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Feminist poetry that inspires: From Indian mystics such as Mirabai and Lalla Arifa to contemporary poets like Kishwar Naheed and Meena Kandasamy
Feminism isn’t a new invention of our age. It is a huge, rooted stem with profusely branching shoots. The many shoots have senesced over time and sprouted again to change with the changing times. Though there are many definitions attached to this highly dynamic term, historian and activist Cheris Kramarae crisply nailed it like this: Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.
Women have been actively raising their concerns about oppression dating back to the 14th century in India. Intrepid women like the Sufi poetess Lalla Arifa and the famous Krishna devotee and poet Mirabai didn’t give a hoot to their daunting in-laws even then. They must have realized the power of poetry as an effective form of expression and a means to transcend oneself. Both these women overstepped the conventional norms and went on to become great mystics.
Down the line as English grew popular dissemination of information was possible globally. English poets and others who used this universal language as a medium had much impact on the feminist ideology. For instance I have myself been very moved by the verses of Adrienne Rich, the very inspirational Maya Angelou, the bold and straight forward Kishwar Naheed, post modernist Susan Howe and many more contemporaries.
Maya Angelou’s statement “How important it is for us to recognise and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” stands as a testimony to her hard core feminist ideals. Her poem ‘Phenomenal Woman’ brims with vibrancy, confidence and sunshine. It has a beautiful lyrical quality and the stunning usage of action words easily infuses the spirit of womanhood to every reader. She says:
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Adrienne Rich has come to be the most popular and loved feminist poet of our time and her demise on March 27th, 2012 was a sad day for all her adorers. Her poem ‘Power’ tells her conviction about the fortitude of women. On one hand while the tale the poem tells is sublime, on the other Adrienne’s profound feminist credo oozes out for readers to partake.
Living in the earth deposits of our history
Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old
cure for fever or melancholy a tonic
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate
Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test tube or pencil
She died a famous woman denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power
-Adrienne Rich, 1974
Another poem of hers, the very popular ‘Planetarium’ is full of energy, science, fun and most importantly “woman”.
‘I am not that woman’ by Kishwar Naheed, is a very brawny poem condemning the chauvinism she saw around her and the inappropriate representation of women in media. She powerfully claims her womanhood distinguishing herself from the chintzy women portrayed in posters and advertisements. The poem is an assertion of sorts where the poet lays her claim of not being the woman who sells shoes and. In the end she is confident that things are about to change and says:
I am the commodity you traded in,
My chastity, my motherhood, my loyalty.
Now it is time for me to flower free.
The woman on that poster, half-naked, selling socks and shoes-
No, no, I am not that woman!
Some other remarkable poems under the feminist arch include: ‘Spelling’ by Margaret Atwood which underlines the theme of women empowerment through the written word, The woman hanging from the thirteenth floor window written by Joy Harjo who is a poet and musician of acclaim. It is a gripping poem about a dejected woman who is at the end of it all and grapples with thoughts from the past about her life as a woman.
But in the Indian context the first contemporary poet whose words strike a deep chord in me is Meena Kandasamy’s. Her poems are hard-hitting and heartfelt as well. The poem Mascara for instance, is sure to keep you dazed for hours. There’s power, truth and feeling.
Poetry is vast and fulfilling. Fortunately we have had great words of wisdom embellish, popularise and impact the feeling of feminism. “At certain times, men regard poetry merely as a bright flame, but to women it was, and always will be, a warm fire” said Franz Grillparzer, the great Austrian drama writer. And I say let that warm fire burn and kindle the pot brewing with the yet silent voices of thousands of women subjugated to drudgery and injustice.
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Aishwarya Rajamani is an undergraduate student by day and a writer otherwise. She reads passionately and dreams like an utopian idealist. And she wishes for a world where women can walk free in the true read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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Shows like Indian Matchmaking only further the argument that women must adhere to social norms without being allowed to follow their hearts.
When Netflix announced that Indian Matchmaking (2020-present) would be renewed for a second season, many of us hoped for the makers of the show to take all the criticism they faced seriously. That is definitely not the case because the show still continues to celebrate regressive patriarchal values.
Here are a few of the gendered notions that the show propagates.
A mediocre man can give himself a 9.5/10 and call himself ‘the world’s most eligible bachelor’, but an independent and successful woman must be happy with receiving just 60-70% of what she feels she deserves.
As long as teachers are competent in their job, and adhere to the workplace code of conduct, how does it matter what they do in their personal lives?
A 30 year old Associate Professor at a well-known University, according to an FIR filed by her, was forced to resign because the father of one of her students complained that he found his son looking at photographs of her, which according to him were “objectionable” and “bordering on nudity”.
There are two aspects to this case, which are equally disturbing, and which together make me question where we are heading as a society.
When the father of an 18 year old finds his son looking at photographs of a lady in a swimsuit, he can do many things. What this parent allegedly did was to dash off a letter to the University which states: