This very week, Germany’s new minimum quota for women on boards, a meagre 30%, was hailed as progress.
As those marginalised for race or gender will tell you, a seat at the table isn’t enough. You have to change the rules once you get there, and that’s unlikely to happen if there aren’t more of you. Not yet at a critical mass, we are outnumbered, outgunned.
And so corporate meetings will continue to be scheduled around the golf holidays of male colleagues, but not school holidays. Well-meaning mentors, many of them women, will continue to tell you that if your career, your motherhood, yourdaughterhood, your marriage, your friendships, are not satisfying enough, to just try harder. Make sacrifices. Slice off one arm.
It was with this news in mind that I read the poetry anthology, F Letter; a collection of feminist poetry confrontingunder-representation, under-recognition, sexism, and violence.These poets write primarily of patriarchy and discrimination in Russia, but the issues are universal, spilling over borders into, well, everywhere.
In her Introduction, Galina Rymbu takes a shot at the world of poetry:
“… women’s writing (and women’s poetry in particular) has historically been demeaned as unimportant and second-rate; associated with stupid outpourings of emotion and the naïve diaries of schoolgirls; and seen as incapable of raising profound philosophical questions and working with radical renewals of language.”
There are those poets who, as Rymbu points out, “want to be read in the context of male writing, which always claims to be universal and ungendered or neutral.”
So who are we as poets of feminist poetry? Am I a poet or a poetess? Do I need to embrace a male style of writing, of interest, of canon, or someone else’s definition of radical feminist poetry? I just want to write as myself, but I carry thisself-conscious anxiety with me, wrapped around my pen.
In her poem, “Song,” Stanislava Mogileva asks,
“Oh! and is my writing sufficiently
Oh! and is it sufficiently activist?
Oh! and is my writing sufficiently
is it relevant to the here and now…
is it trendy enough
is it fully feminine…”
Marginalization extends far beyond how we write and what we call ourselves, to who we can love and who controls our bodies. It extends to the case of the three Khachaturian sisters imprisoned in Moscow for murdering their abusive father, and hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community in Chechnya; AndLida Yusupova’s description of rape in “Mateyuk” – the repeated phrase, “this isn’t right this isn’t right this isn’t right this isn’t right this isn’t right…” filling a whole page.
At the conclusion of “My Vagina,” Rymbu writes:
“My vagina is love, history and politics.
My politics is the body, the everyday, affect.
My world is a vagina. I am a vagina. And I
Yet for some I am a dangerous vagina,
a fighting vagina. This is my monologue.”
I agree. It shouldn’t matter whether I’m in a board room or a laundry room. Allow me to be myself. To write as myself. Don’t tell me to lean in.