Form and Function of Subaltern Autobiographies: A Case Study of Nalini Jameela’s The Autobiography of a Sex Worker

Sreemoyee Basu

The paper focuses on The Autobiography of a Sex Worker by Nalini Jameela as case study in the form of an emergent subgenre of autobiographies in India – the subaltern autobiography. It attempts to delineate through textual analysis that the form of the subaltern autobiography is distinct from other life writings, as it performs the dual function of recording the individual’s life as well as bearing testimony to the social group to which the author belongs. In doing so, Subaltern Autobiographies may provide an alternative to the current structures that are oppressive to the subjects.

The case of Nalini Jameela’s autobiography is particularly poignant as she chooses to rewrite her story in a second edition. When The Autobiography of a Sex Worker or Oru Laingikatozhilaliyute Atmakatha (in the original Malayalam) was published in 2005, it was hugely successful. However, the author chose to rewrite the book and this second version, published in 2006, was consecrated as the more authentic one by the author. The reasons that were cited by her for choosing to rewrite her story is the loss of both, physical information (by way of lost interviews), as well as her style.

While this may be the case, this paper attempts to critically study the socio-political implications of the revision. Does the author’s standard of authenticity pose a greater threat to existing social and political formations or does it diffuse the initial critique of those formations? In what ways does it respond to its moment in history and what does it choose to be silent about? Therefore, how does the author construct an image of herself against the notions that are pre-existent in the society about someone like her? This paper looks at these questions through the feminist lens of “representational intersectionality”.

Keywords: sex work, feminism, subaltern autobiography, representation, intersectionality


Resilient Bodies: the case of Mary Prince

Valeria Morabito

In recent years, both feminist theories and postcolonial theories have emphasized the importance of focusing on minor stories—particularly, all the subaltern literary productions written by subjects who were colonized. The aim of this paper is to analyze a female slave narrative through the lens of feminist methodology. I will propose a thematic analysis of Mary Prince’s autobiography, The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave, published in England in 1831. Mary Prince (c.1788 – after 1833), a slave of African descent, was born in Bermuda. She gained freedom in London, after several years of slavery and suffering in West Indies. Her autobiography was the first account of the life of a black woman to be published in the United Kingdom. Mary Prince’s story is a story of re-appropriation and resilience. Processes of appropriation, displacement and interpretation are present not only in the content of her story but also in the process of writing and publishing it. Therefore, the analysis of this text will be useful to illuminate the concept of the “subaltern”, understanding to what extent it can be a relevant category of analysis for rereading slave narratives.



Abortion and Subalternity: Stories of Four Women

Yasemin Antik

This paper will look at the experiences of Turkish women who don’t have access to abortion because of the discourse created by Justice and Development Party (AKP), although it is legal. I will be using subalternity and feminist theory as conceptual tools, and in depth interview as methodology. The aim of this paper is to reflect on the women’s conditions, stories, and acts of everyday resistance. In Turkey, the population policy and the abortion issue are state-regulated, disregarding women’s autonomy or rights. The paper focusses on the stories of four women: a Romani woman who has serious financial difficulties but is compelled to give birth to her fifth child; a young woman who gives birth to her baby in spite of two attempts of abortion; a girl who borrows money to end her pregnancy in a private clinic after learning that she has an ectopic pregnancy but will not be allowed to have an abortion in a public hospital; and a woman who is forced to give birth to an eight-month old baby which is dead in her womb after being denied an abortion. These stories foreground Turkish women’s livelihood strategies as everyday forms of resistance.

Keywords: subalternity, abortion, gender, resistance, poverty, discourse, story telling, population policies, Turkey


Muslim Literature, Magic Realism and the Subaltern Voice: Empowering the Female

 Hamidah Allogmany

There has been much scholarly interest in the deployment of magical realism in the works of writers with Muslim backgrounds, including female and male novelists from various continents, countries, cultures and traditions. However, there has not been a comparative approach that brings several texts together in one study. This paper examines if a combination of faith and magic is used effectively by the authors to articulate and interrogate cultural and socio-political issues. There are substantial similarities among Muslim magical realist novels by Rushdie, Alem, Shah, Gurnah, Parsipur and Shafak. These authors adopt the magical realism genre as a platform for the Muslim subaltern to be heard. Spivak’s essay (1988) “Can the Subaltern Speak?” is used as a starting point, and the paper also draws upon scholarship focusing on the magical realism genre, as well as a broader reading of the representation of women in Islamic traditions.

Female subalterns in these works are empowered by a magical world becoming “ungovernable” (Beverly, 2001). In addition, religious symbolism is presented and subverted to create “a more equal plane” (Reeds, 2013). Therefore, it is shown that these writers position themselves as advocates for the subaltern voice, using their work to represent, or “voice”, the voiceless “other.” This study demonstrates how these authors employ magic and redeploy religious symbolism to challenge patriarchy, empower female characters with supernatural agency, and reexamine issues of gender power relations, and misinterpretations of religion regarding the treatment and control of women.


Travelling Lines: Subversive Female Bodies in Contemporary Fiction and Visual Arts

Michaela Quadraro

Many women have innovated the languages of writing and art and re-elaborated the borders of pre-existing canons, placing themselves outside the forms of literary and artistic institutional traditions. They have tried to break the rigid frontiers between disciplines, moving between different languages and cultures, to let their bodies speak and act. A fascination with the body is evident through feminist practice, in particular if we refer to the struggle over the meanings of the female body. Feminist thinkers perceive the body as the foundation for speaking aloud and reclaiming agency. As Hélène Cixous suggests, women must learn to elude boundaries and to live without limitations. This follows the lines of the feminist debate on difference, with the emphasis on thresholds and crossings. In Fatema Mernissi’s words, all women have invisible wings, to fly away whenever they want to. As a Moroccan who writes in English, she knows that speaking a foreign language is like opening a window in a blind wall. Similarly, Assia Djebar, who writes in French, the language that was used to entomb her Algerian people, highlights the subversive power of her acquisition of the French language.

These are recognisable features of the female practices this essay deals with. Women’s oppositional works exemplify Lidia Curti’s argument that deviant and abnormal representations of female bodies can be a counterpoint to the stereotypes of the feminine. In Nights at the Circus (1984) Angela Carter proposes to overcome the canonical parameters of female beauty by questioning the traditional stereotypes of the feminine; or, in her effort to build a common language for women, Donna Haraway highlights the image of the cyborg in “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1991) as a hybrid of machine and organism, a matter of fiction as well as a creature of lived experience “about transgressed boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities”.

In this essay feminine liminality will be explored through the works of women who live between two or more cultures, and experience an ethnic and cultural diaspora, in particular, Sonia Boyce, who has attempted to overcome the limits and to find new names for traditional practices of archiving and exhibiting female bodies, Ellen Gallagher, who has employed an extraordinary number of techniques and materials in her subversive and transformative art making, fuelled by issues of race, class, and gender, and Wangechi Mutu, whose highly politicised visual imaginary is established on the idea of an Afro-centred black identity that intensifies a metropolitan aesthetic of cut ’n’ mix and bricolage.


Body Frailty and Constructions of the Self in Notrose Nobomvu Konile’s testimony to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission

 Ruth Kelly

In their book, There was this goat, poet Antjie Krog, linguist Nosisi Mpolweni and psychologist Kopano Ratele discuss Notrose Nobomvu Konile’s 1996 testimony to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commision (TRC). They find this testimony strange in the degree to which it challenges the discourses of forgiveness and reconciliation privileged by the TRC.  In this paper, I argue that the testimony is also strange in other ways. Unlike most women testifying at the TRC hearings, Mrs Konile uses her testimony as an opportunity for telling the self, talking about her own suffering as well as the suffering of her deceased son, Zabonke. Central to her narrative is the account of a serious accident with long-term consequences for her health and social status. Far from using narrative to imagine a future when her body is whole again, Mrs Konile seems to incorporate her physical frailty into her construction of personhood. In doing so, she subverts the discourses of the TRC in two ways: first, by focusing on bodily integrity violations resulting from the structural inequalities of apartheid, rather than those perpetrated by agents of the State; and secondly, by rejecting the inevitability of healing in post-apartheid South Africa.


Unfolding Knowledge on Sexual Violence Experienced by Black Lesbian Survivors in Khayelistha Cape Town, South Africa.

Jacqueline Wilson

The study unfolds the relationship between sexual violence and the practice of open lesbian courtship (romance-dating) in the Cape Town township of Khayelitsha. It will discuss stigmas, racism/ discrimination and future prospects for being a racialized lesbian living in a post-apartheid township, and the reflections of the social workers working with rape-survivors.

The method for the study is life stories in the form of in-depth and semi-structured interviews. The interviewees are unemployed as most of them did not complete their secondary education. A prevalent theme in the interviews was deep religious beliefs. Therefore, the paper will explore the intersections of race, homosexuality and poverty, and how they make Black lesbian women vulnerable to sexual violence.


 Race, Rape, and Justice during the American Civil War

 Sylvia Broeckx

Despite little to no research on sexual violence and rape during the American Civil War, the current consensus on this topic asserts that the Civil War was a ‘low rape’ war. A lack of mention of rape or even attempted rape in Civil War memoirs, few reported cases and even fewer convictions, and the assumption that Union soldiers would not commit rape due to gentlemanly restraint and a code of honour, are the main explanations given to support this claim. Yet, the 1863 introduction of General Order 100, commonly referred to as the Lieber Code, which militarised civilian felonies such as rape and sexual violence towards women, suggests that wartime rape was a sufficient enough problem within the military for the government to enact new laws. Furthermore, historians have largely viewed this subject from the perspective of white women, while ignoring the accounts of black women. Black women were more vulnerable to being raped and less likely to be believed as credible witnesses than white victims, so while the Civil War may have been a low-rape war for white women, black women may not have shared this experience. Through a study of court-martial cases, this paper investigates sexual assaults on black women by Union Army soldiers, and compares them to cases of white victims to discern racial biases in how black victims were treated and any disparity in sentencing. As black women were hitherto unable to seek legal redress for rape or attempted rape in the American South, I will argue that this new legal status aided former slave women in the recognition of their personhood and agency, not only by themselves and Northerners, but also by Southern slaveholders.