The F Word
Rs 699 pp 272
In her short story ‘All I Know About Gertrude Stein’, Jeanette Winterson’s protagonist comes across a group of young girls in a museum, giggling over an iPhone. Their F-words: “Facebook, fucking, frigid, faking it.” That anecdote makes you wonder what these girls, about to cross into the threshold of young womanhood, would have made of Granta’s latest issue — The F Word — which professes to explore ways in which “feminism continues to inform, address and complicate” the balance between men and women. More importantly, the polemics of the feminist movement having run out of steam, which aspects of the man-woman engagement would inform such a selection?
The result is likely to disappoint, especially if you passionately believe that feminism never reached the end of the road but got liquidated abruptly somewhere at a bend. AS Byatt’s account (‘No Grls Alod. Insept Mom.’) of breaking down exclusive male preserves like student unions and clubs is relevant yet remote only as history can be, while Caroline Moorehead’s ‘A Train in Winter’, an account of 230 Frenchwomen transported to Birkenau, ends up exploiting the horror of the Holocaust with an undue stress and stretch on the female bonding experience. In ‘Night Thoughts’, Helen Simpson’s inversion — where a man lies in bed, fretting over balancing work and family and his wife’s obsession with porn — injects a dose of humour, only to remind readers of the painful reality behind.
‘Mona’s Story’ by Urvashi Butalia is an exception in its nuanced treatment of the female-male experience in a hijra world. Most of the other entries — stories about consciousness-raising feminist groups or photographs that question the notion of memories — fail to evoke any connection with the much colder realities of the actual world, where technology is enabling generations of girls to be wiped off before birth, where even if you are Hillary Clinton, an orthodox religion might photoshop you off a picture because its beliefs militate against publishing women’s images.
When your existence itself is at stake — in flesh and blood or in images — a selection of blasé, self-contained pieces can only injure an already-weakened cause.