In celebration of International Women's Day, New College students identifying as women were asked to submit pieces for inclusion in an anthology, highlighting their multitudinous talents.
Celestine Adelmant, this year's JCR Women's Officer, whose brainchild the anthology was, shared some thoughts with us:
"The JCR Women’s anthology is a collection of art, poems, photographs, short stories, and opinion pieces aiming to celebrate the talents of our self-identifying female JCR members. In the high-pressure environment of Oxford, it can be difficult to disentangle academic achievement from self-worth, but with each student having such a diverse range of talents, it is important to take time to appreciate and celebrate extra-academic achievements and skills.
The creative pieces themselves centre around the empowerment of women, combining the challenges of life as a woman with the pride and love we have for ourselves and each other. Each piece takes a different angle on this theme, reflecting the emotions and motivations of the artist. I hope you will take time to appreciate these wonderful oeuvres d’art and be reminded of the unbelievable talent our college harbours, not just in academia and the creative arts, but also in sports, languages, charitability, and kindness."
Please note with regards to accessibility - some of the images below contain written pieces. Where this is the case, these have been recreated in HTML at the bottom of this page under the heading of the image's alt text.
Text versions of writings contained in images above
Mila Ottevanger Poem
a thread of worry sewn taut through us
twisted around fingers and toes
pulling tight, the needle's pushes
through the airwaves and wraps us close.
what has passed through the eye?
coded chains straining to pull us down to
sit at the cloth-covered table, to laugh for a while
and to do the dishes standing next to you.
tunnelling my hands through the carpet or
plaiting the tassels on the rug.
you read the paper to me as i sit on the floor
and drink coffee from my favourite mug.
smoothing out the creases with our fingertips
the familiar filigree on the knives and forks
a year stuffed full of tears and rips
of benign green squat robots who are trying to talk.
the metronome sways like a reed
the second hand cuts up the cake
the beams in the attic creak beneath my feet
i'm trying to see your faces.
Flora Davies - 'Listen to Us'
As you grow and evolve as a woman in this society, the disheartening realisation begins to dawn on you that your body is viewed as a commodity. Inherently sexualised. A composition of blood and bones that is to be forever appraised and evaluated. Nothing you do can ever be entirely "neutral" because, as a woman, you will be endlessly judged for every gesture, movement, outfit, or decision. This is not only demoralising and infuriating - it is painful.
You begin to encounter these obstacles little by little: boys mention your leg hair in P.E. and so you don't participate in the football match out of embarrassment; you have your first period and don't have the money in your pocket to buy a sanitary towel from the vending machine (you walk around uncomfortably all day and cannot concentrate in class); you watch the news and learn of violent terms like "gang rape" that begin opening your mind to the dangers that your body brings to women like you, both in the UK and around the world; you are interrupted, and interrupted, and interrupted; you go to a concert and feel a hand touch a private part of your body - you still have never found out who that hand belonged to; you walk home from school with your keys between your fingers aged thirteen because you can feel and hear figures lurking in the dark behind you; you have a sexual encounter that leaves you feeling confused and violated - you're still unsure of whether it was your fault; you re-watch your favourite film from your childhood and realise as the credits roll up that it was directed by a sexual predator; you are choosing an author to study for your degree and realise there is not one single woman on the list; you have painful period pains and feel nauseous but are unable to tell your tutor the real reason why you were "sick"; you are warned by your mum's friends that this is only the beginning, that is only gets worse from her on in, that in your career you may expect that your "diligence" or "work ethic" will help you climb a ladder to success, yet you will encounter obstacle after obstacle; that your biology will make you less likely to get that pay rise; that you will become increasingly aware of what your body denies you; of how invisible it makes you; of how it puts every movement of yours up for debate.
As the feminist thinker and writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says in her book 'We Should All Be Feminists', these experiences teach women to shrink themselves - to make them smaller.
The football games you missed because you could feel your pubescent body being observed and judged meant that you could not explore what could have become your new hobby; your new passion; event perhaps your career.
Do we not think it's slightly strange that women make up over half of the world's population yet there are hundreds of men's football games on television for every women's game? You may want to go into a career in a filed where women tend to have a harder time than their male counterparts but feel it is less appealing because you would never be truly supported and listened to. News stories covering sexism never feel like a novelty for you - it's just something you see and feel every day.
But to only consider this side of the story gives a slightly skewed narrative of women's existence. We are so much more than the horror stories; we are so much more than our own difficult or traumatic experiences; we are so much more than just "victims" of sexism. We are developed, interesting, passionate, multi-dimensional beings with dreams and ideas. We need to acknowledge the realities of our lives, but we also need to rise above the victim narrative by remembering that there are millions of people working together every day to improve our collective future. One clear example of this lies in the heart of Latin America, where we hear so many stories of women as victims of gender-based violence and femicide.
What we do not hear quite so much, however, is the story of the Ni Una Menos movement which brought millions of women to the streets of Latin American cities demanding an end to this violence. We rarely read about Cartagena's "City of Women", a concept created by a group of women (the Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas) who spent months and moths building a town which could provide a safe haven for survivors of gender-based violence. We rarely read about the women working to create real, tangible change in society, even if on a smaller scale.
So much happens to a women over her lifetime that makes her feel that she ought to shrink herself, to make herself smaller, to limit herself. And often our stories are shushes or silenced because we are told that it's been heard all before, that it all sounds a bit of a "cliché", that it's not a very "original" line of argument. But these are our lived experiences, sot hey are relevant and important. For women all across the world, this is the everyday reality and so to diminish our stories with the label "unoriginal" shows how far we still have to go. In many ways so much has changed to women today but we are still so far from true gender equality. We only ask that you listen to us, because we still have so much more left to say.
Amberley Odysseas Poem
Be the fire. Be the beauty,
the wisdom, the changer-of-things
and bringer-of-light the world needs.
Forge your own path, lined with stardust
at the border of this world and the next -
who we are, and who we will soon be.
You are monumental. You are chaotic. You are
magnificent power and strength. And what
will you do with it, oh Queen mine?
Every second poignant, delicate; perfectly
balanced and sharp and present. Your
message is clear, our aim true.
And the flames -
now lit in our hearts
burn with rage and brilliant glory.
Ayna Li Taira Poem - '8.21pm'
Hurried grace at the kitchen table. Ma picks up
chopsticks from the counter: she minds, but dinner
is only performative. She mumbles dough as if
we'd never hear it again. I move my arms
like her, working each muscle she's left alone
for too long. Hush. Put it in rice, Ma. Quiet.
My lungs fry. Red leather holding my wrists.
I wonder what truths you've hidden to flavour
everything so well, Kaasan, won't you
tell me? She recollects the other side
of the road, though I do remember it.
The way unloved birds throw ballads instead
of tantrums. The way hope is green when
we eat. The ways we cross, except in collateral
grief. Behind you, burnt mass is all I will be.
This meal is yet another trial. I the stenographer
carving out words that melt into our soup.
Hurried grace pushes needles in my face. One day
we will all be gone, and then. I pinch myself
sometimes. The way all this skin used to be
yours. Sew this cowardly life back together,
won't you, Ma. You do it so well.
'The Intern' - Tina Sang
Margaret, why is everyone late this morning?
Stella sat at the head of the conference table, tapping a varnished nail on the glass surface impatiently. Their weekly Monday briefing occurred like clockwork, and she despised having her time disrespected.
They're all goggling the new intern, ma'am, her assistant replied.
At five-past eight, everyone filed in, swarming around a tall man. They parted to take their assigned seats, and Stella was able to set eyes on the nuisance that was disrupting her schedule.
She duly noted that his facial features were impressively symmetrical, with a light stubble that complemented his defined jawline. And his shoulders that were broader than average, she assented. He hovered at the doorway. All the seats at the table were taken.
I take my coffee black, two sugars, she told him. He stared at her momentarily, then unfroze, and hurried away.
Stella observed a steep decline in office productivity from that day forwards. Her female employees in particular began taking prolonged coffee breaks, making gratuitous trips across the office for yet another look.
It wasn't entirely their fault: the new intern had ghastly sense of fashion, wearing button-down shirts that flaunted his firm chest, with the sleeves rolled up to display his toned forearms.
Some days he strode into the office with trousers sinfully tight, bending over at the water dispenser for longer than necessary.
She tried to keep her eyes from straying from the computer screen, but it was difficult, with the dispenser in her direct line of vision.
He's testing you, she told herself. You try anything, he'll report you to the Regional Manager in seconds.
Her fingers drummed an agitated rhythm on the desk. It was difficult to control her urges, particularly with her marriage in a current state of dissatisfaction. When was the last time her husband had kissed her, much less slept with her? There was no way to relieve all the stress of a busy workday. Playing boss was difficult work, and at the end of the day, she went home to a man who gave her less respect than her employees did.
The emails were the beginning of a hazardous plunge.
Subject: Inappropriate Office Attire
You are aware that clothing is meant to cover indecency, not emphasize it, yes?
Subject: RE: Inappropriate Office Attire
Very sorry. I admit, it was a ploy to capture attention. Glad to see that it has worked.
Subject: RE: RE: Inappropriate Office Attire
I'm your boss. Nothing escapes my attention.
After work on Friday she headed to her favourite bar in town, where she frequented. She had selected it because of its remote and unassuming nature; unpleasant run-ins with colleagues was never enjoyable. She nursed a glass of Jack Daniels, chatting occasionally with the bartender. Some nights, she would strike up a conversation with an attractive man. Never anything serious, just the exchange of a few flirtatious lines, and then she would return home.
She turned around to find the intern sauntering her way. How he had tracked down her secretive haunt was beyond her. Perhaps the man had more skill than she gave him credit for.
That's how I prefer to be, she said, raising her eyebrows pointedly.
He pulled out the chair next to her and motioned to the bartender. She watched him down drink after drink as the night spun itself out. Why she didn't leave, she couldn't say. Perhaps a small part of her was curious to see how the night would play out despite fully knowing what would happen.
After his fifth drink, he leaned towards her in slow motion, eyelids drooping. His warm breath reeked of spirits. She permitted his lips to touch hers, before putting a hand on his chest and pushing him away.
I had hoped you knew better, she said.
He blinked, slow to register. His mouth was still slightly puckered.
I'll call you a taxi. She pulled out her phone. Within ten minutes, she had packed him into a car and sent him home.
The gritty streets were empty by two in the morning. She was alone, and immensely relieved. Dust was everywhere, grainy and cloudy, covering everything in a golden haze like an old film. The night had been subpar. She'd expected better, she'd been delivered worse, she was ready to go home, turn in, and turn off her brain until tomorrow morning.
The next day at work, he stumbled in half an hour late, horribly hungover.
Matthew, she called. Can I see you in my office? Words stumbled out of his mouth. Stella, I apologise - it was horribly inappropriate of me
- I have a few manuscripts that need photocopying, she cut in coolly.
He too the stack of papers from her hands, dumbstruck. She returned to writing emails, a slight smirk stretching across her face.