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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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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Second Class Citizen

Elizabeth Lawal

Edited by Muireann Crowley

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

Second Class Citizen (1976) by Buchi Emecheta is set in Lagos, Nigeria during World War II, and is about a woman called Adah and her marriage to Francis. Although life initially seems rosy for Adah, things turn sour when it becomes clear that Francis is physically and emotionally abusive.

When I was in high school I came across this book by chance; it was in a box full of books the teachers said we could take for free. The main reason I picked the book was because I noticed that the writer was Nigerian and of Igbo descent. Later on, I gave a presentation on it because there were no books by a black woman on our English Literature syllabus. After the presentation I asked if the book could be added and although the teacher was encouraging, my classmates were not. I think it was quite different to what they were used to – most of my classmates were white British. I vividly remember an Irish girl shouting from her desk, “I don’t want to learn about Africa.” I was a confrontational child, so I asked, “Why?’’ And she hit me with: “I just don’t.” I remember being so disappointed, and saying, “Well, I don’t want to learn about James I or Shakespeare and the Industrial Revolution, but you don’t hear me complaining.” This was met with silence.

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Carnival: The Upside Down of George

Josh Simpson

Edited by Toby Sharpe

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

Recently, I turned in a fiction portfolio for a creative writing course: a queer retelling of a young adult novel. My professor said that, when she heard about my topic, she’d immediately envisioned a story about AIDS. How relieved she was, she said, that it was not, in fact, about that epidemic. Then I turned in an excerpt of a queer-themed* children’s book to a writers’ group. My feedback questioned the very need for diverse books, implying that queer themes are too mature for children to understand. I was unsure how to respond in either situation, never having encountered someone who so blatantly dismissed the value of inclusive literature or expected a queer story to centre on AIDS. Why did they have those views or expectations? Perhaps the answer has to do with misunderstanding queer themes in children’s literature.

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Carpentaria

Curricular Dissonance:
Teaching English Literature as a Postcolonialist, or, the Power of Voice

Dr. Justine Seran

Edited by Maria Elena Torres-Quevedo

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

I taught pre-honours literature at the University of Edinburgh for three years, and it never ceased to frustrate me, as a researcher specialised in contemporary literature, postcolonial criticism, and women’s studies, to expose future generations to the very curriculum centred on dead white men that I strove to escape by focusing my research on exploring (and celebrating) the work of living women of colour. Critiquing an antiquated curriculum and suggesting a wider breadth of reading to students during tutorials is one thing, but embedding diversity on the level of course design and organisation is another.

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Cooking Dinner for Adam Smith

Elizabeth Dietz

Edited by Rianna Walcott

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

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest”. Adam Smith famously asserted the rational features of man in The Wealth of Nations in 1776, and inspired a constellation of theories on Homo Economicus that would come to define the field of Economics.  Over two centuries later, journalist Katrine Marçal wonders if these claims hold true. In Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? (2016) she points out that Adam Smith in fact had his dinner made by his mother, Margaret Douglas. Why did she make her son dinner? Not simply because of rational self-interest, thinks Marçal, as she develops a feminist critique of economic rationality. What could this perspective add to how we understand the economy? Perhaps it is time Economics students found out.

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Launch Night Excerpts

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

We celebrated Project Myopia with a beautiful launch event towards the end of semester 2. It was a night of music and poetry, as well as an opportunity for some of our contributors to elaborate on their essays and ideas. Our performers touched on a wide range of serious issues: from the exclusion of racial minorities’ contribution to the canon of literature, to the oppressive nature of zero-hour contracts that prevent tutors from being able to fully engage in helping all students get ahead, let alone those from a minority background who need assistance most. We’re incredibly grateful to everyone who performed and shared their experiences, and we also have to thank everyone who attended and helped us drink the wine we provided! Project Myopia aims to bring marginalized people together and amplify their voices, and our launch felt like a perfect culmination of our semester’s work: people came together and shared their experiences of an academic world we need to change.

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