Tag Archives: feminism

The Descent of Man – Grayson Perry

This slim book is Perry’s take on modern masculinity, where it’s harming everyone, and ideas for moving it forward in a way that would be better for both men and women. It’s brilliant. This is a book where I couldn’t stop myself from highlighting roughly every other sentence. Go and read this book!

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Because I highlighted almost all of these 151 pages, I’m finding it really difficult to review. It was all really interesting and worth reading. What a helpful review! This is actually going to be my worst review ever. If you don’t want to bother reading the rest of it, it basically says: Amazing amazing amazing read it read it read it.

From the introduction:

I hope that in picking up this book you have already acknowledged that masculinity needs to be questioned, that gender inequality is a huge issue for all of us and that the world would be a better place without it.

I was already a Grayson Perry fan before reading The Descent of Man.

One of the central issues here, and the reason this book is called The Descent of Man, is that as women rise to their just level of power, then so shall some men fall.

Some themes covered include: Default Man and all that is bad with him, identity, prejudice, being a transvestite, clothes declaring tribal status, the male body, gender fluidity, anger, mental health, male suicide, attitudes to women, checking privilege, positive discrimination as way to force change towards a gender-equal society,

Also, it’s really funny. Ties are ‘colourful textile phalluses hanging round their necks.’

I found it hard to chose a favourite other funny bit, because there are so many:

Several times I have asked audiences to put up their hand if they have sexual fantasies where the central theme is gender equality. No one ever raises their hand. (Who would? Nick Clegg maybe?) … No one gets aroused by thinking about holding hands in matching fleeces while shopping for sofas or sharing childcare, do they?

There are amazing, funny cartoons littered throughout the book too. It’s worth reading it just to see these. If you are reading on a black and grey only kindle, make sure you open it up in kindle cloud reader on a computer to see the cartoons in full colour.

I love this quote:

A lot of men are sold the narrative of male domination, but lead lives of frustration and servitude. No wonder they get angry.

and this one:

The ‘ideal’ future might just be increasing tolerance and celebration of a spectrum of masculinities born out of increasing awareness of what feels good for the individual and for society.

Well that would be just great wouldn’t it?

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Women and Power: A Manifesto – Mary Beard

A short book about women, the history of misogyny, and how women now are prevented from speaking in public forums by the very structure and roots of our society. It’s a lovely, short, easy, powerful read.

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Based on two talks Beard gave in 2014 and 2017, this classicist links modern phenomena with their roots in the ancient world. We see how ancient imagery is used to try and silence women (Hillary Clinton as Medusa anyone?). She explores how our entire construct of power eliminated women’s voices right from the beginning. She explores how we can trace misogyny back to these ancient times and therefore once we understand where it originates, we can see how we can change things and deal with it.

You can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure.

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Links between Telemachus and Penelope, Miss Triggs, Lavinia, and of course Medusa with online abuse and other grim modern examples of misogyny, especially in the sphere of silencing women speaking publicly, are littered through Women and Power. 

Every time I even think about the title of this book I get Harpy by Petrol Girls in my head. Click the link to be able to listen to it in its full feminist hardcore glory, or if your ears are too sensitive for that, here’s the main part I get stuck on loop in my head! but actually, do listen to it – it’s marvellous.

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Women with power must be shouted down
Women with power burned or drowned
Women should take it and not make a sound

Keep being loud and taking up space women! And read this book. It packs a punch in its 115 pages.

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The Book of Joan – Lidia Yuknavitch

A post-apocalyptic, feminist sci-fi adventure. Sounds awesome! and it is 🙂

Earth is dead after a series of environmental disasters, and seemingly endless wars. The Earth population is barely clinging to life and humanity is just about surviving on a system of space stations, populated by Earths elite, goverened by the Trumplike Jean de Man. The station robs Earth of its very last resources.

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The space station population have developed porcelain skin, they get elaborate skin grafts that make them look like eighteenth century French nobility, with billowing skin that trails upwards and behind them from all limbs, oh and everyone’s reproductive systems have shrivelled up and become useless. Also, everyone has to die when they reach fifty years old, so as not to be a drain on resources.

That’s what happens when geocatastrophe is amplified by radiation. Put simply, we devolved. Our sexualities mutated and devolved faster than you can say fuck.

On the stations is Christine. She is unsatisfied with how life on the station has turned out, and is strongly drawn to the story of Joan, the girl warrior who lead the opposition to Jean de Man, who seemed to have a link with the Earth itself. She was executed by burning as one last destroying of the opposition before the space stations were populated, martyring her. But is she really dead? and can she offer any hope for the future of humanity?

I want her story back. The one that was taken from her and replaced with heretic. Eco-terrorist, Murderous maiden who made the Earth scream.

The Book of Joan is a really enjoyable sci-fi adventure. It is delightfully sweary and gets into quite a lot of gender politics – especially considering gender has become irrelevant in the current society.

Men are among the loneliest creatures. They lose their mothers and cannot carry children, and have nothing to comfort themselves with but their vestigial cockular appendages. This is perhaps the reason they move ever warward when they are not moving fuckward. Now that the penis is defunct, a curling-up little insect, well, who can blame them for their behaviour?

Joan is a great character. She’s savage and animalisitic, yet she’s a teenager (for part of the story anyway!). Her connection to the Earth is mysterious and clearly (if it isn’t obvious enough already!) she is a Joan of Arc character.

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I think feminist sci-fi might be my favourite sub-genre. I must read some more of it!

 

P.s I was provided with a free copy of The Book of Joan in exchange for an honest review. Thanks NetGalley!

My Top Politics and Feminism Reads for 2017

Having looked at all the non-fiction I’ve read this year, I’ve decided to split them up into science, politics and feminism, and biography and memoir, otherwise I would have a really long blog post summing it all up! I can’t quite believe I’ve managed to read 22 non-fiction books this year! and there’s still a few weeks left… what if I read another incredible book before January?

These are my favourite non-fiction politics and feminism reads for the year, out of the ones I have read this year, not that they were necessarily published this year. I can’t believe I thought I didn’t like books about politics before this year… how very wrong I was! Click on the images to go to my longer reviews.

Politics

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Hope In The Dark – Rebecca Solnit

I came to this after hearing it mentioned on the Bookshambles podcast many, many times by Josie Long (this is also why I now have the first Elena Ferrante book on my shelves waiting to be read!). I loved reading this this book with every fibre of my being.

It’s under 150 pages and is a collection of essays on the role of hope in politics, environmental issues, and social problems. The dark is the unknowable future. It’s about how small acts of activism can have huge consequences. It’s about how hope is what’s needed to be an activist. There are examples of all of these things in Hope in the Dark.

Hope in the Dark was written in the aftermath of the re-election of Bush as President of the USA in 2004. I read a version updated to 2016 with a few extra essays about the intervening years. It inspired me to become more politically active – even in small ways – because that can make a difference. While it’s easy to feel like the world is falling apart around us – politically, socially, and environmentally – rather than stepping back and feeling despair and hopelessness (because that shit will get nothing done), we all need to feel hope and take steps to change the future to help change these things. I feel like I can do that after reading Hope in the Dark.

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What Happened – Hillary Rodham Clinton

17 hours of Hillary Rodham Clinton reading her book to me (audiobook!) and I feel sadness at what american voters did last year, I feel like I understand the issues much better than I did before reading this. I know much more about her Clinton’s whole career and the chapters on feminism are excellent. I cried several times during this audiobook, I was so moved by how she talks about the loss of the election and compares it to personal grief, but I left this book feeling hopeful, and empowered.

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The Good Immigrant – ed. by Nikesh Shukla

I wasn’t sure where to put The Good Immigrant in my crude categorisation of all non-fiction books, but I decided on politics because immigration is political. Brexit is political and has negatively impacted of the lives of BAME people in the UK. So here it is, in the politics category.

The Good Immigrant is 21 essays by BAME writers living in the UK. The stories deal with many themes, often about how feeling ‘other’ is rubbish, and stories about racism, but there’s also plenty celebrating positive aspects of being an immigrant in the UK. I enjoyed every single essay and it has also given me more writers to follow and find their other work. I would class The Good Immigrant as essential reading for anyone living in the UK. I’ve bought it for several people already! My longer review also inspired some good post-Brexit swearing *bonus*.

Feminism

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Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit

Another collection of essays, another by the amazing Rebecca Solnit, from 2014. This time she is dealing with feminism, and she does it so well. I read Men Explain Things To Me and wished I could have all these perfect arguments at the tip of my tongue whenever I talk about feminism.

The title essay is the one that brought about the phrase mansplaining (though Solnit dislikes the term) and highlights this phenomena many of us have experienced.  The rest of the essays deal with other aspects of just why feminism is still needed and necessary. There is also beautiful artwork between the essays by Ana Teresa Fernandez.

She has a new collection of feminism essays out: The Mother of All Questions : Further Feminisms. I have a copy of this but haven’t started it because I already don’t want it to be over!

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Nasty Women – 404Ink

I love this collection of essays (theme!!! I didn’t even know how much I like essay collections before this year!). This time the essays are about being a woman in the 21st century. It was inspired by the Trump election, and of course his nasty woman jibe to Hillary Clinton.

The essays cover a huge range of themes: being fat and taking a flight, gendered violence in punk rock, being Puerto Rican and living under a Trump presidency, contraception, pregnancy, class, racism, loving Courtney Love, being a black woman in Scotland, and many more.

It also introduced me to the music of The Petrol Girls, and I am very grateful for this because they are brilliant!

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Here are all the non-fiction books I read this year (click to go to my review):

What were you favourite politics and feminism reads this year?

Book Review: Under My Thumb: The Songs That Hate Women and the Women That Love Them – ed. by Rhian E Jones and Eli Davies

As a music lover with my fair share of songs that hate women that I love, I knew I needed to read this book. It is a lot of different essays covering a huge range of genres.

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I liked this book, and enjoyed reading all the essays. Though, as is to be expected when a book covers a very narrow topic, it does get a bit repetitive.  There’s hardly any resolution to the stories because of course, these are about problematic songs that the authors love. There’s not realllllly much to say beyond: I love this song, it is problematic, here is my justification for still enjoying it. Having said that, I still really liked reading it!

… how was I supposed to use my feminist ideals to fight the art which had already penetrated my core?

I’ve written before about my own problem music collection and how I listen to a lot of male artists and bands (here’s my post about it) and I also targeted the female artists and bands to watch, at a punk festival I went to in the summer (read about my Rebellion festival adventures here). I must admit, that post is my all time most viewed post ever by a very long way – it got shared amongst some punk fan groups on Facebook that I’m thankful I couldn’t see the comments on (I had a few reported back to me and they were not. very. pleasant.). This was my first little brush with getting negative comments for writing about feminism, and it just makes me admire the women who very publicly talk about these things even more – like the authors of this book!

It also reminded me of one of my favourite Onion articles: Woman Takes Short Half-Hour Break From Being Feminist To Enjoy TV Show. 😀

There are a lot of different essays in Under My Thumb – at least 25. I had an ebook version so it’s not so easy to just look at the contents and count. Some of my favourites are: From Enslavement to Obliteration: Extreme Metal’s Problem With Women by Jasmine Hazel Shadrack, I’ve Got Your Letter, You’ve Got My Song: On Pinkerton -by Marissa Chen, and Breaking Binary Codes: On Being a Female Fan Who Prefers Music Produced by Men by Larissa Wodtke. This last one starts with the line:

As a heterosexual female who often doesn’t identify with femaleness…

I get that and how this can make it easier to dismiss misogyny in music. I enjoyed this exploration of becoming more and more bothered by it and realising why it really does matter.

My own personal relationship with songs that hate women can roughly be summed up by:

  • Elvis Presley – but it was the 1950s so I justify it that way.
  • a lot of punk bands – I don’t listen to the main offending songs.
  • Slaves – a band I love, but increasingly I’m turned off by the number of songs that are really quite horrible about women. I’ve listened out for some positive lyrics about women and I’m not getting very far. It’s increasingly disappointing.

I feel better when I love bands that seem to either hate everyone equally, or write positively about women! Luckily there’s far more of these.

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p.s. I received a copy of this book free from netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks netgalley!

Book Review: What Happened – Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Clinton hasn’t featured in my life significantly until the last few years. I got particularly interested in US politics (and in politics, in general) during the early 2000s, where a few years living in Chicago made me aware of Obama, and I followed his election particularly closely. I knew who she was, of course, I was a teenager during the 90s. Last year I watched the entire of Gilmore Girls in the Summer and had also been following (with increasing horror) the US election. I was stunned that Donald Trump became the US President. Stunned and also knowing if it really had just happened, then there must be a whole pile of people shouting ‘We knew this would happen! We saw it coming!’ along with a whole series of issues that had led to this seemingly otherworldly outcome. I mean Donald Trump. Donald fucking Trump.

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But being surprised means you aren’t paying enough attention (Hello Brexit!). I wanted to understand more about how this had happened and I wanted to hear Clinton’s opinion on it. Hooray for What Happened – Hillary Clinton’s book on the election.

As well as the story of the 2016 election, we also get quite a lot about Clinton’s life. Her history as being ‘the first woman to…’ is astounding. The chapters on feminism are brilliant and the missed opportunity to break that final, US-based, glass ceiling is a tragedy. She talks about being Secretary of State, her work with the Clinton Foundation, her childhood, her experience as First Lady, and many other aspects of her life.

What Happened begins with Hillary Clinton’s take on the inauguration and the Women’s March that followed it. She explores her decision to attend the inauguration and her feelings about it. She goes on to describe the loss of the election and the month after losing. I found the this part of What Happened so emotional. She describes the loss of the election as true grief. She describes how she coped with this loss, and weaves in how she has coped with loss in her life in general. I cried during parts of What Happened – the mix of how great I think she would have been as President, with the total horror of Trump winning, combined with the fact that I only lost my Dad a few months ago just all came together with a feeling of just how awful it all is. I listen to audiobooks while driving to work, so this wasn’t the best combination. Still, thankfully the overwhelming feeling of this book isn’t self-pitying, or bitter. I came out the other side of What Happened feeling hopeful, and empowered, and more educated about the whole situation.

I’ve read some reviews of What Happened that claim Clinton doesn’t take on any of the blame herself for losing the election. That’s just plain wrong. She goes into lots of detail about her mistakes and things she wishes she did differently. She shoulders the blame she feels she deserves. She also explains where other blame lies – particularly with Russian involvement and the emails scandal. The announcement made by James Comey just days before the election about the FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails being reopened is staggering when contrasted with his decision to NOT mention that Trump was also being investigated. This is widely thought to have thrown the election in Trump’s favour, though it doesn’t explain why it was going to be a close race in the first place. Clinton delves into this too and offers a comprehensive guide to why it was going to be a close election.

The last part of the book offers Clinton’s thoughts on where work should be focused going forward to try and make positive changes for future US elections. She hopes her experiences in politics will inspire the next leaders, and women and girls everywhere.

It’s tricky looking to UK politics for inspiration. The women who’ve reached the top spot exist but with such differing politics to myself it’s hard to hold them up. Thatcher and May. Please. God. No. This is one reason why Hillary holds such appeal to me. She reflects my politics much more closely. And this is why I felt her pain, and the pain of this lost opportunity to have a female President of the United States, along with so many other people. I wept for the missed opportunity during Hillary’s telling of this tale. But I left the book feeling hopeful, and strong and empowered and looking forward to the future where someone will succeed where Hillary failed at the final hurdle.

I found What Happened to be a fascinating audiobook. It’s nice that Hillary Clinton read it out for me 😀 I would recommend it to anyone interested in Clinton or the election of 2016. I’ve found it has even helped me understand some aspects of the election that I already thought I understood, and now feel much clearer on. I only finished listed to What Happened today and I have so much more of it to go over and digest properly.

Do yourself a favour and listen to this audiobook, or read the paper one – it’s a great book.

 

Rebecca Solnit in conversation with Jeanette Winterson – Manchester Literature Festival

Manchester Literature Festival’s event: Rebecca Solnit in conversation with Jeanette Winterson was joyous. I loved every minute of it and had a memorable, happy evening.

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Jeanette Winterson and Rebecca Solnit

Firstly I love being out in Manchester. I get a lovely feeling of nostalgia for my university days and this was especially strong because I parked next to my old halls, and the event was on the Manchester University Campus (obviously not in the Physics building – but near enough!).

I was an hour early and needed to get some food, and I was alone, so I decided to pretend I was a confident person who can happily eat in a bar alone. I nearly wimped out and went to Costa (where being alone is more acceptable, in my mind), but stepped up and went to a lovely bar where I know they sell nice food. Ordered a pint and a Caesar salad, sat alone and read my book while happily enjoying my food and drink.

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A bit of Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie while I get fed and watered before the event.

When I arrived at the lecture theatre, as I was on my own I thought I might get a single seat near the front (it was already quite full). There was a spot right on the front row (most of the front was reserved and, sadly, stayed almost empty for the whole thing). So I had a prime spot. Excellent.

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I love Rebecca Solnit. She didn’t disappoint, and was just as eloquent in her conversation as she is in her written text. I admire her greatly. She writes things I wish I had could have thought of myself. Her arguments on feminism make me want to memorise them so I can be better at talking about it with people. She says things I wish I had the guts to say, but find I sometimes stay quiet because I can’t find the right words, or more likely haven’t got the energy to enter a battle against day to day misogynistic shit. She is unapologetic about it. She inspires me to be more political. I’ve only read two of her books (both this year) but they stand out as being amongst my favourite. Mostly I feel empowered by her words, and I don’t say that lightly and for dramatic effect – I feel like she speaks the words I wish were already in my head.

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We firstly got a reading from her new book, The Mother of All Questions. I have a copy already and was gutted that there would be no signing afterwards. I didn’t have any bad feeling about this, of course, Solnit wasn’t feeling 100% and I was just glad the whole thing wasn’t cancelled.

Then Jeanette Winterson led a wide ranging conversation that included a lot about feminism and politics. We had Solnit’s take on the current Weinstein news, and of course Donald Trump had to be addressed. I was glad I had taken the time to read Winterson’s memoir of growing up in working class Accrington, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (link to my review here).

If my memory is reliable enough (and it isn’t always) this was the first literature event I’ve attended. It seems unbelievable to write that, but I think it’s true. I am so glad I was taking notice when Manchester Literature Festival announced their events – there were so many others I would have loved to attend – but this one stood out as a must be there for me. I read Men Explain Things to Me earlier in the year (review here), and Hope in the Dark over Summer (review here). I have two more of her books waiting to be read A Field Guide to Getting Lost, and The Mother of all Questions. I’m thankful that she is a prolific writer because I won’t run out of things to read by her anytime soon.

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Exciting reads by Rebecca Solnit waiting to be read.

On the way home my playlist provided me with happy singalong songs including Holiday by Queen Madonna herself,  and Ca Plane Pour Moi  the Presidents of United States of America version, if you’ll forgive me, a band I don’t generally like, but I dare you to not sing along!

I think in the future I might start challenging potential new friends with the words ‘Do you greatly admire Rebecca Solnit?’ and if they don’t or haven’t heard of her. I don’t know, forget it!

I remember seeing this on twitter earlier in the year, by Caroline Criado-Perez and I completely agree!

 

I will be on the look out for more events to go to next year. Thanks Manchester Literature Festival for putting on the great event!