Living while feminist – an interview

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Title: Living while feminist: Our bodies, our truths
Editor: Jen Thorpe
Publisher: Kwela
ISBN: 9780795709418

Many of our experiences are filtered through our bodies – norms, myths and cultural standards shape the way that we feel about our bodies and how we see ourselves. Feminism says that these rules are bullshit.

This collection takes us from an examination of skin and hair to an exploration of pleasure, sex and safety. The authors explore our bodies and health. They examine the way that institutions can trap us and how we can trap ourselves. It reminds us that feminism is dynamic, open and ever relevant.


Living while feminist is a collection of essays that take readers from an examination of skin and hair to an exploration of pleasure, sex and safety. Cliffordene Norton interviews the editor, Jen Thorpe.

Photo: provided

What was the inspiration behind this book?

I was inspired by the response to Feminism is and the questions that people asked at the launches. I think that there is always more room to explore a feminist life, and so I wanted to do that. In particular, I was interested in why so few pieces in Feminism is touched on the body and on what it meant to live in the world physically as a feminist, so I hoped to get more of those in this collection.

Jen, take us through the process of compiling and editing Living while feminist.

With these collections, I start with a discussion with my publisher, Na’eemah Masoet, to talk about the rough idea, the potential and the boundaries. Once we’d talked this through and agreed that it would be a good idea, I put out a call on social media and on a website with a clear deadline. By the deadline, I’d received over 200 000 words in submissions, so the next step was to go through these and sort out pieces that could work together, that were particularly strong and which addressed the topic the best.

I also talked through the poetry with the publishing team, because that is not my area of expertise. Once we’d agreed on the pieces that worked, I began arranging them to see how they could work together. From there, it was just editing, editing, editing.

The book discusses nine themes: skin, hair, sex, safety, change, becoming, health, institutions and heart. How did you choose the themes of the book? And what came first – the themes or the contributions?

The themes flowed from the contributions. Many of the pieces could have fitted under more than one theme, so there was a bit of moving things around, trying to play with the balance of longer and shorter pieces, and seeing which pieces worked best in conversation with each other.

What was the hardest essay for you to read in this book? Why?

I found all of the pieces really moving. I found that there were some I could relate to more than others, but that’s the important bit – living while feminist means different things for different people. It includes in some places, and excludes in others.

How did you come up with the title Living while feminist?

The title was the theme for the call for submissions and was at the centre of the project. If Feminism is defined what feminism meant for so many different writers, then Living while feminist deals with what that means on a day-to-day basis. 

The title recalls hashtags like #EatingWhileBlack and #BBQingWhileBlack, which trended in America in reaction to racial profiling that black people experienced. Was it a deliberate choice?

The title came from discussions of Feminism is at various launches and festivals, so it wasn’t tied to these #s that you mention.

Also read

Feminism is: South Africans speak their truth, edited by Jen Thorpe: a book review

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