The Subversive Women Who Self-Publish Novels Amid Jihadist War
This is why I get so upset by a man like trump or anyone who would lump Muslims or Arab or Bedouin peoples in some massive monolithic culture or worse yet uniformly hostile. I’m far from expert, did not even sleep at a Holiday Inn and I can assure you these peoples are anything but monolithic in any discernible way. There is a depth and richness to these cultures that we could all benefit from just by knowing them.
Today I offer what I hope you will think a good example of my point.
The 30 million Hausa of northern Nigeria have a history going back more than a 1,000 years. Theirs is a rich and vibrant culture, but also a patriarchal one. And in recent years, the region has been terrorized by the brutality of jihadist militant group Boko Haram. It is not, in short, a place you’d expect a literary movement of Muslim women to flourish, especially one that sells pulpy novels in the very marketplaces targeted by jihadists.
These women write sultry romances, scandalous family dramas and other stories. Some are universal—the classic Cinderella tale of a poor woman marrying a rich man—but others are more socially risqué, like the story of a divorced woman romantically involved with a virgin man. Whatever the plot, these stories frequently denounce child marriage, sex trafficking, and slavery in all its forms. They are often handwritten, transcribed onto a computer, self-published and sold in markets throughout the Sahel region of Africa. The women who write them brave censorship and become leaders of their community, working within the bounds of society even as they shape it.
“I didn’t expect to meet such powerful women in a place where everything I had heard about was men and the patriarchy,” says photographer Glenna Gordon. Her photos, compiled in the book Diagram of the Heart, spotlight the women writing these littattafan soyayya (“books of love”) and other stories in the Hausa language. Meeting them was, she says, life-changing. “[They are] not what I thought feminism looked like, but then I had to change my idea of what feminism looked like,” she says.