I’m a day late for November’s Six Degrees of Separation. I’m blaming my anxious refreshing of the Presidential election count page on The Guardian website yesterday. This month, Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best has given us a sort of free pass on the starting book. We’re starting our November chains with a book that ended a previous chain. For anyone new to Six Degrees, the general concept is explained here.
I’ve gone back to my chain for August 2019 which ended with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve chosen it because Biden’s projected election to the US Presidency, and the accompanying election of Kamala Harris as the first woman, and woman of colour, to the role of Vice President, gives me hope that the contemporary march toward Gilead that 45’s presidency represented can now be reversed. I’m hoping to see reversals of anti-abortion laws and reinstatement of support for Planned Parenthood centres, for starters.
I’m jumping from a fictional account of the overt subjugation of women in a speculative future where proponents of the Men’s Rights movement and the more recent Proud Boys organisation, both of which emerged after Atwood published her dystopian masterpiece, have asserted the right to chauvinism, to a non-fiction account of how the world is stacked against women. Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women covers a variety of ground, from the refusal to acknowledge that women’s specific biology makes the chemicals used by predominantly women in the home and the workplace have higher toxicity than for men to the fact that crash test dummies used to test car safety are modelled on the male body, from the lack of consultation with women across the world on imposed changes intended to improve their lives to the fact that smart phones are designed for men’s hands, and all the sexism in between. Reading it made me angry and exhausted because the world should not be like this.
I’m celebrating a strong Black woman with my next book. Audre Lorde understood the challenges faced by women in a world run by men. She understood that a new, radical way forward had to be carved out. Joe Biden reaped the benefits of the feminist activist work of women like Lorde this week. Biden has acknowledged that, without the work of women of colour in states like Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan, his road to the White House would have ended short of the doors. As I noted in my review of The Master’s Tools will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, Lorde’s essays are a call to dig deep, find our passion, harness our anger and make a permanent, radical change to the assumptions that underpin the world we live in. One way this can happen is to ensure that the next Democrat president of the USA doesn’t make Black women do the work in securing his or her election.
I recently went to an online in-conversation held by the Manchester Literature Festival between Jackie Kay and Angela Davis. Davis is a contemporary of Lorde’s, and someone I have shamefully yet to read. The talk was inspirational, full of challenges and hope. Davis spoke of growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, on a street divided by segregation. Davis’s side of the street was Black, the opposite side was white. She grew up with a sense of the possibility of resisting, she said, thanks to her community, her mother and a belief that the status quo didn’t have to be accepted. Her 1982 work, Women, Race and Class, reissued last year, stems from this belief, documenting the lives of Black women who refused to accept the lives into which they were born and shining a light on the racism inherent in white feminism. Now that Black women like Stacey Abrams of Fair Fight, and LaTosha Brown of the Black Votes Matter Fund have underpinned the election of a Democrat president, there has to be a move towards diversifying US politics more effectively.
Another feminist writer who calls for a transformation of the gender constructs that disrupt equality, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a TEDex talk in 2012 that ended up being published as an extended essay in 2014. We Should All Be Feminists was Adichie’s call to her fellow Africans to allow women to be strong and independent, something that many African cultures don’t allow, particularly Adichie’s own Nigerian culture. When I read it, I found that some of the ways in which Nigerian culture keeps women down were similar to those used in Britain.
Remembering Adichie’s essay has brought to the fore of my mind a book I read very recently. Abi Dare’s The Girl With the Louding Voice is about the ways in which women are and are not allowed to be strong and independent in Nigeria. It is a story about the very poorest and the very richest in Nigerian society. It cuts across traditional beliefs and imported Western priorities and reveals both to be lacking in different ways. At its centre is a strong young woman, determined to forge her own path in the world.
I’m going to end with a book by Jackie Kay, just because I love her so much. Better known as a poet (she’s the Scottish Makar), Kay’s autobiography Red Dust Road documents her search for her birth parents as she tried to understand who she was and where she fitted in. Born in Scotland to a Scottish nurse and a Nigerian student, Kay was adopted as a baby by a white couple who were Communists. As evident from the in conversation event with Angela Davis, Kay was inspired as a young woman by the Black Feminist activists in America. It was the impending birth of her son that set her on the course of tracing her birth parents. Although I haven’t read the memoir, I have seen the play that is based on it, which is full of joy, as Kay herself is, despite the racism she has encountered throughout her life. Her encounter with her Nigerian father, a born again Christian who does not recognise his own sin in fathering and abandoning a child but instead frames her as the sinner for existing, has echoes of the societal attitudes at the heart of The Girl with the Louding Voice, too.
This month I’ve been very much focused on the politics of America and the role of women, and particularly Black women, in the outcome of the Presidential election. I’ve travelled from a dystopia it felt at times that we were heading towards in real time, to books which question the status quo and call for women to dismantle the Master’s house with their own tools. Why not visit Kate’s blog to find out what books other people have chosen?