Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

Articles

Selfish, Shallow and Self-absorbed; Me? OK. If you say so.

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Non Fiction,Short Stories on October 22, 2017 by mrsdilemma Tagged: , , , , , , ,

img_3145.jpgWandering through Waterstones flagship store in Piccadilly I was in heaven, jaw dropping, mind boggling heaven. Six floors of books, 200,000 unique titles. I knew I had to own one, just one, but which one? After picking up and putting down title after title I came across a spine that stood out to me; Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed. What? As I plucked the book off the shelf, I read its subtitle; sixteen writers on the decision not to have kids. That was it, that was the book. Done. Dusted.

At 43 I know I will never have children, but then again I’ve known that since I was 16 or 17. I will never have children. I have no inclination to change my mind. If I have a ‘biological clock,’ it is well and truly broken. What else could explain the crawling horror I feel at the prospect of pregnancy? Nope, no babies for me.

Giving voice to that choice, Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed is a collection of essays by sixteen writers on their decision not to have children. From women & men, straight, gay – the essays touch on a wide variety of reasons why becoming a parent may not be for everyone. From careers, to families, childhoods and illness, each writer describes the journey to their decision.

As the title suggests, the accusations flung at those who decide to be childless range from selfishness and shallowness to self-absorption—when in fact, perhaps the opposite is true.

I would highly recommend this book not just to people who have decided not to have kids, but even more so to all those who do have kids. I think it’s important for those who are parents to realize that their lifestyle is not the only valid choice, nor are all those who make the choice not to have kids selfish, shallow, or self-absorbed! It is simply one of many life choices.

Advertisements

Articles

Men explain things to me. . .

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Non Fiction,Short Stories on October 22, 2017 by mrsdilemma Tagged: , , , ,

IMG_3141I dislike starting the review of a work I enjoyed with a negative but I would like to offer an alternative way in which to read this book, Solnits collection of essays does not need to be read together or even at once, take it slow, read one essay at time, devour the writing and then take time to think on it.

Having said that, Men explain things to me and other essays is a collection of feminist writings which really didn’t go where I thought it would. Reading the collection as a whole I was expecting a common thread, a connection – something that bound them together, perhaps an overarching theme. There really is only one; feminism and its just not strong enough, its an obtuse connection and its not sharp enough, it’s too disjointed and disconnected to work as a whole.

In the recent past Solnit’s writings on the environment, gender, human rights and violence against women, all of which goes back decades, seems suddenly and remarkably prescient. Solnit’s titular essay ‘Men explain things to me’ tells the story of a 2003 party at which Solnit experienced a man attempt to explain her latest book to her without realizing she was its author. The term mansplaining has been in use within popular lexicon since 2009 and Solnit is credited with its creation, although her essay never actually uses the term. It is a word that was needed because so many women recognized an experience they had never been able to vocalize before, they just needed someone, Solnit, to define it.

The internet being what it is, the essay was strip-mined for that one idea and very little attention was paid to where Solnit takes it next, she turns a personal account into the discussion of the same phenomenon on a global scale. Women who speak out and then find their testimony being downgraded or dismissed (the female FBI agent whose warnings about al-Qaeda were ignored; the women who need a male witness to corroborate their rape; the writers and politicians whose anger is read as “shrill” and “hysterical’), this may indeed be the most important conversation we need to have.

Don’t get me wrong, this opening essay is outstanding, and there are others which make this title well worth reading but perhaps just one essay, one subject at a time. Solnits writing meanders along, she makes stunning statements that stick with you but then goes on to contradict herself and somewhat condescend her audience. Her writing can be a little tedious If the subject matter has not grabbed your interest, but overall the essays are well written and well thought out.

Solnit is unflinchingly honest even when, especially when, it threatens the patricharcial narrative. Her writing is accessible, confrontational and deals with a wide variety of difficult subjects. The final essay “Pandora’s box and the volunteer police force” is the second essay that really stands out to me, its subject is hope. Solnit writes about the history of feminism, not that it is at a point where a full and frank history can be recorded but to show how much change has been facilitated in the effort to change something very old, something very ingrained, something that might indeed take a very long time to change.

Articles

Freedom, like everything else, is relative,

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Fiction on July 14, 2017 by mrsdilemma Tagged: , , , ,

Margaret Atwoods The Handmaids Tale tells the story of Offred; a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead – a reconstructed United States. Offred witnesses the dissolution of her former way of life and the transformation of society into a totalitarian theocracy. Women are enslaved and stripped of even their most basic rights, they cannot choose who to be in a relationship with, they cannot, read, write, own property, gain employment or even hold on to their own name. Offred is a patronymic, it is a name gifted to the individual to signify ownership, she is of fred, therefore Offred.

Prior to the start of the story an environmental disaster has caused mass infertility and women are only valued if their ovaries are still viable, they have become breeding stock. These women are called Handmaids, they are forced to provide the Commanders with children in a grotesque parody of lovemaking, they exist as a sum total of their biological ability.

Atwoods story is full to the brim of fragments of Offred’s past, remembered with; perhaps, rose colored glasses, juxtaposed against the brutal reality of her life in Gilead. “All of those women having jobs: hard to imagine now, but thousands of them had jobs, millions. It was considered the normal thing.” In an attempt to make life in Gilead believable Atwood only used atrocities that have already occurred in our lifetimes; the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia under Wahhabi Law, The Lebensborn program ad book burning in Nazi Germany and the east German surveillance state.

I devoured this book, not only is Atwoods writing sublime, but the world she has created and the characters that inhabit it are challenging, thought provoking, demanding and above all else utterly real. I would have this book as compulsory reading in each and every American high school – but I guess that would challenge the status quo much to much.

With the inclusion of the seemingly additional final chapter ( Historical Notes ) it appears to me that Atwood wrote the Handmaids Tale as a sort of 1980s Anne Franks Diary – it is the literature of witness, her story has been recorded in the hope of being discovered, the hope of being shared and the hope of being understood so that it never has to happen again. She is an eyewitness to the fallen regime.

In reading a book which was released in 1985 I was interested to read how it was received, there were many positive reviews and a large number of prizes awarded but there is always one that can come back to haunt an author. When first released there was a review in The New York Times by Mary McCarthy. ( http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/03/26/specials/mccarthy-atwood.html?mcubz=0 ) McCarthy deemed Gilead as insufficiently imagined, she suggested that The Handmaids Tale is powerless to scare. She went on to say;  “I just can’t see the intolerance of the far right, presently directed at not only abortion clinics and homosexuals but also at high school librarians…. as leading to super biblical puritanism.” I wonder if she can see it now?

Dystopian literature or as Atwood calls it; Speculative Fiction, should be a cautionary tale not a blueprint for society. She imagines a terrifying world where Women are subjugated by the ruling male patriarchy – its all starting to sound just all to familiar. . . 32 years ago when it was first published it still felt overwhelmingly far fetched, now, not so much. Atwoods tale has taken on a frightening new relevance.

 

Articles

“Because, when there is true equality, resentment does not exist.”

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Non Fiction on May 14, 2017 by mrsdilemma Tagged:

CBR15Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a writer whose voice should be heard by all, yes all, and heard loud and clear.

Her latest work is entitled “Dear Ijeawele; or a feminist manifesto in fifteen suggestions”. It grew out of a letter written to a friend who had asked for advice on raising her daughter, Chizalum, to be a feminist. This work feels more personal than her previous writing, it feels more urgent and unfortunately more necessary.

When I read Adichie I feel empowered, I feel strong, I feel purposeful but above all I feel hopeful. I read Dear Ijeawele with pencil in hand, underlining ideas, nodding to myself, scribbling notes in the margins, It provided me with a grounded concept of a utopia, but a utopia that can and will actually one day exist. That’s how much hope I feel.

This work is one that is so compelling, it is a call to arms. Its suggestions are invaluable, direct and perceptive. They are important for raising a daughter, or for that matter a son, but they are also important for all of us as human beings. Adichie gets right to the heart of sexual politics in the 21st Century, she writes with an aura of authority, you can’t help but take on board what she has to say – not just about raising children but about being a good adult.

I thought I might highlight one of the suggestions to provide a glimpse of what Adichie is espousing; The third suggestion is to teach Chizalum “that the idea of gender roles is absolute nonsense. Do not ever tell her that she should or should not do something because she is a girl. ‘Because you are a girl’ is never a reason for anything. Ever.” She goes on to discuss the differences in expectations of the sexes; cooking and domestic work, the absurdity of gender neutrality in children’s clothing and toys, individuality and self reliance.

There are a couple of sentences that leapt off the page at me and are already making an impact on my life, less that 24 hours after I finished reading them. I’m going to finish with one in particular – “Because, when there is true equality, resentment does not exist.” Let that sit with you. Let it ruminate around in your head as it has done in mine and then get up and have a conversation about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Articles

There is no such thing as Perfect. . .

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Fiction,YA literature on April 16, 2017 by mrsdilemma Tagged: , , ,

Perfect is the conclusion of the duology which began with Flawed, it is their author Cecelia Ahern’s first time writing for a Young Adult audience.

The narrative is set in the not-too-distant future, in an unnamed European country where anyone deemed to have transgressed the social rules is branded – literally – as Flawed. After she was branded Flawed by a morality court, Celestine’s life has completely fractured – all her freedoms gone. Since Judge Crevan has declared her the number one threat to the public, she has been on the run. Celestine has a secret – one that could bring the entire Flawed system crumbling to the ground. Can she prove that to be human in itself is to be Flawed…?

Ahern’s writing is crisp, well paced and packs an emotional punch. Her take on a done-to-death YA genre is fresh and refreshingly simple. All of the classic YA story-lines are there but they are not over stated; yes; the good girl goes bad but she’s not really bad after all. . . Celestine’s story is so so much more than that – her character growth and development are superb.

Ahern provides us with what I would call a YA futuristic thriller – there are enough nail biting scenes and out of left field plot twists to keep any thriller fan happy. Perfect is often described as dystopian but Ahern has said she doesn’t regard it as so, whilst it does appear to meet the definition of said genre, I see her point. She has said she sees it as part social commentary on how our global society is becoming more and more judgemental, as a reaction to society’s finger pointing culture.

I think this is a work young ( and not-so-young ) readers should devour and then discuss – I think it is a ‘perfect’ book club read. I think Ahern’s message; That there really is no such thing as perfect, we all make mistakes – is one that needs shouting from the rooftops.

Articles

#dontfollowtheherd

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Fiction on April 9, 2017 by mrsdilemma Tagged:

The Cows by Dawn O’Porter

“The Cows is a powerful novel about three women – judging each other but also themselves. In all the noise of modern life they need to find their own voice.”

The Cows tells the story of 3 seemingly unconnected women living in the same city – Cam, is a feminist lifestyle blogger with no desire to be married or to be a mother, Tara is a TV documentary producer and a single mum and Stella is PA dealing with the grief of losing her mother and her twin sister to cancer. Eventually all three women are connected and their lives are changed forever ( telling you anymore would take away from what they narrative has to offer. . . ).

Dawn O’Porter’s first foray into adult fiction ( she has previously written for young adults ) will be a resounding success – and, I hope, the promise of so much more to come.

O’Porters writing style is accessible, its casual and its easy to read, her prose discusses the conflicts and contradictions within contemporary feminism in everyday language and situations that will get even the most ardent anti-feminist talking. She uses trolling, sexuality, reproductive rights and stereotypes as backgrounds to her narrative – they are important issues but they never overpower the characters and their motivations – it all intertwines perfectly.

O’Porter is searingly perceptive, she is fearlessly frank – this novel is not one for the prudish, she is bold, brilliant and bad ass. The Cows is for women ( and open minded men ) to laugh out loud, to throw across the room in anger, to scream No! at the top of your lungs, its about being different, its about being smart and above all its about being yourself.  I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Articles

Sex Object: A ( ball bustingly honest ) Memoir

In Biography,Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism on March 11, 2017 by mrsdilemma

Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti

 

Jessica Valenti is one of a select group of Generation X feminist bloggers who have cemented their careers online – She is a force to be reckoned with, after publishing a litany of feminist tomes ( Full Frontal Feminist, He’s a stud she’s a slut ) Sex Object is her brutally honest, darkly funny memoir.

By retelling a series of formative events in her life, Valenti describes what toll everyday sexism takes on a young woman’s life. The events that helped shape her confident persona hid her damaged and insecure self, everyday sexism that was brushed off as a compliment or just boorish behavior became so destructive that Valenti struggled to maintain that confident identity.

Sex Object is a series of confronting episodes which made me look at the decisions in my own adolescence and the everyday sexism that surrounds me. Even in a small country on the other side of the world the situations Valenti finds herself in are not completely foreign to me – Her lessons about self translate into a memoir about society. The Change that we need to see in the world will begin to happen when more women speak out like Jessica Valenti has – and, more importantly, we believe them.

Valenti ends her memoir with an afterword that rapidly brings us down to earth – a series of emails and posts from her twitter and facebook feeds, tantamount to hate mail.

This is a book that has been heavily reviewed by the male patriarchy ( I really wanted to use another phrase here but that is the only one that truly represented what rubbish these men regurgitate. . . ) and to them it is a whinging, whining, #notallmen attack on the male species, I believe it is Valenti being true to herself, at times she makes poor choices but she owns them and doesn’t shift blame, she can appear frustrated but then who wouldn’t be in her situation. . . Its a book all Women should read and embrace.