Some take up knitting … I took up feminism

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This year, I took up feminism. You gotta have a hobby, right? I almost took up knitting, but it seemed too complicated.

I never did an Honours year at the end of my Bachelor’s degree, and I’ve often regretted it. The rigour of immersing yourself in and thoroughly researching a single topic appeals to me. I like the idea of becoming an expert in something. Anything. Like the year I got into twentieth-century dystopic fiction and found a way to turn any conversation into a song of praise for Margaret Atwood. That passion reached its fever pitch when I was retweeted by Atwood herself. But after reading my fourth Atwood novel in a row, I needed a break. I needed to think about something else for a while. I love diving headfirst into a subject, but eventually you have to surface (usually with a stack of library books and mild insomnia).

Deadset ledge.

Margaret Atwood. Deadset ledge.

My enthusiasm for Atwood and dystopic novels has not lessened (the third book in the MaddAddam trilogy is next on my reading list, squee!), but my focus did shift. I stopped making lists of academic essays to read on the topic of “environmentalism and dystopia”. I now only rave about Oryx and Crake if someone else brings up the topic first. (Usually.) I think of my head as being like a stirred-up fishbowl, and these passions and interests eventually settle into the sediment, like a silty silvery lining on my brain. But the achievement-oriented part of me wanted to do something productive with all this research and analysis; an equivalent of the Honours project I’d never attempted. I wanted to produce a longform work. I decided to write a stage show.

I had a vague idea of the themes I wanted to tackle in this show. One of those themes was the way women talk about their own experiences. This interest came out of many revealing conversations with women who privately shared their stories with me, who had suffered trauma and yet stayed silent about it. Their stories had a common thread: They had stayed silent for so long because they didn’t know how to talk about it. They’d had no framework within which to articulate their experience, even to themselves. It made me wonder how many women were not sharing their stories; how many were still silent; and why we have trouble talking about surviving abuse.

This line of inquiry led me to the subject in which I have immersed myself this year: Feminism. Learning feminism became my Research Project of ’13. I had always resonated with the women’s rights movement and supported the movement to close the gender gap. As a woman myself, I couldn’t help but appreciate the rights afforded to me by first- and second-wave feminism. But my knowledge of the movement was pretty patchy. I’d always considered myself a feminist, but now I was concerned that I’d been using that word without really understanding it. And so, the great Research Project began.

For months, I’ve been nerding hard on all things gender politics, and it has been a wild ride. The countless books and articles and blog posts, read and re-read and hashed out with friends. I’ve attended feminist panels and performed at a poetry night about gender. I wrote a blog post about women in comedy that briefly went viral. I even joined a feminist radio show, wandering in as an intrigued guest and staying on as an intrigued co-host. For an hour every Sunday I talk about sexism, which means for many hours each week I have to think about sexism, in preparation for Sunday. It isn’t easy. Sexism is not a fun topic. I’ve had weeks where I just couldn’t read another article about spousal abuse or rape culture. There has been many a daytime weep. I can’t be the repository for all knowledge on the topic of oppressive patriarchal structures and be a happy person. For my own wellbeing, I’ve had to limit my research reading in this area.

As uncomfortable as it’s been, all of this inquiry has fed into my creative practice, helping me process the complex issues I wanted to address in my stage show. Another silty layer of knowledge has been stirred into my brainbowl. And now that the sediment is settling, I feel less flurried about feminism. I absolutely still feel strongly that there is much to do before we reach gender equality; now that I’ve clearly seen the prevalence of casual and structural sexism in our culture, I don’t think I can un-see it. But I’m reaching that point in my Research Project arc when the book titles on my bedroom floor start to change – less Is There Anything Good About Men? (spoiler alert: there is!) and more Holiday in Cambodia. I’ll be taking refuge in travel memoirs and short story collections for a while, recovering from this intense period of learning.

Now is the “synthesising phase”, as they say in education. Now I take all of the higher-order processing I’ve been doing around feminism and spit out something productive. Or at least, that’s the idea. My project is culminating in this stage show, which is nearing completion. All of my research and personal journey from the past year won’t necessarily be explicitly included in the show, but it has informed the shape it’s taking. I think my writing is richer for it. I’ve added as much nutritional sediment as I can to my internal environment – now it’s time to chuck a fish in and see if it lives.

Not Much To Tell You. (Photo by Erica Wheadon.)

Not Much To Tell You. (Photo by Erica Wheadon.)

If you’re in Brisbane and you’d like to see what I’ve come up with, I’ll be mounting an experimental version of my stage show at Metro Arts’ Friday Night: November (1 November 2013). Would love to see you there!

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4 thoughts on “Some take up knitting … I took up feminism

  1. Done. In the calendar!
    I’m currently half way through ‘The Year of the Flood’, so also warming into my Maddadam phase. I always find Atwood difficult to start, and to stick with, but the effort is always worth it 🙂

    At the end of my research degree (in education) I actually did take up knitting, haha. I subsequently discovered there is a great pleasure and sense of connectedness to women through the ages that arises from engaging in such craft. I’m not that good at it though – so far I have managed to complete two scarves, though I did learn to perl for the second one, so there you go.

    You already have your reading lists going on, but can I suggest this article that someone shared with me yesterday: http://griffithreview.com/edition-41-now-we-are-ten/sinking-below-sight …I like it because it is raw, and real, and local. Reading this article and now your blog post today I am thinking that a big barrier to ‘women sharing their stories’ is poverty. Has it been ever thus? Or is our contemporary society more isolating than those of past generations? I don’t know. But thanks for the thought-fodder!

    1. I’m the same with Atwood novels. They’re the kind of books that I, sometimes, find myself enjoying more when reflecting on them afterwards than when actually reading. They’re slow burners! But my how they burn.

      Knitting is one of those skills that I am in awe of. I’ve been meaning to try my hand at it for years. I think I’ll have to go out and get some needles and yarn and just go for it. I’d love to be able to knit my own scarves! That is so cool you did that!

      Thanks so much for sharing that article. It hits pretty hard. I think you make a good point about poverty being a huge barrier to story-sharing. One of the women in the article talked about being exhausted; a couple of them mentioned surviving day-to-day. When people are working that hard to keep themselves and their families alive, what energy left to advocate for themselves, to tell their stories? Thanks for giving me a lot more to think about 🙂

  2. I wish I lived closer and could have come to see your show! After beginning work in Anthropology, I am constantly surprised and reminded at the many ways women across the world exercise agency. Sometimes when I’m reading their narratives, I feel like they’re the real deal, feminists without labels and they inspire me. If you have the time, this ethnography by Ruth Behar is a fantastic example of how women live out their agency, even when life is daunting.
    http://www.amazon.com/Translated-Woman-Crossing-Border-Esperanzas/dp/0807046477

    1. Thanks! I’ll add Behar to my reading list. Your work in Anthropology sounds fascinating, I’m glad to have found your blog! Cheers 🙂

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