Sex scandals and sexism in the swinging 60s


Cathie Dunsford from Newsroom has reviewed Raiment by Jan Kemp, an account of her growing up in the 1950s, and of university life in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

‘I am writing this at a time none of us ever imagined might happen. The Supreme Court in America is challenging and seeking to reverse the Roe versus Wade law on abortion. After decades of feminist energy, it's almost unimaginable that this could ever be possible. And one of the reasons for mentioning this lies in the title of poet Jan Kemp's memoir, Raiment, exploring her childhood and university years, from 1949 to 1974.

After Jan’s husband virtually forced her to have an abortion, stating it did not suit their hippy lifestyle, and more importantly, his freedom, she felt deeply pressured to go ahead with this act, despite her own misgivings about it, common at the time.

Earlier in the book, she thanks a friend for sending her a list of poem titles, stating they were her children. She writes,  “And it was true — it was the sounds in my head I heard, listened to and sometimes wrote down, escaping from Papatuanuku, who as the concept of the Earth Mother I adored, but to whom I did not want to be tied physically to by bringing forth offspring to offer her. I was hugely grateful when [a friend] sent me a homemade Christmas card onto which she’d written the titles of all my poems up to that date, and inscribed Dearest Kempi, Happy Christmas, with love from all your poems. It was a real eye opener to me. My poems were my offspring.”

Later in the book, after she has endured a horrendous attempt at abortion under duress that went wrong, sending her back into the abortion den a second time, after the same husband took her on a beach holiday that went terribly sour when she bled, she writes: “And I had my education, such as it was, and my poems. That last was something no one could take away from me. That could never be aborted. For they came to me without my asking and they were my gift to the world. I would bear them all, whatever that meant, wherever it took me, always. I would never murder them, nor let anyone else either. I would stand up for them, read them, present them and represent them, whenever they needed me to do so. That was my vow. They were a part of me, my raiment.”’

Read the full review here