Event Report: November Coffee Conversation
On Saturday, November 9, WE Int. held its second Coffee Conversation, featuring spoken-poet, Swastika Jajoo. Born and raised in India, her poems capture the cultural and social complexity of gender issues she has faced in her life.
The workshop started off with Swastika performing one of her poems, Wonder Women (the poem is attached below!). Followed a brief presentation on key terms, such as “feminism” and “patriarchy.” The presentation included powerful feminist quotes — one of them being Judith Butler’s words: “Gender is not something that one is, it is something one does, an act of doing rather than a being.”
The highlight of the workshop was the mapping of gender-related themes that we believe poetry can help initiate discussions. The discussion covered a variety of topics — gender stereotypes, dating cultures, sexual violence, feminist men and anti-feminist women, commercialization of feminism, and more. The participants plan to stay in contact, share their poems and give each feedback.
“Wonder Women/I Wonder Where All The Women Went” by Swastika Jajoo
I am seven, or younger. My grandmother tells me a story.
The words slowly work their way into the little world of a little girl. I remember thinking up my own stories, weaving them with the fabric of my many dreams, my heart folding itself into a paper plane ready to voyage across any sea,
my hair flowing over my shoulders in its curls and tresses, my eyes maple syrup and honey, I was always magic in my messy.
But the only kind of magic and messy women are allowed to be is when they clean, isn’t it?
I remember being told at seven years old that no matter how bold we women decide to be, the ultimate milestone in our list of dreams should always be to marry. A man, of course. And to have a child. Preferably a boy, of course.
Even at age seven, I could feel my paper plane crash at a man’s feet, twisted into the shape of cups of tea that we must always pour and clean. I could feel patriarchy around my neck, telling me it’s only a gentle hug but choking me to death.
I said then
that I will not be in this story.
I will write my own, I thought, my little girl eyes alight with that possibility. But it isn’t easy, when society conditions you each day into counting calories, tells you girl, stay away from that ice-cream and your cotton-candy dreams; see, men don’t like women with large appetites and big bellies.
It isn’t easy, when you learn domesticity like a virtue that has been passed down in all our families.
Here, some call it 女子力, in my country we may say, Sanskari. No matter the language, the point of this game is how to tame women. Make them believe that the number one quality underlying femininity is 可愛い, pyaari, cute. Ambitious, strong, cute. Tall, venturesome, cute. Self-motivated, cheerful, cute.
You want to know another striking attribute that comes with ‘cute’? It’s learning to stay mute,
especially in male company, stuffing yourself with the damp cloth of silence each time it aches to shout. Maybe that’s why Hello Kitty doesn’t have a mouth. No wonder that the film based on Wonder Woman, an age-old icon of feminism, was marketed in Japan as being and I quote,
the “No.1 warrior beauty the world has seen. She’s supposed to be one of the most powerful superheroes in existence, but she’s also an incredibly innocent and naive girl who knows nothing about men or love.” Unquote.
I’m sorry, I think Wonder Woman really loves kissing.
And we all know how wonder women in our society are expected to silently check out from their offices, cower to their bosses, take “leave” to never return; we all know the reality is that most employers are hesitant to have women employees because, well, (whispers) they might have a baby. What a catastrophe.
Maybe we don’t need princes to kiss our lips and save our lives; the only way I know of saving myself is looking straight in the mirror and learning to love the reflection. This society has taught me that love is only to be sworn to a man, bigger, brighter, better than me, double salary, but you know what’s sexier? Fighting these societal double standards by embracing self-love. I tell myself, time and again, that I am enough. I refuse to deck myself up for the sake of another person; I embrace the hair on my body, the ‘imperfections’ on my skin, I feel feminine enough without the best hair products and the fanciest make-up. Hell, I feel fabulous.
And to everybody who thinks they should try and fit us in a category, I only have one suggestion: take them out for dinner, order some really good sushi, look them in their eyes, get some really good beer, say kanpai say my dear,
sushi rolls, not gender roles.
If you are interested in having a casual conversation on gender-related and women’s issues, come to one of WE Int.’s monthly Coffee Conversations! Next one is scheduled on Monday December 2, in the evening. Follow our Facebook page so you won’t miss the updates!