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These Women Live By Their Own Rules

juillet 3, 2017

Atona Damachi is Editor-in Chief at OURS magazine ( ) — CONSCIOUS — CRITICAL — CURIOUS

In her book Femmes hors normes, Dr. Barbara Polla takes an altruistic approach to story telling. Sharing incredible stories from incredible women, she sparks self reflection and societal understanding. She tells us she was named a witch while studying medicine in Switzerland, for her red dresses that she continued to wear. The book is filled with in depth perspectives from courageous women who “choose to wear red”.

“Alone I exist. I exist within and with myself first and foremost. Then in the contours, at times sorrowful and splendid, of this existence, I am of the world and I may contribute and share…” -Barbara Polla

It was a Saturday, one of those rainy Lagos nights that welcomed chance encounters.  After starting the evening on a high, well fed from an event that magically ran on time, we wandered the island and finally found ourselves in BarBar. They say the bar is like a mummy, depending on the night it is either dead or alive. On this night it was dead, but welcoming still. We sat in our corner, talking quietly and laughing loudly, devouring yam chips so peppery they burnt our lips, waiting for our cocktails to arrive. Time went by and none arrived, instead we were served popcorn shrimp and chicken from our newly seated neighbour with an easy smile, who attempted to strike a conversation. His first attempt failed with a tired joke, with the second attempt he struck gold. Conversation continued whimsically until he said something I was not sure how to make heads or tales of, “I like feisty women,” after some explanation it became clear that he meant a woman that was unafraid, daring, courageous.

In a society where women’s choices are too often prohibited and prescribed, how can women step out of the one-way streets that have been built for us and create our own? And who are these uncaged women that march on their own roads?

In her most recent book, Femmes hors normes in English, Women Beyond Norms, Barbara Polla takes an altruistic approach to story telling, sharing incredible stories from incredible women she takes us on a profound journey of self reflection and societal understanding.

Opening the floor to courageous women, she allows them to share how they live outside the strict rules society has prescribed for girls and women. She exposes us to the lives of many women, some of who are arctic adventurers, filmmakers daring to challenge age old sexist traditions, proud skateboarders, and mothers looking for a simpler life for their children – free of capitalism’s pressures. She introduces us to her daughter Ada who braved forgoing childbirth and her mother, an artist who forever nourished her work.

Discussing child birth, sex and entrepreneurship (some of the key topics addressed in the book), Polla ventures into delicate yet critical topics that play defining roles in female identity. Should I give birth? Should I enjoy sex? Should I build my own businesses? Of course societal norms have answered many of these existential questions for us, but the argument and dare I say the truth here is that there is no correct answer for the masses. In better understanding ourselves and our desires we choose our own answers, the ones best suited for us. The ones most likely to lead us to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. Polla calls this, allowing ourselves to answer life’s questions based on our own beliefs regardless of stereotypes or societal norms, autornomie. She argues that in finding autornomie we step onto our own paths to becoming our most fulfilled selves­­– open to others’ differences while certain and accepting of our own. She puts it plainly in the early pages of the book.

“Autonormie is an individual, discrete, or even invisible attitude: it is above all a question of resisting and removing oneself from the insidious power of the moral, familial, social, religious, economic, media, or other normative influences. It is a question of being oneself… getting closer to oneself with conviction or at least with hope. It is not about being exceptional. To the contrary: autonormie is attainable by each of us, a solution to a harmonious existence, for ourselves and for society.”

Polla encourages us to understand what we truly want and believe beyond what we are told, within the limitations of the law, and then to make decisions and take actions that are aligned with those “norms” that we have set for ourselves. With the aim of attaining mental peace and harmony – regardless of whether they are aligned with society’s “norms”.

As a Nigerian woman, my laws are not always in favour of my sex. In certain regions laws condone female domestic abuse and childhood marriages. So for some of us, achieving harmony through autornomie forces us to push and even challenge the limitations of our laws or traditions. Polla captures this cultural nuance particularly well with her conversations with filmmaker Jocelynce Saab who challenges female circumcision in her home country of Lebanon.

Carefully developed nuances have to be one of the book’s strongest points, every woman is somehow given a voice, as Polla considers culture, class and even biology (we are introduced to transgender skateboarder Hilary Thompson).

We met in the lobby of a small hotel behind Geneva’s central train station- one of those places only inhabited by old people and travellers. She was on her way to Paris, a city she loves like a person, where she feels most at home. As I sit down she smiles and teases me, though I sense we won’t be giggling for too long. As an author, professor, poet and gallery owner, she is a busy woman, playful but stern, fanning a fearless certitude that comes with knowing what you want and believe in.

She orders a Coke, I order a tea and our conversation begins.

Pour lire la conversation en entier sur le site d’OURS : cliquer ici
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