Afems 2018: A single language for feminismDate Released: Fri, 5 October 2018 16:14 +0200
By Zama Khwela, Postgraduate Diploma in Media Management student
The African Feminisms (Afems) Conference 2018, hosted by the Rhodes University Department of Literary Studies in English and Department of Fine Art, saw Laura Nish, Douglas Thomas, Sue Marais, and Pumla Dineo Gqola present their various bodies of work during a session entitled “Gendered spaces & places”.
Nish and Marais both examined the role of women in the book Tjieng Tjang Tjerries by Jolyn Phillips. The book consists of 13 stories, mainly written in the first person narrative, which are set in a small coastal town in the Western Cape. Women characters in the book are primarily portrayed as domestic. There is a focus on the emotional experiences in daily trials and tribulations of woman who attempt to assert a sense of agency against the backdrop of financial security, patriarchal and peripheral community values.
Women carry the burden of not only caring for their own families, but for the community and members whose own families have deserted them. Tjieng Tjang Tjerries highlights the issues faced by women in this community and society as a whole; from domestic violence, to loss of children and oneself, to the struggle of breaking free from traditional gender roles through gaining education.
“We recover a sense of connection only when we attend to each other’s narrative of affirming the communal desire of storytelling,” Marais says.
Thomas, whose focus is on the re-examining of historical women’s agency in the Senegambia region said, “The issue here is that historians have muted the voices of women.”
In his work, he examines an authority system that had both male and female rulers, yet the role of women were not seen as important enough to capture in the history books.
“I think that everything everybody does is important, so everything that a woman does is important, whether she is acting in a traditional gender role or not,” Thomas stated.
Gqola’s work resulted from grappling with the complications of voice, visibility, feminist imagination and overlapping sensibility. Her work seeks to use a single language that speaks meaningfully and productively to intellectual and creative genealogies. Gqola’s aim is to have one language for feminist movement that translates across all mediums from art to literature, but she identifies three problems: the first concerns what feminist movement or feminist presence look like in scholarships; the second regards the separation between inherited ways of talking through feminist expression within texts and across disciplines; and the third relates to the canonical inscriptions where theory resides and emanates from.
The “Gendered spaces & places” discussion shone a light on the silencing of women’s struggles. Each speaker gave voice to the women in their stories by highlighting their importance.
Gqola concluded by saying, “My aim is to empower feminists by giving scholars a single language with which to understand the movement across all mediums with no room for misinterpretation.”