To mark International Women’s Day this year we asked three of our authors to write about what it means to be a woman, or specifically a woman writer, in their country of origin or residence today. Of course, this is a loaded question, as being a woman can mean very different things to different people: there can be no one – or even three – representatives speaking for all. Here then we have three responses from women who have grown up in different parts of the world, and have been directly or indirectly impacted by gender: from career expectations at school, to witnessing violences on the female body, to being amongst powerful women leading the literature scene. Today offers us a chance to reflect on the women we know or perhaps are, and to increase our understanding and empathy for all women. But having only one day where the focus shifts, even somewhat, is simply not enough. We must all do our bit for equality every day: through support and activism; through writing, and through reading: surround yourself with stories that are not your own.
So have a happy and radical International Women’s Day! And if you want some fantastic recommendations for women writers from women writers, check out our blog from last year as well!
Almira Holmes – Manchester, Britain – The Mirror in the Mirror
I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth but I sometimes wonder if I was born with a book in my hand. I cannot remember a time when I was not reading. I have not always been a writer but I have always been creative. Although I was educated in an all-girls school we were still, to some extent, steered towards becoming secretaries – a career I never embraced – or other ‘female’ pursuits.
A school friend, when I asked her if I was a mod or a rocker (that rather dates me), told me that I was an individualist. I wasn’t sure what she meant by that at the time. As I grew I came to know that she was right and I have never followed anyone else’s idea of what I, as a woman, should be. I have never been particularly special but I have always been myself and that has to be enough.
When I first began to write it was to get things out of me, things that might have hurt to hold in. Now I write to explore, to find out what happens if this path is taken or that decision made. I don’t usually plan my writing. Often I start out with a first sentence and just take it for a walk to see where it will lead. Sometimes it doesn’t go anywhere. No problems; I just start again somewhere else.
I feel privileged to have been born in England, now, to have time and space to pursue my interests. Life is not fair and many women around the world live in fear and with hardship. But I think that we should all to try to redress the balance, at least a little.
Dace Ruksane – Riga, Latvia – The Book of Riga
For quite a long period we could consider Latvia a place where women writers dominated. Starting from early post-soviet times till around 2010 we were talking about strong and powerful women writing fiction, while men dominated poetry in Latvia. I don’t know the scientific reason behind that, but I think that in hard times women are more patient, tough and reliable – they can sit at their working places for longer hours when everything around is collapsing and shaking. Now, with lots of young writers joining, the situation has become more equal and our literature both in fiction and poetry is a mixture from men and women.
My writing career started at the beginning of the 21st century and it was a particularly hard time for me to find spare time to work on my books – I had three small kids, a full-time job, and I was divorced, bringing up my children alone. The only time I could write was late at night, steeling away hours from my sleep. After my first book I was so close to a nervous breakdown that I had to quit my job and rely on freelance writing for advertising agencies to make ends meet. Now my children have grown up, I have plenty of time to write and when I look back at the time I wrote my first novel, I think the woman who did it was a hero. I won’t be able to do such things again. But I know lots of woman artists that manage to do everything at the same time – kids, household, job and their art. I have noticed that male writers feel more free – if they have families, women take care of their kids, letting their husbands write. But if they join the family life, they postpone their creative activities till children grow up. To marry a male writer means that the woman will have to bear all of the burdens; to marry a woman writer means to get a good life companion who will not neglect everyday concerns.
Dace will be reading at our London launch for the Book of Riga on Friday 13th April.
Maggie Gee – London, Britain – Protest: Stories of Resistance
I was born a girl, and my mother, who’d married into a family that produced 90% men, said that year was the happiest of her life. So I always felt good about being female – though the voices I heard, and learned to stand up to, and speak back to, were mostly male. I love, and like, and enjoy women because of my funny, loving mother, I assume. I want us to be able to do everything we choose to: I want to see us everywhere, listening and talking, winning half the literary prizes, taking up half the syllabuses, using our ready link between heart and head. I don’t want correct women; I don’t care if they’re feminist, socialist women like me; I want a rainbow gamut of women. Yes, I want free women being and saying whatever they desire, alongside free men: women not apologising or deferring or self-censoring but speaking out unafraid, being funny and truthful and frank and brilliant and everything else women can be. Happy International Women’s Day!
Ubah Cristina Ali Farah – Somalia/Italy – Banthology: Stories from Unwanted Nations
Split – translated by Hope Campbell Gustafson
I was working with a group of Somali women on a campaign against female genital cuttings at the time. I wrote this poem after we had a very strong argument with a group of Italian feminists. Female genital cuttings are often subject to morbid curiosity, simplification, invasive staring.
In the group of women
I have a European mother,
this distinguishes me.
A nimble teenager.
On the sand, among friends,
I fall down in splits
Watch out, you’ll tear yourself!
You’ll drip blood. Ceeb.
I’ll never find a husband.
I’m not pure, closed, beautiful.
Those little dangling lips
are ugly. Caado.
Idil so proud,
at the center of everyone
Her legs unmoving,
a flower on her pubic area,
a loose-fitting dress.
Will I too ever be taken by the winds?
Frenzied breaths clambering up my organs
Will they infiltrate my thoughts?
Will insects seize my mind?
A mark on my body,
will it unbalance me
We bathe with the other women.
My children are their children.
I want to keep all the pieces together.
Wear the dress with the others.
Without them, women young and old,
crippled and lovely, white and black,
I don’t exist.
I am a woman so long as they exist.