Why I think I’m a Feminist

Offering you the opportunity to read a little about my journey through the corporate corridors of my former life. Brought to you via my guest post on ‘Fiery Females’.

SacredCircleforWomen

Why I think I’m a feminist – a personal perspective on feminism

I am, without doubt, a feminist. I have subscribed to the belief in the social, economic and political equality of the sexes for almost as long as I can remember. My attitudes have been shaped by my upbringing, influenced by societal expectations and honed by life experience.

I was brought up to believe in equality and in women’s rights.

I grew up in the UK and as a child of the 70s and a young woman of the 80s, my generation’s older sisters had laid the foundations of feminism. Underpinned by new legislation in the 1970s, the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, women were set on a more equal footing than ever before, but perhaps the biggest trigger for change was the widespread – and free – availability of the contraceptive pill in 1974, which…

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The #WritingMyCity book anthology

writingmycity new pic by mak1one
Image: Mak1one

I came across this interview yesterday about the #WritingMyCity project in which I participated as a facilitator and writer a few month’s ago.

I was particularly excited that our little group, who are part of the Women for Change programme, got a mention. Their stories obviously struck a chord even if they didn’t make it into this particular collection.

Here’s an extract from the interview:

***

Q. Tell us about the fantastic book project ‘Writing My City’

A. There are so many people with wonderful stories but rarely a vehicle to share them. To help people do this, Cape Town libraries offered creative-writing workshops earlier this year. Now we’re launching a collection of everyday Capetonians’ stories about living in the city.

Q. The project is an incredible collaboration with local libraries across the city. What is your experience of connecting with these very diverse community hubs?

A. I was so impressed with the librarians who took on this challenge. It was heart-warming that each participating library had passionate teachers, writers and poets who freely gave their time and expertise to facilitate the workshops and to help would-be writers pull their stories together.

Q. It must have been exciting getting such diverse perspectives on Cape Town. What kinds of submissions really moved you?

A. As part of the workshops, the Women for Change Group had a chance to share their stories. I cried when I heard of mothers talking about losing their children, abuse and dependencies. I also embraced how they helped each other through these experiences as one big family.

 ***

That last paragraph is so important to me. When the ladies eventually felt able to tell me their experiences I was incredibly humbled and moved.

The collection is going to be launched at an event at the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town in September. I’m looking forward to attending.

A copy of the anthology will be in more than 100 libraries across the city, so it will be available to a wide audience. Books don’t come cheap in this country. Copies of the book will be sold at the Open Book Festival in September. It will be awesome to see my words in print alongside the other 39 chosen Capetonians.

 


Read the full interview with Christelle Lubbe, of the City of Cape Town’s Library and Information Services, and Frankie Murrey, Co-ordinator of the Open Book Festival by Carla Lever on Times Live

Submission Day – we did it!

Open Book Cape Town

Well, if you’ve been following my #writingmycity project journey, you’ll know we’ve had a few challenges along the way. Now we’ve come to the end of this particular road and there’s really good news.

Stories have been written, author’s bios have been composed and now our entries to the project are ready to go.

How pleased and proud I am of this group of women. They’ve produced disturbing, gut-wrenching and thought-provoking stories. There’s been anger, there’s still sadness but there is definitely hope.

These stories may not be selected for the Cape Town Library Book, but they will certainly give the selection panel food for thought. I don’t know what image of the ‘Mother City’ the editors of the publication intend to portray, but members of the Suiderstrand Library writing group have borne vivid witness to the gritty, dirty underbelly of beautiful Cape Town.

The voices of these strong women deserve to be heard. My thanks to every one of them for sharing their stories with such bravery and honesty.

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Revelation!

Open Book Cape Town

This morning’s #Writing My City workshop (re-arranged from last Friday when most people arrived too late to do anything, but never mind) took us to a whole new level.

Rather than prepare anything for group participation, I’d decided that we should just write, and then write some more. We had finished our previous workshop in writing mode and sure enough, stories had been written, at least partly.

I was so pleased to find that most of the group had written their stories in English (contrary to what they had told me they would do). I read each of them in turn in a quiet area, with their authors. And I had someone to help translate the two pieces which were written in Afrikaans.

The #WritingMyCity project is about the stories, not about how they are written, but reading stories phrased in the local vernacular is very pleasing.

The stories I read this morning are thought-provoking. They are disturbing and they have got under my skin. These stories have been told from the heart, and they are heart-wrenching. Most important of all, they are real. Powerful stories, written by women who lack power. All but one are from what we so tastefully call the ‘formerly disadvantaged communities’ as if they’re not still disadvantaged. All of these women have lived through very tough experiences.

For some, this writing journey has opened barely-healed wounds which are hard to deal with. But there will be support. For many of them it may offer a way to that special writing space which means so much to me. At least I hope so.

I’m saddened and humbled by their stories. I feel privileged that they have trusted me to read them. I am gratified that now they have the will and confidence to share them further by submitting them to the project. 

When we let our stories out into the world next week we will celebrate… with cake!

I hope at least one eventually appears in print.

 

 

 

 

An Uphill Struggle

Open Book Cape Town

Session Two of the #Writing My City workshop at Suiderstrand Library.

I was excited and quite optimistic about how it would go, particularly since after the initial struggle of the first session, we had finished up with heads down, writing.

I’d done lots of preparation, including finding what I thought was accessible material for my little group of (principally) Afrikaans-speaking ladies. I had a photo-prompt, some poems to read and a ‘kick-off’ worksheet.

Oh, and I’d brought cake.

Everything was prepared; my laptop was poised ready to play the You Tube clips. Slowly-slowly the group members dragged themselves in. We greeted each other, then they crawled around on the floor finding sockets where they could charge their phones. We assembled around the table with our coffee and biscuits.

We had a little recap. Had anyone continued writing? Just the one willing woman. The one who’s really keen. Okay, that was expected.

So, I explained, I’ve found some Afrikaans poetry, written by a guy from the Cape back in the Days of the Struggle. He’s called Adam Small. It’s good stuff!

O oppas, oppas performed by Veronique Jephtas.
[Now I’d thought it was engaging, even though I understood about one word in ten].

Blank looks all round. I handed out the copies of the poem and tried to get them to translate. A few words were squeezed out. Maybe it was a bit before their time… maybe it wasn’t my place… I don’t know.

So I picked up another of his poems: ‘The Poet, Who is he?‘ Here’s the rough translation:

The poet
Who’s he?
You all have so much to say about the poet
But who’s he?
Is he really what you think?

The guy with the pen and the ink
who sits in his study and thinks out poems?

No
You’re all mistaken
Not him

But you’re the poets
You, guys who walk in the street
And gossip
And see things
And point them out and let God know

The point being… you are the poets!
Refer back to the success of the rapper. You can do it!

For my final flourish, I played one of Veronique Jephtas’ own pieces of performance poetry. Warning: strong language.

Break through! They enjoyed this. We talked about the role of women, their place in society etc. It was really interesting, but their supervisor from Social Development urged against pursuing their vulnerable feelings. Fair enough. I’d thought of that for Part Two. 

Cake Break

For the second half I used a photo prompt. A recent one from the lovely Hélène Vaillant’s Willow Poetry: ‘What do you see?

000000 helen valliant photo prompt for 13 Many

The little boy hiding behind a tree. I explained that the poems we were about to read were inspired by the photo. You can use anything to get yourself writing.

I gave them copies of the following and we read them together.
Thanks for your poetry!

Hide and Seek by Von Smith

Childhood Problems by Susan Zutautas 

Lost by Christine Bolton

The one ‘willing woman’ and Bongi, the Head Librarian, took up the discussion about the poems with me. Some of the others also participated. We had engagement. 

For this last part of the morning I wanted to take them back to an earlier, happy memory. I shared one of mine. Of being in my grandma’s kitchen…

Think about an early memory, something happy.

Now perhaps you’d like to write something? You don’t have to read it out. Think about that memory: Where are you? Who’s with you? What can you see? What does it look like? What can you hear? What does it sound like? Smells are very important to memories. What can you smell? Describe it. What can you feel when you put out your hand? What do you feel inside? What can you taste? What happened? What were you thinking? What did you do? (I gave them each a worksheet with the headings).

And then they all put away their phones and started writing. And continued writing. 

Continue for homework if you would like to.

We’ll see.

 

 

 

 

Not quite what I expected

Open Book Cape Town

You may recall from a few weeks back that I’d volunteered to be a facilitator for Cape Town’s Writing My City project. 

I should at this point mention that the local library where I was found a place, Suider-Strand Library, had entered into a joint initiative with the Social Development Department, which is broadly involved in upliftment programmes. Hence my little group of 10 ladies were parolees. So, some good stories here! And, I was assured, they had volunteered for the workshops and were keen to write. I was further assured that they were English speakers (to my shame, I have not learned more than the basics of Afrikaans, even after 9 years here).

Well, to cut to the chase, as they say.

The tables are arranged, we have pens and paper, we have coffee and biscuits, and the six ladies and I have introduced ourselves. One of their number is their parole supervisor. Head Librarian, Bongi, is at my side.

I spend a few moments outlining the project. How we want to hear people’s stories. How it is that the story is important, not the actual writing, but I’m here to help with that.

“Are we getting lunch?”

“Er, no.”

“But we’re here all day.”

“Er, sorry, no. Just 10 til 12.”

I continue to talk about the project. I talk about how powerful their stories will be. How they might be included in a book, which will be launched at an important book festival. Bongi nods encouragement. 

They chat amongst themselves (in Afrikaans), then one says: “Are we getting paid for this?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, we’re not going to write anything unless we get paid for it. People are going to make money out of this book and we want a share of it.”

I turn to Bongi for support. A short discussion ensues in which we learn about a whole range of issues which concern these women. Creative writing is not really what they need at this point! Some of these women haven’t even adjusted to being outside prison. They have been incarcerated for between 5 and 10 years in the same facility. One has only been out for a few months. They are having problems settling back into their communities and relating to their children again.

I close my folder. I should be a social worker, or a counsellor, or someone teaching basic literacy skills. But I’m not any of these things.

A different tack is required if I’m going to make anything of this opportunity. We continue the discussion for a little while longer. I explain they don’t have to write anything unless they want to. I say I hope they will though, because it might help them make sense of things. I go on about how it is to lose yourself in writing stories. Even if I can’t make a living from it. Etc. I’m sure you get my drift.

I mention a local author whom I met recently. She does make a living from her novels. A good one. She’d told me that it was just by chance that her first self-published book got noticed, how she’d got a publisher and how she’s sold 100,000 books. I likened her to a singer/wrapper who suddenly gets discovered. 

We have another break. When we all sit down again, they are more positive. They ask me if I’d known where they were from. They seem relieved that I did. Another woman from their group has arrived, and two officers from Correctional Services have joined us too. They will be observing.

We do a little exercise introducing ourselves. Apart from the new-comer, they all write in Afrikaans and their supervisor reads their words out. Some are funny, some are poignant. But they’ve all started writing.

We talk more about ourselves.

I give them a silly story to read which I’d brought along as an icebreaker. It’s one of Ellie Scott’s which she recently posted on her website. It’s called ‘The Ultimate Anti-Aging Secret‘. They love it! Ellie helpfully explains at the end of the story how she gets her inspiration to write. We talk about that too. (Thanks Ellie, that helped!).

Then I ask them what story they might like to tell. It can be about anything. I mention the project again and our late-comer is totally engaged. She’s always written and she’s up for this. Her enthusiasm is infectious. The group is coming around.

We have about 30 minutes left. I ask them to spend about ten minutes writing about something, anything. It doesn’t have to be for the project. They don’t have to share it with anyone. They can write it in their home language. ‘Make it for you,’ I say.

A minute later they are all busy. Ten minutes later they are all still writing. I stop them with ten minutes to go and ask them if they’d like to tell the group what they’ve been writing about. Most say they’ve started writing about what went wrong with their lives, but one says she’s been writing about meeting her boyfriend. ‘Mills and Boon’. We all laugh.

Time will tell how we progress, but I know we already have one very powerful story which will be told beautifully and painfully. I have another four sessions to find out if there will be more.