Reads for pandemic times ctd…

Over a year into a global pandemic and a series of lockdowns, it has been a trying time for us all… An important part of what’s kept me going through this insane time is reading. I discovered I had love for poetry. Queer writers have helped me explore previously hidden parts of myself. Writing on hope has stopped me from staring into the abyss for too long. I wrote elsewhere* about all the inspiring reads that have kept me going through the pandemic. This time, I wanted to explore one particular title which I would recommend to anyone, for the time of the pandemic, as well as any other: The Feminist Utopia Project: Fifty-seven visions of a wildly better future.

As a feminist activist, I spend a lot of my time ‘fire-fighting’ – doing defensive work against the patriarchal powers that be, which attack our sense of humanity on a daily basis. But over the recent months, I have been having a lot of conversations about feminist visions – and the question of how we find time to envision the world that we want to see – and, what seems to naturally stem from it, utopias (I come back to what turns out to be a rather contentious question – the definition of utopia – later). I guess the pandemic has provided us with some much-needed time to reflect. And so, I was very pleased when, just before the last lockdown, I was able to visit the Feminist Bookshop in Brighton and came across The Feminist Utopia Project – a book on exactly that! It’s such a rarity – a feminist book about what the world might look like if it was feminist, rather than all the things that are wrong with it as it is, in its current patriarchal format. This is a much-needed title, especially at such a trying point in time.

Although, admittedly, there was only one story that truly resonated with me, this is still a much-needed title overall, and I really appreciate its existence. It felt as if it was meant to land in my hands at that particular time. Apart from the obvious pandemic factor, I was just starting to explore the idea of feminist utopias for my PhD. So it felt like the perfect find.

Yet, the vast majority of the stories in it focused on the world that might be. What really resonated with me is the story from the world that is: ‘Noisy Utopia’ by Karla Schickele – the story of a rock camp for girls. Something that is perhaps not perfect, but real – a real life attempt at what a feminist world might look like.

“For me, rock camp has also always served as a powerful window into what’s possible. It feels like a one-week snapshot of what a community can be – what a utopia could be – if it’s grounded in feminist values.”

(Karla Schickele)

It resonated with me because that’s how I feel about the Feminist Library where I’ve worked for the past 5 years. And recently I have started to look at other feminist (and other transformative) spaces in that light.

This brings us back to the definition of utopia. The piece that I found really mind-shifting was Rhiannon Firth’s article on thinking about utopias differently. Indeed, according to Firth, seeing utopia as (solely) something in the future is a fallacy that stops us from actually creating a better world today. This is a piece of writing that has helped me shift my thinking in crucial ways and see the importance of feminist space work in a new light.

“Utopias include political programmes, speculative fiction and lived communities, where people attempt to live their ideals in the here-and-now. Utopia is more helpfully defined by function: expression of desire for different socio-political arrangements (…) utopian communards share a prefigurative vision: their hopes and desires are forward-looking, yet their means of change starts in the present through grassroots change, like mutual aid or permaculture gardens.” 

Rhiannon Firth

Rebecca Solnit also writes about utopias in a similar way – her book Hope in the Dark is something that I’ve written about before, in one of my blog posts on reading for hope from early on in the pandemic – as perhaps not best seen as something ideal in the distant future, but as something that we bring to life, as activists, as feminists, in our attempts to achieve a better world – today and everyday.  

I have to admit, this is a fairly new view of utopia to me. But it has been absolutely transformational. It encourages me not just to think about a real possibility of a feminist future, but to also think about how we bring it closer to reality each and every day through our feminist work. As much as a feminist world might seem like a distant dream all too often, we make it happen, with our everyday feminist work. And feminist spaces are magical – because they make it visible, tangible.

I have been obsessed with feminist spaces for a ling time** – but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve started looking at them as microcosms of a feminist world, showing us its real possibilities today. Feminist utopias are real. Feminist world is possible.

“Places like rock camp help us dream, while we also create and put into practice the values that many of us would like to see reflected more often in the world.

What if you were at rock camp, too? And if you did love it, and we all loved it, what if we just kept going? What if w started making our parallel universes one week at a time, and then expanded all of those weeks until they touched, and extended them over time, and they became just the way things are?”

(Karla Schickele)

What a gorgeous vision of the world! Don’t you think?

*I previously wrote about great reads for keeping up hope through testing times here:

**I have written about feminist spaces before here, as well as my other blogs: