Nasty Women Talk Back is a collection of personal essays that explores what it is like to be a feminist across cultures, identities, races, classes and workspaces. With 28 feminist contributors, the personal becomes deeply political in spaces like churches, boardrooms and bedrooms. The anthology includes personal narratives, prosaic essays, academic analyses, poetry and illustrations. It engages with different notions of contemporary feminism through stories that are intimate and profound.

I attended a panel discussion in Kalk Bay last night hosted by Joy Watson, Amanda Gouws and Riska Koopman. When editor, contributor and founder Joy Watson described the discussions held around the book so far, she mentioned that people have recounted acts of violence against them, with discussions that went on for over an hour. ‘By the time we were done, it felt like we were not done,’ says Joy, ‘It is clear that there are not enough spaces like this’.

Nasty Women Book

Some of the ‘Nasty Women’ stories: 

In her personal essay, Anastasia Slamat (now Witbooi) recounts a childhood church memory where the girls pledged a purity promise to God while the boys played outside: ‘We were told that no man wants to marry a woman who has had many partners. We were told that we should aspire to be like Sarah of old, faithful and obedient and the Lord will reward you with a good man. Don’t you want to get married?’ Anastasia’s essay goes on to look at slut-shaming and the policing (and self-policing) of women’s bodies.

Rebecca Davis‘s story I’m so Tired of Mediocre Men Running Things foregrounds how women are undermined and sexualised in workplaces across industries, institutions and politics.

Zama Khanyile writes about the Women’s March slogan I’m With Her. The writer looks at underrepresented women who are often excluded by the label Her: black, trans, poor, older, dis/abled – she examines hierarchies within feminism, and emphasises intersectional feminism in the context of gendered experiences.

Helen Moffett‘s story addresses questions of infertility, the ‘tormenting desire to replicate my own DNA’ and the tenuous nature of feminist support for this. The piece explores hard truths around reproductive control, miscarriages, adoption and abortion.

Editor and contributor Amanda Gouws‘ story looks at the concept of ‘slow violence’. In her story ‘My Arms are Tired of Holding this Sign’, the writer and academic weighs up brutal, extreme manifestations of violence against the subtler, more nuanced, consistent incidences of gender-violence that enable patriarchal environments. In the discussion, this panelist referred to the ‘slow process of wearing down the resistance … of moving the goal posts’. She also mentioned the link between mental illness and slow violence.

Intersectional feminism, toxic masculinity and taking these conversations home  

When the discussion approached the topic of intersectional feminism, panelist Riska Koopman spoke on the crossroads between race, class and gender. She spoke on being a young woman claiming feminism at the time of #FeesMustFall and before then. She said, ‘As a black person, your existence is intersectional… I have to code-switch,’ Riska explained how she’d change her accent depending on context. ‘White people still dominate rule-making and rule-setting,’ said Riska, ‘I don’t think intersectional feminism is new, we’ve been doing it for the longest time as black people.’

She also spoke on toxic masculinity, the sense of entitlement we often find in the men in our lives, and women often being gatekeepers of this. Riska posed the question: ‘Are we, in real-time, calling out our partners, our lovers, our tinder dates on their bullshit?’

It’s easier to have these conversations on Twitter or in literature, but do we bring these important, difficult conversations into our circles, into our families? Riska wants to know: ‘We’re all going home for Christmas … but are we having these conversations when we are home having potato salad? Are we keeping that same energy?’

The evolution of feminism through generations and geography 

The Kalk Bay discussion covered many issues including inter-generational feminism and local feminism in the context of global feminist movements. Parallels were drawn between Trump and Zuma, highlighting a thread of abuse from men in power. As this discussion was at Kalk Bay Books, it figured that the audience was predominantly white, older and smaller than what one would perhaps find at Open Book Festival or the Book Lounge. And so the Q&A session got lit.

Nasty Women Panel

Themes such as the alt-right, migrants and conservative values were raised and met with an unpacking of what it means to ‘other’. The global community was foregrounded. But so was the specifics of what we choose to take (or leave behind) from our cultures, and what we choose to take (or leave behind) from the feminists that preceded us.

Our bodies are politicised; they are sites of violence (both subtle and overt); they continue to be policed. How should our feminism evolve to look at the now? To look at penetrating present South African society?

Riska Koopman said this:  ‘I think that by living my best feminist life, I’m already impacting society’. The writer explained that feminism permeated into her work, her interactions, her communities – it is creating networks of women; there is a ripple effect.

This stood out for me.

Nasty Women Talk Back is going into its second print run and all proceeds from the book goes to the Women’s Legal Centre.