Becoming Unbecoming

Martha Blow

Edited by Abigail Eardley

Art by Livi Prendergast https://liviprendergast.wordpress.com/

On the 5th October 2017, The Times published a story presenting decades of allegations of sexual harassment against film mogul Harvey Weinstein. What followed was the uncovering of an endemic culture of sexual harassment within Hollywood, followed by the seismic #MeToo hashtag. The Weinstein Scandal forced the conversation about sexual violence into global discourse and brought to light its ubiquity. While Becoming Unbecoming was published in 2015, prior to the Weinstein Scandal, it nonetheless addresses the rape culture that normalised Weinstein’s—amongst others—actions. That the graphic novel is set in the 1970s does not diminish its relevance to contemporary society, as evidenced by Weinstein’s exposure, and for that reason it is crucially important to academic curricula.

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More Than Just Blood

Angie Spoto

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Illustration by Iara Silva https: https://www.instagram.com/iiaraz_/

I hadn’t felt my baby move yet and wasn’t sure I wanted to. I confessed this to a friend in a café, who, bringing his hands together in front of his chest and clawing his fingers, said, ‘Yeah, it might feel, you know, like Alien.’ And his hands exploded outward, raining imaginary blood across our lattes.

My friend touched on a fear of mine: that having a baby would be like hosting an alien creature in my body. A fear no doubt inspired by my consumption of science fiction. Immediately, the prospect of pregnancy makes me think of the 1979 movie Alien, which undeniably plays out humanity’s pregnancy fears in the form of chest-ripping, murderous alien children. There’s also the ‘mystical pregnancy trope’: women in science fiction media are regularly forcibly or accidentally impregnated by aliens (Sarkeesian). This trope appears in Stargate SG-1, the X-Files, and Torchwood among other television shows and films.

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There but for the

Allie Kerper

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Illustration by Edith Pritchett https://www.instagram.com/edithpritchett_art/

Ali Smith’s novel There but for the tells the story of a man who, in the middle of a dinner party, locks himself in the spare room. The story unfolds over the course of the following year or so through the perspectives of four different characters whose lives the man, Miles, has touched in small ways. The characters whose voices comprise the story are Anna, an unemployed Scottish woman; Mark, a middle-aged gay man; May, an elderly woman with dementia; and Brooke, a 10-year-old Black girl. In each of their narrative turns, these characters reflect on experiences in their lives and how others perceive and react to them, giving the reader a rich and textured composite image of what human life can be in and around Greenwich, London in 2009-10. Smith’s novel marries realism and surrealism, satire and earnestness, and weaves it all together with wit and wordplay to create a compelling story of what it feels like to live in the political moment of the Recession.

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NOTHING OF WOMAN IN ME

Diane Lowman

Edited by Abigail Eardley

Art by Iara Silva: www.instagram.com/iiaraz_

Often, the contemporary eye looks at Shakespeare’s plots and characters with a certain skepticism. No matter how timeless and universal the themes – the joy, the anguish, the love – we cannot help but wonder: how could a mother not recognise her own twins? Do those simple disguises really trick everyone? And perhaps most persistently for me, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, what’s up with all these women? Under the auspices of the patriarchal system in early modern England, female Shakespearean characters are often submissive, with few admirable exceptions: the Princess in Love’s Labours Lost and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing come to mind.  Ultimately however, Kate in Taming of the Shrew and others like her, leave modern women shaking their heads.

Any author of fiction – and Shakespeare is no exception – asks an audience to momentarily suspend disbelief. In novels, films, and plays, ghosts walk, witches prophesize, and statues come alive. But still, that final question persists: what is up with all these women? In Nothing of Woman in Me, which debuted in February 2018 at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford Upon Avon, and will be reprised in July at the RSC Dell, director and playwright Juliano Zaffino attempts to answer this question. Zaffino earned his MA in Shakespeare and Theatre from the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford Upon Avon, and will pursue his PhD there next year. As a gay man, he has first-hand experience of belonging to a marginalised group in society. By exploring the psyches of some of Shakespeare’s most complex and thought-provoking female characters, Zaffino hoped to give expression to all silenced populations by “capturing the voice of women throughout history and in our modern day, and unifying these voices through the vehicles of Shakespeare’s voiceless women.”[1] He “brought his experience to the table: my life as a gay man, the women who had raised me and whom I had grown up with, the reading and watching and listening I had done.” The dawning of the #MeToo era has offered a relevant and powerful backdrop for his work, having finally provided the opportunity for many muted female voices to whisper, speak, and shout above decades of oppressive abuse. No longer willing to suffer in silence as if that were the norm, women from professional, political, academic, and personal backgrounds are setting each other free by telling their truths. Women in Shakespeare’s time could not do that: but Zaffino imagines what it might have been like if they could have.

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Interview with Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, author of ‘Harmless Like You’

Interview by Toby Sharpe

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Illustration by Arta Ajeti https://www.instagram.com/artawork/

Could you start by describing your career? What do you do, and what have you written?

I wrote a novel called Harmless Like You about a Japanese artist living in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. She ends up abandoning her son. It’s about how and why that happens. Oh, and there’s a bald cat, if you’re a fan of bald cats.

I’m also the editor of an anthology called Go Home!, which is a collaboration with the Feminist Press and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. It’s a collection of poetry, non-fiction, and fiction about home by writers who identify as Asian or Asian-American.

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The Master’s Tools – Audre Lorde

Mayowa Omogbenigun

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Art by Zoë Guthrie http://zoeguthrie.com/

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never allow us to bring about genuine change’. – Audre Lorde (‘The Master’s Tools’ 19)

My four years at university have led me to a simple conclusion: universities are bastions of white supremacy. From my first-year at university, it was clear that I would not belong in the proverbial ‘Master’s House’ (Lorde, ‘The Master’s Tools’ 19). It was micro-aggressions by students and academics alike. It was ignorant comments about the ‘Third World’ and the backward people living in it. It was learning everything from a Eurocentric and Western point of view and as postcolonial scholar Dipesh Chakrabarty explains, Europe was the silent referent in everything I was taught (42). The imbalance of power was clear by the content of what I was taught and by the language used to teach. Throughout my first two years at university, I struggled to find language to express how I felt and was deprived of any courses that discussed people of colour. In my second-year, I remember an ill-conceived course simply called ‘Asia and Africa 2a: Societies, Cultures, and Empires, c.1600-1880’ and ‘Asia and Africa 2b: Nationalisms, Liberation Movements and the Legacies of Colonialism, c. 1880-Present Day’. As you can imagine, the course lacked nuance and was far too vague to offer any real insight into either ‘Asia’ or ‘Africa’.

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Herland

Hannah Marcus

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Art by Figgy Guyver http://www.instagram.com/themineralfact/

The Barbican’s 2017 summer exhibition Into the Unknown: A Journey through Science Fiction, was a little disappointing. Firstly, unless you already had previous knowledge of the shows, films and novels the exhibit was about, the opportunity for learning was limited. Rachel Cooke summed this up well in The Guardian: “this ambitious sci-fi exhibition is big on content, but where is the context?” This dovetails neatly into my second criticism; this exhibition was essentially aimed at men. Not only in the content, which was overwhelming produced by men and about men, but also in the specific kind of childhood it invoked. As a woman interested in science fiction both academically and personally, I was unsurprised, and frustrated, by how little effort was made to include and inform a wider audience.

Perhaps this is why, when browsing the bookshop afterwards, I was drawn to Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The tonal quality of the blurb of the Vintage Classics edition was both soothing and intriguing, clearly intended to resonate with the modern feminist:

When three American men discover a community of women, living in perfect isolation in the Amazon, they decide there simply must be men somewhere. How could these women survive without man’s knowledge, experience and strength, not to mention reproductive power? In fact, what they have found is a civilisation free from disease, poverty and the weight of tradition. All alone, the women have created a society of calm and prosperity, a feminist utopia that dares to threaten the very concept of male superiority.

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The Heat Death of the Universe

Jossalyn Holbert

Edited by Jahna Hampshire

Art by Holly Summerson hollysummerson.wix.com/arts

Pamela Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe” outlines a day in the life of Sarah Boyle, a married mother of an indeterminate number of children living in Alameda, California during the 1970’s. Her life consists of pink children’s bottoms fresh out of the tub, strawberry jam on a strawberry floor, cleaning her house and meticulously labelling the items within it as a means of creating some order in her cluttered space. Her home becomes an enclosed vacuum, a microcosm of the wider universe barreling quickly and unstoppably towards a state of complete chaos, entropy. Physics enters the story sideways and strangely, with the heat death of the universe occurring in Sarah Boyle’s very kitchen. She has no means to stop it, attempting every day to sweep, vacuum, dust, wipe down, and order every object before in her path – no small task given that there are 819 objects in the living room alone (4). Despite her efforts, entropy descends upon Sarah’s kitchen anyway. Throughout the text, Zoline combines a feminist critique of the heterosexual, nuclear family dynamic pervading life at the time with a metaphysical association of the home as a miniature universe. Sarah Boyle’s struggle is not only against the social norms that tie her to her kitchen, full of dripping strawberry ice cream and ‘wet jelly beans’ (8), but also the monumental, intangible, unconstrained laws of the universe. The only agency she has, then, comes with hastening the inevitable state of entropy so that it occurs all at once and by her own hands. In other words, Sarah Boyle trashes her kitchen.

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Sultana’s Dream and Padmarag (Essence of the Lotus)

Ibtisam Ahmed

Edited by Karl Egerton

Art by Priyanka Meenakshi https://www.priyankameenakshi.com/

Utopianism has been a part of Western academia since the work of Lyman Tower Sargent in the 1970s. Taking its etymological roots from Thomas More’s Utopia, it is an interdisciplinary subject that explores human hopes and imagination in radical ways. It aims to build a better tomorrow by criticising the past and the present. It has a broad emancipatory potential which draws in a wide range of scholarship. As an avowed utopianist, I am proud to have my work counted in this field. Yet utopianism is often lacking in racial and cultural diversity. This is a major failing in a field that is supposed to be about challenging oppressive norms.

One of the reasons for this is because of the sources in the canon. Although modern works include writers of colour such as Octavia Butler, there is an assumption that classical utopian literature is almost exclusively white and male. Yet this leaves out a diverse range of texts that imagine the scope of human hope in intersectional ways. An author whose work I feel challenges this white Eurocentrism is Rokeya Shakhawat Hossain. Known in Bangladesh as Begum Rokeya, her life is taught extensively in middle school but is surprisingly absent in later education. Having first studied her biography in History when I was in my early teens, I rediscovered her work in the course of researching my thesis.

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INTERVIEW with LUCAS LAROCHELLE, founder of QUEERING THE MAP

Interview by Toby Sharpe

Editing by Abigail Eardley and Toby Sharpe

Could you start by explaining what Queering the Map does – and why you think it’s important?

Queering the Map is a community-generated mapping project, which geo-locates queer memories, histories, and experiences in relation to physical space using an online platform. Part of the idea is to open up the question of what constitutes queer space, or even more basically, what constitutes queerness. So, it’s a very open call in terms of submissions: whatever counts for the person submitting counts to the project and the process of queering space.

In the context of queer theory, there’s value in trying to unsettle what queer identity means. Queering the Map offers the opportunity for people to define what queerness means for them on their own terms, adding nuance to this term which can be endlessly changed and expanded – moving beyond a singular understanding of queerness, towards a collective understanding.

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