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’.

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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.

The House on Mango Street – blog post by Georgia Balch

“I had started Esperanza in Iowa at the University of Iowa, feeling very displaced and uncomfortable as a person of color, as a woman, as a person from working-class background. And in reaction to being there I started to have some Mango Street almost as a way of claiming this is who I am. It became my flag. And I realize now that I was creating something new. I was cross-pollinating fiction and poetry and writing something that was the child of both. I was crossing borders and I didn’t know it.”

This quote is particularly interesting when relating the novel to the idea of locating the subject. Here, we are presented with a young Hispanic girl growing up in Chicago, in a home that she is not happy in. It seems that here we can relate the creation of Esperanza to Shoshana Felman’s idea that women are, ‘trained to see ourselves as objects and to be positioned as the Other,’ Throughout the novel, we are reminded of the struggles Esperanza faces as ‘the Other’ because she is a woman, because she is Hispanic and because she is from a working -class background.

 

Cisneros presents us with a coming-of-age story through the use of vignettes, and a narrator that grows up as the plot develops. As she continues to become a woman throughout the story we can compare our protagonist to Rose’s theory of, “‘the subject in process’ to convey the sense of the subject as incomplete, always becoming, never stable.” After meeting the elusive, glamourous and beautiful Sally, we see Esperanza start reflecting on sexuality and femininity. However, this Cleopatra-esque character has her own issues, trapped on Mango Street and later in an abusive relationship. As Esperanza experiences her own sexual encounters, most notably, ‘Red Clowns’ she directly addresses Sally, saying “Sally, you lied, you lied. He wouldn’t let me go. He said I love you, I love you, Spanish girl.”

 

The use of the words ‘Spanish girl’ are reflective of the struggles that she faces not only by being a woman, but also because of her background. As a child, she says, “All brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighbourhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake,” She only feels safe within her Hispanic neighbourhood, yet she wants to escape. In ‘The Rice Sandwich’ we see her attempt this in a sense, but it all goes horribly wrong.  The story concludes with ‘Mango Says Goodbye’ in which our protagonist still looks ahead in hope of freedom, “They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Adoption Papers by Jackie Kay Blogs by Kami Hogg and Lenni-Mai Roberts-Levy

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What makes a mother? Blog by Kami Hogg

 in Adoption Papers, Jackie Kay manages to bring to light the issue of adoption using the narrative voices of child, adoptive mother and biological mother. Maternal instinct is something that is not present in every woman and society often is responsible for demonising those who decide not to raise children. The discourse suggests that failure to have children is ‘unnatural’. Womanhood and motherhood are not inextricably linked and the failure to not want to raise children (be it somebody else’s or your own) does not effect your femininity. Society is becoming increasingly individualistic and the family unit is increasingly being re-moulded to accommodate such changes. But i can’t help but feel an irony in the fact the media still condemns women that don’t wish to procreate.

Holly Brockwell on her decision to be sterilised:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/i-fought-a-four-year-battle-with-the-nhs-to-be-sterilised-at-30/

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Race and Motherhood, Blog by Lenni-Mai Roberts- Levy

Drawing on her own experience as an adopted child, spurred by the racial slurs as a child and the experiences that shaped her life, Jackie Kay writes upon the adoption of a black child and white parents from three narratives. With the consciousness of being a black child in the 1960’s in Britain, she considers the ideology of multiculturalism. Using her poetry she explores issues of identity and loss. Unlike the writers previously studied such as Chimamanda Adichie, Jackie is mixed race. The two women have two different stories, yet share many of the same similarities, You would think being mixed of black and white race, it would have maybe given her ‘better’ opportunities, but there would always be a sense of inequality because she is of the black race, and she would always feel a sense of oppression because she is a female. Jackie Kay’s ‘Adoption Papers’, challenges and provokes thought to the concepts of ‘mixed raced’ or being able to identify with her authentic self, as her adoption papers, reflects her lack of knowing, her lineage, her roots. Kay’s literature challenges the sensitive subject ‘race’. Though she explores the experience of people from multi-racial backgrounds whose tendency is to lose oneself within this expanse that then leaves one without any individual identity or sense of self.

 

 

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’.

 

 

 

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.

Sisterhood and after

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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!