Are You Judging Me Yet? Poetry and Everyday Sexism

Kim Moore
Publication Date: 
Wednesday, March 8, 2023
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This collection of lyric essays by Forward prize-winning poet Kim Moore looks at the relationship between poetry and everyday sexism. Moore examines the dynamics of performing poetry as a female poet – drawing on her PhD research and experiences of writing and performing the poems in her second collection All The Men I Never Married which won the Forward Prize for Best Collection 2022. 

Essays tackle subjects that range from heckling at poetry readings, problems with the male gaze and explorations of what the female gaze might look like in poetry and discussions about complicity, guilt and objectification, the slipperiness of the word sexism and whether poetry can be part of transformational change.  

Moore says, “I believe the time is right for a book like this to make an impact. As a female poet, I know there is a need for such a book to examine the intersection between writing, performing, feminism and sexism. I’ve had many conversations with other female poets who have confirmed my thinking – that female poets are navigating these things regularly, and yet nobody is really writing or talking about them.” 

At the end of each chapter, readers are encouraged to choose which section they read next, and to make their own connections between the essays. They will also find links between the topics and poems in All The Men I Never Married.


Review by Jackie Law, neverimitate

Monday, May 1, 2023

Are You Judging Me Yet?, by Kim Moore, is a remarkable collection of essays and poetry that explore, as the tagline suggests, everyday sexism. The book started life as the author’s PhD thesis before being transformed into this reader-directed text. The innovative structure invites the reader to move between sections in a non-linear fashion, following ‘desire lines’ of interest. I chose to read it cover to cover and this worked for me.

In the essays, Moore offers a forensic examination of her encounters with sexism at poetry readings and in her personal life. There may be academic undertones but the writing remains humane and accessible. The author questions others’ behaviour towards her – male and female – and her immediate reactions. She then goes on to consider why what was said might be deemed socially acceptable. Included are poems that generated the responses detailed, and poems that were inspired by these.

Discussed are such issues as woman as a body. After the readings of her work, men approach to offer compliments on how she looks rather than commenting on what she read. These are small moments, perhaps not recognised by the perpetrator as sexist and dismissive. Women are expected to smile and accept, not make a fuss or complain.

“when you expose a problem, you pose a problem”

Not all encounters are what may be considered by many as benign. In writing about an experience of assault or more overt sexism, the author gives shape to the situation and its aftermath, rather than passively enduring.

“You pretend that nothing has happened,
you turn it into nothing, you learn that nothing
is necessary armour you must carry with you”

Women will recognise the ‘everyday assaults on integrity and personal safety’, how they are expected to listen without feeling attacked, to keep any discomfort to themselves. The essays herein offer intelligent and carefully considered thoughts on the sexist behaviour inherent in male and female relationships. When challenged through Moore’s poetry, men will often attempt to turn the tables, become defensive, accuse the author of treating them as she is claiming they treat her. The deconstruction of encounters includes attempts to pin down what is meant by words used, such as sexism and objectification.

As a female poet performing her work at literary events the author becomes the focus of attention – her as much as her words. She also discovers aspects of her poems she had not recognised before reading them aloud and observing reactions.

She writes of desire and is judged for this. She writes of violence and is blamed. The essays are interesting, detailed and thought-provoking. The poetry is incredible – mind altering and piercing.

A powerful and, in many ways, provocative book written with both rigour and empathy. The acuity is breath-taking. A recommended read.

Review by Steve Whitaker, Yorkshire Times

Thursday, April 6, 2023

The impressionism of Kim Moore’s groundbreaking new volume for Seren is a persuasive manifestation of a dialogue having taken place. Towards the beginning of Are You Judging Me Yet?, she recalls the difficulty of applying disparate methodological approaches to her doctoral creative writing research. Responses to literature, especially poetry, are often ad hoc abstractions – the subject does not surrender readily to one-dimensional qualitative measures of evaluation. Struggling to order her own thesis, the discovery of N. K. Denzin’s theory of Bricolage gave Moore the academic corroboration necessary to bolster confidence in a seemingly hopeless intractability of ideas. Given latitude to formulate those ideas in a ‘complex, dense, collage-like creation’, she is shown a way through the woods - for thesis, for her poems, and for her latest book.

An intimate dialogue with her most recent collection, Are You Judging Me Yet is a compelling study of what it means to be objectified, to exist in a world whose limits are foreshortened by the predominating male gaze. Obliging her poetic self outwards, to embrace personal intuitions, epigrammatic précis, anecdotes and - characteristic of a book whose purview is deliberately thorough - contemporary theory, Moore’s narrative is no less than a ‘bricolage’ of ‘disparate paradigms’, emboldened immeasurably by the sheer weight and substance of ideas of which many of us remain woefully ignorant.

Her view is neither withering nor complacent: an earnest and profoundly wise exploration, the writer’s journey is, by intention, also the reader’s, a voyage of uncovering, of revelation and of self-learning. Moore’s openness; her desire, for example, to conduct her study in a non-linear fashion whose randomness invites off-track investigation and pauses for reflection, thrives on suggestion: diversions are encouraged if mostly undirected, leaving the order of passage to the reader. And that passage is complex but liberating, causing the individual to reflect upon how attitudes to the poems (featured liberally here) and prose are shaped by a multiverse of preconceptions, including, but by no means limited to, considerations of gender, stereotype and race. The process is meant to be challenging:

‘I hope this book is both radically accessible and alienating, discomfiting and recognizable, new and repetitive, all at the same time.’

Am I discomfited? As a late middle-aged and in many ways unreconstructed working-class male, I tick several of the boxes that Kim Moore diligently avoids naming. And it is typical of this writer’s elan that she rarely targets her anger directly, opting, instead, to make her discussion inclusive, in order to address the promulgators of complacent abuse and sexism alongside its victims, the curious, the passively observant, and the men like me who are stuck on default settings. The turgid grind of routinely-administered sexism renders Moore’s thesis more or less impervious to criticism.

The term ‘anger’ is, in any case, entirely inadequate to describing Moore’s tone here. The unwieldy but strangely methodical presentation lets dialogue and debate air, gives the writer distance, and in so doing extracts the sting of disorder and self-destructiveness. Marshalling a battery of heavyweight theorists, and a compelling inventory of both general and personal experiences, Moore negotiates her way towards conviction. And the journey is both articulate and convincing, underlining the unexpected efficacy of her own eloquent bricolage.

If her narrative is tentative it is because her method is reconstructive. The writer deliberately re-engages with personal pain in order, in part, to rebuild herself, to be ‘changed in the writing of it’. Acknowledging the presence of female desire, of complicity, in a discourse that is, by definition, multivalent, Moore’s sincerity is one component of an impulse for change and betterment, for supporting the general good. One senses, in the open-ended nature of the negotiation, a willingness always to listen and to bravely commit, as though a turning of the cards was reified by the honesty of self-exposure. The interspersing of poems amongst the prose distils that negotiation, yields a higher truth in the very complexity of accompanying emotions. Poem no. 7 of All the Men I Never Married recalls, with cine-film stillness, the wiping of a drop of water from the fifteen-year-old narrator’s thigh in an unsolicited moment on the log flume. The frankness of the poet’s admission of having taking pleasure in the older man’s attention…

     And you are not innocent, you’re fifteen,
     something in you likes that you were chosen.

…renders his sense of power more invasive, his action more loaded with the complacent authority of control, and the object of his gaze unable to shift the imprint of the memory in perpetuity, even unto crippling self-doubt:

     You remember this lesson your whole life,
     that sliver/shiver of time, that moment in the sun.
     What am I saying? Nothing. Nothing happened.’

Something happens when nothing happens. The irony of the ‘lesson’ is that it is instructive, but not in terms of ‘pastoral’ care; rather will the girl be obliged to learn about the easy constituency of male control, and the long-term, ad nauseam consequences of its practice. There is something pitiful about this: having to contend with a relentlessness of proprietorial abuse in a supposed age of change. Complicity, in the context of daily attrition, is, for Moore, reasonable shorthand for ‘surviving, or coping with the world’, and if there is an according tone of ennui in a book that must have taken an age to assemble, it is because that abuse remains as palpable as the wall of ‘Class’ that Tony Harrison kept – keeps - banging his head against.

As I write I remain conscious that mine is a singular male view, one small opinion in the welter of reactions that Moore’s book will provoke. Her own hope, retailed above, shows deep prescience in its plenitude of expectations: this collection of ‘essays’, of extended impressions, amounts to a theatre of voices, a litany of complaints, a court of grievances seeking first, acceptance amongst males that a problem exists, and second, an emollient in the form of attitudinal change. Moore cannot disabuse herself of the male gaze to the point of disinterest; her audience must include men: ‘I want them to be confronted, to be disturbed, maybe even to be transformed’.

The men and sometimes women she bangs her head against at poetry readings, are ‘well-meaning’ misinterpreters who, presented with the evidence, espy Moore’s intention through the wrong end of the telescope. Featuring widely in her book, it is to these that she directs an ambivalent eye – ambivalent because the ensuing dialogue is often disquieting; readings on the subject of everyday sexism are attended, at least to some extent, by unaware sexists. Amongst a gamut of emotions, including misplaced guilt at her own directness or sharpness of tone, audience questions yield a kind of conflicted incredulity in the poet, as if she were broaching entirely new ground whilst nosing the air for weakness in her own framework of argument. And to that degree her book is an ingress, no less than Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (to which Moore properly alludes), pushing its way into the mainstream and describing a new way of seeing, as the novelist attempted to do at Newnham and Girton Colleges, Cambridge, in October 1928.

Such intellectual honesty is one of Moore’s strongest suits: the self-questioning at every stage of her passage, the open-minded willingness to consider the leaky rafts of criticism – especially at readings – whose remnants remain afloat, but on the flimsiest of knee-jerk pretexts. And it is typical of her approach that her reaction to opprobrium should scale-up in direct proportion to the perceived seriousness or veracity of her antagonist’s opinion. Her fulsome and protracted reaction to an unnamed male poet’s criticism of one of her poems (‘I Let A Man’, no. 46) came to occupy one corner of her PhD thesis. The poet’s rejection of her poem, which was published in the New Statesman, reversed Moore’s collection’s central conceit by declaring that the poem in question objectified men, therefore undermining any claim to conviction her thesis might have harboured. Harnessing the seven-part extrapolation of ‘Objectification’ proposed by Martha Nussbaum, Moore’s response is incisive and thorough, skewering her antagonist on the sword of his own definition.

Tangential to the ‘blindspot’ that the philosopher Judith Butler identifies between body and speech, or, in context here, the disconnection between Moore’s performance at a poetry reading and the ‘information’ that her body divulges in demeanour and in terms of male expectation, is another blindspot: a severe underestimation of the circumstances in which complacent sexist abuse might be deemed to have taken place. For Moore’s great skill is to identify its range and prevalence, from the interruptive bloke on the train who satisfies his own desire to talk by buttonholing the captive audience of a woman who is absorbed in a book, to the male audience member at the poetry reading who ‘thanks’ the poet for her efforts by noting how lovely she looks.

That men exert control by supposition and preconception is evidenced in the sheer ubiquity of the daily round of unsolicited attention. And although Moore has no interest in shaming those of us who propagate the routine unknowingly but without excuse, we are shamed notwithstanding. The repeated mantra in which poem number 6 of All the Men I Never Married is framed, accelerates the stages and varieties of abuse by candid accretion, rendering the violent denouement and the apparatus of recrimination that follow, transparently brutal. Brutal to the extent that the narrator’s vision is finally abandoned to the paternalistic discourse of those who control:

     That being our bodies in public is a dangerous thing.
     That being in public is a dangerous thing.
     That our bodies are dangerous things.

Kim Moore’s book is a seminal contribution to a necessary dialogue.

Review by Cerys-Leigh Phipps, Wales Arts Review

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Following the success of her award winning 2021 publication All the Men I Never Married, Kim Moore returns with another beautifully composed collection of poetry and other works. Just in time for International Women’s Day, Are You Judging Me Yet?: Poetry and Everyday Sexism tackles the heavy issues of domestic violence and sexism that women still face within modern society. In conversation with her previous collection, Moore’s new, thought-provoking poetry offers a glimpse into her personal experience with these hard-hitting issues, while highlighting normalised acts of sexism that, all too often, seem to go under the radar within our society. Through her powerful writing, Moore opens the door to an impassioned debate about the modern world of gender politics. 

This is Moore’s third publication with Seren Books and her writing is raw and emotional, yet there is a sense of empowerment that can be felt on every single page. Sharing her own personal experience with sexism, Moore exposes the dangers of normalising the sexist behaviour faced by women on a daily basis. From being heckled at her poetry readings, to men being unable to give compliments which aren’t based on her appearance, and even to conversations about sexual harassment and consent, Moore’s commitment to expressing these experiences is nothing short of inspiring. It is genuinely a joy to follow her vulnerability transform into irrefutable strength, as she uses her writing to speak openly to readers, of all genders, about the reality of the mistreatment of women throughout all aspects of modern society. 

My personal favourite poem is placed in an early section of the book entitled “Not Looking Away: A Poetics of Attention”. This short, yet poignant, piece tells a story of sexual consent, as the narrator recalls her body whispering to her “I didn’t let you down” after physically fighting off the unwanted sexual advances of a man. The heart-breaking final lines of the piece serve as an uncomfortable reality check as the female body is foregrounded as a site for sexual violence, even in a world that sees itself as “advanced”. 

As we are reminded in the introduction by the author herself, the experiences explored throughout the collection do not speak for all women, but are her own, unique experiences with sexist behaviour. Yet, in telling her own story, Moore calls out to a much wider audience. Whether you relate personally to her experiences, or are simply enlightened by them, it is undeniable that her powerful poetry has an impact on how we look at such behaviour. 

Alongside these beautifully written pieces, Moore incorporates an adventurous and original structure to her collection, inviting each reader to undergo their own personal experience with her writing. Taking inspiration from classic Fantasy Adventure novels, in which readers are able to choose the order in which they read the story, Moore applies a similar structure to her own work. Directing readers to certain poems, essays and extracts depending on their personal stance and experiences with sexism, she establishes an intimate and interactive relationship with each one of her readers. At the beginning of the collection, Moore begins with three optional starting points, one each for those who identify either as male, female, or non-binary, and from that point readers are directed depending on what which topics they wish to explore. By establishing this more personal connection with her audience, Moore creatively tailors her collection to each reader, encouraging them to go on their own, individual journey with her work, in much the same way as everyone has their own individual experiences with everyday sexism.

As well as the interactive elements of the collection, it is important to note the inclusion of a variety of literary forms throughout the book. Although the main focus, both in the writing and storytelling is poetry and how Moore has used it in an attempt to expose and combat sexism, the collection also includes a variety of lyrical essays and extracts. These artistic choices only add to the narrative, with the changing structures adding a further immersive element to the collection.

With International Women’s day just around the corner, the publication of Moore’s inspiring collection could not have come at a more appropriate time. Although we live in a society which claims to provide women with more opportunities than ever for equality and advancement, there is still a palpable sense of vulnerability to sexism and violence, felt by women everywhere. A survey carried out by Women’s Aid in 2022 found that domestic violence and misogynistic behaviour is frequently still “tolerated” by the public. In a time in which these behaviours are not only being endured, but evidenced and documented widely in the news and across social media, Moore’s work becomes an even more vital tool in the work being done to challenge everyday sexism. Reading her work is not only a window into her own experiences, but may also act as a means of education, and that’s something we all need to see more of. 

The findings from the Women’s Aid 2022 survey can be read here.

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