I have been doing a bit of that lately – neglecting the blog, I mean. I’ve been immersed in submissions for two journals I’m currently editing (both, as guest editor). Then I was distracted by the fabulous Perth Writers Festival which coincided with my sister’s soul-warming visit. And finally, I’m pinching myself because I actually have a publisher for the story I’ve been living with for almost ten years; the story that became the novel that I submitted for my PhD. The year so far has been busy!
I find I’m happiest (and saddest) when immersed in the stories of women who triumph against odds. Most of my PhD research was linked to stories of survival and as I edit the special issue on Female Genital Mutilation for Cafe Dissensus, I find myself drawn back into the spirit that enables women to go on, often after everyone else has given up. But I feel angry as well, especially when I see and hear women being heckled or abused for doing what they can in order to circumvent the awful misogyny, that in Australia at least, seems to be just waiting in the wings to swoop.
At the recent Perth Writers Festival, I was privileged to attend a panel discussion with the fabulous Charlotte Wood, author of The Natural Way of Things. When the time came to ask questions of the writers, who included Helen Ellis and Guinevere Glasfurd, a man in the audience stood up and instantly made me ashamed I was breathing the same air as him. This man told Charlotte Wood that most of the characters in her novel were “pathetic” and one of the main characters, Yolande, “was just like a man” and that’s why he liked her. Charlotte Wood maintained her grace and composure but some of the women in the audience that I spoke to afterwards wanted to howl with rage or shout him down. But we didn’t. We behaved like nice girls; ironically Wood had started the discussion by saying that she didn’t write about nice girls.
So why do women play nice when men don’t? Are we taught perfection and niceness instead of bravery and fairness? And why is our silence always construed as weakness? As I transcribe the interviews and read the testimonies of the women who have come forward to speak of female circumcision, I hope this will change. I hope our voices will be louder than the ones that shout us down. I hope we will continue to say uncomfortable things and I hope that my voice doesn’t falter the next time I need to raise it.
I am very sad to hear that he felt the need to speak out, I would have been ashamed to. Clearly he had an alternative motive. I loved the Perth Writers Festival, it takes me days to recover from 3 magical days of inspiration x
Yes, Rae, he clearly did have an agenda. Wasn’t the festival marvelous though, as always?
Gosh, I imagine that would have been a good session! And Mr Grinch kind of illustrated the point even whilst failing to get it. I think you’re right; we gels have been so thoroughly inculcated in the dynamics of being nice, not upsetting anyone, thinking of others and so on, we can miss a moment that requires a voice and a firm line. On the other hand, those moments of another persons incomprehension or refusal are sometimes best left to die a lonesome death in the glare of their own ugliness. Yolanda, a man? Boy, did he miss the point.
Yes, I thought of you and afterwards had a word with Charlotte who was utterly unfazed … not the worst thing said to her apparently, which is horrifying in itself.
Congratulations on finding a publisher for your amazing novel, Rashida. I’m delighted you are one step closer to putting it out into the world. And I’m blown away by what you are doing around female circumcision. Every voice counts. It’s time for us to be heard. Really great to hear your update!
Ah Gulara, thank you. The stories found me despite my reluctance to ‘go there.’ I’ve been on the verge of tears ever since I started gathering these stories and that’s okay. Because, as you say, we need to be heard.
You’re a better woman than I, Rashida – I would have named him!
Sue, had I known his name, I would have named him! I can describe him though, and feel very sorry for the women in his life!
Good to read your blog again! I hate comments like this, not just because it’s insulting and damaging on a feminist level but also on a literary level – it’s implying that you should only write about a certain kind of character! I’ve had comments levelled at me in the past for choosing to write about “one kind of character” as opposed to another and I find them unhelpful and absurd. It’s a bit like telling someone that one form of artistic expression is better or has more merit than another.
I am, however, absolutely delighted about the impending publication of your novel. Well deserved and I can’t wait to read it when it’s published.
Thank you Louise. Yes, I wish I had asked the man his name so I could call him out publicly, for his unhelpful and misogynistic attitude. And you’re right, artistic and literary expression is ours to define. It’s like the time Toni Morrison was asked why she never wrote about white people and she responded by saying that was the most powerfully racist thing she’d ever heard.
[…] couldn’t get hold of Rashida in time, but she was good about the cancellation and we thoroughly enjoyed catching up and reading […]