Monthly Archives: June 2017

Book Review: Inferior – Angela Saini

Inferior is a stunning book about the science of the difference between the sexes. Where there is scientific evidence for differences, where more evidence is required, and importantly, where scientists have allowed societal beliefs about women to cloud their scientific judgement about sex differences.

IMG_6051.JPG

Rubbish picture of my kindle. The paperback is sooooooo pretty as well!

Reading Inferior will probably make you frustrated, annoyed and unfortunately, not surprised. If you are anything like me, you will be highlighting furiously and telling everyone you meet about what you’ve just read.

For centuries, scientists have influenced decision-makers on important issues including abortion rights, granting women the vote, and how schools educate us. They have shaped how we think about our minds and bodies, and our relationships with each other. And of course, we trust scientists to give us the objective facts. We believe that what science offers is a  story free from prejudice. It is the story of us, starting from the very dawn of evolution. Yet when it comes to women, so much of this story is wrong.

Angela Saini

It covers a wide range of topics: where scientists beliefs have clouded their science, the ignoring of women in some entire areas of science (e.g. evolutionary biology), drug testing almost exclusively on men, science used as another way of controlling women, and beliefs about women’s inferiority being used to deny women education and positions of power and responsibility. It also covers how once women were given access to carrying out scientific research, their results were often credited to men. And so much more… I mean, Marie Curie, with her Nobel prize in physics and her Nobel prize in chemistry couldn’t join France’s Academy of Sciences in 1911 because she was a woman. And Harvard Medical School only started admitting women in 1945.

IMG_6069.JPG

The best of lines. 

I would say everyone who is a woman, or knows a woman should read this book. Thank you Angela Saini for writing Inferior. I loved it!

saini-inferior

see how gorgeous the paper back looks? pic from the Independent. 

 

P.S. I was provided with a copy of Inferior to review by NetGalley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Power – Naomi Alderman

Oh wow wow wow. I loved The Power. I read it and could not stop thinking about it. I finished it a few days ago, and I’m not sure my brain is done with thinking it all through. It recently won the Bailey’s Prize and I knew from first reading about it a few months ago that I really wanted to read it.

‘She cuppeth the lightning in her hand. She commandeth it to strike.’

The Book of Eve

The Power is about teenage girls developing the ability to create electric charge and shock people with it. Girls in their early teens are developing this power and they can awaken it in older women too. The balance of power between men and women has suddenly shifted.

IMG_6101.JPG

stunning cover too

The story is told through a small group of key, interacting characters. There are several teenage girls, an older mum and also mayor in the USA, and a teenage boy. The story is global and while we concentrate on a few key geographic locations, we get a global picture of what is happening as a result of the power awakening in girls. We get global politics, a seedy criminal underworld, globe trotting journalism, religion, family life and relationships. All the big themes.

The main book is presented as a historical novel depicting events in the distant past by a male author, Neil, trying to get some help and advice to publish his story. There is correspondence between this author and Naomi, who he is trying to get to help him. It’s immediately clear that gender roles are reversed in this  future that Neil and Naomi inhabit. There are funny parts of this correspondence – funny because of the gender swap and it wouldn’t be funny at all if we didn’t have such awful, embedded sexism in everyday interactions between men and women. It’s very reminiscent of the The Handmaid’s Tale and how that gives you a historical perspective on the main events.

The main story is set up in chapters titled ’10 years to go’ and counting down to some event. I like how this lets you know something big is coming but you have no idea what.

I’m not going to reveal any plot details in the rest of the review, but I am going to talk about my expectations of the book versus the reality and I think this will be SPOILERIFIC if you are planning to read it, which you should, because it’s completely brilliant. So GO AWAY and read it, then come back. Really, the next bit might ruin it for you. See you in a few days.

IMG_6127

Any excuse to break out the big physics textbooks.

 

Did you love it? I went into The Power thinking I knew what it was going to be like. My expectations are neatly summed up in this picture:

IMG_6113.JPG

GIRL POWER RARRRRR!

Girls getting strong and kicking everybody’s arses. Then there’ll be a utopia. Oh. no… that is not what happens at all. The power women get does not make them physically equal to men. It makes them much stronger. There’s dark, dark darkness in this tale. Inky, viscous darkness to drain all the happiness from your soul. These women are human, and humans can be depraved and evil. It really challenged me to think about how dark a turn things could take. I wasn’t expecting it at all and that just tells me I needed to be challenged. Naomi Alderman describes the shift in the power balance and the experience of people, men and women, during this shift really carefully and skillfully.

I was truly shocked by some of the turns taken by The Power. It made me feel sad to my core and that is where it’s so brilliant. It is much more than the fizzy, bottom kicking, girl power story it might have been (which would have been pretty awesome actually, but in a totally different way!). So I expected one thing, and I got this:

IMG_6128.JPG

Damn, missed The Road out of this picture!

Ohhhh I loved this book! I’ve been thinking of trying to write a book myself, then I read something like The Power and just, nah. 🙂

Book Review: Living the Dream – Lauren Berry

I loved this book. It’s sharp, funny and sarcastic. The characters are intelligent, if somewhat aimless, women in their late 20s. I hope this book isn’t categorised as chicklit (where good books go to die) because it’s not. It’s the best, easy, funny book I’ve read so far this year.

41qugndt3tl-_sx323_bo1204203200_

The main character Emma has finished uni, got a temp job and found herself nearing 30 without achieving any of her hopes and dreams. She wants to be a writer, but is instead hating every minute of her job in marketing (or is it advertising? I don’t even know if they are different). The corporate bullshit that she has to deal with on a daily basis is grinding her down, but paying her bills.  He inner monologue is hilarious and I totally related to dealing with BS with a smile while inwardly hating yourself and every minute of it!

Her best friend is Clementine. She is the late 20s girl who has shown amazing promise in her career as a film writer. She has been to a well respected film school and her work has been praised by those who need to praise it, but she hasn’t been able to make a living from it yet. She’s waiting for her big break, skint, working in a bar and living with her parents.

They also have a friend, Yasmin, whose life is more together, who grounds them quite a bit in the story.

The fact that the three main characters are at these different places means you are likely to identify with at least one of them.

There’s a lot about not feeling like a grown up yet, and feeling like their peers are more like real grown ups. 30 is looming and it’s the age they thought they would have all aspects of their lives sorted by. They think over 30s feel like grown ups. I can tell you that isn’t going to magically change. I am 37 and I look at world leaders who are the same age as me. They seem like real grown ups. I don’t feel like that. Yet here I am, a fully functional adult with a full time job, husband and kids.  You aren’t going to one day wake up and have a magic ‘I suddenly feel like a grown up!’ moment. There is clearly some impostor syndrome happening here (probably with most of us).

It occurred to her that, on her ascent into adulthood, she might try to act more like a lady – but even the voice in her head said it sarcastically.

There are some hilarious moments in Living the Dream and some wonderful phrases. i’m putting some of them here so I can just keep rereading them.

Adam just sat there watching, like the inanimate knobject he is

She had no intention of putting his limp sadness anywhere near her face,

She stared at the damp meat scarf he called a neck.

Beneath the layers of jealousy, resentment and rejection there lay the blind, unsophisticated rage of PMT.

and my favourite, maybe because I’d quite like a nap time during the day:

Outside, summer was dressed up as autumn and rain hammered at the windows. The sky was a mute apocalyptic grey and the room was too warm. It felt like nap time in an old people’s home

Overall this book is FUNNY and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

 

 

Where are the women… in my music.

I’ve been using Last.fm to track my listening habits for almost a year. I love a few stats on my life. My most listened to person is Tim Timebomb, he of Rancid fame. They are number 2. I like my music mostly loud and shouty, but also quite poppy, and a bit indie. Never really dancey, in a dance music way, though I love music you can dance to. And it turns out I like it really male too – well if you look at the stats I do, but this isn’t the full story. I love plenty of female artists, but on a shuffled playlist they lose out to the men on quantity of artists and output volume.

It really hit home when Tweekly.fm started making a visual, of your 16 most listened to tracks over the last seven days, available to any user. When I looked at this last week, it was unsurprising, but also a bit shocking at how male the visual was. There was the Distillers, and Britney Spears just nudging in at number 16 (I love Britney. Get over it quickly!).

pic1

ALL THE MEN – this was actually taken after my experiment. I lost the original pic I took. sad. 

Now, I’m quite sure this sort of statistic reflects the music industry more widely. Most artists and bands are male. Male voices dominate. I’d be happy to be shown this is wrong, but I’m going to take a guess that the music industry isn’t held up as the feminist ideal, with male and female voices getting equal amounts of record deals, and gigs, and support. Am I wrong? I’ve had a look at this years Glastonbury line up as an example.  I count 4 women in bands or as solo artists in the first four lines. 4 out of 16. If I counted how many women there were here versus men it would look a lot worse.  In fact, the BBC just had an article about this very thing.

c953full

Glastonbury festival line up 2017 from the Glastonbury festival website.

So as a good feminist I would like to support more female musicians and singers. As a first step, I’m only listening to female fronted band or female singers for a week to see how it shakes up my statistics.

This isn’t a perfect approach. It’s clear a female solo artist is a female solo artist, but bands are more than a singer. Some are just female fronted, with several other male musicians, others are more balanced, or even entirely female. There are also bands where there are women in the band who are not the singer. For simplicity, I’m restricting this test to female singers – solo or in bands. Just for ease, hope you don’t mind 🙂

Day 1

I listen to a spotify playlist on the way to work called ‘Super Favs’. I line up a few tracks before setting off. Excellent. Then the prepared part of the playlist comes to an end and I have to skip tracks. I’m finding sometimes I’m skipping 20 tracks at a time!  Ridiculous. So for the journey home I make sure I’ve a much longer prepared playlist.

When I get home I create a new playlist and I chuck a copy of all the female fronted bands from the Super Favs list into it. The original playlist is 1236 songs long, the new one is 146 songs long. 11.8% female voices. Ouch.

pic2.png

most listened to bands over the last 7 days – After experiment day 1.  From tweekly.fm

Day 2

Using my Women playlist. Better. I’m listening to it at home and no one has even noticed there’s anything unusual about it. This is great, and expected, because there’s still my usual mix of angry shouting, poppy dance worthy singalongs, and indie tunes.

I should have known that the Distillers would extremely quickly become my number 1 listened to female fronted band. Because they are awesome and I already have lots of their music! Raarrrr!

pic3.png

most listened to bands over the last 7 days – After experiment day 2.  From tweekly.fm

Day 3

I’m going to have to expand the playlist because I’m getting too many repeat tracks. This is fine, I have other playlists with more songs I can filter into the Women playlist. Playlist is now at 345 tracks.

pic5 sun aft.png

We have reached equity, of a sort. most listened to bands over the last 7 days – After experiment day 3.  From tweekly.fm

Day 4

I need to investigate some new people to listen to. Today is all about listening to artists I’ve been meaning to find out more about. Kate Tempest and Patti Smith are first on my list.

pic6 mon aft.png

I clearly listened to A LOT of Kate Tempest today! From Tweekly.fm

Day 5

Why have I never listened to The Lovely Eggs before?!?

Why have I never listened to Patti Smith before?!?

Why have I never listened to Kate Tempest before?!?

Why?!?

pic7 tues aft.png

ALL THE WOMEN! from tweekly.fm

Day 6

Today I’m asking my friends to recommend me their favourite female solo artists or female fronted bands. It’s all gone a bit mad. 100+ responses. Mostly sensible.

pic8 weds aft.png

Day 7

I have had a marvellous week of listening to a lot of new to me music. I have listened to artists who will be some of my favourite artists now. It’s been great. There are artists I have been meaning to listen to who, for some reason I never got around to. Honestly, I think I have to put it down to internalised misogyny.

pic9 thurs aft

Conclusion

After my week of only listening to female singers or female fronted bands, I have a lot more balance in my main play list. I’ve discovering amazing artists I should have listened to a long time ago. I still have a lot of people to listen to.

I feel great for supporting more female artists and singers. There’s still a big problem though. It has to be clear to anyone looking at these pictures that I have an even bigger problem than the one I’ve tried to address here. I have a ridiculous BAME problem. I’m embarrassed by how white these photos are. I can do better than this and there is a whole world of BAME singers and artists that I’m currently missing out on by virtue of most of the bands and exposure being given to white artists. Next mission set!

Also, the BBC Glastonbury website lets you make your own Glasto poster! Here’s mine! Looking forward to watching from my sofa this weekend.

glasto17.jpg

May Illumicrate Box

My only subscription box at the moment is Illumicrate. I love getting a little box of literary surprises every three months.

IMG_5890

So sweet!

IMG_6083.JPG

This time there’s two lovely books. Truth or Dare by Non Pratt and The Waking Land by Callie Bates. 

IMG_6084.JPG

I honestly don’t know much about these books or authors – isn’t that why a subscription box is great? (yes!) Goodreads tell me I’ll like Truth or Dare is I like Holly Bourne, and I really like Holly Bourne, so I’m happy.

The Waking Land is described as

Magic. Adventure. Intrigue. Romance. Revolution.

Sounds good to me.

There are some lovely postcards, a door hanger, a corner book mark, and a standard book mark.

IMG_6085.JPG

and finally, a cute swish and flick keychain by Nutmeg and Arlo. A Gender Games badge (which you can barely see in my terrible photo!). A mermaid lagoon candle by Flickerink, and a mug.

IMG_6086.JPG

Here’s the whole content of the box. Very happy with it this time 🙂

IMG_5891

Family Film Time – May 2017

Every week we have enforced family film watching time. Its partly to try and have a couple of hours down time, partly to be able to share our love of film with our kids, partly to have a tradition we hopefully will continue in the future. We take turns to pick. The participants are currently 39, 37, 6 and 4.

Tangled

tangled-wallpaper

A surprising choice from the oldest child. I really like Tangled as far as Disney cartoons go. The horse is great. But the end is infuriating *spoilers ahead* so the whole family got a massive rant about how it was wrong of the guy to take the choice away from Rapunzel about cutting her hair. How very rude and presumptuous of him.

Minions

 0db2ffba00000514-3139526-image-a-1_1435266691313

Minions are an entertaining watch for everyone. A safe choice by the littlest one this week.

the BFG

nepdalvi8qlkts_2_b

Ooooh I love Roald Dahl. Shame this version of the BFG is boring AF. *yawns*

We nearly watched:

Long Way North

image003

which looks AMAZING. It looks beautiful and is 5* film. Of course I hadn’t realised there would be quite so many subtitles. Considering one viewer is 4, and can’t read, it was quickly decided to shelve it and try something else. I panic chose and we ended up with:

Shark Boy and Lava Girl

the-adventures-of-sharkboy-and-lavagirl_2

It’s actually quite good. And yes, that is a very young Taylor Lautner, of Twilight fame. I’m Team Run Away You Don’t Need Either Of Them btw

taylor-lautner-large

I’m so sorry

Book Review: Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit

This is a brilliant collection of seven essays on feminism. It sets out succinctly and in a clear, straightforward way, all the shit that we need feminism for. They describe the ways in which women are not equal. Each essay covers something different. We have the title essay – now widely known as mansplaining, but more about that term in a minute. We have violence against women, class war and terrible economic history,  marriage equality, the efforts to make women invisible in society, intellectual freedom, and finally how ideas about feminism can’t be put back in a box and ignored: they are out there and won’t go away! It’s all the things I wish I could memorise and repeat when I meet someone who scoffs and states we don’t need feminism.

ana-teresa-fernandez-painting-16

untitled by Ana Teresa Fernandez

 

Each essay has a cover page with an image by Ana Teresa Fernandez on. I really liked these. Occasionally they are referred to in the essay themselves, but not in most cases. Throughout each essay you get key sentences written out again in bold and large lettering. I think to break up the text. They are a bit annoying. The only negative thing I have to say about the whole book. There are some great phrases in these essays:

part of the same archipelago of arrogance.

I’ll leave you to imagine what this was in reference to.

IMG_5395

Disney store mug featuring Black Widow

The first and title essay is funny, and depressing and so familiar.

It’s about the thin end of a scary wedge. This essay is describing the phenomena now widely known as mansplaining, though Rebecca Solnit doesn’t like that phrase as she explains in an addition to the original essay featured in this collection.

The point of the essay was never to suggest that I think I am notably oppressed. It was to take these conversations as the narrow end of the wedge that opens up space for men and closes it off for women, space to speak, to be heard, to have rights, to be respected, to be a full and free human being.

Rebecca Solnit

The second essay, The Longest War, is about rape and violence against women. It’s stark and depressing and motivating. I needed a bit of a break after the second essay before I could read the third. It was just too much to take in all at once. This isn’t a criticism, it’s powerful reading.

The third, is framed around Dominique Strauss Khan and the hotel maid scandal. It touches on class war, the damaging policies of the IMF and the rich fucking over the poor.

Chapter four is marriage equality. It explores how gay marriage is an affront to people who want to preserve traditional gender roles (i.e. men being the source of power in the marriage) because a marriage between two men or two women is inherently equal.

tumblr_nlzdo2hrvl1u8wv3to1_1280

untitled by Ana Teresa Fernandez

Chapter 5, Grandmother Spider, is about the erasure of women. In biblical genealogy, lineage is from father to son. Women are ignored. The entire side of someone’s family on their mothers side is erased. Women’s names are erased on marriage. You used to become Mrs husbands name. I’ve had post arrived addressed to me in this way and it’s infuriating! Veils are a way of disappearing a women. So is confining her to a home and not enabling women to take part in public life. It starts out looking at the bible and ends with examples in the modern world. I really enjoyed this essay, especially because I’m already so familiar with the history of women in science and how often women have been overlooked.

When I was young, women were raped on the campus of a great university and the authorities responded by telling all the women students not to go out alone after dark or not to be out at all. Get in the house. (For women, confinement is always waiting to envelope you.) Some pranksters put up a poster announcing another remedy, that all men be excluded from campus after dark. It was an equally logical solution, but men were shocked at being asked to disappear, to lose their freedom to move and participate, all because of the violence of one man.

Rebecca Solnit

Next we have a chapter starting with a Virginia Woolf quote:

The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think

Virginia Woolf, 1915.

It wasn’t really clear what this is about at first. It talks of Sontag and if art is hopeful or dark or something. It’s a bit more abstract that the others and so I struggled with it. It references another of her books Hope In The Dark and is about having hope. How your actions might have unintended, amazing consequences. you can’t know if your actions will have the effect you want, but you should try just in case it does, or in case it has unintended consequences. There are examples to illustrate all this. It gives a great case for wandering about and walking being great for creativity and introspection.

This essay is still great, but it’s also a bit advert for Rebecca Solnit’s other books (which I know I will end up ordering and reading – in fact, Hope in the Dark arrived yesterday!), which I now want to read (Hope in the Dark was already high up on my wishlist because of Josie Long singing it’s praises on Bookshambles). I also now must read some Virginia Woolf and her essay on wandering the streets of London! I love how reading one thing makes me want to read others. Though I really don’t need any more books… says every reader, ever.

tenor

Grace Kelly: rock star

Essay 7: Pandora’s Box and the Volunteer Police Force is about the progress feminism has made. About how once an idea has been released it can’t be put back in its box.

Homophobia, like misogyny, is still terrible; just not as terrible as it was in, say, 1970. Finding ways to appreciate advances without embracing complacency is a delicate task. It involves being hopeful and motivated and keeping eyes on the prize ahead. Saying that everything is fine or that it will never get any better are ways of going nowhere or of making it impossible to go anywhere. Either approach implies that there is no road out or that, if there is, you don’t need to or can’t go down it. You can. We have.

Rebecca Solnit

I’m going to need to reread these essays several times, just so the next person who says we don’t need feminism to me, can get a well thought out, intelligent earful about exactly why we definitely do. I struggling to put quotes in this review because I highlighted almost every other sentence. Rebecca Solnit is my new hero.