'I looked up at this Goddess on the stage and decided that's what I needed to be, a Goddess in my writing.'
Not long after this, in my early twenties, I stumbled across Oranges are Not the Only Fruit. By this point I had managed, slowly and stealthily, to leave my strict Islamic, council estate home to move in with friends I had met at university. Sometimes, you find a novel that encapsulates a part of your life; Oranges did that for my childhood. In Winterson’s central heroine I found a comrade and companion. A person from an underprivileged background who has been told about all the horrors of a fire-and-brimstone Hell and, in the end, chooses to reject it. A person who must confess her so-called ‘sins’ to the matriarch of the family knowing that she will be expunged from the family as a result. For Winterson’s character this was coming-out as a lesbian, for me it was marrying a non-Muslim, non-Bengali man. Nowadays, neither of these things seem (or should seem) particularly radical, but if we are looking at the definition of rebellion we are looking at the act of resisting authority, control and convention. This is something Winterson has done in abundance.
Lesson two in rebellion ticked off.
Now, at an older age, I find my inspirations are closer to home. Farhana Shaikh, editor of the Asian Writer, as well as champion of all unheard voices and a close friend of mine, probably wouldn’t describe herself as rebellious. But if you ever get into a heated discussion with her (which I delightfully have many times) you will see the fight and drive in her, the unwillingness to compromise her opinions and her acute ability to articulate her case. For too long, the opinions – as well as the actual experiences – of women have been belittled and dismissed. With women like Farhana who are, unapologetically, opinionated this will hopefully not be the case forever.
And so, let the lessons continue! History, past and present, is littered with women rebels. Rosa Parks, civil rights activist and rebel. Frida Kahlo, surrealist portrait artist and rebel. Malala Yousafzai, human rights advocate and rebel. This year for International Women’s Day I will be thinking about all those rebellious women who motivate me to #PressforProgress and say #TimesUp. I hope you will do the same. What’s more, I hope you will fire up the rebellious nature within and break those pretty little boxes other people want to put you in. Once those boxes are broken, who knows what will come out . . .