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Rupi Kaur: Building Equality

Published on December 14th, 2019 at 01:33 am

By Joey Seidman

A discrepancy between the treatment of men and women has been apparent and consistent since the beginning of humankind. In the last century, movements have risen in western countries in an attempt to combat this, and although they have achieved success, true equality remains a distant thought. Thus, the movements continue, and the most recent one has birthed a rising star: Rupi Kaur. Born in India, Kaur immigrated to Canada with her family at a young age, where she was bullied due to her poor English. After finding a passion in art and literature, she received a degree in Rhetoric Studies from the University of Waterloo, and has since gone on to publish multiple books of poetry, including Milk and Honey in 2014 and The Sun and Her Flowers in 2017. While her poetry focuses on a majority of complicated modern problems, such as sexuality and race, Kaur’s poetry is deeply based in femininity and female empowerment, as seen in two of her unnamed poems regarding leg hair and stretch marks. Her use of a large platform and focusing on previously taboo normalities for women has had an empowering effect on them, and has attempted to reduce the stigma associated with these topics, somewhat reducing the inequality that is prevalent in our society.

Kaur’s poetry works to empower women and normalize aspects of femininity that are seen as taboo. One such poem is her unnamed piece regarding leg hair on women, which reinforces to women that their body is not subject to a man’s judgement regarding her supposed “hygiene.” Her poetry, due to the large following it has gained as well as the media attention, has worked hard to remind women that they are normal, and that their presence and appearance should be based off of their desires rather than that of a man’s. In Sasha Kruger’s journal article The Technopo(e)litics of Rupi Kaur: (de)Colonial AestheTics and Spatial Narrations in the DigiFemme Age, the author claims that “Kaur challenges western criteria of physicality that attempt to colonize her body.” In this sense, the “western criteria” is the standard that women have been held against for centuries: to remain completely hairless, as body hair is “masculine” and “unhygienic” for a woman. This standard, according to the author, has been imperializing, “colonizing” a woman’s body. This metaphor highlights the feelings of helplessness and disempowerment a woman feels; a woman feels colonized because a man tells her what is appropriate for her body. Kaur’s use of colorful metaphors and vivid diction helps reinforce her belief that a woman has the power to choose her appearance. She claims that “your body / is not [a man’s] home / he is a guest” (5-7). In this metaphor, Kaur compares a woman’s body to a home, specifically her home, which allows male guests. She challenges the pre-existing belief that many men hold: that a man is entitled to a woman’s body through this comparison, as he is not the owner of the home, but simply a guest. In addition, she tells women to:

warn him to
never outstep
his welcome
again. (8-11)

Through both of these, Kaur skillfully avoids shaming women who choose to have a lot of sex; comparing a man to a guest and claiming that he is welcomed so long as he treats the woman’s body with respect avoids a negative attitude towards women who have freqent visitors, placing the obligation on the man instead. By building a comparison between a woman’s body and a home, Kaur encourages women to take back the ownership of their bodies while reinforcing the idea that men are welcomed to visit, as long as they are respectful. Furthermore, Kaur builds a visual metaphor in her accompanying sketch, showing leaves and mushrooms growing out of a woman’s legs. By depicting a woman with plants and other products of nature, Kaur reinforces the idea that body hair, just like the mushrooms and leaves, is natural. Again, she empowers women and encourages them to reject the standards to which they are held; by reminding women that their body hair is natural, Kaur rejects the belief that a woman with body hair is unhygeinic and dirty. In addition to metaphors, the author uses vivid diction to create a sense of empowerment in readers. The author claims that, in a case where a man points out a woman’s body hair, the woman should “warn him” (8). The use of the word “warn” creates a sense that the woman is in power, as only someone in a position of power has the ability to warn another (8). Furthermore, her word choice challenges the belief that women are passive and helpless, because “warn” implies that if a man refuses to respect a woman, he will be adversely affected (8). In addition to this, Kaur tells women to remind men to “never outstep / [their] welcome” (9-10). Again, through the use of the word “outstep,” the author reminds the woman that is in the position of power to set boundaries that a man cannot surpass (9). Through these words, Kaur further reminds women of the power that is rightfully theirs, but has been stripped away by men. In Rupi Kaur’s unnamed poem regarding body hair on women, she uses colorful metaphors and vivid diction to empower women and remind them that their appearance should be based on their desires rather than the desires of men.

Additionally, Kaur’ poetry focuses on empowering women and building their confidence in their bodies. This can be found in most of her works and is extremely prevalent in her poem regarding stretch marks, which remains unnamed. Kaur’s efforts to do this encourage a world that is more equal and caring, with women being confident in their bodies despite men claiming that they are not attractive enough. In ‘POETRY’S BEYONCÉ:’ On Rupi Kaur and the commodifying effects of instapoetics, author Alyson Miller states that Kaur “unsettles notions of genre, gender, and race in order to reveal deep-seated cultural anxieties about the imbrication of women, trauma, and power.” Miller, although admittedly skeptical of Kaur, is correct in this statement; Rupi Kaur uses her platform to expose and counter issues prevalent in our culture, including a woman’s status that is currently less than that of a man’s. She does this in a variety of ways in her poem about stretch marks, including juxtaposition and repetition. Kaur begins by claiming that women are “so soft / yet rough and jungle wild / when [they] need to be” (3-5). Here, Kaur juxtaposes soft and rough in successive lines to highlight the power that women have. “When [they] need to be” likely refers to a situation in which there is, or has been, a power imbalance, such as an abusive relationship or an instance where a man believes that a woman is an object and can be controlled (5). In an instance such as this, Kaur claims that women are “rough and jungle wild,” reinforcing and instilling her belief that women have power that society has tucked away (4). By stating that women are “so soft,” Kaur emphasizes the sheer power that women hold; they hide a hidden wildness behind a soft presence, but quickly switch to wild if a need were to arise (3). Furthermore, by including a woman’s softness, Kaur avoids encouraging a woman to adapt to a man’s world, instead encouraging her to be herself. The “softness” Kaur refers to is femininity, which she writes is an aspect of women. By refusing to simply state that women are “rough and jungle wild” without the juxtaposition, Kaur acknowledges and encourages women to embrace their femininity while still remaining powerful (4). Additionally, Kaur’s extensive use of repetition helps her to convey her message that women are unique and strong. She writes that:

just being a woman
calling myself
a woman
makes me utterly whole
and complete. (10-14)

Her repetition of “a woman” creates an emphasis on the words, and her subsequent praise and pride in it contributes to her theme by promoting acceptance and pride in femininity and being a woman. Again, Kaur refuses to adapt to a man’s world to accept happiness, becoming happy by embracing herself and her womanhood instead. This encourages the readers of her poetry to do the same. Through juxtaposition and repetition, Kaur works to empower females and make them confident in who they are.

Rupi Kaur has boosted an additional aspect of women’s rights. She has worked to unwind the notions that women are lesser than through her poetry,making them incredibly accessible to vulnerable groups due to being found on Instagram. Her poetry embodies an additional arm to women’s rights movements in an attempt to reach equality. Although these movements still have a long way to go, Kaur has contributed to the slow decline in the imbalance between men and women through her poetry.

Works Cited

Kaur , Rupi. “About.” Rupi Kaur, 2017, rupikaur.com/about/.

Kruger, Sasha. “The Technopo(e)Litics of Rupi Kaur: (De)Colonial AestheTics and Spatial Narrations in the DigiFemme Age.” Ada New Media, Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology , 22 May 2017, adanewmedia.org/2017/05/issue11-kruger/.

Miller, Alyson. “On Rupi Kaur and the Commodifying Effects of Instapoetics.” Axon , Axon: Creative Explorations, 21 May 2019, www.axonjournal.com.au/issue-vol-9-no-1-may-2019/%E2%80%98poetry%E2%80%99s-beyonc%C3%A9%E2%80%99.

Minasian , Serenah. “Rupi Kaur.” lit216 [Licensed for Non-Commercial Use Only] / Rupi Kaur, Feb. 2017, lit216.pbworks.com/w/page/114750601/Rupi%20Kaur.