December 10th, 2014

We Sinful Women is a powerful anthology, in the form of traditional Urdu poetry, compiled to demonstrate the potential of women to both add to cultural repositories of literature as well as to write on the subject of problems facing themselves as a community and their larger nations. In this blog post, I explore the places in which such potential can be harbored, and why, in certain situations, it is released.

Like a bar of soap, worn thinner with daily use, it is not difficult to gradually lose sight of a goal of social equality in a system that is overwhelmingly unequal, such as the one in which these women existed. Despite the sparkle of possibility on the surface of an issue, the way in which cultural norms are deeply ingrained in all members of a society – subjugated or otherwise – makes it extremely difficult to enact social change. Those who can turn struggle and daily abuse into powerful statements are few and far between, but some of those who were able chose to produce literature regarding social equality. This is represented by the pieces of newspaper in the base of the soap bar: These female poets, after working through unspeakable discrimination in their societies, wore away the layers of their own existence to find extreme literary potential and eventual publication at the bottom of it.

The path to a literary work is extremely important, and can help illuminate why some of these poets have become so famous: They became so not despite of their womanhood, but because of it. Poetry motivated by happenings – especially those not under control of the author – tends to be particularly emotionally strong. Though containing perhaps fewer literary mechanisms, its emotional power due to the closeness of the author to the subject and the fact that it was thrust upon them, not chosen, makes it especially potent.

The wearing away of layers is a difficult process, and takes time – yet, the idea that with further use by society, these women came closer and closer to the literature that they would eventually publish, is encouraging. Given literature’s potential to spark social change, the fact that a subjugated class still has access to a readership is promising, especially in today’s society. As race is becoming an especially salient aspect of our lives, and is bringing to the surface many claims of denial regarding the plight of minorities in America, we can only hope that the way in which minorities have been worn against – passed over for jobs, stopped unfairly by police, and mistreated socially – (though regrettable, unfortunate, and certainly a mistake) will produce emotionally convincing literature to yield an America that, as a whole, has the power to enact social change.

Subjugation is not silence, and We Sinful Women proves this handily.

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