The Tragedy Paper needs to check its privilege.

The Tragedy Paper needs to check its privilege. 

~Daisy Hughes

Reading for my tragedy essay this week, I came across a really great quote. The writer was saying of the ability to aestheticize suffering in tragedy that, “that vantage point, surely, is available only to those who can afford the most comfortable seats.”

She then moved swiftly on, but my interest was piqued. She seemed to be making a really great point about privilege.

Last week, my supervisor advised me that I might want to take a less “single-mindedly feminist” approach to the tragedy paper. I was angry. But it was good advice. Within the terms of the paper as it stands, a consistently feminist approach is a disadvantage if you want to do well. (“Well”, of course, in the limited sense of “get a good mark.”)

The reason for this is, in part at least, that by taking a feminist line of analysis, by pointing out critically the instances of patriarchal female oppression, misogyny and gynephobia (not to mention the frequent and explicit violence against women) that permeates tragic texts, you are “missing the point”. “It’s all art,” we’re told, so part of what we have to write about is why it’s beautiful. We’re meant to detach ourselves, perform “objective” criticism (as though that is even possible) of “the work itself”.

The problem is that the ability to perform the kind of criticism the paper asks for depends, absolutely, on privilege. To be “objective” in these moments, requires that you don’t feel overwhelmingly personally and politically engaged with the material.

I want to talk for a moment about the idea of “triggering” subject matter. “Trigger warnings” are a relatively new phenomenon and have not yet become widely accepted beyond certain corners of the internet. Part of the problem with this is that society has yet to place any concrete – or perhaps political – value on psychological “harm” to an individual. (Hence the persistent liberal objection to “no platforming,” but that’s a different discussion…)

In reading tragedy we all, of course, face material that is potentially triggering. So, before you start getting worried and asking “what about the men?”, I’m not denying that (white, able-bodied,) male privilege precludes the possibility that men may be triggered by tragedy.

What I’m saying is that while men may face triggering material based on their individual experiences, women and other communities facing oppression face triggering material precisely because they belong to that community – because they face systematic and structural oppression, on top of any individual trauma they may have encountered.

So in ignoring the implications of triggering for the study of tragedy, Cambridge and the English Faculty are enabling the academic privileging of the already privileged. They require of students that “vantage point” described at the beginning, which “is only available to those who can afford the most comfortable seats.”

The problem is also that the paper is compulsory. We do not enter into it having been offered the opportunity to consider and accept the ways in which this privileging of privilege may play out for us personally. We are forced into this traumatising term of studying potentially damaging material, and yet when we point out its damaging nature, we are penalised for a lack of “aesthetic appreciation” and told to broaden our approaches.

What I want to know is, why is is considered as “repeating content” for me to write three “feminist answers” in my exam when it is perfectly acceptable for the faculty to set content which is consistently (if not exclusively) patriarchal, misogynistic, gynephobic, and violent towards both the women characters and the women readers?

A space for women’s voices in Cambridge?

A space for women’s voices in Cambridge?

– Daisy Hughes 

Before I came to Cambridge, I’d never particularly noticed that I was a woman. Of course, I was aware of my sex in a physical sense, and even my gender in a social sense. But I’d never really politically identified as a woman. I’d never really felt in my admittedly very privileged upbringing that there was less space in the world for me and my voice because I was a woman. I would’ve called myself a ‘feminist’, but I’d never really noticed how that term had specific relevance to me.

But then I came to Cambridge. And not only did I come to Cambridge, but I decided that while I was here I wanted to try and change some things about this place.

I began my involvement with the Living Wage Campaign towards the end of my first year. It had taken me a while to settle in to this strange world and I finally felt that I was able and ready to engage with it in a different way. It was during the course of this campaign, however, that I really began to notice how little space there is here for women who want to take part in, let alone lead, any form of political action.

I was running the campaign with a male friend of mine, who I have a huge amount of respect for. However, each time there was any reporting on the campaign it was always his name and not mine that was mentioned. Each time anyone had a question about what we were doing and why, they would address him and not me. It was as though people were assuming that he was the leader, while I was the secretary. I found myself in JCR meetings in which his voice was privileged over mine – in which he was listened to, while I was spoken over and dismissed.

Finally, a man with whom I had previously been involved, suggested to me that the reason I was doing these things – the reason I was dedicating hours of my time and all of my emotional energy to a campaign I was sure I believed in myself – was because I had become friends with another strong, vocal woman in our college. I was quite literally being denied a voice of my own, by someone who I had previously assumed respected me. Implicit in his comment was a fear of women who speak out, and it was framed as ‘concern’ for the influence she appeared to have over me. Clearly, I couldn’t be doing these things because I wanted to do them.

As a woman involved in ‘activism’, I found I was far more likely to be painted as a ‘radical’ than my male counterparts – although clearly this goes alongside a fundamental misunderstanding of what this term actually means. Very simply, I was ‘radical’ because I had noticed an injustice taking place in our community, and as a woman, my place in pointing this out and fighting against it was unexpected and unwanted.

It is too easy, in this very male-dominated and male-orientated environment, for women who speak out to be silenced. One only has to look at the treatment of the Women’s Campaign in the student press to see a persistent fear of the female voice. There is very little space here for women to have this voice and trying to carve one out is, frankly, exhausting.

‘Sometimes’ by Maria

‘I Wrote This For Me.’

I Wrote This For Me. ­

-Mariam Ansar

I wrote my first poems with tired eyes and tousled hair, stole away
the words that had remained since before I knew about ‘context’ and ‘literary devices’,
but knew to trust my mum’s knowledge and my sisters’ feelings,
tucked them in my pockets, stained my fingers with the pace that I could follow sentences at and
laughed aloud at adventures which
never concerned me,
or at least,
did so without me realising. I was a
12 year old with serious habits, critiqued advertisements and emailed companies for being too ‘white-
centric’, too ‘un­inclusive’, too… ‘fake’, and then dipped straight back into that Harry Potter like
Hermione Granger had never shaped me, or I couldn’t hear The Babysitters Club in my ear, or Maya
Angelou standing firm, delicate, strong and wild and beautiful all at the same time, all to dash my
problematic habits, thinking about Other Girls and Cool Girls and Gamer Girls and dividing the
differences that disappeared as I drew on what I didn’t always know.
What I didn’t always know:
What reading lists don’t tell you, save for the colour of the paper they’re written on, direct reflection of
the content, almost… almost… ALWAYS, I am a
little girl who wondered if the hero could, yes, think like me, and yes, be the blurry imaginary best
friend I took to talking to in corners of the playground in primary school and yet,
did they ever dare to let me wipe back the fog on the window, clear it with my sleeve and see… me?
Within the opacity, see
brown girls who brought books to snack on and then choked on them later, felt the sting of a whiteness
which just…
wounded.
Wounded, I am a
student who wrote in Murakami, Baldwin, Ishiguro on the library bookmark of ‘esteemed’authors they
gave us, bit away the core of the apple
and choked on it, but rose up, not from any kiss anyone could give me but the
kiss I gave to myself, told myself to
speak
think
BE
In the same vicinity of middle­class institutionalised racism, and ‘oh, are you a foreign student?’ and
stares down the street from those who see too much and not enough and are blinded by a headscarf
and just never know it, I am a
brown girl reading and thinking and wanting to grow,
evolving? evolving, and refusing to back down, this is my
rebellion and I am the one causing
the ripples of water that extend to my own feet and outwards,
tree­like,
growing,
brown girl, book child,
talking, writing
surviving.
Within the silences that rise around me, I am deafening.
The funny thing is, I’m not always trying.

Sexuality

**Trigger Warning for homophobia, outing**

Sexuality

anonymous

Growing up, my non-heterosexual attractions surfaced gradually and were easily denied. I identified as straight because it was the default and because I definitely fancied at least SOME boys; any other feelings were terrifying and dismissible.

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Jolene

SCUSU Main 14082217120

“He didn’t like it when I wore high heels, but I do”: In Defence of Taylor Swift

Martha Perotto-Wills

“He didn’t like it when I wore high heels, but I do”: In Defence of Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift gets a lot of shit. The fact that some of it is obviously rubbish – average anti-popstar dismissive indie-male sneering, disdainful raised-eyebrows comments about the number of boys she’s dated – probably doesn’t need explaining here. A lot of it, though, comes from feminists who should know better, women who seem to have read a lot of headlines and dour think-pieces and parody twitter accounts but never actually listened to a single Taylor song: look at this air-headed ultra-feminine girl, wearing white dresses and shaming other women for their sexuality; all she ever talks about is boys; so stupid and silly and so anti-feminist. Ugh.

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Them be Fighting Words

Nina De Paula Hanika

Them be Fighting Words (June 2013)

So there it is. The weeks of wondering what the Wyverns’ carefully planned response to the petition would be, and it’s a giant bucking bronco penis. The careful reverse psychology of the ‘Please refrain from wrestling in our jelly’ sign was also particularly well thought through.

And here I am again. In a classic Catch-22 that every feminist activist will find themselves in some point or another, where I am given the false choice of having to either respond to some pointless ‘lad’ bullshit that I really don’t give a crap about, or taking the ‘moral high ground’ which effectively allows these immature boys their pathetic joke. Neither option is satisfactory. Continue reading

Feminism Lite? The Kids Are Alright

 Harriet Fitch Little

Feminism Lite? The Kids Are Alright

Over the last few years, give or take an unspecified amount of time, feminism has gone ‘mainstream’. Lily Allen’s singing it, Beyoncé’s blogging it, and Lena Dunham’s getting naked. Again. Sheryl Sandberg is teaching young women to ‘lean in’, and Caitlin Moran is (according to her Twitter bio) ‘writing the fuck out of shit’ about it on an almost daily basis.

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Reclaim

Poppy Damon

Reclaim

First read at Cambridge Reclaim the Night, March 2014

I was always a feminist.
The word was always tumbling
out of my mouth
not shrouded in shame or doubt
in my house.

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