“Do not under any circumstances belittle a work of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life: what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth”. This quote by Iranian author and professor Azar Nafisi in her book Reading Lolita in Tehran struck me when I was reading it for a book discussion with my friends during my under graduation.
Nafisi’s book is a memoir about teaching her students a secret Western literature class and the discussions she and her students had about different works of literature linking these fictions with their memories of Iran. These classes opened for them a safe space to talk and discuss about things which the government had banned in the country. This act of coming together, to read and discuss books was an act of resistance to the fundamentalist government and to the different patriarchal forces restricting these women.
Women have always been restricted or even banned from political and literary discussions in history. For instance, the coffee houses of 17th century England which was known for its vibrant debates of writers restricted women. Such spaces of discussions also excluded people from other marginalised communities. Simultaneously we can also see how women in history fought for spaces to read and write, to get a ‘room of their own’.
Many women writers were not taken seriously who had to use male pen names and others were listed as ‘chick flicks’ and were not included in the so called ‘canon’ of great literature. Women have been writing for long yet there a lack of women writers in curriculums of literature courses, limiting it mostly to courses on ‘women writings’ even now.
Despite the large number of women authors only fourteen women authors have been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature till now. There is a common conception that reading novels is a lousy activity for women which would could spoil them. In my teenage years my grandmother would tell me, “Don’t waste your time reading novels”.
Online reading groups also play a major role in introducing women writers to people.
Feminist reading clubs have played a major role in introducing me to many women as well as LGBTQIA+ writers who were absent in most of the curriculums. It was in such a discussion I read works by Bama and her work Karukku which had opened up to me writings of many Dalit women writers such as Urmila Pawar, Gogu Shyamala, Baby Kamble and their lived experiences brought in new understandings on caste, gender and its intersectionality.
The discussion on the book introduced me to new names and concepts which I never heard in my classes before. It was in another book club discussion I read Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness: My Path to Identity, Love and So Much More which talks about her life as a transgender. Later leading me to read and research about transgender writers from India.
Its not always fiction but many feminist reading clubs discuss theoretical and legal works by women as well. Alternate, an informal student’s group in the University of Hyderabad, have been doing reading sessions on works on transgender manifestos, sexual impunity, and so on.
The Hyderabad feminist reading group which meets on Sundays is doing a reading on feminist legal theory through Lucie White’s notes on hearing of Mrs. G which talks about issues of gender, race and intersections of different identities in legal procedures. Even men participated in such meet ups and talk about sexuality, toxic masculinity, sexual harassment, and listen which is a significant step towards becoming an ally.
One of the ways we can resist such disparities, is by reading and discussing women writers and other marginalised sections.
Online reading groups also play a major role in introducing women writers to people. Online feminist portals like Fempositive introduced me to many feminist writers especially from the through its ‘Feminist Read of the Week’. The Sanskaari Girls book club started by two NGOs One Future Collective (OFC) and Strategic Advocacy of Human Rights (SAHR), has been doing book discussions of women and queer writers in Mumbai, Chennai, and Delhi discussing latest books such as Cybersexy by Richa Kaul Padte which discusses online sex cultures and pornography. They also had online meetups on their Facebook page to discuss books.
Also read: Reading Feminism and Islam: A Starter Pack
In these times when fascist forces are trying to silence dissenting voices even to the extent of murder and universities are trying to remove marginalised thinkers and writers such as Kancha Ilaiah from their syllabi, it becomes more important to read and discuss these books collectively. As feminists and as readers, one of the ways we can resist such disparities, is by reading and discussing women writers and other marginalised sections. These feminist reading groups can become safe spaces for facilitating vital discussions on subjects which are knowingly or unknowingly missed out from classrooms and homes. These groups can also become spaces to make feminist friendships and allies.
So, which feminist book will you be reading next with your group?
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