From the Spoken Word Archives: A Spark of Inspiration for Feminist Reading

It has been a while since I attended a spoken word event in Nairobi. Back at the university I attended one every month, specifically the Kwani Open Mic event organised by Kwani Trust. There is something about the honesty of spoken word poetry, and its candid approach to social issues that can inspire even the most bored soul.

While researching an assignment on feminist art, I came across “Shrinking Women” by Lily Myers, in which she talks of the power dynamics in gender relations, and particularly how a larger space for male expression simultaneously narrows the already limited space for women.

Myers talks about the restrictions placed on women with regards to their bodies and the way they can express themselves in public in order to appear ‘lady-like’. From the beginning of the poem, Myers reflects on her mother’s behavior which shows the limited space in which women can express themselves in society. She states that “my mother/…only eats dinner when I/ suggest it” to the extent that their “house feels bigger each/ time I return.” In these lines Myers reflects on limiting food intake, which is common among women. The social expectations of female beauty and the ideal body shape contribute to the idea that dieting is the solution to a ‘perfect’ body.

I can certainly relate to this issue more than anything, and I believe it is something that women across the world talk about all the time. What is the right potion for a day? How many calories should you take at lunch? How do you enjoy a vegetable/green snack? These are just some of the questions that I have googled in the past, and found numerous articles and blog posts which offer varied solutions.

Myers’ critique of the limited space that society allows women to express themselves also targets the generational lineage of women, from past till present, rather than focus on a particular time period. She laments that the idea of women limiting their actions while the men freely express themselves affected her grandmother, mother and herself as a woman. When she says that, “as my grandmother became frail and angular/ her husband swelled to red round cheeks, / round stomach”, she emphasizes the idea of women taking a backseat to create space for male authority. Essentially, I believe Myers silently questions, and allows the audience to question the idea of ‘shrinking women’ in an era regarded to be gender progressive.

In the previous post, I talked about how I derive writing inspiration from art exhibitions, as they provide a unique visual representation of both usual and nonconforming aspects of our immediate society. This time I look at the spoken word, and specifically Myers’ poem. I found the inspiration to expand on the topic of women’s limited social space across different generations, especially in the African context. I am currently looking into the history of feminism in Kenya, despite scarce sources, in order to understand our position in the global feminist discourse.

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