Feminist Poetry

One funny (aka annoying) thing about identifying as a Feminist and being relatively vocal about it as a poet (like putting on an event with women-only features) is that you get put in a particular box.

The thing is, the whole point of Feminism is to not be put in a box; it’s about dismantling binaries of gender, and dichotomies such as the infamous virgin/whore one. I guess that’s why lots of people have been sharing comment from Maisie Williams about the label “Feminist” – reducing it to the simple catchy phrase that anyone who isn’t Feminist should be labelled “sexist”. I don’t want to go too far into this part, because the statement that is being shared is reductive and denies the nuances of sexism and misogyny, but it also denies the complexity of what Williams was trying to express, which was actually about trolling and shame, rather than Feminism (in fact the idea that women can be just as nasty as men is Feminist). Her words have been taken way too far out of context,now having read the original interview. One critic I have is that by labelling people “sexist”, you’re actually perpetuating the culture of shame (I haven’t read this yet, but I think it will be really eye-opening when I do).

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I’m categorically not interested in arguing about whether we need the label “Feminism” needs to go, or whether it needs a rebrand. It is a type of activism related to gender, acknowledging the systematic oppression of women throughout history. And personally, Feminism needs to strive to be intersectional – how can you care about women if it’s only one type of woman? This means that you listen to people from other oppressed groups and take on board what they say, taking into account some of your own privilege. I strongly believe that patriarchy damages men and boys, and this is something that is very much a part of my Feminism, yet within this an understanding that men and boys have also tended to benefit from the system. If people want to know what Feminism is today, my recommendations are:

bell hooks – everything
Laura Bates – Everyday Sexism
Michael Kimmel – his books, but also him speaking

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But anyway, I’ve got carried away. What I really wanted to say (moan about) is about the conflict I have between my Feminism being an important part of my identity and yet people sometimes have the trouble to see that this means that I am a person, a human being, and not an object or a number to get a certain quota. It’s important to me to write poetry on Feminism and it’s something I’ve been doing for around 9 years, since I started to take my poetry to the microphone. When I was younger I wrote about being a Feminist who waxes (and a guy in the audience asked me if I was really a Feminist – shock, horror!) and about the beauty industry. Recently, I still write about these kinds of topics, but also about female genital cutting, rape as a weapon of war, and dismantling damaging notions of masculinity. However, when I started writing poetry, it was sickeningly and overwhelmingly about boys. I look back now and I laugh (cringe) because I can’t even remember who the hell I’ve written about so emotively. I mean, I once wrote a poem about a guy I fancied at a club who had a broken arm. I won “Best Loss Poem” at Glam Slam in 2011 with a tale of heart-break, after a string of unrequited love/lust/infatuation. Things aren’t always easy just because you’re in a relationship, so I still have a few sombre poems, but also a whole host of lovey-dovey poems, which are really hard to write well!feminism-is-the-radical-notion-that-women-are-people-quote-1

The point is that about 5% of my material is overtly Feminist, but Feminist lines and themes will slip in because it is such a big part of my being. And let’s not get me started on the comment (insult) that one guy made about my work being “very feminine”. It was the only comment he said, and he spoke with a sneer, out of his judgemental, condescending nose. However, there is also very little I don’t write about as I play with different forms and get inspired by different things. I guess it’s difficult because when you become a brand to market – as sadly you do when you put yourself out there in the creative industries – people want something like “Feminist poet” to cling to. Perhaps what concerns me is how others perceive me, and I worry that there may be any negativity surrounding this. But is this real or imagined? A certain poet has seemed to change their mind about sexism being morally wrong, but it seems to be going well for them. Like, my hashtag below was a joke, yet the “joke” responses that followed weren’t at all funny in my opinion… but then, Feminists have no sense of humour, so… I didn’t know how to respond to someone who is meant to be a peer, and who I expect to be respectful, so a simple sarcastic “lolz” was all I could muster.

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Anyway, I guess I need to remember what Benjamin Zephaniah once told me – that if you are a black woman who is a lesbian and in a wheelchair, you have to write some poems about other things than those aspects of your identity. So, there’s only so many poems I can share about Feminism before people will think that’s all I do! So I guess I need to be aware of what I put out there, and share every part of my writing more widely, not just the more political pieces. Maybe it will make up for all my Feminist ranting. But one thing’s for sure – I will never give up on Feminism or on myself! I’ve been through a tough time recently, but Destiny’s Child and Christina Aguilera and Nirvana have helped me through it! And now I have been writing for so long, but I feel good getting it out! 💪

bell hooks: Outlaw Culture

When reading Feminist texts, it is usually unlikely that you will agree with 100% of what they write. It’s hard to be right about everything, and Feminists are human and it’s natural to disagree. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a pretty impossible feat to solve the world’s problems. But, you know, we try. And when it comes to bell hooks, she gets pretty close to that 100% for me. This notion of a perfect kind of Feminism is also something bell hooks addresses.

In conversation with Caitlin Moran, Bridget Christie and Shazia Mirza at Southbank Centre, they asserted that there’s no such thing as a perfect Feminist, and that they shouldn’t have to face a backlash for saying things others had issues with. Whilst I agree that the vile abuse that can come out of this through such “Twitterstorms” is bad (goodbye sisterhood), I think it’s important to be critical and create a dialogue rather than stick your fingers in your ears and say ‘la la la, I’m not listening’. bell hooks states her books ‘rigorously critique and interrogate aspects of feminist thoughts, they also insist on the primacy of a fierce feminist commitment to ending sexism and sexist oppression.’ She goes on to say that ‘a progressive, revolutionary feminist movement must welcome and create a context for constructive conflict, confrontation, and dissent. Through that dialectical exchange of ideas, thought, and visions, we affirm the transformative power of power politics.’ Maybe a utopian vision, but something we do have the power to achieve.

I have a copy of ‘Feminism is for Everybody’ still on my shelf, and bought my boyfriend a copy of ‘The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love’ after a recommendation from a male colleague, but I started with ‘Outlaw Culture’. It’s a collection of essays and interviews which focuses on pop culture, weaving in perfectly placed profanities within an academic discourse that gives legitimacy to engage critically with the kinds of things that surround a majority of people’s everyday lives.

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I have folded down SO MANY CORNERS. I cannot recommend this book enough, even if it isn’t the one that most people would typically go for. Although bell hooks has been questioned on her academic style, I still think it’s somewhat accessible. Coming from an academic background myself, it may be hard to assess that concern properly, but I was actually gripped when reading it. And to get that from a non-fiction feminist text is pretty impressive.

One of the big things I liked about the book, is the amount of times the ‘white supremacist capitalist, patriarchy’ is referenced, as well as comments on heteronormativity and imperialism. I think it’s so important to see the ways these systems of power intersect and to find strength in that, as well to see what part you have to play in the struggle against these multiple oppressions. Although there are some references to films I’d not seen, it made me want to watch and re-read, and these were just as interesting as those I was familiar with, or the more broad essays, such as the fantastic ‘Gangsta Culture – Sexism and Misogyny: Who will take the rap?’ This was the one that made me rush to my bag in a debate with my Dad to slam the book down at the table, opened at one of the turned-down corners.

Published in 2006, Outlaw Culture is available from Routledge Classics and you can buy it here.