Since its birth, feminism has undergone a series of waves and regenerations. Beginning in the late 1800s with the suffrage movement which granted women the right to vote, feminism has progressed in its subsequent waves, affording women more social and political rights, such as legal access to birth control; a hallmark of second wave feminism. The contemporary wave (4th wave feminism) seeks to challenge the remaining gendered inequalities, challenging gender norms and the marginalisation of certain groups within society.
However, in recent weeks, the seemingly immutable and vulnerable status of the female body in modern society has been dragged to the surface. The social and gendered fallout following the abduction and murder of Sarah Everard has for many, once again reignited the desire to assert and reclaim the ideologies of modern fourth-wave feminism and the “Me Too” movement.
During a time of restricted social interaction and ‘online vigils’, the plight and frustration suffered by so many women in the current social climate must now more than ever find various artistic outlets through which to be channelled. In light of this, the poetry foundation has collated an assembly of poetry written by women, which in their words ‘traces the fight for equality and women’s rights through poetry’. Their collection possesses a temporal scope that spans from the early 1600s to modern day poets, including work from women such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Sylvia Plath. The collection is subdivided into the various waves of feminism that preceded the contemporary fourth wave enabling the reader to navigate the development of the female condition.
Indeed, just as archival evidence for the women’s rights movement can be found in literature and in evidential forms such as marches and global solidarity movements, poetry can also be utilised to map the arc of social change ignited by the efforts of second wave feminists. In recent times the voices that were previously excluded are now gaining an audience and an improved status within the field of poetry and the arts.
Despite being traditionally viewed as an inaccessible and even highbrow art form, poetry provides an outlet for emotion, and as we are currently navigating a time whereby politics and even science are being propelled forward by heightened emotions such as fear and loss, we are seeing more and more people turn to the arts instead of news outlets which have become sources of fearmongering which operate on shock value. Consequently, it is of no surprise that the revelation that 97% of women have suffered some form of sexual assault would come in tandem with a rise in people turning to emotional outlets such as poetry.
Feminist poetry is by no means a new ‘trend’, it has been a long-standing source of communal solidarity and political assertiveness. However, the birth of the internet created a pivotal change in the scope and reach of the female voice. Women that once would have only been able to deliver their message to those who purchased their poetry oeuvres or listened to a spoken word performance in a café now possess the potentially limitless potential provided by social media. We have even seen the birth of poets who are reclaiming their poetry for the digital age. Rupi Kaur is perhaps the epitome of a poetic influencer; with a current 4.3 million Instagram followers, her audience has direct and immediate access to her poetry. In response to the current climate, Kaur posted her poem ‘welcome to the day in the life of a woman’, which beautifully sums up the stark and threatening reality of living as women in contemporary society. Indeed, the poem ends with the chilling assertion that
What Kaur has created here is not only a beautifully horrifying and artistic representation of the threat imposed upon women, but also a sense of community amongst those who read her poetry. The post currently has 139,391 likes and a devastating number of comments sharing similar fears and past experiences.
What is notable is the way in which poetry as an entity is mutating and adapting to modern standards and becoming a more inclusive art form.