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“Why did men end up with more power than women? Answers to this question have a lot to do with the female anatomy”

Interview with Dutch author Mineke Schipper


Mineke Schipper, the multi-award-winning Dutch author of academic books, essays and novels, said that since time began the female body has been desired, admired, used and abused – and even advertising can’t do without it. Men and women have always needed each other but why did men end up with more power than women? Answers to this question have a lot to do with female anatomy, says Ms Schipper in her acclaimed book Hills of Paradise: A History of Power and Powerlessness, which will be published in Chinese by Guanxi Normal University Press.


Through the ages male narrators, artists and scholars have shone light on those body parts they do not have: breasts, wombs and vulvas – the topics of Ms Schipper’s book. The female sex has given birth to human life and sexual lust but also to anxieties: fear of the magic of nipples, hymens and menstrual blood.


Fear of dark passages, in which that most vulnerable of male parts must heroically find its way. Fear of dependency on mothers and other women. To calm these fears mythology has come up with male creators not only of the world but also of human life, and women have been denied access to public spheres because of their ‘distracting’ anatomy, Ms Schipper said.


Hills of Paradise is Ms Schipper’s latest critically acclaimed work. As she reflects on her celebrated career, she said that some common threads can always be found in her writing.


“In my work the most basic and most important element has always been the question as to what we share as humans, even though, as relatives of the human family, we still live without bothering enough to meet. As people belonging to different cultures, and as men and women in the world at large, we have to learn how to communicate. How do we learn to think and speak and write and meet inclusively instead of exclusively? We need to gain more information and knowledge not only about what we have been thinking and saying and writing about ourselves and about other people, but also to finally become familiar with what others have been thinking, saying, and writing about themselves and about us.”


Mutual knowledge is an important key to peaceful coexistence at all levels, whether between races, cultures, classes and genders,” Ms Schipper added, speaking ahead of her appearance at the 6th EU-China International Literary Festival.


“Today looking at what we share as humans is more urgent than ever before – instead of continuously insisting on us versus them, the outsiders. And in the case of my most recent book Hills of Paradise: men versus women or women versus men. What we have in common as humans is not only due to globalisation, but also to old human universals, because we share not only the shape of our bodies but also some fundamental needs and experiences as human beings,” she said.


“However, we are usually inclined to insist on differences more than on similarities. As for our bodies, those who look for differences will only find differences, but those who look for similarities will find out how much people experience jointly, e.g. emotions such as longing, love and fear. Similar bodies, bodily functions with no more than a few parts that only women have and a few that only men have. As I put it early in my book: “The power and powerlessness of both sexes run like a thread through human history, even though women have had little demonstrable influence on written tradition until quite recently.”


Another of Ms Schipper’s award-winning books that have been published in Chinese is the classic Never Marry A Woman with Big Feet: Women in Proverbs from Around the World. In cultures all over the globe, sex and gender issues have been expressed in proverbs, the world’s smallest literary genre. This book provides revealing insights into the female condition across centuries and continents.


Ms Schipper discovered surprisingly more similarities than differences in thousands of proverbs about women, originating from hundreds of languages and more than 150 countries. Those vivid and earthy proverbs reflect women’s phases of life: from girl to bride, to wife or co-wife; from mother to mother-in-law, widow and grandmother; the joys and sorrows of love, sex, and childbearing; women’s work, their talents, and their power. As with Hills of Paradise, Never Marry A Woman with Big Feet combines detailed research with astute intellectual writing and a warm empathic tone.


At the 6th EU-China International Literary Festival Mineke Schipper will discuss with Rianka Mohan her latest book Hills of Paradise as well as some of her other groundbreaking research and writing that has won her praise all over the world.