feminism · lgbt · Non-Fiction · review

The Gender Games – Juno Dawson

“Transitioning is not going to mystically solve all the worries in my life. I will still be skint. I will still get lonely sometimes. I will still be driven and overambitious. I’ll still be jealous and competitive. But I will be a woman. I will be Juno. I will be righted. I will be me.”

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Blurb: “Gender isn’t just screwing over trans people, it’s messing with everyone. From little girls who think they can’t be doctors to teenagers who come to expect street harassment. From exclusionist feminists to ‘alt-right’ young men. From men who can’t cry to the women who think they shouldn’t. As her body gets in line with her mind, Juno tells not only her own story, but the story of everyone who is shaped by society’s expectations of gender – and what we can do about it.

Juno Dawson – primarily known for her Young Adult books – announced her transition in 2015 and was met with tremendous support from her readers, the book community and her publisher (who have since gone to lengths to reprint her books under her new name). Following this announcement – though I feel that isn’t the right word to use – Juno went on to talk publicly about her transition in a monthly Glamour Column. I’ve asked her in the past if she was likely to write a book either featuring a trans character or about her own experience of transitioning. She said yes.

I will admit I expected The Gender Games to be all about her experience of transitioning; and doing so in the public eye. Which it is in part, though it focuses on the bigger problem of gender throughout.

Gender is personified, built up to be the creature in the dark ruining everyone’s fun. She talks about growing into a gay man and how she believes that was the label that fit until society developed and “transgender” became more commonly known. She acknowledges the privilege she still had as a gay man when it came to her publishing career; once she compared it to her female counterparts and how they are many spaces for young LGBT people online with this likes of Hannah Hart and Tyler Oakley racking up millions of views and subscribers along with the ever-growing success of Ru Paul’s Drag Race yet none of them are recognised in the so-called “mainstream media.” She goes into details of how men can benefit from feminism if it wasn’t seen as such a dirty word and things such as “you throw like a girl” aren’t helping anyone. She brings in contributors such as Sex & Relationships Youtuber Hannah Witton and drag queen Alaska to illustrate how universal some experiences are.

For me, I learnt a lot about the importance of not taking things at face value. I follow Juno avidly on all her social media and have experienced a sort of pride watching her publically grow but it seemed to lean towards the positive. In The Gender Games the reader really gets to see what goes on behind those glamour columns and Instagram stories. The reader gets to see the hardships, the abuse, the state of our NHS when it comes to dealing with gender, and just how isolating it can be.

She talks about how the LGBT community itself is not perfect and highlights the important stigma around bisexuals – something I have sadly experienced myself -and how a change needs to happen within for those on the outside to take anyone seriously.

Another important factor is that Juno acknowledges she is not perfect. She is aware of her privilege and quick to declare that she knows not everyone had the same resources available to them. She mentions that she messes up too and it’s important to apologise and work on being better. Which is something that I’m sure all of us can do.

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feminism · review

The Power – Naomi Alderman

“She cuppeth the lightning in her hand. She commandeth it to strike.”

 

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Blurb: “In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.”

*Edit: Since writing this review The Power won the Prize*

This shortlisted Baileys Women’s Prize novel is set in a modern day world where women start to develop powers which they use to become the dominant gender. Throughout the story, the reader follows four different people living in different parts of the world and sees the unfolding events told through their eyes.

The Power’s concept is one that struck me the second I heard about it. As expected, it delivers a dark and compelling insight into a world where society is turned on its head. At times it was very difficult to read and I feel like that was the point of it. While, to some, the idea of men ruling over women may seem like an ideal universe, Alderman doesn’t skimp out on showing that maybe things wouldn’t be that much better either.

The use of multi-perspective was the best way to tell this story because it showed just how vastly different society had become across various countries and my personal favourites to consume were Thude’s – a journalist.

The sequence of events takes place over the course of ten years and this is where The Power really starts to fall apart. While we are given snapshots of events over the time period, it feels very stagnant and when I got to the end I felt almost cheated. The story just never really seemed to go anywhere and I’m not sure if that was the intention or not.

Overall, this is one of those books where the concept is infinitely better than the plot itself.

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contemporary · feminism · review · young adult

Am I Normal Yet? – Holly Bourne

“Why haven’t you told them?”
Because I’d lose them. They wouldn’t get it. They’d treat me differently. I wouldn’t be “normal” to them anymore, even if I never freaked out again. Once they knew, they’d always be watching… waiting… wondering if I was going to lose it.”

 

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Blurb: “All Evie wants is to be normal. And now that she’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the-girl-who-went-nuts, there’s only one thig left to tick off her list… But relationships can mess with anyone’s head – something Evie’s new friends Amber and Lottie know only too well. The trouble is, if Evie won’t tell them her secrets, how can they stop her making a huge mistake?”

Holly Bourne is an author I’ve been aware of for a while. I’ve seen her books everywhere and I follow her feminist discussions on twitter. However, I was yet to delve into her writing until I saw a recent video where she honked a horn every time she comes across sexism in the media (in spirit of her new book. You can watch that hilarious video here. After viewing that, I wondered exactly what was stopping me from picking up her books. So I started to read.

Am I Normal Yet? Is the first book in the normal/spinster trilogy and follows a girl called Evie who is recovering from being hospitalised for OCD and Anxiety Disorder. She is slowly working through her problems with the help of medication and her therapist Sarah. Evie starts college with one big goal in mind: to be normal. No one here, minus her flaky friend Jane, knows what happened to her and she plans to keep it that way. Evie meets Amber and Lottie and together they form the spinster club dedicated to reclaiming their womanhood.

While this is the first in a trilogy, Holly has said in the past that the books are stand alone in their own right and so can be read out of order.

Through the narrative, the reader gets an honest and raw insight into the mind of Evie by using prose, therapy techniques she’s given, outlines of bad thoughts and worry and recovery diaries. It reads just like that – a diary. Evie felt so human and so real that I found myself having to take a mini break every so often because of how deep things go.

Holly Bourne uses her platform to teach about feminism while expressing the importance of showing the sexism men face too. It feels like she set out to break down the stigmas around both feminist issues and mental illness which she certainly accomplished.

I often say that I “feel” for certain characters when I read certain books but this was a whole different experience. As someone who was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder in 2014, had therapy and medication, I found it so easy to sympathise with Evie. While I couldn’t relate to the OCD side of things, the thought processes she went through were so familiar to me. I started to understand how her mind worked and how things could so easily spiral having been in some of those positions myself; that you need to stay on the straight and narrow or everyone will see you as a failure. It was like reading about myself.

I want to thank Holly Bourne for doing a really good job of not writing this book but doing it in a way where things weren’t glossed over. Some of the events are harsh, raw, brutal and a lot of the time hard to read but it’s so important that it’s out there so society can slowly bring up a generation of people that will be helpful to those suffering mental illness, rather than trying to brush them under the carpet.

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feminism · Non-Fiction · review

Girls Will Be Girls – Emer O’Toole

“As feminists, we shouldn’t judge other women’s choices. But we should very certainly try to understand women’s choices.”

 

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Blurb: “Being a woman is, largely, about performance – how we dress and modify our bodies, what we say, the roles we play, and how we conform to expectations. Gender stereotypes are still deeply embedded in our society, but Emer O’Toole is on a mission to rewrite the old script and bend the rules of gender – and she shows how and why we should all be joining in.”

This year I started getting into feminism literature. I was a feminist before I really knew there was a word to assign to it. The main thing I’ve noticed on this adventure so far is that nothing is talked about theoretically: there is no “this is what sexism means now let’s move on” every point about inequality is backed up by the author’s own experiences. Girls Will Be Girls is no difference.

In this book, Emer tackles the idea of gender conformity being a performance. Women are expected to dress and act a certain way, take on certain roles in order to please the “audience.” She lays on the table how restrictive growing up as a woman in Ireland was and unfortunately, still remains to be this day as abortion is currently illegal. She goes into detail about a time when she was thirteen and she wore a particular outfit that everyone complimented her for, a year later and wearing the same outfit suddenly she was sexualised, having suggestions made to her that maybe she shouldn’t wear a mini skirt.

A large part of the book is taken up by her stories about the “performance.” She recalls tales of times she spent exploring her gender and sexuality in public and not conforming to what’s expected of her. Whether it be the clothes she wore, what bathroom she used or not shaving her armpits. It was staggering to see how different she was treated when in stereotypically male attire compared to “traditional” female attire and entering the more androgynous side altogether.

As with a lot of feminist literature this is a western woman telling her stories and experiences of sexism. This is obviously very important as we need people like Emer to use their platforms to express how far we still have to go as a society. However, it’s exclusionary only focusing on feminist issues in Ireland and the UK.

Another thing that actually offended me was when Emer goes into detail about sexuality and what it means to her, including relationships and flings in the past. She decided to drop the bombshell line “I don’t believe in bisexual.” As a bisexual woman who found so much solace in a term after years of confusion I was really hurt for Emer to essentially discredit a sexuality that is already prone to judgment and dismissal. She went on to talk about how she never saw herself as straight/lesbian/bisexual etc but she didn’t explain her reasons for attacking the idea of being bisexual. Something which given the quote I’ve used at the start of this post, contradicts the point she made here. It let me down a lot.

Putting that aside (while difficult to do) she does an important thing of talking about a time when she was incredibly sexist and even played on it to get laughs from people she worked with or other non-feminist folks. She addressed this to show that not everybody is perfect and there’s a time when we were younger where we bashed other girls or called them “sluts” for how many people they dated etc.

This book leaves a lot of food for thought.

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contemporary · feminism · Non-Fiction · review

How To Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran

“Would Jane Austen’s Characters have spent pages and pages discussing all the relationships in their social circle if they’d been a bit more in control of their own destinies? Would women fret themselves half to death over how they look, and who fancies them, if this wasn’t the main thing they were still judged on? Would we give so much of a shit about our thighs if we, as a sex, owned the majority of the world’s wealth, instead of men?”

 

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“It’s a good time to be a woman: we have the vote and the pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain… Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should we use Botox? Do men secretly hate us? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby? Part memoir, part rant, Caitlin Moran answers the questions that every modern woman is asking.”
How To Be A Woman is a book that I have been eyeing up on various bookshelves for many years. I’ve physically picked it up a few times, declaring I would buy it, only to put it down again. The title alone exudes female empowerment and when Emma Watson announced the book as the April read for her feminist book club Our Shared Shelf it simply felt like the universe was telling me, at twenty-two years old, it is time to learn how to be a woman.

I didn’t know anything about Caitlin Moran except that her books tackle political issues and feminism. After research, I now know that Caitlin was a music journalist for Melody Music at the age of sixteen, hosted a Channel 4 music show and works for The Times. Also, she’s a novelist.

In this book, Caitlin puts across the fact that while the “traditional feminist issues” are important to talk about, the typical little things women go through day to day is just as important. At first I was taken aback by the comment as there are horrible things happening to woman around the world but as I continued reading, I started to understand the point she was making. The firsts, the things that see a girl turning into a woman are terrifying when they happen: first bra, first period, first time experiencing sexism and so on. This book is marketed as “part memoir, part rant” and it definitely lives up to that.

Throughout the book I tried relating my experiences to the things she was saying and I reached the sudden realisation that there are an alarming number of expectations and levels of judgement placed on girls becoming women and some of those continue in womanhood. For example, I was the first out of my friendship group to get her period, so I was plied with questions and the go-to person when my friends got theirs too. But when they found out I used sanitary towels and had no intention of using tampons, it was like I’d just told them I’d killed a man. Even now, there’s still judgement when people learn this about me. Another example is that I grew up being frequently asked if I had a boyfriend yet / when was I going to get a boyfriend. Secretly I was discovering my sexuality and seriously crushing on girls; later I would learn that I’m bisexual. Even when I skipped off to university, every time I came home or spoke to my dad on the phone he would ask if I had a boyfriend yet. When I would tell him I didn’t and pointed out that the reason I had gone to university was because I wanted to continue learning and become a better writer. He would then tell me most people find their “life-long partners” at University and suddenly I had a ticking relationship timer in front of me.

One big issue I had with this book is in the “I Am A Feminist” chapter, Caitlin helps the reader understand if they are a feminist by saying “do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge of it? If you answered yes to both then you’re a feminist.” While this book is very female orientated, I know a lot of male feminists and it just felt like an “us and them” divide was being created. Also it’s not inter-sectional feminism which is a big problem. This is white,middle-class feminism which caused me to leave the reading experience feeling quite disheartened.

This book gave me a lot of food for thought and Caitlin is harsh and honest in the way she attacks these topics and there’s some humour added in for an extra flair. She uses interesting but oddly fitting imagery such as referring to a woman’s reproductive system as a “hamster cage with tunnels going everywhere.”

What more could you possibly need in a book?

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contemporary · feminism · review

I Call Myself A Feminist: The View From Twenty Five Women Under Thirty

 

“I call myself a feminist because for me, the word embodies strength, courage, loyalty and determination.”

 

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Blurb: “Is Feminism still a dirty word? We asked twenty five of the brightest, funniest, bravest young women what being feminist in 2015 means to them. Is the word feminist still to be shunned? Is feminism still thought of anti-men rather than pro-human? Is this generation of feminists – outspoken, funny and focused – the best we’ve had for a long while? Has the internet given them a voice and power previously unknown?”

Hello. My name is Charlotte. At the time this post is published, I am twenty two years old. I am a white, Cisgender Bisexual woman, a vegetarian, a book lover, and most importantly, I am a feminist.  Upon reading the last identifier, you have had one of two reactions: you have cheered me (and if feeling really good today, punched the air) or you have tutted, rolled your eyes and made comments I’ve heard a thousand times before. Personally, I hope you’ve fallen into the former.

I’ve wanted to get into Feminist Literature for a few months but since no bookshop has shelves dedicated to what is basically a sub-genre, and asking for suggestions led me in the direction of Jane Austen (a dark path I want to avoid),  I was left stumped. Then  Jeansbookishthoughts received negativity for talking about feminism and so she created a book club called The Feminist Orchestra and suddenly I had found my place. I call Myself A Feminist is the March read.

The book is a collection of essays from various advocates such as Louise O’Neill (author of Only Ever Yours and Asking For It) and each chapter is separated by quotes from feminists who haven’t contributed to the book and also provides a great list you can put together of other feminist books to read. The thing that makes this book so great is that it doesn’t just focus on one area of feminism. All bases are covered from growing up in a feminist household, to being raised in Nigeria and encountering women’s issues there, to how they differ from women’s issues in other parts of the world, to including transwomen in feminism, to the idea of consent. This list is just examples of what I can pick out from the top of my head. There’s so much more to this book. I learnt from these essays that everyone has some kind of story: each woman who contributed to this collection not only discussed an area of women’s issues but were able to provide their own account of something that had happened to them regarding that subject. It just made everything more real and highlighted even more just how important feminism is to making society more equal.

There are two chapters that stood out to me the most. The first was “Staring at the ceiling: It’s Not Always as simple as Yes or No” by Abigail Matson – Phippard. This chapter hit a little close to home but tackles the idea of consent; something that tends to be the focus of feminist discussions. Abigail challenges the idea of talking about rape being acceptable but mentioning street harassment is “getting upset over nothing” and how we should turn the idea of negative consent on its head. For example, we shouldn’t be asking “did this person say no?” We should be asking “did this person say yes, I want this?” The second chapter was “What Can Men Do To Support Feminism?” which as you can guess from the title, talks about what men can do to help this social movement and how ingrained some words and ideas are to society that men can identify as feminist but still say problematic things. But let’s be honest, as feminists we’re all trying to do that. It just shows how important it is to include men and not live up to the ridiculous stereotype that we hate men.

Overall, this book was fantastic and despite the very serious topics, it was easy to read and I learnt so much.

“We need feminism because women’s bodies remain politicised, scrutinised, fetishized. There are countless more reasons why we need feminism, infinitely more reasons; and this in itself is another reason that we need feminism.”

 

For The Feminist Orchestra Book Club click here

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contemporary · feminism · review · young adult

Asking For It – Louise O’Neill

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*Warning: This post is not entirely spoiler free*

Blurb: “It’s the beginning of summer, and Emma O’Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy and confident. One night, there’s a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma. The next day, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She doesn’t know how she got there. She doesn’t know why she’s in pain. But everyone else does. Photographs taken at the party show – in great detail – exactly what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don’t want to believe what’s right in front of them, especially if the truth concerns the town’s heroes…”

I first started hearing Louise O’Neill’s name a few months ago when everyone in the booktube / book blogging world was talking about her debut novel “Only Ever Yours” which was labelled as a “feminist Young Adult Novel.” This book sounded interesting because here we had a woman coming out with a book basically saying things most of us girls are too afraid to say except to each other for fear of being scorned. Sadly, with an intimidating TBR I just didn’t have time to pick it up (although I very much intend to). Then I started seeing Louise tweeting a lot using a hashtag #notaskingforit I discovered she had a new book coming out titled Asking For It and she had written an article talking about why she had decided to write it. After reading that, I knew I could not and would not miss out on reading this book.

The story is told from the perspective of teenager Emma O’Donovan who was certainly an interesting character to read. I’ve seen a lot of reviews where bloggers have said that if she was in any other YA novel, she would be the bitch in that stereotypical mean girl group roaming around the High School. While I can see why they thought that, I didn’t agree. Emma isn’t short of narcissistic comments via internal monologue – even about her best friends – but come on, who hasn’t heard someone say something – friend or not- and thought to ourselves “God that’s stupid” / “Wow she’s a bitch.”

The only issue I had with this book was that there wasn’t much physical description of the characters so I had to do a lot of filling in myself.This made the first 50 pages a struggle because I just couldn’t picture them yet.

To start with you have the general build up of characters and the way things are in this world. However, through little hints dropped via Emma’s internal monologue it is suggested that something bad happened to Jamie a while ago and Emma made her keep quiet about it. As the tension on this subject continues to build it’s finally revealed that Jamie thinks she may have been “that word” because while she didn’t say no, she didn’t exactly say yes either. (Issues of consent are so important with young people and bringing this up in a novel aimed at teens is ridiculously important) In Jamie bringing up this topic again, the reader learns that Emma told Jamie she should keep quiet about what happened because this boy was a) popular and b) on the football team and so by coming forward about the “that word” Jamie would ruin: his future, his chances of getting into university, everyone would hate her and she wouldn’t be invited to parties anymore.(Boom. Victim Blaming) Emma also adds “it happens all the time. You wake up the next morning, and you regret it or you don’t remember what happened exactly, but it’s easier not to make a fuss”. So the “that word” was kept quiet.

(Note: the reoccurring use of “that word” rather than “rape” is used very often in this book because the characters feel that once you say “rape” it’s out there and can’t be taken back so the easiest way to avoid it, is to not use the word at all- the word in itself is a taboo.)

It’s now time for the party mentioned on the blurb: Your good ole high school party with drinking and drugs and cute boys making those harmless “I’ve heard she’s easy” comments *eye roll* Emma gets drunk, flirts with some boys and has sex with one of them, fully aware he has a boyfriend. All the way through their intercourse she thinks about how she doesn’t want to really do it and is relieved when he finally *ahems* Moving on from alcohol to drugs offered, her vision starts to become hazy. Next thing she knows she’s woken up lying on her front porch severely sunburnt as she’s been asleep there all day. She has no memory of how she got there. Or what happened to her.

That is until she sees the Facebook page.
This part made me feel sick. But it is something that is actually happening out there. Social media makes it only too easy to spread rumours or in this case, pictures at lightening speed.

Her friends turn on her, downplaying her defense by saying she was clearly “out of it” and Jamie is only too happy to repeat some of Emma’s choice phrases back to her (It’s easier not to make a fuss, right?” The story then spirals into the media, becoming one of those horrific ones we often hear on the news for example the Mattress girl who said she would carry her mattress around her college campus with her until her rapist was charged or at the very least, expelled. She recently graduated…. with her mattress.

Emma is subjected to stories about her on chat shows as to whether she “told the truth” and people even taking sides with the boys who “that word” while a hashtag #IBelieveBallinatoomGirl trends on Twitter as the court case draws closer.

The review on the front of the book reads “O’Neill writes with a scalpel” and that is without a doubt the best way to sum this book up. O’Neill is not afraid to push this book out there with a very serious topic and bring to light the issues we so easily gloss over or try to avoid talking about.

We need to talk about consent.
We need to talk about the rape happening to young people.
We need to support them.
We need to believe.
We need to stop questioning whether they were “asking for it” before we decide to take their side.

As O’Neill says in the afterword:

“I see young girls playing in my local park and I feel so very afraid for them, for the culture that they’re growing up in. They deserve to live in a world where sexual assault is rare, a world where it is taken seriously and the consequences for the perpetrators are swift and severe. We need to talk about rape. We need to talk about consent. We need to talk about victim-blaming and slut-shaming and the double standards we place upon our young me and women. We need to talk and talk and talk until the Emmas of this world feel supported and understood. Until they feel like they are believed.”

I firmly believe this book is a step forward in helping the “emmas” of the world and if I had it my way, it would be made complusary reading in schools.

*Trigger Warning: due to the theme of this book if you are a victim of sexual assault or rape I would be wary about reading it as there are a lot of very explicit scenes*

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