Feminism Is Jen Thorpe

Claudine Noppe

What does it mean to be a feminist in South Africa? Is there even a need for feminism in South Africa? Finally, South African feminists can rejoice as there is a book that answers all these questions and more. Feminism Is was released on 26 February and explores the stories of everyday South African feminists. The anthology was edited by Jen Thorpe.

The first part of the book explores feminist inspirations. With stories ranging from motherhood and feminism, an ode to Zadie Smith and how feminism changed the authors’s lives, one essay particularly names Adrienne Rich as the author, Colleen Higgs’, feminist inspiration. “Here I want to write about how a radical feminist poet, old enough to be my mother, influenced my life,” Higgs writes in her contribution to Feminism Is. The second part of the book deals with the inclusions and exclusions of the feminist movement. Aaisha Dadi Patel provides a very important view in her essay, Feminism is Muslim women talking back. In her story she explains that “Muslim women come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities and races. ‘Muslim women’ does not equal brown-veiled women.” Patel goes on to say that liberal feminists do not always comprehend this and that is why “many Muslim women reject the word ‘feminism’.”

B Camminga wrote a brilliant essay discussing gender and language use in the third section of Feminism Is, “Conversations”. A stand out quote from the contribution “I am a trans person. I am also a feminist. In fact it was feminism that taught me biology is not destiny,” solidifies that feminism is not only for women. Stories like B Camminga’s make this book relatable to anyone who picks it up, no matter the gender they identify as. The section also includes conversations with Gogo Ngoatjakumba, a sangoma and relative to Nomalanga Mkhize, and Louise, who describes herself as “a queer and unapologetic fierce-as-f*** feminist”. A beautiful selection of poems by Genna Gardini appears in the fourth part, “Power and Fury”. This section will feed the fight in any feminist who has heard a version of the following “Why are you feminist types always so angry? Go ahead pay the bill then, since you want to be the man.”

The final part of Feminism Is titled “In Practice”, deals with how feminism works in everyday life and how it influences certain things such as services for rape survivors. Nancy Richards explores what the word feminism really means to her and even expresses her problems with the word. She concludes her essay, Feminism on paper, feminism in practice, by saying that whatever problems she has with the word feminism she needs to get over it because “the war on women rages on. Together we need to stop it – with more feminism, not less.”

All of the contributions by the different authors are written beautifully and when read together encapsulates all the sides to feminism and accurately describes what feminism means, how to be a feminist and why feminism is still needed in South Africa.


Image: Rhodeen Davies, Feminism Is cover

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