According to the Web definition, a feminist is the view, articulated in the 19th century, that women are inherently equal to men and deserve equal rights and opportunities.
Olive Senior was born in a time when women in Jamaica were beginning to be empowered. Empowered, in the sense that they were more than house wives and teachers. Olive Senior in an interview stated that, “â€¦â€¦â€¦..I think basically my writing reflects my society and how it functions. Obviously, one of my concerns is gender………….”. These women that Senior writes about had ambition and goals. We see Olive Senior celebrating women in her poetry through their accomplishments and struggles. Senior does not write about women that can do anything and do it without problems, but we see her write about women with everyday issues and aspirations. Thus writing about and celebrating real women.
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Senior presents herself as a feminist, through her poems. She is indeed a feminist as her work specifically speaks to the strength, courage and resilience of woman as opposed to the absence and uselessness of men; there unwillingness to help and perhaps their inability to do so. Through her literary works she has emphasized the struggle of women and their determination to replace the role of men when they are absent which tends to be most of the time.
Senior’s poetry, therefore, focus’ on women and how they came to be how they are. An example of this is her poem Amazon women. This poem highlights a group of female warriors who are left to fend for themselves when their men go to war. Senior gives you a part of the background story by telling her readers how they came to be to the way they were. Although in this poem she talks about the strength and determination of the Amazon women she ends her mythological tale with real women. That is the lines of the poem end with her talking about the inner and outer strength of women and the things in life they do to survive while still being nurtures.
Many of seniors poems talk about the role of women as mothers and the struggles they go through in the Caribbean. This is because in the Caribbean most of the women are single mothers and through this we see her hold women in high regard. In her poem ‘Tropic Love’ a women stands up and takes charge of her life and her family declaring to her man “â€¦..Love me and love my family or leave meâ€¦â€¦â€¦”. Through this senior highlights the problems many women face, which is an absent ‘baby father’ and an absent companion. In this line she is shown as being uncompromising as she is will to do whatever it takes to provide for ‘Her’ family. This woman however is willing to put aside her own needs and focus on that of her children.
Tropic love speaks about relationship; more specifically male/female relationship in the Caribbean. Senior assesses the role of mothers in a common law relationship. She outlines how males can be irresponsible and how they change over time for the worst in most instances. The female at times shouldered with the burden of socializing while men in most instances are mere sperm donors. The mother in the poem is very frank, she doesn’t mince words and she is proud as she will not settle for anything less than what she deserves. She is willing to work to maintain herself and children should he the father falter on his responsibilities.
Through ‘Tropic Love’ she assesses a typical part of Caribbean society where the woman is the sole bread winner of the house hold; she is given the additional role of being the provider as well as the nurturer. Senior uses the issues that woman face in relationships with men and presents how women react to this treatment. In this poem Senior explores the conditional love that is offered by men, they want the companionship and the sex; but shy away from the commitment which is expected by the woman. ‘Tropic Love’ reveals the feminine discourse that is evident in most if not all Senior’s poems, that this woman is proud and she refuses to settle for this.
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Senior presence men as being unreliable, irresponsible, and selfish, being that they want nothing more than to enjoy the sexual aspects of a relationship. And through the poem ‘Yemoja’ and ‘Amazon Woman’ Senior expresses how ineffectual men are; she explains that there only purpose is to help women to procreate they have no other purpose as women are presented as self-sustaining, independent, worriers, mothers and last but not least providers. In ‘Yemoja’ she exhibit women not only as life givers but also as a bridge that closes the gap of separation, she exhibit women as the navigators of the world as men are incapable of doing it on their own (lines 34-37) ‘â€¦fear not O mariner, she’ll smooth out your wavesâ€¦’ showing that women give support one kind or another which makes the life of men easier.
Senior commences the poem with the versatility and importance of ‘Yemoja: Mother of waters’. Like water which is a need to maintain and sustain life so too is a mother whereby she is the giver of nation. Like the body contains 65% water so too is a nation’s dependence on women as mothers are paramount interest in the life cycle.
Senior in ‘Hurricane Story 1988’ demonstrates how fragile or vulnerable females are in the event that unexpected/ unfavorable situation appears. The mother in the poem seeks her quest to provide for her children without the help of the male figure. The breadwinner is not lazy and would not easily give up on life; she sees the need to provide for her own rather than depending on ‘handouts’. Her limited education doesn’t pose a threat to making life work out in her favor.
It is characteristic of women in the Caribbean to put their family’s needs above their own. Senior’s poems mostly show women without the support of men whether intentional on the woman’s part or not. Senior’s feminist perspective therefore reflects the life females lead in the Caribbean as many women do not chose to be completely self reliant but have it thrust upon their lives by useless men. Senior therefore, uses her poetry to expose the true characteristic of most worthless men in the Caribbean and the struggles the women that the men have left behind, with a broken and children to raise on their own. Thus celebrating real women and the joy and adversities they face and condemning men for their uselessness.
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