Adichie: “Why should a woman’s success be a threat to a man?” Blog Post by Ruzina Khatun

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“A feminist is a man or a woman who says, “yes there is a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it. We must do better””.

In 2013, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made an appearance on Beyoncé’s album with the track ‘Flawless’. The track includes samples from Adichie’s TedxEuston talk, “We should all be feminists”. Adichie and Beyonce (‘Queen Bey’) joined forces to promote feminism to a widespread audience and eliminate gender inequality. So why was Adichie’s speech given global prominence?
This speech discusses the unhealthy stereotypes and expectations that women face in society. Adichie begins with a few personal accounts she has had growing up in Nigeria. She tells the story of her male friend calling her a “feminist” which was directed as an insult. As a feminist, she feels that she needs to explain her relationship with makeup. The word feminist is associated with “heavy baggage” and it means that “you hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture.” Instead, Adichie wants to be identified as a “happy African feminist who does not hate men and who likes lip gloss and who wears high heels for herself but not for men”.

As a child, her dreams of being class monitor was crushed because she was a girl. All these personal accounts demonstrate her own experience with gender inequality. Adichie then focuses on the pay gap between men and women. For example, in Nigeria, people assume that a woman’s wealth is from a man. In the workplace, a woman’s work effort is just the same as man’s, yet their paycheck disregards this. They learn to not speak up for themselves as they are worried about coming across as too aggressive. These gender expectations are internalised which result in double standards for men and women. While men are praised for being tough and aggressive –women who act in the same way are criticised. Gender bias in a workplace is real and findings show that a woman’s perceived competency drops by 35% when they are judged as being “assertive” (Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2015/08/25/gender-bias-is-real-womens-perceived-competency-drops-significantly-when-judged-as-being-forceful/#785c71672d85).

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Adichie’s speech reinforces Simone de Beauvoir’s critical theory, The Second Sex, which argues that women are oppressed and made to be inferior to men–simply by the fact that they are women. In a world which is male-orientated, how can a woman expect to accomplish the same as a man? Adichie agrees with Beauvoir that, although women and men are different biologically,” socialization exaggerates the differences”. Thus, the origin of gender roles and inequality are products of society and social experiences.

Childhood is very important to socialization. Boys and girls are expected to conform to strict and confining gender roles from a young age. Adichie argues that, “We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way… We teach boys to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true selves…” She asserts the idea that, it is not only women who suffer from socially constructed gender inequality, but men also suffer from these disadvantages.

Adichie says, “Culture does not make people. People make culture”. She proves that feminism is not strictly a female experience and culture will not change unless individuals acknowledge this. Adichie’s speech gives meaning to complex ideas of why we should all be feminists.

 

 

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…When I look in the mirror/ I don’t see a foreign face… Blog post by Zoha Hussain

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“What Is In My Blood?” This quote encapsulates the essence of these poems. The Adoption Papers is a unique and honest volume of poems, that uses three different narrative voices, daughter, adoptive mother, and birth mother. Each part manifests into an internal monologue, highlighting the themes of race, gender, belonging and naturalness. This poetic sequence tells the story of a black girl’s adoption by a white Scottish couple; thus this becomes an amalgamation of fiction and reality as the story behind these poems reflects Kay’s own life. I think this adds a certain layer of poignancy and depth to each piece, becoming a sort of poetic revelation, the poet laying bear her/his soul to the reader; we, thus, become privy to the internal landscape of the poet’s mind. Kay said in an interview, “a poem is a physical thing you make” this quote is reflected in the structure of the poem; each part, each chapter is a representation of an experience that the three characters go through. I feel like it is a dialogue form, this is why i think it is written in free verse, there are some AABB rhythmical structure but it is seldom seen which seems to mimic or is emblematic of the real life conversation or experience one goes through.

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The quote mentioned in the opening brings to light the theme of belonging.As Kay tells in her interview and through her poem that “colour matters to the nutters” but the racism that the little girl experiences in the segment Black Bottom, which prompts her to question her sense of naturalness and to ponder over what makes her different. It is not her but the society which is at fault here. She has the poster of Angela Davis on her wall, a strong female who said “we have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.” This is very important towards understanding the character of the daughter who feels that if “I could be as brave as her when I get older/ I’ll be OK.” The full stop after this sentence highlights the finality of this statement, she knows if she is strong she will able to fight against such overt racism and self-deprecating views that are created by the society around her. She forgets the colour of her skin and looks in the mirror and gives her self “a bit of a shock/ and say to myself Do you really look like this?” When reading this, I felt Kay is being a bit satirical here, she wants to show the society how ridiculous it is to be surprised if a white family has a coloured child. Kay recalls the incident when she went to the market and the saleswoman was shocked to see her the child belonging to the white-coloured mother with her. This looking in the mirror, while satirical, but also a potent motif used throughout Literature, and Kay says in her poem Longitude that
When I look in the mirror
I don’t see a foreign face,
no Heart of Darkness
These words highlight how colour should be a determining factor in a person’ life, gender, race, or another element is a part of one’s being and we should not let anyone tell us that it is not. And if we do well then we let them ‘other’ us and overpower us. As Kay says
People mistake you
you mistake yourself

 

 

 

Growing Up in Words: Blog Post by Becky Gawn

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When reading texts such as ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ and ‘Who’s Irish’ you realise you have forgotten what it is like to grow up. Everyone has their memories but being able to re-live these is easier when reading an accurate version of what truly happened. 

I had a relatively average upbringing and fitting in came easily. When thinking about what it could have been like if I was to have been placed in a different society with a different culture is overwhelming. Adichie however manages to show how it can be done and how quickly time can pass. Within five months you can both gain and loose relationships and very rarely are you unaware of the lost relationships. By showing a person taken out of her natural surroundings during a pinnacle age stresses how much can be forgotten. Contrasted with Jen who is constantly reminiscing of what a Chinese girl should be reminds us as the reader of how complex it is when trying to comply to societal norms which feel alien to those involved.  

What is achieved in Adichie’s work from providing us with a real, personal account is showing us what it is like to be a stranger. We see our protagonist leave home to her stay with an uncle (not blood related) but she wanted to remain true to herself, remember who she was and where she came from. Determined is a word I would use to describe her. The emotions felt are insinuated from her uneasiness to engage with others and create relationships. The same can be said for Jen who believe to remain true to her Chinese heritage from her references and eventually being able to live with a family she felt so conflicting to herself.   

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 Keeping an account of daily interactions and emotions enables a person to look back and recount what has been and how deeply it affected them. Much like Satrapi’s work you can imagine both Adichie and Jen writing at various points of their lives and it being true to each of them. Neither have lost themselves or fallen victim to written for the audience.

 Both of these women have allowed us into their lives at varying moments and reminded us how natural it is to make mistakes. The challenges each person may face will only help to build their character but it is crucial to always remain true to oneself and remember who you are in order to tell your story, your way.  

 

Persepolis: Blog Post by Fern Dalton

satrapi1Marjane Satrapi’s compelling novel/memoir was hard to put down. We are given strong, complex characters that are realistic and we are able to learn from them, allowing us to empathise with them. The fast pace that we are presented with also, brings me, as a reader, to a sense of realism that this is how quickly things do occur and that it is overwhelming, exhilarating and the overall fact that nothing is ever how you expect it to be. It took me into and into a world of crisis and a place where you’re in need of constant reassurance, a piece of history I am not well associated with and place that I haven’t known before. As we see our narrator grow up, we learn and understand with her about the country and culture that she is living in and although as a reader, I am older than her, I struggle to fully understand the happenings in her country, let alone as a twelve year old girl, living through it.

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I love how this memoir influenced novel uses frames and a ‘comic strip’ style of writing. With the simple images that Satrapi provides us with an expected strong emotions. The use of symbolism throughout the panels, particularly with the contrasts of light and dark sketches, as well as situations, help create an effective way of communication as well as in the text that accommodates the images. As well as this, Elahi Babak discusses the use of framing in different areas of media and mentions how, “comic art can potentially challenge those modes of political or aesthetic representation that naturalize their own worldviews by erasing or obscuring their own frames”, which I think is particularly important when reading a novel such as Satrapi’s. With endless discussions and politics, international relations and history, we see how her family, and others, challenge their country’s authorities’ and through her representation, we are given what a twelve-year-old see’s through this destruction. Confusion, competition with peers and consequently, when our narrator is removed from the situation, a change of perspective and a lack of identity, until it is mentioned and our narrator retaliate.

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The interview with Satrapi was of huge interest to me because she speaks with such confidence and says how her novel is written from a “human point of view”, despite her being female and the narrator being female, it comes from a voice that all humans should recognise and would feel empathy towards this character, because she is human and what right does one human have other another? Satrapi also mentions that the message in this novel is, “that human being[s], anywhere, is the same” and I think that that is imperative to know when reading this novel. Although the narrator discusses, particularly early on in the novel, about social classes, Satrapi emphasises in this interview that everyone has desires, has dreams and most importantly, has the right to live, yet, “we have to understand that the situation isn’t as easy as we think”, because we don’t understand the hardships that others go through and everybody does lead a different live, yet life is conclusive. All humans have the ability to empathise with another human, and we all recognise a person in need, so in this sense, al; humans are the same and I think it’s important to remember that this novel isn’t subjected to just a female voice, but how easily it could be replaced by a male voice, similar to what Satrapi mentions in her interview.

 

 

Deconstruction of Identity in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis: Blog Post by Sara Gatdula

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In Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Satrapi deconstructs the negative perception on Iranians through the way she has chosen to tell her story as a graphic novel. It allows the reader to feel the essence of individuality through this framed graphic narrative by the individual frameworks and through the way it captures a scene within it.

In Babak Elahi’s essay ‘Frames and mirrors in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis’, he expresses the importance of Satrapi’s chosen format in which she tells her story in the style of a graphic novel due to the way it creates a sense of segmented flow within the story, allowing the reader to focus on one frame at a time and thus the individual story within it. This is further shown as Satrapi weaves different tales of both herself and other individuals which reflects and mirrors the social constraints imposed upon them and the way it moulds their identity as an individual.

This segmentation of the story, through the use of frames, mirrors the need to deconstruct ones imposed identity and to reconstruct their own. This is reflected by Satrapi’s sense of identity crisis which is a reoccurring theme within Persepolis, where in which Marji’s life becomes unbearable as she becomes homeless for two months and when she tries to commit suicide. These are key scenes as these reflects the moments where in which Marji deconstructs her own identity and in turn after these episodes, reconstructs it through the act of coming back to her home Tehran, after becoming homeless and changing herself after her failed suicide attempts.

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This especially links to Julia Kristeva’s ‘A Question of Subjectivity: An Interview’ where she speaks about the way our identity is always being ‘trialled’ and we must therefore adopt and evolve. This sense of Ideological and psychosocial framing of one’s own identity is the problem Marji has faced. From the very restricted religious ideological framework she must obey to her more modern views and need for emancipation, she must continually reconstruct her own identity in order to create a sense of balance and merge her fragmented identities into one. As mentioned, the need to deconstruct and reconstruct one’s identity, in my opinion is quite a repetitive process where in which we are subjected to constant social constraints, therefore constantly moulding one’s identity.

 

 

 

Aftermath by Rachel Cusk: Blogpost by Rachel Chandar

Within Aftermath Rachel Cusk discusses motherhood through her feminist viewpoint, writing about other women’s voices on motherhood, and the effect of divorce upon herself and her children. As a feminist, Cusk wished for equality in her marriage. As a working mother, she longs to maintain a balance between her career and her home life, to have a marriage as a ‘transvestite couple’ allowing her to be ‘both woman and man’. This transgression from the stereotypical role of a woman is fresh, showing the new desires or ‘new reality’ for the married woman and upon motherhood. She powerfully speaks out and encourages women to transgress from societal expectations of motherhood, as women do not have to conformingly be the stay-at-home mother living entirely for their children, but can help define the ‘stunning refinement of historical female experience’.

From her husband’s view ‘he believed he had taken the part of woman in our marriage’, yet he finds the motherly role too feminine, that it is simply the womanly duty to shop and cook for the family, and pick the children up from school. A father is seen as helpful for doing tasks a mother is expected to perform. But surely these fatherly duties should be no different from the mother’s duties? As well as this, should a mother not have the opportunity to work for her family without scrutiny, unlike the working husband who is simply praised?

From Cusk’s experience, she voices motherhood as being ‘foreign’, as though it is a ‘cult’ in which she must fully surrender her identity. She could not find the expected femininity that comes into motherhood within herself, and so takes on a masculine identity, while her husband somewhat emasculated himself, leaving them both with a sort of equality- as ‘hybrids’. It can be seen that Cusk does not have this ‘maternal instinct’, the motherly bond that is expected from all mothers. She experiences a loss of identity by not only rebelling against societal expectations of motherhood by being a working mother, but also being immersed in new motherly duties. Aftermath also expresses the mother’s voice from the point of view of Cusk’s mother. The fact that Cusk’s mother had taken on her maternal duties to live for her children depicts the expected image of motherhood, as well as the adulterated male values of patriarchal society, one in which Cusk feels alien to.

 

Aftermath is a text that truly voices the frustration in the divide between motherly and fatherly roles, and how today many women are the working mother, constantly battling with their identity in the need to be both male and female to justify their working self.  By defying societal expectations she is scrutinized, losing her voice and thus her identity, pushing her back into the ‘chink in the tall wall of womanhood’.

Who is Toni Morrison speaking for through Beloved? Blog post by Camara Butler

Toni Morrison’s phenomenal novel speaks for the victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade who were unable to speak for themselves. Beloved is based upon the factual event of Margret Garner who felt it necessary to murder her own children after a failed attempt to escape slavery. Garner committed this crime because she felt it was better for her children to die than grow up as slaves. Due to her social standing as a slave, and the brutality of her actions, her story remained quashed until Morrison decided to write it in 1987. Due to a lack of recording of the events surrounding Garner’s decision, Morrison has fabricated the majority of the novel, basing it upon records of the lives of other slaves around the same time that Garner was alive.

Despite the majority of the narrative being fictionalised (particularly the supernatural aspect and Garner/Sethe’s freedom), Beloved gives a voice, not only to Garner, but to all female slaves. While it is true, that since the 1960’s the world has been exposed to more and more accounts of the lives of slaves, through media and fiction, such as Alex Haley’s Roots, or Steve McQueens Twelve Years a Slave, few have focussed on the lives of black women. So why did Morrison? Why did she focus a novel around the lives of women? Perhaps because their suffering was so often merged in with the suffering of men, or presented in how it hurt men. It would be wrong to say that enslaved women suffered worse than their male counterparts, but it is fair to say they suffered differently. It is true that writers like Haley did document the rape of black women, but it was simply as a means of moving the narrative along, he does not focus on the damage this would have had on, not only the woman (his ancestor), but also her son. Morrison does! Morrison has focused on the abuse enslaved women suffered, abuse so horrific it drove Margret Garner to kill her own children because she honestly believed death was better than the life awaiting them. Morrison highlights this idea in her novel by only killing one of Sethe’s children; her eldest daughter. In Beloved, Sethe could see a real person emerging and could no doubt imagine, more vividly than she could with Denver, the life this enslaved woman would lead.

The events based around Garner are only half of the central narrative in the novel, the other is the suppressing of these events. Sethe spends the majority of this novel suppressing her actions, ignoring them in the hopes they will disappear, until she can’t because Beloved returns in a physical form, disrupting her life. Here, Morrison is writing to those who ignored the terrible events of slavery, presenting her view that one day a physical reminder will be brought. In many ways Morrison’s novel is that physical reminder, as through it she also speaks to those who may want to ‘move one’ from slavery. Beloved demands that society opens their eyes to the travesty’s of slavery in order to heal.

Thus, Morrison’s Beloved is an essential piece of literature for all people, as it gives a voice to black women, and also to the African American community as a whole. Men are given a voice, through the character of Paul D, mixed race people are given a voice, black culture and beliefs were given a voice. What is more, Morrison has achieved all of this without vilifying white people, speaking for those who disdained it or attempted to destroy it. She has even spoken to those who attempted to uphold slavery in the past and today by ignoring it. This novel doesn’t just speak for the black community, it speaks for and to everyone, of all ages, sex and race. One would be hard pressed to find a person Toni Morrison has not spoken for through Beloved.