Poet & Activist Rupi Kaur On Pushing Social Boundaries For The Sake Of Intersectional Feminism

rupi-kaur

If you aren’t yet familiar with the name Rupi Kaur, we have no doubt you will be familiar with some of her work. The Canadian poet, artist and activist made international waves on the world wide web in 2015 with her photography series ‘Period’ which showed various images familiar to every woman who has experienced menstruation. The series was an assignment for her final year of university and made to challenge the taboos surrounding menstruation which sadly is still a thing around the world today.

The image below caused a stir and sparked discussions around the public space women occupy, and what is seen as “permissible” to share with the world. For some it was a moment of empowerment, as it showed just how normal and regular these kinds of visuals are in many young women’s lives. For others we have no doubt it made them feel rather uncomfortable at the sight of seeing a woman bleed. Oh, and let’s not forget the uproar that was caused after Instagram took down the image after claiming it violated their guidelines, and then replaced it after the huge backlash they received.

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No matter what you think about this particular image (or the series), we can agree on one thing: pushing the boundaries and challenging the status quo can lead to a better understanding of who we are as humans. For Rupi Kaur, her activism is done for a particular cause  – intersectional feminism. This is the knowledge that discrimination is often experience in numerous ways depending on which issues intersect for various people.

A white women experiences sexism different to that of a woman of color, for example, because the issue of racism may apply to the latter where it does not commonly factor in for the former. Intersectional feminism, we believe, is the single most distinguishing factor differentiating modern feminism from that of the second wave in the 6o’s and 70’s in the US, and certainly different to the original suffragettes.

Today feminism encompasses, race, immigration, LGBT issues, religion, gender stereotypes, and other issues that makes it a far more inclusive movement than what is commonly thought. For Rupi, intersectional feminism is the vehicle by which she can share her perspective on the issues she cares about most – challenging patriarchy, misogyny, and social taboos especially related to women.

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Her poetry has been published in a book called ‘Milk and Honey’ which debuted as a New York Times bestseller in October 2015. Poetry and art has become a powerful medium for activists, including Rupi, who recently told the Times Of India in an interview that it is also way for others to understand the issues women face and why feminism is important.

“Poetry and art are key influences in changing how we look at taboos. The 2015 photo series on menstruation I did was key to bringing the issue into the limelight and left me changed as an artist,” she said.

Her work has been resonating a lot among women in India who are battling misogyny on a number of fronts right now. With the increased media attention given to gender violence around the country in the wake of the horrific gang rape of a medical student in Delhi in 2012, the nation has been dealing with the effect of the world’s attention on what has essentially been a very well hidden problem for many many years.

“Folks here in the West told me that the fact that my work centers on feminism may work against me; some agents told me I may want to focus on other topics. I guess it has helped me in some way that Indian women are now being vocal about these issues. If I had done this 50 years ago, would it have worked? I don’t know. People would’ve been a lot more terrified 50 years ago,” she explained.

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Rupi believes her work is not just for women, but also for men. While she certainly has a huge female following, including celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande who have shared her work, if feminism is going to be relevant toay, men have to understand the problems women face and be part of the solution.

“There have been articles saying that all women need to read my book, ‘Milk and Honey’. I ask, why not all men? In fact, that would be even more valuable because we women want to sit down with men and tell them — this is how we feel, this is what we go through,” she said.

The saying “the personal is political” is a very important statement within the feminist movement. Many of the issues and types of discrimination people faced could be drastically altered if policy reflected the needs of people. Unfortunately that is easier said than done, which is why artists like Rupi, bringing taboos and social norms under scrutiny with her work, are extremely important in order to continue the discourse and push for change.

Aside from dismantling harmful patriarchal ideas, Rupi also covers topics such as sexual abuse, trauma, body image, and loss through her poetry. And while not all the poems are necessarily autobiographical, there is certainly an element of her own lived experience weaved throughout her words. Body image issues and low self esteem was something she struggled with, and it wasn’t until she started accepting herself that she realized how important it was.

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“Growing up, I naturally embraced who I was but I was always battling with myself. So I spent half my time being proud of being a woman and the other half completely hating it. But I realize now that it wasn’t being a woman that I hated. It was being treated in a specific manner for being a woman that I disliked. I had very low self-esteem for most of my life. As is the story for a lot of us. I didn’t fit in with the popular girls. My parents didn’t allow me to do all the things the cool kids could do. I was quiet, reserved, and at some points, taken complete advantage of simply because of my sex and gender,” she said in an interview with Huffpost in 2015.

There was a period where her self-disdain got to a level where she felt she needed to appease the boys she was hanging out with, playing right into the social conditioning many of us as women face – the need to dim ourselves or dumb ourselves down to feel like we belong.

“For a while, in high school, I was so deep into self-hate. When I’d hang out with guy friends, I’d say things like “I just don’t get along with other girls.” Just so they could think I was cooler, you know? Shamelessly trying to level myself up by putting other women down. God it’s so embarrassing to admit, but it’s important cause I want people to know about the growth. That I’m not perfect. That I’ve done things I’m not proud of but the point is I have actively worked to grow. And that’s what matters,” she added.

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As for her book ‘Milk and Honey’, Rupi says the name really speaks to her own identity and heritage and how she has really embraced that as part of her work and art today.

“In 2013, I wrote a spoken word poem about the Sikh genocide that happened in India in 1984. In the poem, I describe widows of the genocide (those that lost their husbands and entire families to the atrocity) as smooth as milk and honey. From that moment, that metaphor stuck with me. I wrote it everywhere. Doodled it into all my journals. When the idea of a creating a collection of poems to publish came to mind it clicked. I instantly knew the collection would be called ‘milk and honey’,” she explained.

Her dad, who practices homeopathy and Ayurvedic medicine, often uses honey and other ingredients such as turmeric, almonds and gram flower as a healing property.

“These are the holistic practices of my people. Of my motherland. And so I wanted to pay homage to the earth where I first laid my feet,” she added.

If you need more convincing that Rupi Kaur is the badass feminist poet you need to know about and follow on social media, watch this interview with Ryerson University’s Zahra Khozema on International Women’s Day this year.


 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

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  2. who wrote this? I need it for a reference

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