Tegan Bennett Daylight is a writer, teacher and critic. Her book The Details: On Love, Death and Reading is about the connections we form with literature and each other.
What does feminism mean to you?
It means equality: equal rights, equal pay, equal respect for every single woman, whoever she is, wherever she comes from, whatever her origin story.
Much of your writing focuses on the intricacies of women’s lives. What’s the power in that?
I’m interested in bringing the detail of women’s lives to light on the page. After the publication of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series I was struck by the thought that I wasn’t sure a similar book by a woman would have got nearly so much attention. I loved these books but I couldn’t help but notice that we were making a lot of the fact that a man had written about the domestic part of his life in such close detail. While women can and will write about anything, I still don’t think we have given enough respect to the body of women’s work that deals with the domestic. I think about how we hear that Gerald Murnane is being discussed as a possible winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, but not Helen Garner. I think about the weight we give to women’s writing, and how even other women somehow think that men and ‘male’ subjects – or men when they write about ‘female’ subjects – are somehow more important, more significant.
Your essay ‘Vagina’ (republished in The Details) caused a stir when first published. How confronting was it to write this piece – and send it out into the world?
It wasn’t at all confronting. Interesting, isn’t it? I’d been carrying the story around for a long time and I finally felt it was resolved – and so I was ready to tell it. I wasn’t scared to write about it and I wasn’t scared of people reading about it. My vagina is central to who I am sexually, but it is also just a part of my body. I’m not troubled by talking about it!
I realise as I write this that I need to say that the essay wasn’t originally called ‘Vagina’. I wasn’t quite sure about that – I had an artistic name for it, so that does suggest some awkwardness or shyness about the subject matter. My husband read it and said he thought the whole point was that I was talking about my vagina, so why not call it that? Worth noting. So there were, I think, some barriers of thought for me.
Now, though, I’m more amused than anything else – amused and interested to see what people make of it. What I really hope is that it enables conversation for other women. I’d like to think that women who haven’t had the space for a conversation like this might now be able to have one. A poet I know told me that his wife handed him the essay one day and said, ‘read this’. That was a very proud moment for me!
Could you share some feminist recommendations; which authors/books/podcasts/ social media accounts, are you reading, listening to, following right now?
I am reading Charlotte Wood’s The Weekend. It’s one of my favourite books. It celebrates the domestic and the detail of women’s lives in an open, honest, tough, respectful way. Plus, it’s very funny. Would you believe that I have no social media, so I have no-one to follow? It’s true! I am also reading Nell Dunn’s Talking About Women and rereading Toni Morrison, Alice Thomas Ellis, Jia Tolentino and Alexis Wright.