Margie Orford

A feminist finds fulfilment in derided ‘women’s work’

Like many women in mid-life, Marina Benjamin found herself caring for the very young and the elderly – leading her to ‘a radical feminist turn’

Marina Benjamin. [Luiz Hara]

Marina Benjamin writes with a frankness, depth and wisdom that recalls the self-exploratory but world-revealing essays of Michel de Montaigne. In A Little Give, she turns her exacting philosopher’s mind, and opens her capacious heart to, her own life. Her essays, Tardis-like in their complexity, depth and range, scrutinise what has made and unmade her feminism, and then enabled her to make anew the feminism that has given her life both its personal and political trajectory:

While I’ve never stopped identifying as a feminist, I am less and less certain what it means to live as one. I don’t mean how to organise and mobilise collectively. I mean simply how to be.

Like so many women in mid-life, Benjamin is responsible for the well-being of old parents and young children

This question of living, of how to be a woman, a feminist, yourself, at home – the realm of the body – and in the world – the realm of the mind – is a divide that many women find difficult to navigate. It can leave us feeling estranged in both the public and the private domain as the demands and the expectations of both become increasingly difficult to reconcile. It is this sense of not being legitimately at home anywhere that lies at the heart of this erudite and thought-provoking book.

The daughter of Iraqi-Jewish immigrants who found refuge, but not a sense of belonging, in London, Benjamin writes:

Exile twists families into strange contortions. It freezes them in the moment of leaving, creates an unnatural attachment to whatever cultural baggage makes it out intact… My greatest terror was that I would end up like my mother, wheels constantly spinning to little purpose. I chose the exit route, latching onto feminism… desperately hoping its liberation ideology would liberate me…With feminism in my corner I could remake myself against type… And yet as I rewired my head I recognised that something of the former programming remained.

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