the abusive turn the programme took is to look at attitudes towards race and towards indigenous women. Many in the country believed that the indigenous population were backwards, that they didn’t know what was best for them; that they didn’t know how to look after themselves. It were these attitudes which led to the sterilisation becoming more interventionary, and less about a woman’s choice.’</p> <p class="Body"><span>However, these attitudes are not confined to Peru. The patriarchal idea that men know what is best for women’s bodies is found across the world – including in our own medical establishment.</span></p> <p class="Body">‘That patriarchal attitude towards women’s bodies is common around the world, and is particularly visible when talking about fertility and reproductive issues,’ Tucker argues. ‘When that is mixed in with attitudes towards race and indigenous people, then you have this situation where the medical professionals believe all these damaging stereotypes about women in rural communities. And so something that was supposed to be about free choice instead become something abusive and coercive.’</p> <p class="Body"><em>‘</em><em>We were forcibly sterilized. Because prior to that we did not know what sterilization was. And that is how they did it to us, coming from Zurite, a campaign led by nurses from Zurite, because we had many children, like </em><em>“</em><em>guinea pigs.</em><em>”’ --&nbsp;</em><span>Testimony 5/58.</span></p> <p class="Body">Since the sterilisation programme started, <a href="http://www.nomas.pe/againstheirwill%20https://www.facebook.com/496530317187709/videos/496593773848030/%20https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMChvGogovs">women’s rights organisations</a> in Peru have been speaking out and demanding recognition of the violation done to the country’s women. After years of being ignored, finally the Peruvian government is beginning to recognise that action must be taken to remedy the wrongs of the past twenty years, as well as recognising that this assault on women’s reproductive rights is a <em>human rights issue</em>. They are now developing a register of women and men who were affected, with the ultimate aim of providing compensation. I ask Karen if she believes Quipu will have a role in supporting these moves for reparations.</p> <p class="Body">‘Quipu has its own purpose and function,’ she explains. ‘It’s about creating a platform where the women’s stories are shared. That said, I would hope it provides a body of evidence which means no one can ignore what happened and the scale at which it happened. It would be wonderful if the project could serve that bigger function.</p> <p class="Body">‘My immediate hope for the project is that it takes on a life of its own and becomes a living documentary that exists on the internet and through the phone line in Peru that prompts conversation and recognition of what happened. But ultimately my biggest dream personally is that Quipu forces a shift in the whole discourse about women’s rights and indigenous rights. I want to see it become less possible and less acceptable to think about and speak about indigenous women in the ways that meant this abuse was allowed to happen. On a more practical and tangible level, that means an acknowledgement that what was done to these women was wrong. That it should never have happened.’<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body"><em>‘</em><em>I went to the clinic and they told us we had to get ourselves sterilised. I didn</em><em>’</em><em>t want to.</em><em>’ --&nbsp;</em><span>Testimony 46/58.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/mariella-sala/forced-sterilization-and-impunity-in-peru">Forced sterilization and impunity in Peru</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/nell-osborne/against-coerced-sterilisation-resounding-victory-in-namibia">Against coerced sterilisation: a resounding victory in Namibia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/aziza-ahmed-jennifer-gatsi-mallet/sterilisation-fight-for-bodily-integrity">Sterilisation: the fight for bodily integrity</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/heather-mcrobie/frozen-progress-beyond-eggfreezing-debate">Frozen progress: beyond the egg-freezing debate</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/harriet-burgess/politicking-periods">Politicking periods</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/ting-guo/end-of-china-s-one-child-policy-right-to-reproduce-and-right-to-live-well">The end of China’s one child policy: the right to reproduce and the right to live well</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/adem-ferizaj/wartime-rape-is-no-longer-kept-under-wraps-in-kosovo">Wartime rape is no longer kept under wraps in Kosovo</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/abortion-in-chile-addressing-false-debate-between-%E2%80%9Cprolife-versus-prodeath">Abortion in Chile: addressing the false debate of &quot;pro-life vs pro-death&quot;</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 50.50 Structures of Sexism bodily autonomy Sian Norris Wed, 16 Dec 2015 14:10:26 +0000 Sian Norris 98601 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ali Smith's Public Library: civic space and intimacy https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/ali-smith-public-libraries-civic-space-and-intimacy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The 'serious playfulness' of Ali Smith's most recent collection is underpinned by reverence for civic space and the written word. The two come together in the form of public libraries...</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Body">It’s perhaps apt that I’m reviewing <em>Public Library</em>, Ali Smith’s newest collection of short stories, as it was in a public library that I first discovered her work.</p> <p class="Body">I was 15, and a fortnightly trip to the city centre’s public library had been part of my family’s routine for half my life. It was something we could do together in the evening – something that was free. Our haul of books clutched tight to our chests would keep my brother and I occupied until the next trip.</p> <p class="Body">I remember finding this slim volume of short stories with a smiling woman on the cover. <em>Free Love</em>. I don’t know what attracted me to the book. I think I was looking for some kind of answer about love, free love. What I found was a remarkable set of stories about sexual awakening and the beautiful, impassive faces of golden age movie stars on big screens.</p> <p class="Body">I kept returning to the book, because you can do that with libraries, can’t you? Later on, judging a book prize which Smith’s marvellously genre-bending and category-defying <em>Artful</em> would win, I started reading her novels: <em>The Accidental, Hotel World, There but for the </em>and, most recently, her Bailey Prize-winning <em>How to be both</em>.</p> <p class="Body">Smith’s latest collection opens with an anecdote about her and her editor Simon discovering a ‘library’ in central London. Intrigued by the library that doesn’t look like a library, they go in to discover more. What they find is a private members club; the only books displayed as décor. When it becomes clear they are not planning to join the club, they are coolly excluded.</p> <p class="Body">It’s an interesting moment that synthesizes one of the key themes of the collection – the relationship between public and private space. In Covent Garden’s Library, what was once a public space open to everyone – a democratizing venue where rich, poor, young, old were welcomed with open arms – was now an exclusive club reserved only for those who could afford to pay the subscription fees. The public and free had become the private and pricey.</p><p class="Body"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/536137/Stockholm public library photo by Wojtek Gurak.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/536137/Stockholm public library photo by Wojtek Gurak.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Stockholm public library. Photo: Wojtek Gurak via Flickr.</span></span></span></p><p class="Body">Public and private spaces recur throughout the book – from parks and cities to dreams and memories. One story finds us following a bee through Regent’s Park in all its civic glory. As we explore the rose garden and travel the paths to Primrose Hill, Smith traces the park’s medieval history over its modern topography. We are joined by the shades of literary figures who have walked the same paths – the Shelleys sailing paper boats, Elizabeth Barrett finding flowers to send to Robert, Woolf making phrases as she walks out her sadness… The next story finds us back in the realm of the private, the internal, as the narrator shares a recurring dream about Dusty Springfield posing in a graveyard.</p> <p class="Body">Fittingly in a collection titled <em>Public Library</em>, books and the power and trickery of words are a prominent feature throughout. Books offer a kind of communion – they’re a way of sharing and communicating; a tool for expressing feelings and emotions and memories.</p> <p class="Body">The stories themselves are often an act of communion with other writers. One story, <em>Ex Wife</em>, reflects on the breakdown of a relationship caused by one partner’s obsession with the short story writer Katherine Mansfield. After the break up, a petty act of revenge leads the narrator to start reading Mansfield until one day Mansfield’s ghost turns up in the park, talking and quoting and, eventually, fading from the tuberculosis that killed her. The story is superbly beautiful, exploring how one partner in the relationship sought to commune with Mansfield through artefacts, memorabilia and facts, whilst the other finds themself moving from resentment of - to conversation with - the dead writer, all thanks to her words on the page.</p> <p class="Body">Similarly, the collection is full of echoes. In<em> The Human Claim</em>, the narrator ‘Ali Smith’ discovers that her credit card has been defrauded. The nightmarish bureaucracy that she endures leads her to a connection with DH Lawrence, who then turns up again in <em>Ex Wife</em>. The writers walking in Regent’s Park flit in and out of other stories. The ghosts of parents and lovers repeat.</p> <p class="Body">Smith’s characteristic and deadly serious playfulness with the shapes of words and language are all here. Her ability to force the reader to think about the sounds and visuals of words is both so clever and so joyful as it focuses the reader on the importance of language and meaning and how we communicate.</p> <p class="Body">Of course, writing a collection of short stories called <em>Public Library </em>during a <a href="http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/">full-scale assault</a> on our public services is a political act and one that Smith doesn’t shy away from. In comments and vignettes between each story, she invites friends and fellow writers to share the important role libraries have played in their lives. Over and over, the same themes emerge. Libraries were for everyone. Libraries were democratic spaces. Libraries provided access to books and learning as children – access they might have been denied for any number of reasons, including in one case conflict and dictatorship.</p> <p class="Body">Stories are shared about how libraries opened up the world, offering an escape from inner-city poverty and rural isolation; how libraries inspired a love of books; a love of writing; an interest in philosophy; a new career. Within every testimonial there is a palpable anger that this legacy is being slowly dismantled – most clearly stated in a passage on the legal case for libraries:</p> <p class="Body">“<em>The importance of libraries was recognized by the Public Libraries Act 1850 and affirmed by the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. In all the media mention of cuts to services in libraries I heard no reference to these Acts or any other statutory requirement for the provision of libraries </em><em>–</em><em> </em><em>nor have they been rescinded.</em>” </p> <p class="Body"><span>Reading these testimonials led me to reflect on my own relationship with libraries. As I mentioned above, going to the library was a regular ritual for my family and I. It was in the library that 16-year-old me discovered a book called </span><em>Paris was a Woman</em><span>. The book triggered my life-long interest in 1920s women writers living in Paris – an obsession that led me to the book I’m currently writing. Without the library, would I be doing the work I do today? I very much doubt it. Through her moving, surprising and beautiful collection, Smith sends a firm message: we cannot let the legacy of the public library network die on our watch.&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/heather-mcrobie/martha-nussbaum-empathy-and-moral-imagination">Martha Nussbaum, empathy, and the moral imagination</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/fierce-attachments-feminist-memoir-and-female-relationships">Fierce Attachments: feminist memoir and female relationships</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/friendship-and-violence-genius-of-elena-ferrante">Friendship and violence: the genius of Elena Ferrante</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/warsan-shire/your-mother%E2%80%99s-first-kiss">Your Mother’s First Kiss</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/heather-mcrobie/she-left-me-gun-on-story-telling-and-re-telling">She Left Me the Gun: on story-telling and re-telling</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/jennifer-allsopp/womens-library-in-london-kh%C3%B4ra-and-call-to-arms">The Women&#039;s Library in London: a khôra and a call to arms </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 50.50 Editor's Pick 50.50 Voices for Change 50.50 newsletter Sian Norris Fri, 27 Nov 2015 14:37:35 +0000 Sian Norris 97987 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fierce Attachments: feminist memoir and female relationships https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/fierce-attachments-feminist-memoir-and-female-relationships <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The re-issue of Vivian Gornick’s memoir ‘Fierce Attachments’ highlights the rich tradition in feminist writing of taking the complexities of female relationships seriously.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Feminist activist and writer Vivian Gornick’s memoir, <em>Fierce Attachments</em>, has recently been re-issued in the UK by Daunt Books, bringing this furious and vital book to a British audience for the first time since 1988.</p> <p><em>Fierce Attachments</em> is a memoir that enacts its title. It explores Gornick’s attachments to friends, lovers and neighbours; to places; and to her childhood.</p> <p>But most of all, this is her memoir of the difficult, intense and suffocating attachment to her mother.</p> <p>The memoir is split into two narratives that interweave smoothly with one another – the jumps in time and place beautifully executed so at no point does the reader feel lost or unpleasantly jarred. The first narrative tells the story of Gornick’s childhood and young adulthood in the immigrant communities of 1940s New York. The second tracks the walks she and her mother make through Manhattan in the present day (1980s).</p> <p>Claustrophobia is the key theme throughout the book. Gornick grew up in a tenement in New York, crowded into a building overflowing with immigrant families, squashed again into undersized flats where bedrooms double as living rooms and parents struggle to find privacy. Gornick reflects that the background noise of childhood is the women of her neighbourhood: swapping complaints about husbands, about children, about housework, about the new woman on the block.</p> <p>The neighbourhood women offer Gornick models for how to <em>be</em> a woman – models she both craves and rejects. There are a number of these images of womanhood weaving in and out of the book – the mad Mrs Kerner, the desperate Mrs Levinson, the prostitute outside. But the two most important models that both attract and frighten Gornick are Netty, the gentile neighbour in a Jewish neighbourhood whose husband is shot in a bar brawl, and her own mother.</p><p><span>We learn early on that Gornick’s mother was an ambitious woman – a woman with bags of energy who was a committed and active member of the Communist party. She had big dreams for herself – visions of a larger life. However, like many women of her generation, class, and community, she stayed in the tenements, got married and had children. Her life, her ambitions and her passions – all of it became subsumed into her marriage. Faced with few choices, she chose instead to channel her energy into loving her husband. She put love at the centre of her life; love gave her life meaning. Widowed when her daughter was just 12, love remained her focus. Only now, mourning and memorialising that love became her priority.</span></p> <p>The impact her mother’s obsessive grief has on Gornick is illustrated through the aesthetics of claustrophobia and smothering. She describes how after her father’s death, her mother forced her to sleep in the same bed – grabbing her in the night. It’s an uncomfortable image: the mother clinging on to the flesh of the daughter to try and combat both her performed and genuine loneliness. Gornick explores how her mother’s grief left no room for her and her brother to mourn the loss of their father. Through her stark prose and clear-sighted anger, the reader is drawn into the tiny room where howls, rage and tears reign supreme – filling up every nook and cranny as child-Vivian sits with her feet out on the fire escape, her back to her mother, seeking escape whilst still tied into the room.</p> <p>If her mother provides Gornick with a model of womanhood that represents subsuming one’s life into an ideal of love, then Netty offers a version that’s all sex, sensuality and hate.</p> <p>Netty’s warm, chaotic, and easy sexuality attracts Gornick – an alternative to the obsessive and sexless version of love presented by her mother. But as Netty starts to need more and more from the child-Vivian, her presence becomes equally smothering. In a striking passage, Gornick describes being held by Netty on the day of her father’s funeral. She writes:</p> <blockquote><p>“I leaned myself into her. Her touch began to seem insistent. I felt myself being pulled. Toward what I didn’t know. It was as though Nettie stood at the mouth of something dark and soft, drawing me on, her body saying to me: Come. Don’t be afraid. I’ll pull you through. A dreamy, spreading blur dissolved in my head, my chest […] Suddenly terror prickled on my skin.”</p><p>These themes of entrapment, smothering, crushing, and escape are repeated throughout the memoir. The claustrophobia of these two formative relationships follow Gornick throughout her life – from the lovers and husband who try to swallow her up, to her vision of the ‘rectangle of space’ within herself that opens up when work and love is succeeding… and crushes back down in times of stress, trouble and anxiety.</p></blockquote> <p>Which is perhaps why the passages describing walks with her mother as an adult woman gives the reader a sense of coming up for air. Outside of the claustrophobic home setting, the women are freer. In the open, the rows and tensions are brought to the surface. White-hot rage flashes and sparks. But as they possess the city by walking its streets, they also experience moments of understanding, empathy and recognition.</p> <p>Gornick started her writing career at the Village Voice where she became a chronicler of, and participant in, the feminist movement. She has written extensively about women and their relationships with politics and society – including her biography of Emma Goldman. As readers, we can perhaps look for parallels and differences between Goldman and Gornick’s mother – both communists, both living in Jewish and immigrant communities. Her most recent memoir, <em><a href="http://us.macmillan.com/theoddwomanandthecity/viviangornick">The Odd Woman and the City</a>,</em> expands on some of the themes she touches upon in <em>Fierce Attachments­ </em>– particularly on being a single woman living alone in New York.</p> <p>There’s so much more to write about <em>Fierce Attachments</em> – about the immigrant and working class experience, the confines of marriage, the nature of sexual love, the fears of patriarchal control. With the reissue from Daunt Books, now is the time to discover this passionate, angry, and clear-sighted feminist writer who explores in such beautiful depth the often-neglected mother/ daughter relationship.&nbsp;<span>&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/sian-norris/friendship-and-violence-genius-of-elena-ferrante">Friendship and violence: the genius of Elena Ferrante</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/warsan-shire/your-mother%E2%80%99s-first-kiss">Your Mother’s First Kiss</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/heather-mcrobie/she-left-me-gun-on-story-telling-and-re-telling">She Left Me the Gun: on story-telling and re-telling</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/zainab-magdy/egyptian-storytelling-vessel-for-power">Egyptian storytelling: a vessel for power </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/heather-mcrobie/martha-nussbaum-empathy-and-moral-imagination">Martha Nussbaum, empathy, and the moral imagination</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 50.50 Women's Movement Building 50.50 Editor's Pick 50.50 newsletter feminism gender Sian Norris Wed, 21 Oct 2015 18:29:39 +0000 Sian Norris 96978 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Friendship and violence: the genius of Elena Ferrante https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/friendship-and-violence-genius-of-elena-ferrante <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="Body">Elena Ferrante’s novels have become a word of mouth success, despite the Italian literary world’s snobbery, because they capture the complex inner world of female friendships and women’s experiences.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Body">The Neapolitan Novels by Italian writer Elena Ferrante, translated by Anne Goldstein, have been the sleeper hit of the summer. Passed around from girlfriend to girlfriend, sister to sister, mother to daughter, they arrive in your hands along with the call: ‘Read it. You <em>will</em> recognise it.’</p> <p class="Body"><span>Ferrante has written the defining novels of female friendship. Through the lives of the two protagonists Lenu and Lila, readers recognize something of their own experience of being a girl who is friends with another girl, a woman who is friends with another woman.</span></p> <p class="Body"><span>With such a dearth elsewhere, a series of books that understand the complexities of female friendship would have been exciting enough. But the scope of Ferrante’s novels is much bigger and broader than that – exploring themes of male violence, female sexuality, family discord, class, poverty, education, and the ideological battles between communism and fascism that exploded into bloody scenes in late 1960s/early 1970s Italy.</span></p> <p class="Body">The novels follow the lives of Lila and Lenu, two girls growing up in an impoverished and violent neighbourhood in Naples. Lenu is pretty, clever, and lives in poor circumstances with her crippled mother, siblings and father who works as a porter. Lila is beautiful, fiercely intelligent, and lives in poor circumstances with her shoemaker father, her mother and her brother. When the girls finish primary school, Lenu continues her education. Lila’s parents however, can’t pay for their daughter’s schooling and so she must go to work.</p> <p class="Body">The poverty that prevents Lila’s education goes on to define the girls’ futures. Lenu has an opportunity to escape her home life through learning. Meanwhile, Lila is stuck in a cycle of poverty, stuck in the family, stuck in the neighbourhood. Her only chance of escape is to get married, but – as she soon discovers – marriage is just another trap for women.</p> <p class="Body">Violence runs through the novels like an ugly vein. From the very beginning, the silent spectre of the recent fascist regime hangs over the neighbourhood. The novels are packed with fights, street battles and murders that provide a chilling backdrop to the male violence against women and girls that returns throughout Lila’s and Lenu’s lives.</p> <p class="Body">Ferrante expertly deals with the male violence experienced by both her protagonists. Horrifying without being graphic, she writes enough for us to be disturbed without falling into the trap of so many writers (and film directors) of gratuitously detailing every terrifying and bloody moment.</p><p class="Body"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/536137/3053563105_76520e66ae_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/536137/3053563105_76520e66ae_z.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Naples, the city at the heart of Ferrante's novels. Photo: Alexandra Svatikova via Flickr.</span></span></span><span>Throughout the novels, she explores how the class inequality in the neighbourhood fosters a culture of aggression, and how male violence is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. In almost every relationship between men and women in the novels there is a violent tension that simmers and threatens to boil over – and frequently does.</span></p> <p class="Body">One of the more fascinating aspects is how the women find coping strategies to deal with the abuse they endure. In one stunning episode, Lenu reframes herself as the subject rather than the object of a sexually abusive ‘relationship’. In defiance of reality, she creates a narrative that gives her all the power and control in the situation – something she only later comes to recognise as an older woman.</p> <p class="Body">This subtle and incisive understanding of the female psyche makes Ferrante’s writing so refreshingly unique in its depiction of women’s relationships with men, and their relationships with each other. Ferrante understands the complexities; she’s not afraid of exploring and pushing them. It’s in her exploration of the complexities of female friendship, however, where Ferrante really shines.</p> <p class="Body">As Lenu and Lila grow up, the love and rivalry between them grows too. They are one another’s shadow – sharing a loving but jealous relationship, and in their jealousy develops a desire to always be doing something that will impress the other. They know they can lean on their friend but also resent that dependency. There are moments Lenu wishes Lila would die, but she’ll fight tooth and nail for her friend’s survival. When you read Lenu and Lila, you see echoes of your own adolescent friendships; you recognise the confused mix of hatred and love; anger and joy; envy and pride.</p> <p class="Body">No other writer, as far as I can see, has ever truly exploited this rich and difficult subject to such a degree as Ferrante. And no other writer has come as deliciously close to fully understanding and bringing to life what for young girls is the formative relationship of our lives.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">That’s why, I believe, <a href="http://littleatoms.com/elena-ferrante-versus-italy">the novels’ success has evolved in the way it has</a> – as books that are passed between women with a nod and a smile that says ‘you’ll understand what is written here’. Ferrante has pulled off an incredible trick in writing a series of novels that are specific to a time and place, and yet which explore a universal experience and emotion every woman can relate to. The relationships Ferrante writes are eternal – they are me and my friends; they will be my niece too.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="Body">There’s so much more to say about the Neapolitan Novels; about Ferrante’s understanding of female sexuality, about class politics, about the skill of writing a novel that has such a huge scope and backdrop yet reads as an intimate exploration of two women’s lives.</p> <p class="Body">Her subtle and sensuous depiction of Lenu’s and Lila’s world leads to a totally immersive reading experience – you feel the street dust on your face, the sand between your toes, you can smell the stench of sausage meat. You’re living in the neighbourhood as you read. It’s with a mixture of relief and regret then, that like Lenu, you’re able to leave it when you close the book.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/adem-ferizaj/haveit-kosovos-conscience-disguised-in-performance-art">Haveit: Kosovo’s conscience disguised in performance art </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/harriet-williamson/manic-pixies-and-cool-girls-on-female-solidarity-and-male-gaze">Manic Pixies and Cool Girls: on female solidarity and the male gaze</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/heather-mcrobie/martha-nussbaum-empathy-and-moral-imagination">Martha Nussbaum, empathy, and the moral imagination</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/warsan-shire/your-mother%E2%80%99s-first-kiss">Your Mother’s First Kiss</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/korto-williams/green-of-her-soul">The Green of Her Soul</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/heather-mcrobie/she-left-me-gun-on-story-telling-and-re-telling">She Left Me the Gun: on story-telling and re-telling</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 50.50 Contesting Patriarchy temp 50.50 Editor's Pick 50.50 Voices for Change 50.50 newsletter feminism gender patriarchy women's movements Sian Norris Tue, 08 Sep 2015 14:25:41 +0000 Sian Norris 95689 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sexual harassment in UK schools https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/sian-norris/sexual-harassment-in-uk-schools <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Sexual bullying in the classroom rarely makes the headlines. But one in three 16-18 year old girls in the UK have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school. What does this tacit acceptance of harassment teach our children?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/sexual%20bullying%20in%20schools%20sian%20norris.jpg" alt="" width="460" /><em class="image-caption">70% of 16-18 year olds say they've heard sexual name calling towards girls at school daily or a few times a week. Credit: Shutterstock</em></p><p>What&rsquo;s the biggest issue in gender and education today? <span><a class="western" href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7674472.stm">Girls outpacing boys</a></span>? Coursework modules favouring a <span><a class="western" href="http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6047983">&lsquo;feminized&rsquo; style of learning</a></span>? Or the <span><a class="western" href="http://www.amnesty.org/en/key-facts/violence-against-girls">widespread sexual harassment</a></span> of girls by their male peers? </p> <p>Sexual harassment in the classroom rarely makes the headlines. But feminist activists and organisations from UK Feminista to the End Violence Against Women Coalition are increasingly noticing a disturbing trend that is systematically disadvantaging young girls. This <span><a class="western" href="http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/research/questions/sexual_bullying_wda70106.html">sexual bullying</a></span> leaves girls feeling unable to participate in class. It leads to them attaining lower grades. In extreme cases it forces girls to play truant, or drop out of education all together. </p> <p>When we talk about sexual harassment, our immediate response is to think of the workplace. According to the <a href="http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/77434/1/WHO_RHR_12.37_eng.pdf" target="_blank">World Health Organisation, </a>however, school is now the most common setting for sexual harassment and coercion.</p> <p>In fact, one in three 16-18 year old girls have experienced <span><a class="western" href="http://ukfeminista.org.uk/take-action/generation-f/statistics/">unwanted sexual touching</a></span> at school in the UK and 71% of 16-18 year olds say they have heard <span><a class="western" href="http://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/data/files/Schools_Safe_4_Girls/YouGov_poll_for_EVAW_on_sexual_harassment_in_schools_2010.pdf">sexual name calling</a></span> towards girls at school daily or a few times per week. </p> <p>Holly Dustin, of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), who count Amnesty International, Fawcett and The Child and Woman Abuse Study Unit amongst their members, explains the reality of sexual harassment in schools:</p><p>"Schools across the UK are grappling with high levels of sexual harassment and bullying, pressurised and coercive 'sexting' and girls being 'groped' or otherwise sexually touched in corridors and playgrounds. Whilst some schools are alive to the problem and actively address it, too many are on the back foot, meaning that girls are growing and learning in an unsafe and unequal environment.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>In most workplaces there is an official process in place for dealing with complaints of sexual harassment. <span><a class="western" href="http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/advice-and-guidance/your-rights/gender/sex-discrimination-your-rights-at-work/sexual-harassment/sexual-harassment-what-the-law-says/">British sexual harassment law</a></span> includes rules around displaying sexually explicit and sexist imagery in the workplace, which should also apply in schools. For example, workplaces can no longer have the stereotypical &lsquo;girly calendar&rsquo; on the staff room wall, as to do so creates an &lsquo;intimidating, hostile or humiliating working environment&rsquo; under the law. </p> <p>But in contrast, girls are often met with a shrug of the shoulders when reporting to their teachers that they have been inappropriately touched, teased with sexual language or physically threatened and assaulted. <span><a class="western" href="http://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/data/files/Schools_Safe_4_Girls/YouGov_poll_for_EVAW_on_sexual_harassment_in_schools_2010.pdf">One in four teenagers</a></span> report that their teachers have never said unwanted sexual touching, sexual naming calling, or the non-consensual sharing of sexual pictures are unacceptable. </p> <p>The <a href="http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/advice-and-guidance/public-sector-equality-duty/" target="_blank">Public Sector Equality Duty</a> should mean that sexual harassment law applies in schools, as it is a workplace for teachers. So why&nbsp;does sexual harassment law not seem to be properly enforced in the classroom?</p> <p>When I was at school, in the early days of the &ldquo;<span><a class="western" href="http://www.losetheladsmags.org.uk/">lad&rsquo;s mag</a></span>&rdquo; era, boys would often bring explicit images of women into class, decorating their school books and folders with photos torn out of The Sun and FHM? . Being endlessly exposed to these highly sexualised images of women on a daily basis taught us that no matter how much we shone in class, we, as women and girls, were still chiefly valued as sex objects. The increasing access to pornographic images of women on mobile phone devices has amplified this problem, with boys pressurizing their female peers to view porn. One in three 16-18 year olds say they have seen <span><a class="western" href="http://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/data/files/Schools_Safe_4_Girls/YouGov_poll_for_EVAW_on_sexual_harassment_in_schools_2010.pdf">sexual pictures on mobile phones</a></span> at school a few times in a month, or more. Girls also report boys using mobile phone technology to take &lsquo;upskirt&rsquo; shots &ndash; again without the girl&rsquo;s consent. </p> <p>This tacit acceptance of sexual harassment at school teaches girls that no matter what they do, no matter how clever they are, how good at sport, how successful, they can still be victimised by men simply because of their sex. It sets up a pattern of behaviour where boys believe they hold rights over girls&rsquo; bodies &ndash; and that their sense of entitlement will not be challenged by those in charge, i.e. teachers. It teaches boys that girls do not have a right to their bodily autonomy. And it teaches girls that if boys behave inappropriately towards them, any attempts to speak out against the behaviour will not be heard. </p> <p>One result of this male culture of entitlement is a high level of abusive behaviour in teen relationships. In fact, research carried out by <span><a class="western" href="http://www.nspcc.org.uk/inform/research/findings/partner_exploitation_and_violence_wda68092.html">the NSPCC and Bristol University</a></span> discovered that one quarter of girls surveyed and 18% of boys had reported physical violence within their relationships, with one in nine girls reporting severe physical violence compared to 4% of boys. Three quarters of girls reported emotional violence, and one in three girls had experienced sexual violence within their relationship, with 16% of boys reporting sexual violence. 70% of girls and 13% of boys stated that sexual violence had negatively impacted on their welfare. And although most violence against boys was a one-off incident, girls were more likely to report that partner violence was repeated, and increased in severity over time.</p> <p>While girls are experiencing unchallenged daily sexual bullying from some of their male peers, it is perhaps unsurprising that the violence continues into intimate relationships. </p> <p>Just over a year ago, EVAW launched their &lsquo;<span><a class="western" href="http://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/schools-safe-4-girls%20">Schools Safe 4 Girls</a></span>&rsquo; campaign to tackle sexual harassment and sexual bullying. The campaign encourages activists to ask their local schools to take action on all kinds of sexual violence through proper sex and relationships education (SRE). In response to the campaign, the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, reiterated Labour&rsquo;s promise to introduce mandatory SRE. But the coalition has not followed Labour&rsquo;s lead.</p> <p>Prior to the 2010 general election, Labour had decided that mandatory sex education should be included in the National Curriculum. The aim was to try and use education to reduce the rates of intimate partner violence in teen relationships, and tackle the high levels of sexual harassment in the classroom through comprehensive sex education, with gender equality, consent, respect and safety at its heart. </p> <p>The education department has since shown real reluctance to introduce mandatory sex and relationships education that focuses on consent and respect, even <span><a class="western" href="http://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/schools-safe-4-girls%20">disbanding their expert group </a></span>on sexual violence. In 2011, the government restructured its <span><a class="western" href="https://www.gov.uk/government/policy-advisory-groups/sexual-health-forum">sex and relationships advisory group</a></span> &ndash; bringing in organisations like Life, who promote abstinence and are anti- abortion. For many, this seems like a regressive step. </p> <p>There is now a gap left by the ministerial position that schools will only be <span><a class="western" href="http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/feb/09/michael-gove-girls-rape">&lsquo;encouraged&rsquo;</a></span> to include sex and relationships education in their curriculum, rather than the subject being made mandatory. As is often the case, feminist organisations are left trying to solve the problem. Women&rsquo;s Aid has developed their own toolkit&nbsp;to encourage teachers to start conversations about violence against women, consent and respect. </p> <p>As the Director of EVAW, Dustin has been instrumental in leading the campaign to make sure sex and relationships education is a mandatory part of the National Curriculum, in order to combat sexual harassment. She said: </p> <p>"It is crystal clear from the Children's Commissioner's <span><a class="western" href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25090896">recent report</a></span> on young people's understanding of sexual consent that teaching young people about consensual and respectful relationships should be a basic obligation for all schools. Our Schools Safe 4 Girls campaign is calling on politicians to make girls' safety a national priority."</p> <p>Grassroots feminist activism plays an important part in bringing about legislative change and in pushing for existing laws to be better implemented. But activist influence can only go so far, and we can only reach and persuade so many schools. To tackle sexual bullying those responsible for the national curriculum need to lead the change.</p> <p>We owe our young women more. Sexual harassment and bullying is not understandable childish play. It is sexual violence.&nbsp; </p><p class="BodyA"><strong><em>Read more </em><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050">50.50</a><em> articles published during </em><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/16-days-activism-against-gender-violence-0">16 Days: activism against gender violence</a></strong></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 UK 16 Days: activism against gender based violence 50.50 Editor's Pick 50.50 Voices for Change everyday feminism violence against women bodily autonomy young feminists Sian Norris Tue, 03 Dec 2013 09:18:43 +0000 Sian Norris 77381 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sian Norris https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/sian-norris <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Sian Norris </div> </div> </div> <p>Sian Norris is a writer and feminist activist. She is the founder and director of the Bristol Women's Literature Festival, and runs the successful feminist blog&nbsp;<a href="http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com/" target="_blank">sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com</a>. She has written for the Guardian, the Independent, the New Statesman. Her first novel, Greta and Boris: A Daring Rescue is published by Our Street and her short story, The Boys on the Bus, is available on the Kindle. Sian is currently working on a novel based around the life of Gertrude Stein.&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Sian Norris is a feminist writer and activist. She co-ordinated the Bristol Feminist Network for six years, and is the founder and director of the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival. She edited the feminist anthology ‘The Light Bulb Moment: the stories of why we are feminists’ in 2011. Her first novel, ‘Greta and Boris: a daring rescue’ was published by Our Street Books in April 2013. </div> </div> </div> Sian Norris Fri, 29 Nov 2013 17:02:43 +0000 Sian Norris 77463 at https://www.opendemocracy.net