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In the we and now: Becoming a feminist

The Berlin-based author Priya Basil was the guest of one of the first poco.lit. readings. Back then, we talked to her about her book Be My Guest. Now Basil has followed it up with another non-fiction book, Im wir und jetzt – Feministin werden (“In the we and now: Becoming a feminist”), translated into German by Beatrice Fassbender. In the book’s two parts, “Fight” and “Subjects of Desire,” Basil talks about her own politicization and analyses feminist dilemmas in the context of #MeToo and her co-creation of an issue of a leading fashion magazine with numerous other women who form a feminist circle of allies and actually have nothing to do with the fashion world. In some ways, Basil’s book struck me as a serious take on the often tongue-in-cheek statement “I am a feminist, but …” in Deborah Frances-White’s comedy show The Guilty Feminist.

Stylistically, Im hier und jetzt is very similar to its predecessor Be My Guest: it offers a collection of short anecdotes and various narrative strands that are woven together to form one big whole. Perhaps, in Im hier und jetzt this back-and-forth vacillation is meant to underscore the challenges that being a feminist obviously brings, as the book makes clear that it is a life choice that requires learning to deal with contradictions.  

The first part in particular, “Fight,” is peppered with questions about what makes a feminist. Basil offers parts of an answer in the form of quotes from key feminist thinkers, including Judith Butler, Sara Ahmed, and Donna Haraway. They additionally serve as the book’s theoretical foundation and give clearer shape to her own feminist stance. For, according to another narrative thread, she herself grew up between two unspeakably opposite poles, between her opinionated, loud grandmother and her quiet, often unseen mother, and in neither of them did Basil find a feminist role model to suit her needs. Those familiar with Be My Guest or even Basil’s first novel, Ishq and Mushq – in which she was fictionalized – will already be especially familiar with the formidable figure of the grandmother.

“Subjects of Desire” takes up the larger part of the book. It unravels the question of whether fashion or fashion magazines can be feminist at all and discusses the meanings of taking part in creating one. Basil elaborates on the pervasive ambiguity. Within this, I found the connection described between the women working together on the project extremely moving. 38 women of different ages, with and without refugee experience, white, of Colour and Black, mothers, women with partners, and single women come together to discuss, create, argue, and offer each other support. Basil describes how this experience led to her subsequent confidence in standing up publicly and advocating for her views. She writes “A few months ago, before the magazine, I wouldn’t have spoken out publicly like that. But something about connecting with these women …, made me feel brave” (165). The importance of forming feminist bonds, the power that comes from it, cannot be repeated often enough.

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