Here at ‘A Bloody Good Cause’, we love seeing bad ass women work hard and excel in their fields. We have celebrated this through our ‘Women in the Workplace’ series but, today, we are going to be talking about something a little different… poetry!
Lanaire Aderemi is not just a student, ABGC guest blogger and activist, she’s also an amazing poet. She has written and released an anthology of poems called ‘Of Ivory and Ink’, which is based on her experiences during her teenage years.
I recently attended an event to watch Lanaire perform some of her poems and, while all of her work is refreshing and creative, one poem stood out to me the most. I asked Lanaire whether she would be able to share this poem with all of you and tell us a little more about what inspired it.
I have been asked why I am a feminist several times. I usually answer by saying I believe that every woman deserves to have equal opportunities to men. Occasionally, I say that I believe women should not be denied certain freedoms. I often get asked, ‘What kind of freedoms?’ I usually reply with ‘the right to choose who to marry’ and ‘the right to make independent decisions about her body’. Conversations like these inspire me to write poems that allow my readers and listeners (for when I perform poetry) to unlearn their biases and educate other people on what they’ve learnt. This questioning is exactly why I named this poem ‘have you ever been free?’ because I have often wondered whether women can ever be truly free – or as free as men.
After a visit to an exhibition on Malick Sidibe’s works, I did some more research on the Malian photgrapher’s work and discovered the ‘vue de dos’ photo series: a photo collection on women who in most of the pictures turned their heads from the camera. Watching how women turned away from the photographer was not just a symbol of a woman’s reaction to the male gaze but also how patriarchy embodied in the form of a man and the photographer has failed women. As a result, the woman and the model are quick to not reciprocate any glances exchanged or moments captured.
Researching and reading empowered me. I had done more research on the male gaze and had finished my dissertation on the effectiveness of feminist jurisprudence in protecting and promoting the rights of women in Nigeria. In this dissertation, I explored the same issues I explored in my poem ‘have you ever been free?’ such as child marriage, girls’ education and female genital mutilation.
I wanted the poem to be performed. My unnamed character asks her audience whether they have been free and, in questioning, moves on to a stage of realisation. She realises that as she points fingers at others (‘you, yes you’) she sees herself. She represents the women who have been empowered by themselves or through the feminist movement, but she was once an uneducated woman who knew no science because she was married off by her fathers and brothers at a young age: ‘no your fathers and brothers mistook you for a bride’.
In this poem, I ignore the statistics and facts and try to create an emotional connection with the reader and listener using common responses in conversations such as ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to represent the responses for the ‘umms’ and ‘oh nos’ or the hesitations or awkward silences [I get] after I tell people through my writing or spoken word that I am a woman whose way of confronting the oppressor is through her poetry.
But I am also a feminist because in my country, Nigeria, FGM rates account for one-quarter of the estimated 115–130 million circumcised women worldwide and 43% of girls are married off before their 18th birthday. Those are the statistics and facts I try to remember. Although I never really answer my question, ‘have you ever been free?’, I encourage you all to ask yourself and others that question. Do you accept social norms to conform to a group identity when you really find them oppressive? I have stopped being complacent and started challenging my own biases more.
I end the poem with ‘we shall rise’ because we can only progress. I also end it with this line because I was inspired by a verse from Maya Angelou’s poem ‘Still I Rise’:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
If you would like to get your hands on Lanaire’s book (£10 inc. delivery), you can email her on email@example.com to find out more.
Thanks for reading,
~ Lanaire & Sanya