Bringing feminism forward

QFR 2008 offers up a relatable review that looks at the many facets of women’s stories

Carlyn Bezic’s “Distortions” is a fresh perspective on body image, a well-worn motif in feminist art.
Carlyn Bezic’s “Distortions” is a fresh perspective on body image, a well-worn motif in feminist art.
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This year’s Queen’s Feminist Review, with its retro-inspired cover art and spiral-bound notebook motif gives the reader the familiar feeling of flipping through old journals—if only my old journals were as insightful as these.

In an age where the word “feminist” too often conjures images of rabid, man-hating bra-burners, QFR’s a tongue-in-cheek reponse to this and other misconstructed stereotypes.

The editors’ note claims the QFR committee’s mission is to bring “feminism to the forefront and make it more accessible,” an objective the publication achieves, if somewhat paradoxically, by lessening its overt focus on feminism.

Instead of publishing works on strictly political feminist themes, the publication draws on the more accessible concept of the female experience, chronicling tales of love, loss, personal triumph and in some cases—most frankly and sassily in Julie Stewart-Binks’ “My Summer as a Media Prostitute”—the sting of inequality.

By shifting its emphasis to the universal experience of womanhood, QFR has broadened the scope of the topics it covers. The most successful and evocative pieces are those that both contextualize the movement’s place in the modern world and discuss what it truly means to be a woman, transcending concepts of feminism gone by. Angela Hickman does this in “Trop Mangé,” a poem about enjoying a good meal and the “wide respite” of one’s hips.

Ranging from the mythopoeic “How the Rattlesnake got its tail” by Lara Szabo Greisman, to Katherine Laidlaw’s “summertime three,” the poignant story of a workaholic forced to choose between her lover and her career, to Aly Ogasian’s bizarre but funny drawing “Today we walked our dogs in wigs like fools,” most of the pieces in this year’s QFR engage readers of any gender, sexuality or political view.

Special mention in QFR’s more politically charged sections should go to James Brenton’s essay, “Equality and Economic Growth,” which, with its thesis “Without placing any weight upon considerations of equality or fairness, an economic examination of the problem [of the poverty facing women in the developing world] provides inspiring rationale for gender equality in employment” is original, thought-provoking and debate-inspiring.

Filled with beautiful turns of phrase, funny and touching stories about women who sound exactly like you or someone you know, QFR’s written pieces outshine the art. Heart-warming pieces such as “Helpless Love” (“I have fallen in love again/this sunny winter morning/An old white teapot has quite/stolen my heart with its chubbiness”) are countered by strong, opinionated poems such as “To be a Feminist,” in which QFR managing editor Rosel Kim expands on Rebecca West’s often recalled dictum, “I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.”

For the most part, the art pieces exemplify a more general celebration of the feminine experience. Carlyn Bezic’s “Distortions” deals with the oft-discussed issue of body image in a fresh, enlightening and relatable way by depicting a female body obscured by projections of other women’s bodies—the kinds used in advertisements, TV and porn. The photos are interspersed with scrawled musings as if to illuminate the internal conflict, frustration and artistic ideas spawned by the images. Pansee Atta’s “On Sex and Text: Women and the Koran” highlights a topical issue and is both politically provocative and stunning in its rich use of colour.

QFR runs into problems with pieces that try too hard to incorporate a stereotypical or more traditional feminist perspective: Kim’s “What Virginia Said” is essentially a summary of Woolf’s famous “A Room of One’s Own,” which I’m going to guess anyone picking up a copy of a feminist review has already read, and Crystal Metham’s “Disney Princess” reveals so little, the reader likely won’t care enough to decipher its meaning.

The attitude of this year’s Queen’s Feminist Review can be encompassed in Tess Crosby’s “Running Scared,” one of the collection’s most empowering pieces. When told she shouldn’t be jogging late at night, and there are “terrible men who will do/ terrible things” to her, Crosby’s speaker laughs and whoops and “begins to gallop … daring [the night] to prefer terrible men to [her] primal right.” Celebratory, proud and fiercely unapologetic, this year’s Queen’s Feminist Review is the perfect antidote to the editors’ observations of the many individuals who “preface their views with a pre-emptive ‘Well, I’m not saying I’m a feminist, but…’”, and the perfect complement to all those who, like Lara Szabo Greisman’s speaker in “Piece for my Mother,” “have chosen to be brave.”

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