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What on earth is a Feminisestina?


Sestina (noun); a poem with six stanzas of six lines and a final triplet, all stanzas having the same six words at the line-ends in six different sequences that follow a fixed pattern, and with all six words appearing in the closing three-line envoi.

Feminism (noun); 1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, 2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.

A sestina is a string of unrhymed stanzas of six words purposed to yoke together disparate elements into a lyrical collage. Sestinas are rigidly formulated and borderline mathematical. In contrast, I find the definition of feminism is far more open-ended, defining itself as a theory of multiple social dimensions, as well as unspecified social justice activities.

To me, a sestina lives on paper, while feminism is embodied amongst beating hearts. The poetic form is constricted by six lines and six words, whereas feminism is understood as an ever-flowing practice that has no borders or boundaries. Sestinas are predictable and limited. Feminism is boundless.

Crafting a Sestina on Feminism

On a surface level, the sestina is exclusionary; discriminating between select words and segregating lines, and feminism is inclusionary; embracing endless people, places, and possibilities. However, when I decided to craft a sestina about feminism, I found that the content was far more complicated and limiting to write about than the poetic form I chose.

I realized that while writing a poem shaped by six specific words was a challenge, I found that defining feminism and articulating my feminist experience was even harder. I rewrote the poem repeatedly, frustrated that I could not use the “right” words to embody my feminism.

Then, I realized something pivotal; I cannot authentically articulate feminism into lyrical prose because I am and forever will be a feminist in-progress. For me, the sestina’s formula felt more “comfortable” rather than the subject of feminism. As I wrote, revised, scrapped, and reinvented my words, I found my conception of feminism more limiting than the sestina form. Perhaps my struggle to grasp feminism stems from my relatively privileged positionality. Maybe my difficulties are rooted in the capitalization of feminism as “trendy.” More likely, my inauthentic feminism is grounded in both scenarios.

Intersectional Feminism + Self-Reflexivity

I see my sestina as a reflection of my self-critiqued and self-defined feminist practice, which is a practice that I am not alone in. To be a wholly intersectional feminist requires deep listening, humility, and the ability to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I am an imperfect feminist and my poem is a singular experience of womynhood.

I am privileged to only be brushed by oppression while bathed in opportunity, which begs the questions of 1.) how do we grow into gendered norms that either amplify or soften our opportunities and presence, 2.) when and how do we call ourselves out as “trendy” feminists who do not dig into the hard work required for genuine social change, and 3.) how can we reflect upon the woes of dating (specifically cisgender men), problem-solve the toxic characterizations of masculinity, all while acknowledging how we perpetuate the toxic cycle of a shallower version of feminism?

“To me, being wholly intersectional includes being honest and seeking discomfort so that I may learn where and why my implicit biases surface. I cannot call out others unless I call myself out. While there are multiple avenues for creating social change on-the-ground, I believe that genuine shift begins within, which leads me to the process of becoming self-reflexive”.

Self-reflexive (adjective); someone marked by or making reference to their own artificiality.

Self-reflexivity goes beyond self-reflection; while reflection provides space to meditate what went well or wrong, reflexivity has the power to completely transform our lives (and our communities). In terms of feminism, self-reflexivity encourages feminists to improve future activism, advocacy, and education. The goal of self-reflexivity is to adjust behaviors and actions to best serve underprivileged communities and call out heteropatriarchal ideologies rather than passively philosophize feminism.

Presenting The Feminisestina

Now, putting it all together, I would like to share my newly coined term that weaves together poetry, social justice, and inner-work:

Feminisestina (noun); a poem about feminism with six stanzas of six lines and a final triplet that exhibits vulnerability and self-reflexivity regarding one’s positionality in the world.

Feminisestinas are poems that focus on topics surrounding oppression, discrimination, and injustice at large, while at the same time being grounded in the writer’s life experience (also understood as standpoint or standpoint theory). Perhaps my definition is foolhardy, but as I wrote my very first feminisestina, I felt myself dig into healthy discomfort; I contemplated tangible shifts in my behavior and thought patterns that have the capacity to manifest into genuine inner and outer change.

Perhaps I will be the first and only one in the world to write a feminisestina. Maybe you will feel inspired to write one of your own. Or, maybe you cannot stand my poem and decide that it is an inaccurate, abhorrent representation of a feminist-in-progress. Regardless, I hope you take the time to engage in a self-reflexive activity that feels right to you. After all, I’m just an imperfect, cisgender girl standing in front of the patriarchy, asking fellow feminists to be patient with her (I hope you get the reference).

Read Danielle’s first Feminisestina here.


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