How SA feminists are speaking their truth

By Marchelle Abrahams Time of article published Jun 11, 2018

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Men have always had more space to air their views. Jen Thorpe is hoping to redress this with a collection of essays and poems by South African feminists, writes Marchelle Abrahams,

Jen Thorpe is a proud feminist and writer. She wrote her first novel, The Peculiars, in 2016, to much acclaim. She’s edited two collections of non-fiction feminist writing, the most recent being Feminism Is.

The book is a collection of essays and poems with contributions from well-known activists, writers and gender equality warriors such as Ferial Haffajee, Dela Gwala and Colleen Higgs.

To many women, the concept seems foreign and has little bearing on their lives, but feminism touches on issues as wide-ranging as motherhood, sex and race. This is what the book tries to portray.

During her busy schedule, I managed to do a quick Q&A session with Thorpe about how feminism has evolved.

The book is a collection of essays and poems from women, ranging from all backgrounds.

Q: How do you define feminism?

A: Feminism is a movement to promote equality, with an emphasis on gender equality. It’s a way of seeing the world, identifying the impact of problematic gender norms on all people, and trying to make the world a better place.

Feminism is a movement that is good for every person, and is for every single person.

Q: What are the misconceptions about the concept?

A: There are so many misconceptions about feminism, and we spend a lot of time talking about them. In my opinion it’s more constructive to talk about the benefits of feminism - how it advances gender equality, how it tackles problematic norms and stereotypes that hold people back, and how it encourages people to have a voice on the issues that affect their lives.

Q: Do you think it has been redefined in the modern age?

A: In the past there was the idea that feminism meant one thing, and I think now there is much more awareness that it means many things, and there are many feminisms. This broadening of the concept of feminism has strengthened the movement, because it commits to recognising difference as an opportunity to build solidarity.

Q: When compiling the book, how did you choose whose stories to use, and why?

A: When I decided to pull this together, myself and Na’eemah Masoet (the publisher of the collection) made a long laundry list of people we thought could be included.

Vuyiseka Dubula’s story is of how feminism guided her after her HIV diagnosis. Picture: Facebook

We sent out mails, and encouraged people to send us the names of people they thought should contribute. It snowballed from there.

The essays you see in the collection are the ones that we received back, and our choice was then around how to structure the collection.

Q: Why are men left out of the book?

A: This was a deliberate choice. While I recognise that there are male feminists out there doing important work to advance feminist ideals, I also recognise that men have historically been given more space to have their views aired. I wanted this collection to be part of the effort to redress this.

Q: Your thoughts on the #MeToo movement?

A: The #MeToo movement is an important part of global consciousness raising around the extremely high levels of violence against women in every single sector. I wish all the people involved in it strength.

Q: Which women inspire you?

A: You do not have enough newspaper to list all the women who inspire me. I am inspired by my immediate family of women, all trail blazers.

I’m inspired by my friends. I’m inspired by marginalised women who demand their rights. I’m inspired by women writers.

Q: Girls aren’t really encouraged to take up the mantle. Do you think it’s something that should be taught in schools?

A: I think we are seeing more commitment to encouraging girls to be what they want to be, whether it’s through literature, film, policy or the sustainable development goals.

I do think we need a school curriculum that acknowledges women, that highlights historically important women, and that encourages women to pursue any type of career.

I also think we need a curriculum that deals with problematic gender stereotypes that limit the emotional landscape for girls and boys, and one that takes into account gender diversity.

Q: What are you hoping others will take away after reading Feminism Is?

A: I’d like for readers to finish Feminism Is and feel nourished and hopeful.

Order your copy of Feminism Is on for R199.

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