Blogs on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ by Shani Thompson, Eleanor West and Neeti Rao

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How Does A Poor Black Woman Categorise Oppression? – by Shani Thompson

In Taylor Dunn’s blog post a few weeks ago, she compared the social status of women and slaves, which provoked reflections on how the dual subjugation of female slaves pits sexual oppression against racial oppression. How might an individual categorise oppression when facing more than one kind? By how many or how few people it affects, or by which aspect of their identity is threatened the most? Can oppression be ordered? These considerations have resurfaced for me while reading Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’, in which protagonist Akunna leaves her home in Nigeria to start a new life in America. We see quite often how she is judged, questioned and stereotyped as a result of being Nigerian; however we also see how she is sexually harassed as a result of being a woman.

We discover that Akunna roots for gameshow contestants in this order ‘women of color, black men, and white women, before, finally, white men’ (p.121). First, this mode of categorisation puts her sympathies with women of colour at the top of the hierarchy. Next, it separates female identity into two ethnic groups; white women and non-white women. Finally, it gives a higher level of importance to being black than to being a woman – although contestants who happen to be both are at the top of her list, black men are placed above white women, as opposed to the two groups of women being situated above the two groups of men, regardless of ethnicity.

This ‘Thing’ around Akunna’s neck may be a metaphorical noose that represents her bleak, isolated, dispirited experience of America as a Nigerian, a woman, and a working class immigrant. Or perhaps – as a Nigerian first, a woman second, and a working class immigrant third. But I doubt that categorising oppressed identities is so simple.

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Who Am I? Blog by Eleanor West

Finding your own identity is something that many of us struggle with. Who am I? What do I see? What do other people see? However, if you’re an immigrant, like we see in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’, these questions can be complicated by the stereotypes surrounding your homeland, and you are often misrepresented. Moving to America, as Akunna does in the text, is seen as a way to improve your life, but Akunna is often subject to questions that are ‘a mixture of ignorance and arrogance’.

Furthermore, the ignorance that surrounds people of colour and immigrants means that women especially end up sexualised and objectified. Akunna faces the threat of sexual assault because she is vulnerable. When she gets a boyfriend later on, there is the implication that he finds her attractive because she is “exotic” in his eyes. Despite the sexualisation of women of colour, Akunna ‘knew by people’s reactions that you two were abnormal’, as for some reason, sex is not strange, but a real relationship is.

With immigration being such a hot topic in today’s society, it is important to think about Adichie’s narrative as something representative of the way many immigrants live their lives. Not illegally, lazily, or through committing crimes, but like Akunna; she moves for a better life but ends up struggling with maintaining her cultural identity whilst also being objectified and misrepresented as a woman of colour, and as an immigrant, in modern America.

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‘Because you are a girl’ Blog by Neeti Rao

So, just because I am a girl you are going to stop me from doing what you think is not meant for girls? You are going to mute me? Girls have gone through this oppression and still do because of the societal terrorism which dictates a set of rules and a way of life which only applies to women. It gets worse because there is no explanation provided as to why a particular action cannot be performed by a girl? What is it that a penis can do and a vagina cannot? Both make a baby, both need to be present in order to produce a new life which means that both are equally important. Then why is it that women are stopped? Why is it that women have to constantly face this notion of ‘you can’t do it because you’re a girl’? Yes, we can. We could always. But we were stopped. Not anymore, as more girls are now becoming independent women and are standing against the societal oppression. Women are stopping injustice and are encouraging curiosity, questions and hope amongst other women – something which is much needed to empower women to let them freely and openly say ‘we can do it’.

 

 

 

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S/He? Blog posts by Reiss-René Niles and Megan Haycock

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A true reflection of self?  By Reiss-René Niles

 

If you were to look in a mirror right now, what image of yourself would you see?  And if I were to look at your reflection in the mirror, would I see the same image? Would you be happy with the image that I would see of you? Without going too far into the science of how mirrors work, I would hope you all agree in saying that I wouldn’t. This is not only for the fact that I would be literally standing at a different angle, but simply because what you might think or feel about yourself would alter how you depict yourself in the mirror.  And this perception may not even actually be what is physically there! For some, this disparity between images can be problematic in ones sense of identity as Anne Hollander states it crates a ‘self-deception- or at the very worst, perhaps a path to death and damnation.’ Marjane Satrapi illustrates this in Persepolis as the reflection of female characters in the mirror shows them to be unhappy or frowning, perhaps in seeing how they may physically be portrayed in society. What comes to mind when analysing this theory in a modern day society is the struggles that many transgender people may face when looking in the mirror as how they identify themselves challenges society’s stereotypical views of how a gender should look/act etc.

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“He for She” – Really? By Megan Haycock

 

Men who want to support women in our struggle for freedom and justice should understand that it is not terrifically important to us that they learn to cry; it is important to us that they stop the crimes of violence against us – Andrea Dworkin

 

Emma Watson’s speech on behalf of the “He For She” campaign had men at its front and centre, outlining the ways that they would be benefitted should they become ‘feminists’. In 2014 the campaign went viral. Celebrity after celebrity was spotted sporting a “He For She” or “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt or holding up a sign scribbled with “#heforshe”. As if that was all the effort it took to become a feminist. One photo, one scribbled bit of paper, and droves of media attention and fan support were headed their way. However, as with most celebrity feminism it all felt a bit hollow. As a self-described radical feminist, it does nothing to hear the words ‘if you believe in equality, you’re a feminist’. I’m sure plenty of men, when asked, will answer that they believe men and women should be equal. However I’m not sure that many of them would go away from that interaction and examine their own behaviour and the ways in which they commit misogynistic acts in their everyday life.

This brand of celebrity led feminism is simply a veneer, drumming up publicity about whichever buzzword is fashionable, without really making change. The “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” shirts that were popular amongst (mostly, but not entirely) white celebrities in the same year were made by women in factories in Mauritius earning $190 a month, $17 beneath what the National Empowerment Fund claims represents the minimum poverty income level.[1]

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Having visited Bangladesh, Zambia, and more recently Uruguay it was disappointing to listen to a speech full of the pitfalls of White Feminism™. Meaning, she speaks entirely from a place of privilege ignoring women from racial minorities (or other minorities) that will not find her campaign accessible or empowering. How a woman can visit places where women have no access to education, are subjected to FGM and child marriages and then go on to dedicate an entire speech to the struggles of white men is beyond me.

Whilst she may have had good intentions, I would rather focus my time and effort on actually empowering women and assisting those in true need as opposed to trying to convert men who will only ultimately exploit our movement for their own gain. Many men may now call themselves feminist, but go home at the end on the day and watch porn, and industry founded on the backs of raped, trafficked and exploited women. On their way home they may try to talk to a woman on the train who isn’t at all interested, and persist, but exempt themselves from criticism and analysis because they of course believe in equality of the sexes.

She briefly mentions at the end of the speech the fifteen million girls that will be married as children in the next 16 years, however, I struggle to see how her speech does anything to change that fact. I find it hard to imagine a man in rural Africa seeing her speech and having a revelation about his soon to be child bride. Her speech could only ever really reach an already privileged group, and why would a privileged group rally behind someone trying to strip them of their privilege to level the playing field?

I find it impossible to wholeheartedly believe in a branch of feminism (a movement founded for the liberation of females) that quite literally puts ‘he’ before ‘she’.

[1] Eleanor Goldberg (2016). ‘Feminist’ T-Shirt Backed by Women’s Group Made In Sweatshop: Report. Huffington Post. [online] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/03/feminist-t-shirt-sweatshop_n_6094722.html [Accessed 7 Nov. 2016].

“Why be a Wife?” “Why be a Feminist?” Blogs by Anna Khan, Iman Aden and Sofie Korstadhagen

This week students looked at a range of interviews on the fantastic British Library Oral history Project Site: Sisterhood and After and responded to those interviews.

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Zoe Fairbairns – YBA Wife by Anna Khan

 

Zoe discusses her YBA Wife campaign, which was set up as a way of providing financial and legal independence to married woman. This stems from her fear and dislike of marriage. She expresses her view on marriage and how distasteful weddings are with this idea that the bride is given away by her father as a form of property and then becomes and owned item by her husband who treats her as he pleases. It was only until the emergence of a new wave of feminism did other women like Zoe realise that marriage should not be the final and sole purpose of their life and thus decided to refute these societal boundaries. Despite many Western societies progressing and adapting to changes regarding women, feminism and marriage, there are many countries in which these issues are still prevalent. Many women and girls in Middle Eastern and Asian countries are still so tightly bound by these expectations and boundaries that have been set upon them. As a result many feel pressured and do not have the option to walk away from the option of marriage as Zoe and so many other women in the Western world did.

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Is feminism not necessary? by Sofie Korstadhagen

 

In Myths and Controversies surrounding feminism in the Sisterhood collection, there is a comment about feminism today and that maybe it is not necessary. The comment asks ‘why do they keep rising?’ Before, feminism in the west was about the right to vote, to work, to have economic power. Now, you hear about free the nipple and let the body hair grow. Small things like this has made feminism almost laughable, but what about the rape culture we are surrounded by? And women still don’t have equal pay? And even though feminism isn’t that much needed in the ‘white’ countries anymore. What about the Muslim women in the west who are shamed for wearing hijabs, burkas, niqabs? What about forced marriages, girls who aren’t allowed education, who aren’t allowed to drive, who can’t vote? Don’t they deserve some justice? Us white women can’t speak for them or fight their battles, but we can offer a helping hand and cheer from the sidelines. So can you say that feminism isn’t really necessary anymore?

 

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Why be a wife? By Iman Aden

Zoe Fairbairns’ ‘’YBA Wife’’ is both thought- provoking and relatable. The reason being, her experiences as a woman and those around her has enabled her readership to understand the importance of rejecting societal pressures in a patriarchal society. Fairbairns’ trip down memory lane highlights the way in which feminism has significantly developed over the years. This includes the shift from ownership of women and lack of protection from marital rape to the legislations that were passed in 1991. Although marriage is now equal in the 21st century, women have the privilege to opt out and fulfil their lives in other ways. Thus, the reader relates to Fairbairn’s views and is almost enlightened in the sense that she allows us to question all pressures imposed on women. Why should one ‘be a wife’? Why must we succumb to a patriarchal institution to avoid ‘’failure’’? Pioneers such as Germaine Greer urges women to ‘’refuse to marry’’ and to symbolically refuse social standards. ‘We don’t have to be wives’; in fact, we can do as we please!

 

Aftermath by Rachel Cusk Blog Post by Lucy Goodall

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In “Aftermath,” Cusk shows her ability to portray her experiences in a frank yet relatable way. When she tells us that “my sins will not devour me but will be dutifully paid off over a lifetime in small increments, like a mortgage,” the reader automatically relates to her. Her challenging and almost clinical version of such a highly-charged subject is what makes her work valuable. By demonstrating the pitfalls of motherhood and family life in such a way, they become more realistic than ever before. Cusk’s literature doesn’t display an ‘angel in the house’ figure like other novels about motherhood. Instead she portrays her experience with motherhood and marriage breakdown as a loss of her identity.

Can a Murderess be a Political Heroine? Blog Post by Taylor Dunn

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The story of Margaret Garner is a tragic one. On trial for the murder of her daughter, the devastating reality of slavery for those experiencing it is revealed. Viewed by many as an act of horrifying violence, Margaret Garner’s actions are a controversial topic of discussion. Without understanding the reasoning behind this distressing act, it is only natural to view the murder of a young child by its mother as a crime of the cruellest kind. However, as a victim of slavery, Garner’s opportunities to speak on her own behalf were practically non-existent. Instead, a slave “could only be known through his master,” denying slaves all rights to a voice. As a result of this, Garner’s case became subject to ventriloquism – and instead of speaking was spoken for by ‘commentators’ ‘claiming access to her inner life.’ Consequentially, much information gathered on Margaret Garner’s case was distorted and untrue, so much so that records of those who described the scene were so inaccurate in their portrayal that they even mistook the gender of Garner’s victim – two and a half year old Mary for a ‘son’. In addition to this, those prejudiced against Margaret Garner’s case – particularly unionist and pro-Southern editorialists – used the event to ‘demonize’ Garner, despite others taking the view that Garner’s actions make her a political heroine for choosing to take her daughter’s life instead of subjecting her to endless ‘suffering’ and ‘unmitigating toil’. According to Mark Reinhardt’s journal article, these contradictory claims reflected the general pattern of the coverage of Garner’s case, highlighting the dangers and controversy of ventriloquism and the single story. This presence and absence of speech can be traced throughout history in cases of not only slavery, but race and also gender. In investigating the lack of women’s literary voices throughout history, is it justified to suggest that the female gender was reduced to the same status as slaves and criminals in patriarchal society? Or are the accounts of female writers by male ventriloquists enough?

 

Katherine Mansfield and The Book of the Month Club

This week’s blogs are by my students Afshan Ahmad and Kristine Aasland

Afshan Ahmad: Katherine Mansfield’s Prelude – A Weak Woman or a Warrior?

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A weak woman or a warrior? Linda, in Katherine Mansfield’s Prelude, refuses to be governed by the patriarchal expectations set for women. But her response is to neglect her role as a mother, all the while supressing her unhappiness. I found Linda’s inability to assert her own feelings most frustrating. By internalising her emotions, she becomes a passive woman settling with her dissatisfaction instead of believing that she has the power to find some shred of happiness in her life. You may say she is a warrior, bearing a life she does not want but I say she is a woman too weak to realise her own importance.

 

Kristine Aasland A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire by Janice A. Radway

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Janice A. Radway writes about how the Book-of-the-Month Club shaped her world view in ways she would not notice until much later. She is critical of book clubs, and the great power which the people in charge hold. Through the books chosen for her she was fed stories of great adventurers, and she disclaims in this extract that she wanted ‘to be such a person.’ (p. 347) In most of the stories she read there were strong male figures. It was the professional power of these men Radway went on to seek in her life, and towards the end of the text she admits to the ‘terrible costs’ these texts have had on her life. (p. 349) She might have been highly motivated in her own life, but the one-sided view of professionalism presented in the books also lead her to ‘the repudiation of [her] gender’. (p. 349) There are book clubs today as well, but what a seeking reader might most frequently come across are lists, such as The Guardian’s ‘The 100 best novels written in English: the full list’. As a reader one should question these lists and their creators, because even though books from both The Book-of-the-Month Club and lists one can find on the internet can hold great literary qualities, the book choices are still subjective. To have book recommendations come from one place only does not seem like a good idea either. As Radway has described in her text it might lead to a limited view of the world.

 

 

Reference: Radway, Janice A., ‘A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire’, in Feminist Literary Theory: A Reader, ed. by Mary Eagleton (Malden, MA: Whiley-Blackwell, 2011), 347-349

 

List from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/aug/17/the-100-best-novels-written-in-english-the-full-list

Jamie Lee Bullen, Blog:Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Literary History

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In ‘Women and Literary History’, Dale Spender notes how generally speaking, Jane Austen is often believed to be the originator of ‘female literary traditions’. This, according to Spender, is a misconception. She states that women did in fact write prior to Jane Austen – in fact, the art of writing fiction was actually considered to be a practice dominated by women prior to the eighteenth century. However, these once acclaimed novelists were no longer held in high-esteem by the end of the eighteenth century because ‘literature became increasingly institutionalised’ and ‘the decision-making powers were concentrated in the hands of the men’.

Because much of the literature being published was written by male authors, literary representations of women were extremely bias. Women were depicted as either one of two things; Angel in the House or monster. According to Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar in The Madwomen in the Attic, because women were ‘locked into male texts’, much of the writing produced by women writers in the nineteenth century is marked by ‘obsessive imagery of confinement that reveals the ways in which female artists feel trapped and sickened both by the suffocating alternative and by the culture that created them’.

Reflecting on the texts we’ve studied on this module, one text in particular stands out for its ‘obsessive imagery of confinement’; Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. In The Yellow Wallpaper the narrator is literally confined to a large garret room by her husband, who forbids her from writing. As if to comment on the dangers of restricting female creativity, Gilman’s narrator quickly descends into madness and becomes obsessed with the ‘repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow’ wallpaper that line the walls of her patriarchal prison. The narrator pleads with her husband to take down the wallpaper, or to at least allow her to leave the room, but he refuses her requests.

As her obsession with the wallpaper intensifies, the narrator identifies a ‘formless sort of figure that seems to sulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front pattern’. Like the narrator, the woman in the wallpaper is also trapped; she’s trapped behind the front pattern of the wallpaper that, by moonlight ‘becomes bars’. The narrator then has to physically tear of the wallpaper to free the women, she writes: ‘I pulled and I shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we has peeled of yards of that paper’.

The story ends with the narrator freeing the women in the wallpaper and identifying herself as that women. The reader learns this when the narrator writes: ‘I don’t dare look out of the windows even — there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?’ In re-reading Perkin’s short story in light of Gilbert and Gubar’s argument, it becomes apparent that like many women writers in the nineteenth century, Perkin’s too felt trapped. The imagery she uses speaks for itself in terms of way it depicts creative women in the nineteenth century; restricted and destined for “madness”.yellowwallpaper