Tag Archives: Feminism

Ayiti by Roxane Gay

A powerful collection of short stories that explore the Haitian diaspora experience.

For as long as I have seen or heard about Haiti in the media, it has always been a narrow narrative of a nation constantly plagued by extreme poverty, natural disasters, high aid dependence, soaring crime, and an unstable political climate. These views are not incorrect but they do not capture all that is about Haiti and its people.

“Millions in Haiti face hunger in 2020” – CNN

Then Gay comes in with fifteen short stories that vary in length, mostly written outside of the traditional short story methods, and she changes the narrative. Ayiti introduces us to stories we don’t hear about Haiti, it expands and reaches into the people’s lives, their traumatic, triumphant, and resilient experiences.

Many of the stories capture Haitian women’s experiences.

It dispels the many misconceptions that we have of the nation, while honestly and daringly showing us the depth of some of its people’s challenges and struggles.

Sweet on the Tongue is a deep and powerful story about a woman’s traumatic experience with rape. It examines the pain, the shame, and the silence, but it also shows the effort to overcome these difficulties, with support and love through such a challenging ordeal.

Motherfuckers is flash fiction, two pages about a fourteen-year-old immigrant who expresses his hate for the US, and his experience being taunted in school for his foreignness.

A woman was conceived in a river where many of her people were massacred and the sharp smell of blood has always been with her, her whole life. In this story, In the Manner of Water or Light, we get a deep and illuminating account of generational impact from what happened in what would be known as The Massacre River, an actual site of executions of Haitian families that did take place.

“The waters did not run deep. It was just a border between two geographies of grief.”

The stories examine what it means to be Haitian in Haiti and America, but one brief and bold story, The Harder they Come shows the experience and behaviour of American tourists in Haiti, from ignoring the troubled Haiti that is “out there” to the sexual encounters with the locals.

“They say they quite like this Haiti, so clean and calm, so pleasant, not at all like on CNN.”

There is so much in this gut-punching, authentic, and haunting collection. There is homosexuality – the hiding that results from fear of what will happen if seen or discovered, but also the boldness in finding moments and spaces to express themselves and enjoy their passions. There is also love and sensuality, deep within the complexities of economic adversities.

Gay is astute at creating these real characters that spring out of the pages and lead you into their world, providing such an intimate experience of their realities. She leaves you with something to think about through her clever, cutting, and compelling writing. It’s a beautiful book and every single one of the stories matters.

Roxanne Gay: TIME

Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution

By Mona Eltahawy

A fascinating and shocking call to end misogyny in the Arab world.

“Why do these men hate us?”

Mona Eltahawy was shocked into feminism and she shares her experience living in Saudi Arabia and in Egypt. This book is an essential read that zooms into the brutal injustices against women in the Middle East and North Africa. Mona dismantles religion, belief, Western involvement, politics, and many aspects that tie into the misogyny that prevails in these places.

Headscarves and Hymens

On veiling, she points out how many girls and women, just like she did, go through a personal struggle with their hijab. She shows how they can defend it even when in private it’s a burden or a struggle. In some places, even though women will claim their covering is a choice, they do not have much of a choice, and in other places, women are aggressively pressured to cover up.

The violation of women in these regions goes way deeper than one can even begin to imagine. It spreads and pours into so many facets of the girls’ and women’s daily lives. Eltahawy shows how these violated women and girls have no platform to share their experiences and nowhere to find solutions.

Headscarves and Hymens

There are many examples and stories she gives to highlight the daily traumas that women go through and the forces used to keep the treatment of women as second-class citizens in place, as well as aggravating the problems they face.

The veiling of women is used as a way to tell women to cover up for their own safety against harassment and assault in the street. The onus is on the women to protect themselves instead of men being told not to commit these crimes. However, in some cases, not even a hijab can stand between the victim and the perpetrator.

There are so many heartbreaking and horrendous concerns that she shares, such as rape in its many forms and how it is handled. For example, where a girl or woman is raped, the punishment for the rapist is to marry her. This also serves to “save” the victim from committing a crime of honour. The few outcomes from reporting a crime of assault do not include true justice for the victim. They could be killed by their own family for bringing shame to the family. They could be sexually assaulted by the very police they run to.

Then there’s the purity culture. She discusses the obsession with virginity as well as the use of female genital mutilation to keep girls sexually in control and make them suitable for marriage. It’s so saddening how the mothers or the figures that these girls could run to are the same figures who are right there when it happens, accomplices to this crime.

I absolutely fell in love with all the feminists and figures that inspired her and the ones she mentions throughout the book, who protest and stand up against this overpowering and dangerous hand that is so determined to squash women, to silence and control them. I also love how she advocates sexual freedom. Eltahawy shows the importance of sexual liberation and how suppression through violence, through language and through practice creates a negative experience for women and problems when they need to voice these negative experiences.

Read the It’s Not About the Burqa review here.

This book is packed! It’s heavy but every bit of it is necessary and deserving to be said. There’s a whole lot more to discover, to learn, and to help rethink some of the ideas we have about female oppression and the role of feminism. I admire her level of bad-assery and her determination to speak up – loud and clear.

She does not limit such treatment of women to the Arab world and does state that it happens in many societies and cultures, but this is her focus, experience, and knowledge, and she does it incredibly well.

It’s a powerful read. It’s a must-have and worth revisiting.

Mona Eltahawy: Twitter

I Am So into Women

Exploring Women in Literature

I recently visited one of my favourite bookstores (where they’re a quarter-to giving me a mattress and a blanket), looking for non-fiction books by women. Bookstores are usually therapeutic for me, but this time I left frustrated and disappointed. In 2020, a lot of books I find by women are mostly fiction books. I don’t know how the stats stand but I later went to a bigger store, that has way more titles and I had the same experience.

I was looking for female non-fiction because I wanted to hear the voice of someone whose experiences I can relate to. We know that historically women have been kept out of everything and have had to fight to break down walls and burn gates. We’ve been misled to believe that men are the ones who created and shaped the arts, and well, everything in this world. It’s not that women never had anything to contribute, they were just not allowed to do it, they were not allowed to even dream of doing anything but stand and watch.

I spent a little time in the Classics section and was surrounded by Plato, Aurelius, Homer, Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, Twain, Salinger, Orwell, Achebe, Mphahlele and many others. Yes, there was Shelley, Woolf, the Brontës, Rand, Dickinson, and a few more, but the gap was still big. Male authors still dominate bookshelves. Even when I moved to business and self-help, the highly praised books are from names like Kiyosaki, Carnegie, Hill, Gladwell, and a million others. This is also frustrating because as great as these books are, when we women read them we often have to find ways to alter the message to make it apply to us, and sometimes, given the challenges we have, it is close to impossible.   

So all this frustration led me to think about what it is I want to read, what kind of messages I want to collect, what kind of solutions I’m looking for, and who I should get them from. I do not disregard men’s work, not at all. I have read many books by men that have helped me improve my life in tremendous ways.

However, I love the voice of women. I want to hear women and I want to hear about them. I want to read women. Give me women, please! I have read so many books by men with families whose success stories show that they were able to do things, have the time and energy to do them because their partners were taking care of everything else. I want to read about that woman, with kids and a home to run, and how she did or does it.

It’s not just in self-development books or classics. Across genres, the same problem exists. And so, on my quest to find these intelligent, brave, successful women, I’m going on a quest to read more women’s books.

“Women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned, unsolved problems.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

I want to read their biographies, their poetry, their tragedies and achievements, their struggles, and their successes. But I will not limit myself to only those stories, I do believe that there are male writers who have supported the voice of women in literature and there are men who have portrayed powerful and positive images of women. I am for that.

I don’t want any of that damsel-in-distress bullshit. I want to see women characters who show real women who don’t need to be saved. I want to dissect this vexatious yet interesting area of literature. The world should be seen through the eyes of the very people who live in it. Women, as members of society, should be able to express their existence in the same way as men do. In this open and inclusive manner, we can fully understand the world and understand each other.

When I made this decision, I went through my own shelf and saw how male-dominated it is. I’m ashamed. Honestly.

So I don’t think I’ll be able to read or write about women in literature following historical timeline. It will be challenging to find relevant books if I do it that way and it will be boring. Instead, I’m starting where I am, and from the unread books I have, what better way to start with women from cultures, traditions, and religions that are known or said to be oppressive? We’ll figure it out through the readings. So my first part will be on Muslim Women in Literature.

I have, on my shelf:

  • It’s Not About the Burqa edited by Mariam Khan
  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  • The Chibok Girls by Helon Habila (I said I’ll include a few men who do justice to women’s voices
  • Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy
I have no idea how that book ended up upside-down 🤦🏿‍♀️

I’m starting with Muslim women because, I already have these books so it was an obvious choice, and also, because it’s so easy for the rest of us to look at Muslim women and conclude that they’re oppressed and miserable. I’d rather find out first, preferably, from them.

So, here we go.

I’ll repost the review of Infidel. I had already started The Chibok Girls and stopped because it was depressing, but it’s short and I’m almost done. And I don’t think there’s time to be depressed, if you go into something that talks about injustice, oppression, prejudice, discrimination, abuse…it will be depressing. It’s inevitable.

So let’s do this.

To women!

Powerful Quotes From Chimamanda’s ‘Dear Ijeawele’.

This pocket-sized book is packed with powerful and inspiring messages about feminism and femininity.

Let’s get right into the quotes. I hope you feel inspired.

– The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina.

– Teach her that if you criticize X in women but do not criticize X in men, then you do not have a problem with X, you have a problem with women.

– We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable.

– Isn’t it odd that in most societies in the world today, women generally cannot propose marriage? Marriage is such a major step in your life, and yet you cannot take charge of it; it depends on a man asking you.

– Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Be a full person. Your child will benefit from that.

– In every culture in the world, female sexuality is about shame. Even cultures that expect women to be sexy−like many in the West−still do not expect them to be sexual.

– Tell her that her body belongs to her and her alone, that she should never feel the need to say yes to something she does not want, or something she feels pressured to do. Teach her that saying no when no feels right is something to be proud of.

– People will selectively use “tradition” to justify anything.

– If she likes makeup, let her wear it. If she likes fashion, let her dress up. But if she doesn’t like either, let her be. Don’t think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject femininity. Feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive.

I would suggest you read this book along with ‘We Should All Be Feminists’.

Examining Women & Power with Mary Beard

“We have no template for what a powerful woman looks like, except that she looks rather like a man.”

― Mary Beard, Women & Power: A Manifesto

If we reach into the depth of mankind’s history we see how in many parts women and power have been two separate entities. Power has been seen through a male lens and when women have tried to take the power that belongs to them, it has raised such discomfort that men have often gone to great lengths to prevent it. Women have had to take a subordinate role and there have been laws, rules and social constructs to keep them there.

However, we have made a bit of progress although a lot still needs to be done. In some parts of the earth, she is progressively pulling up a chair and actively sitting at the table. Sadly, there are still many societies where women’s voices are still muted and women are completely excluded from power.

In this profound examination of these concerns, Mary Beard demonstrates how modern misogyny can be detangled and linked back to classical themes where women were heavily prejudiced. She revisits the classical Greek and Roman work of literature, giving examples of stories of women who are the embodiment of these prejudices. The parallelism of ancient literature to the modern times shows history often recurring in different spheres – politics, economics, etc.

Her focus on the silencing of women points out, amongst many, how public speech was one of the ways of defining masculinity, and so to have women speak in public has often provoked aggression. Beard strives to find answers to how women can be heard.

She also scrutinizes the gap between women and power and takes on an angle which surpasses simply knowing and laying out the stats. She takes on an analytical approach and forces you to think about the why and the how. How is misogyny embedded in history and in cultures? How do we confront these issues? She challenges the definition of power, by asking, “If women are not perceived to be within the structures of power, then is it power that we need to redefine?” Another example of power that she zooms into is that of masking inequality by placing women in so-called positions of power when those positions are possibly where power is not.

“I do wonder if, in some places, the presence of large numbers of women in parliament means that parliament is where the power is not.”

‘Women and Power’ is a sharp and illuminating read that matters, and should be read. I applaud her for her ability to knit so many important and agonizingly true points in a compact and stimulating package that leaves you with something crucial to carefully reflect on.  

You will enjoy this book if you want to hear a more pragmatic approach to gender inequality and sexism. Also, if you want more than the statistics, more than just calling out sexism but also explaining it.

Enjoy ✌


Title: Women & Power: A Manifesto

Author: Mary Beard

Publisher: Liveright, 2017

Hardcover pages: 128

Poetry Prescription: Ijeoma, Rupi and Billy

Poetry is more than a few lines that rhyme, or throwing around big words trying to sound lyrical and esoteric. It’s an art and a form of communication. It exists in all languages, written or oral, and has always its uses in teaching, entertaining and beautifying the way we communicate with each other. There are poems that have made personal changes in people’s lives and poems that have made dramatic changes in the world and in history.

This year I have been consuming three poetry books throughout my personal journey, and these have helped me heal, put me in a good mood and changed my perspective on certain issues. They are;

milk and honey – Rupi Kaur

Questions for Ada – Ijeoma Umebinyuo

Chameleon Aura – Billy Chapata

These three books are filled with beautiful and simple poetry of love, pain, healing, inspiration, self-love, forgiveness, injustice, feminism and more. A lot of them are empowering, you read two lines and your whole mood for the day can stay on sunshine-mode.

I’d like to share some of my favourite poems from each book and I recommend that you get at least one of them. You’ll thank me later.

Questions for Ada – Ijeoma Umebinyuo

Before creating you

The Universe washed her hands

“This will take time,”

she said

as she closed her days.

*

Forgive your mother

for all the miracles she

couldn’t perform.

*

I am too full of life

to be half-loved

*

The way women are

told to carry pain in their bones

frightens me.


milk and honey – Rupi Kaur

you

have been

taught your legs

are a pit stop for men

that need a place to rest

a vacant body empty enough

for guests but no one

ever comes and is

willing to

stay

*

other women’s bodies

are not our battleground

*

don’t mistake

salt for sugar

if he wants to

be with you

he will

it’s that simple

*

i will not have you

build me into your life

when

what i want is to

build a life with you

-the difference


Chameleon Aura – Billy Chapata

*security*

let no one silence the loudness of your love. if they can’t handle

the intensity of the music, gently escort them out of the room.

*

darling

you’re not a burden. your past was never too heavy. their shoulders

are just not broad enough to carry a woman like you.

*

(don’t interrupt her)

and when you see her glowing

dripping gold from her pores

turning wounds into flowers

loving herself unconditionally – let her be

*

never

i have no interest in being for everyone

sometimes my truth will taste like whiskey

and sometimes my truth will taste like nectar

but i will never dilute myself for anyone.

I hope this poetry, and if you get a copy of any one of them, becomes your friend and therapist. It is one of the benefits of reading, to find a great companion in the pages. You’ll find yourself in one or more of the poems, and it will take a while before you return them to the shelf. 

Poetry: Stolen Pleasures

From: Poetically Ghetto

there’s an intrusion
barging through closed gates
breaking folds so delicate
turning the resting soft stones

devil spears this cottoned earth
canes into the silken clay
defeated rails of defence
misfortunes of the luckless prey

an agenda without gender or age
what it finds it takes
without asking or begging
no sound of permissions

broken barriers
wrecked walls
with arms of phallic privilege
and cannons of the entitled

fathers, brothers and our keepers
looting our temples
in which direction do we head
when shepherds have horns and fangs?

A Seat At The Table With Sheryl Sandberg in ‘Lean In’

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

-Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In

The workplace can be a battlefield for women, where they struggle with progressing and gaining access to top roles. Leadership roles are still dominated by men, and promotion and rising to higher positions takes place faster for men than it does for women.

Sheryl Sandberg unknots the underlying issues that have to do with these challenges that women face, and comes up with good solutions. In Lean In, Sandberg identifies root causes such as women’s personal attitudes and lack of confidence. Fear also influences women’s attitudes in the workplace, such as the fear that they don’t deserve certain roles as compared to men. There’s also the fear of failing, putting too much on their plates and the fear of not being able to balance home and work. Women still need to play other roles at home, wives and mothers and there’s also the fear of not succeeding in those roles.

Sandberg also confronts the issue of likeability – a woman being too nice therefore perceived as incompetent, or being competent but not nice enough. She suggests that women should feel they deserve the roles they want and accept the challenge. Wanting to do it all just won’t work, but doing most of it well enough will help.

Her other remedy is that women should seek out opportunities and ask for them if they have to. There are women who will hold back the reality of their personal lives, which can get in the way, and so she advises that they should be open about their personal lives as it is not separate from their work lives.

This book is a good contribution to the efforts of changing the system and achieving equality. The issues she addresses are serious and her passion for a call to make changes in a world that constantly makes it difficult to carry out that task, is commendable. The style can be slightly dull at times, therefore making it a bit demanding on the reader’s attention. However, it’s a necessary read for both men and women. It’s for women to recognize things about themselves that could be holding them back. It is for men because it will bring to attention some of the things that they do to hold women back and ways that they can help to creating equality. It can also advise women who stand in the way of other women, on how self-preservation only serves to inflame what is already wrong with the system.

Lean In is worth a read. It plays a good role in the fight for women’s right to get a seat at the table.

One Indian Girl by Chetan Bhagat

“Why do we need our men to praise and validate us in order for us to feel accomplished?” 

Radhika Mehta is getting ready to get married this week. It’s going to be a big event; a destination wedding in Goa with a large number of family members from both her side and Brijesh’s.

She works at Goldman Sachs and makes tons of money, young and making moves in her career. To her mother’s dismay she’s too opinionated, too feminist and is not the child that behaves accordingly. The daughter who is always compared to her sister.

Things start spinning out of control when first an ex-boyfriend who dumped her and made her relocate to Hong Kong, calls her and is on the way to Goa. As if that’s not enough, the man she met in Hong Kong and fell in love with but also ended up heartbroken over also makes it to Goa with his own intentions. All three men are here and she has a hard decision to make.

It’s a not a bad story at all but there are times when it can be taxing. The main character’s strong feminist ideas and arguments sometimes contradict her actions. There is also something exhausting about a character who constantly seeks pity from the reader where it isn’t due. At times it becomes difficult to understand where she’s coming from and you want to shout, “Oh get over it already!”

It is, however, a relief when after all the power she has given to all these men in the past, and the power she has given to tradition as pressured by family, she finally takes her power back and that’s refreshing.

One Indian Girl is not completely a waste of time but if you’re not ready to sit down listening to someone whine about things she could easily avoid, then you might put it down early. If you’re into typical Hollywood drama then this is your book.

Talking about vaginas with Eve Ensler, and the freedom and power it brings.

The Vagina Monologues is an episodic play that has been performed all around the world. Eve Ensler interviewed a diversity of women, giving them a platform to talk about their vaginas. These are women from a wide range of backgrounds – different sexualities, young and old, from different cultures and religions. They’re also women who have been through different experiences; rape, consensual sex, genital mutilation and more.

This sharp, profound and hilarious gathering of female voices shows the desires, fears, and oppression of many women with regards to their bodies, especially their vaginas. It celebrates the vagina. It gives it its own voice. It allows the vagina to be revisited, to be looked at and for its owner to have a positive relationship with it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book for its power and freedom. I learned to question and to confront issues relating to my own body and my own experiences with myself and whom I choose to share those experiences with.

“The clitoris is pure in purpose. It is the only organ in the body designed purely for pleasure.” 
― Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues

I also discovered the global movement, V-Day, which strives to end violence against all women and girls. This non-profit organization was born from The Vagina Monologues and has so far done an incredible job to help women and girls around the globe.

I recommend this for all women and I challenge you to sit down and have a conversation with yourself about your body, and about your vagina. You will not look at it the same way again.

Enjoy!

“To love women, to love our vaginas, to know them and touch them and be familiar with who we are and what we need. To satisfy ourselves, to teach our lovers to satisfy us, to be present in our vaginas, to speak of them out loud, to speak of their hunger and pain and loneliness and humor, to make them visible so they cannot be ravaged in the dark without great consequence, so that our center, our point, our motor, our dream, is no longer detached, mutilated, numb, broken, invisible, or ashamed.” 

― Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues