Embracing “The Female Conscience”: Iris Teams Up with VQR

Wednesday, February 6th, Iris and VQR team up to host a “Celebration of the Female Conscience” at OpenGrounds (next to the Women’s Center). We are celebrating the female creative mind with a panel featuring:

Sandra Beasley, poet, author of Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl 
Delphine Schrank, journalist, VQR contributing editor
Lisa Russ Spaar, poet, UVa professor of creative writing

We hope to see you there! Please R.S.V.P to eng4u@virginia.edu

This panel stems from the poetry and the greater themes of VQR’s fall issue “The Female Conscience,” an overwhelming (in the best possible way) collection of ideas, emotions, and thoughts.

I thought I’d offer a quick review of one of the questions raised in the issue: What does it mean when we say a woman is ‘acting like a man?’” I was immediately intrigued by guest editor Marie Arana’s use of Boadicea to question whether strong women are doing what comes “naturally,” or “just aping” men when she cleverly and powerfully defended her British kingdom from the Roman invaders. Like Boadicea, the collection of essays in this issue, Arana writes, has “an indomitable spirit of moxie.” I was determined to see whether or not this was true. I cannot review every single piece in “TFC” (and I won’t, because you should all read it and be surprised, moved, and happy that we live in a world with such wonderful women), but I would like to mention a few pieces that I strongly enjoyed.

Manal Al-Sharif strongly and beautifully described her work to encourage the independence and resilience of Saudi women through driving (link to drive your own life). She also, coincidentally, became aware of her social and gendered isolation through one of my favorite songs (another reminder that the Backstreet Boys are amazing). Stephen Burt explained his “Life as a Girl,” shattering some of my own assumptions about trans people.  He is married with children, he is not a “performer” of any kind, and he posed an important question to his reader that answered my own feelings about whether he was happy in not dressing as a female all the time:

“And yet I’m unsatisfied. But who is entirely satisfied? Who gets to be seen by others just as she wants to see herself, as ze or he wants to see himself or herself? And how often? And how much work does being seen that way take, where it’s even possible? How many people want to be seen, or wonder if they can be seen, as thinner, taller, stronger… less exotic, more exotic, more grownup?”

Wise words, it was daring and exciting to read an article by a man (biologically), in this collection.

Roxane Gay expressed her initial guilt as being a “Bad Feminist”–guilt I share–but then turns a critical eye on feminism as a concept, pointing out “the most significant problem with essential feminism is how it doesn’t allow for the complexities of human experience or individuality.”  Gay partly questions the unspoken and often insincere and falsely colorblind alliance between feminists of different races, an alliance that tends to result in the ignoring of racial issues. She asks herself and her audience what it means to be a feminist, to be a “real” feminist.

While I enjoyed the essays most, “The Female Conscience” gives its readers much, much more. There are three provocative articles, ostensibly leaving the personal of the essays behind in order to educate us, yet maintaining a strong and individual spirit in the same way that the personal essays taught me more than I have learned in a while. In the realm of prose fiction, “TFC” offers short stories by Maggie Shipstead, Marian Palaia, and the always phenomenal Joyce Carol Oates. There is a bevy of poems, including two from Lisa Russ Spaar in the U.Va English Department. At the end of the magazine three reviews look insightfully at books about Kerouac, genetics, and the correspondence of Welty and Maxwell. As you can tell, this is a hefty load. However, that is what is so delicious about this collection; I have spent most of the last two days reading the essays, and I cannot wait to read them again, find new nuances, and continue to provoke myself.

We hope you will come and enjoy provocative and challenging poetry and conversation with us on February 6th!

- Lingerr Senghor


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