Review of Conversations With Women, Cebo Campbell

Originally published on Reedsy Discovery.

I expected Conversations with Women to be about women through a male gaze. I expected to grimace at Campbell’s attempt to capture the female experience. Both expectations were to be proven false within the first few pages. Campbell provides an outlook which is original and unique; an outlook which challenges our view on gender, on the masculine and the feminine, and reminds us how much of what we believe is a societal construct.

Campbell’s use of colour, sensory imagery and the elements is astonishingly beautiful. He captures the different women who have shaped him and guided him in a light unique to each one. He recalls the ‘Jamaica yellow’ of one woman and the striking outlines of his mother’s face, a beauty he never saw depicted in the magazines. This collection celebrates the feminine yet still captures the masculine spirit within women, as well as their fears and the oppression inflicted by patriarchal infrastructure and beliefs.

He also explores the feminine spirit (as he calls it) within himself – quoting a teacher who wondered what the world would look like if more men tried to be more like their mothers than their fathers. He also acknowledges his place in the fight for equality. He does not seek to carry the mantle for women, on behalf of women; belittling their strength and perseverance. Instead, he offers to move out of woman’s way and this sentiment has stayed with me. It is a fresh look at equality. This work questions how men who seek to learn from the women in their lives do so, but continue to triumph over them due to being men. Campbell makes a conscious decision not to do this. He chooses to question gender and how make believe it really is.

Thus, the ‘conversations’ in this book end up reading as incredibly human above anything else. When you choose to look beyond gender, Campbell’s words are about life and its struggles and the journeys you will embark upon.

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