What we’re reading

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: ‘Can people please stop telling me feminism is hot?’ 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was in Lagos last summer, teaching a writing workshop as part of an annual schedule that sees her time divided between Nigeria and the US. For much of the year, Adichie lives in a town 30 minutes west of Baltimore, where her Nigerian-American husband works as a medic and the 39-year-old writes in the quiet of a suburban home. When Adichie is in Nigeria, where her parents and extended family still live, she has a house in the vast city she regards with the complicated love and condescension of the part-time expat.

It’s an ambivalence with which many Nigerians regard her, too; last year, the workshop ended in a question-and-answer session, during which a young man rose to ask the famous novelist a question. “I used to love you,” she recalls him saying. “I’ve read all your books. But since you started this whole feminism thing, and since you started to talk about this gay thing, I’m just not sure about you any more. How do you intend to keep the love of people like me?” …

‘Gestators,’ ‘hosts,’ and ‘pregnant people’: The bipartisan pact to erase women by RAQUEL ROSARIO SANCHEZ

… There are many more similarities between conservative approaches to women’s empowerment and liberal approaches than we often acknowledge. The idea that women’s oppression (rooted in male control over female reproduction/sexuality) should be monetized and reframed as empowerment is not exactly a progressive one. Yet efforts to dehumanize women and turn them into utilitarian objects for the benefit of more privileged people cross political lines.

Oklahoma Representative Justin Humphrey proved that last week when he referred to pregnant women as “hosts,” saying:

“I’m like, hey, your body is your body and be responsible with it. But after you’re irresponsible then don’t claim, well, I can just go and do this with another body, when you’re the host and you invited that in.”

Humphrey’s bill, House Bill 1441, would require a woman seeking an abortion to get written consent from her sexual partner and provide his name to her doctor. This would effectively allow men to block women from having abortions. ….

On trigger warnings, PTSD, and Stephen Fry (TW-non-graphic refs to rape & SH)

Cross-posted from: bottomfacedotcom
Originally published: 14.04.16

I won’t go too deeply into my past traumas except to say that I have been at the receiving end of sexual abuse on more than one occasion. As a 13 year old I was molested by a friend of the family of people I stayed with whilst my parents cared for my hospitalised sister. As a pregnant 21 year old I was sexually assaulted by my sister’s friend. As a 26 year old I was raped by my friend. These are not the only times I have experienced sexual violence.

I don’t want to cause anyone harm by recounting the details of these experiences, and to be honest, I couldn’t if I wanted to. I keep these memories locked in a box, and I do my best to keep the lid on. Sometimes I don’t succeed, and at those times I’m knocked down in a violent onslaught. On one such occasion my husband came up to me and tried to gently place his arms around me to hug me. That lead to the lid bursting off. I don’t remember all that happened. It was as if I blacked out. All I really know is that, when it was over, I was sat on the floor, rocking and shaking, with my face swollen by tears and mucus in my hair. On the ground, all around me, were shards of smashed pottery. I had broken every plate. The kitchen looked as if a bomb had hit it. 
Read more On trigger warnings, PTSD, and Stephen Fry (TW-non-graphic refs to rape & SH)

A Series of Unfortunate Events: A Reflection on Adultism by @sianfergs

Cross-posted from: Sian Ferguson

A Series of Unfortunate Events, the celebrated children’s books written by Lemony Snicket and now adapted into a television series on Netflix, was my childhood introduction to satire. (Likewise, in a popular and insightful essay for The Atlantic, Lenika Cruz wrote that A Series of Unfortunate Events introduced her to postmodernism as a child.) In ASOUE, satire is a powerful political tool. ASOUE is simultaneously theatrically absurd and an accurate reflection of the issues it addresses, forcing the audience to consider the absurdity of a social issue without being too far removed from the phenomenon it addresses.

I began reading ASOUE at the age of eight. While I didn’t yet understand the concept of satire, the series still had an eye-opening effect on me: it forced me to think deeply about social issues. Namely, it made me think about adults. 
Read more A Series of Unfortunate Events: A Reflection on Adultism by @sianfergs

On individualist lifestylism and woman-blaming: musings on recent attacks at Liberation is Life

Cross-posted from: Liberation is Life
Originally published: 26.02.17
Many of you have seen one of the latest women writers to come under attack – the author of Why I won’t let any male babysit my children, Kasey Edwards.

Edwards takes a cold, hard look at the too-high likelihood that males with unsupervised access to children will sexually abuse them, compares it with the far lower prevalence of women committing child sexual assault, and concludes that the policy of her and her husband in only allowing women unsupervised access to their children was the most responsible choice they could make.


Read more On individualist lifestylism and woman-blaming: musings on recent attacks at Liberation is Life

Dykes, old maids and the summer of 66

Cross-posted from: Language - A Feminist Guide
Originally published: 14.08.16

This summer, British television has been reliving the glory days of 1966, when London was swinging and England’s footballers won the World Cup. My own memories of the year are rather less glorious. 1966 was the year when I turned eight; it was also the year when I first heard the word ‘dyke’.

It happened when I was eavesdropping on a conversation between my parents (a bad habit I developed at an early age). My father used the phrase ‘those dykes’ in a passing reference to two women who lived in the posher part of the village. I knew who he meant: they weren’t part of my parents’ social circle, but the village was the sort of place where everyone knew everyone by sight. But I had no idea why he called them ‘dykes’. When I asked my mother later, she said: ‘he just meant they’re old maids: they live together because they never got married’. 
Read more Dykes, old maids and the summer of 66

What we’re reading: On racism, nationalism, PTSD and Milo

Theo and the distinctly sexual flavour of French racism by @KGuilaine  via @WritersofColour

Content warning: contains detailed descriptions of sexual abuse

On 2 February, a 22-year-old black French man named Theo was allegedly violently raped with a police truncheon, gang assaulted and racially abused by four French police officers in the Parisian suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois. So severe were the anal injuries sustained by Theo that he needed major surgery after the incident. As I write, Theo remains in a stable condition in hospital after having been visited by president Hollande.  The incident occurred less than a year after the suspicious death of Adama Traore in police custody and, led to renewed accusations of police brutality and racism in France. Old wounds have been re-opened and the city is gripped with protests. …

This is not the way Milo Yiannopoulos should have gone down by Natasha Chart

I doubt very much that a gay man in pearls and lipstick was unanimously seen as an ideal CPAC speaker, yet they were going to allow it. The only redeeming thing about the alt-right’s collection of white supremacists, anti-Semites, and misogynists, is that they hadn’t turned on homosexuals yet.

Looks like that’s likely come to an end.

After some tasteless and hurtful remarks that Milo Yiannopoulos made about child sexual abuse that he was himself a victim of came to light, he has become a pariah on the right.

Now? Not when he went after Leslie Jones or Anita Sarkeesian? Not when he helped amplify fascism, slandered immigrants, suggested that education was entirely wasted on women, or any of the other appalling things he’s said and done? This? Come on. …

Aminatta Forna: ‘We must take back our stories and reverse the gaze’

few years ago I was sent a book by a psychologist called Boris Cyrulnik. Cyrulnik was born in France in 1937, during the war his parents were sent to concentration camps and never returned. At the age of seven he joined the French resistance as a runner, carrying messages back and forth across enemy lines. The book was called Resilience and I’d been sent it because of my own work describing traumatic events and their impact – in a memoir The Devil That Danced on the Water uncovering the circumstances surrounding my father’s political murder in Sierra Leone in 1975, and again in The Memory of Love, a novel set during the subsequent civil war. I read Resilience in a single sitting, and it struck me that every word of it was true.

A world-renowned expert in post-traumatic stress disorder, Cyrulnik accused other psychologists of subscribing to a kind of psychological determinism, of acting “like car mechanics”, in his words, in their ideas of cause and effect. Cyrulnik described how traumatic events are framed by the narrative given to them, in ways that can exacerbate or mitigate the impact of experiences for the sufferer. The context given for suffering is what determines survival, the feeling of selfhood is shaped by the gaze of others, namely the emotional reactions of people and of the culture around them. Cyrulnik found that, among children who survived the Nazi occupation of France, those who had, like him, joined the resistance suffered the lowest levels of postwar depression. “Did these children join the resistance because they were already more resilient?” he writes, “Or did their narrative identity, or the stories they rehearsed in their heads after the war– ‘I am the boy who at the age of eight, stood up to the German army’– give them a feeling of selfhood that had more in common with a hero than a victim?” Cyrulnik was convinced it was the latter, and devoted his career to freeing children who had endured trauma from the narrative of damage. …

The parallels between Scottish nationalism and racism are clear | Claire Heuchan

Sadiq Khan was not wrong to compare Scottish nationalism to racism or religious intolerance – at least, not entirely. Someone has to say it: the parallels are clear. There is an obvious overlap between nationalism and racism: both mentalities are defined by a politics of us and them. Equating racism with Scottish nationalism is a massive false equivalence, yet both perspectives are reliant on a clear distinction being made between those who belong and those who are rejected on the basis of difference.

In the Daily Record, Khan claimed that nationalism is effectively the same as “trying to divide us on the basis of background, race or religion”. Predictably, SNP politicians and supporters alike were outraged. How dare anyone question their vision of a progressive Scotland? But in their rush to condemn a Londoner – the mayor of all Londoners, no less – for his, in Nicola Sturgeon’s words, “spectacularly ill-judged” comments, nationalists missed an opportunity to recognise a degree of truth in Khan’s comments.

The SNP is fond of talking about “a fairer Scotland”, playing on the popular notion that Scotland is by nature more egalitarian than England. But this raises one unavoidable question: fairer than what? England, of course.

Why I love Philippa Gregory by @sianushka

Originally published: 08.02.11
Philippa Gregory and her strong, doomed women

I have a secret which is about to be revealed. Despite my bookshelf being crammed with Blake, Woolf, Eliot and Dostoyevsky, I absolutely love romantic historical fiction. The fatter the book and the glossier the cover the better. And most of all I love my recently discovered Philippa Gregory’s Tudor novels.

Gregory is first and foremost a really good writer. She has a deft use of language and a density of description that means she fully recreates the world of the Tudor courts she writes about, the smells, the colours, the landscapes, the houses and the costumes. Reading her novels, she puts you right there, timid behind the throne, absorbing the action. Secondly, she has a brilliant way with characterisation, particularly in my mind of her female characters. They leap out of the page, alive and strong and passionate, often angry and often sensual. They are full characters who invite your love, hate, distaste and admiration. And thirdly, her books are well researched, from the details of the colour of the gown Mary Boleyn wore at a gala, to the complex hatreds and schemings of Jane Boleyn and Thomas Howard.


Read more Why I love Philippa Gregory by @sianushka

Lesbian Anxieties, Queer Erasures: The Problem with Terms Like ‘Subversive Femme’ by @LucyAllenFWR

Cross-posted from: Reading Medieval Books
Originally published: 16.01.17

The paper I recently gave at the Gender and Medieval Studies conference in Canterbury was titled – after much thought – ‘Walled Desire and Lesbian Anxiety in Chaucer’s “Legend of Thisbe”‘. It should be out in The Chaucer Review before too long, but for the moment, I want to think about that second term: ‘lesbian anxiety,’ which has proved to be a topical one in much wider context that I could have anticipated when I responded to the Call For Papers.

My work is, obviously, mostly about medieval England, centuries before anyone (still less a mainstream writer such as Chaucer) thought to fling around a term like ‘lesbian’ with the cheerful abandon of a BBC blurb for a Sarah Waters adaptation.

The category of women I’m looking at are difficult to recognize. They are fictional women in mainstream literature, and therefore we don’t see them engaging in actual same-sex sex. They aren’t, on the whole, gender nonconforming in overt ways – like, for example, the cross-dressing heroines of earlier French romances, who frequently end up in flirtations with, or even in bed with, women – and, even if they were, gender nonconformity isn’t a particularly good litmus text of medieval female preferences for same-sex desire anyway. There’s a strong tradition, as Karma Lochrie has shown, of medieval onlookers interpreting ‘masculine’ behaviours and activities in women the result of imbalanced humours, easily found in women such as the cheerfully cougarish Wife of Bath. And after all, what we recognize as ‘female masculinity’ is heavily socially conditioned in the first place. So, how do I identify – and write about – women whose same-sex desire is revealed through suggestions and innuendos that are anything but ‘queer,’ either in the popular sense of uniting same-sex desire with gender nonconformity, or in the academic sense of being boldly subversive and disruptive? It’s hard, and my recent conference paper succeeded (I think!) in demonstrating that there’s a difficulty, without giving me a concrete answer to the problem. 
Read more Lesbian Anxieties, Queer Erasures: The Problem with Terms Like ‘Subversive Femme’ by @LucyAllenFWR

Hedy Lamarr – Military Contractor, Inventor of Wifi, Hollywood Bombshell 1913-2000

Cross-posted from: Women Rock Science
Originally published: 27.05.13

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Before the age of 20 Austrian Hedy Lamarr had left school, become a famous actress, married a Nazi arms manufacturer and become the first actress to simulate an orgasm on screen. Ten years later she defected to the side of allies where she invented and sold a communication technology to the US Navy that is still used by the entire US military to this day as well as in Wifi, GPS, Bluetooth and almost every single modern communication device.
Read more Hedy Lamarr – Military Contractor, Inventor of Wifi, Hollywood Bombshell 1913-2000

How have we come to this? by Yasmin Rehman for @strifejournal

Cross-posted from: Trouble & Strife
Originally published: 19.04.16

Yasmin Rehman reviews Christine Delphy’s Separate and Dominate: Feminism and Racism after the War on Terror

The sociologist and theorist Christine Delphy has been one of the most influential figures in French feminism since the 1970s, when she was active in the Mouvement delibération des femmes (Women’s Liberation Movement), and co-founded the journal Nouvelles questions féministes with Simone de Beauvoir. Separate and Dominate is a collection of ten essays which she began writing in 1996. Originally published in French in 2008, this is the first English translation, and it contains an opening chapter written specifically for this volume.

I read the book in the midst of the fierce social media debate surrounding the Charlie Hebdo cartoon featuring Aylan Kurdi, in which those who criticised the satirical magazine for using an image of the dead toddler were accused of failing to understand satire and/or the French.[1]  I was aware that my own lack of inside knowledge might affect my understanding: Delphy makes repeated reference to details of French governance, political controversies and pieces of legislation with which I am unfamiliar. But the issues and arguments raised by the book—terrorism, racism and imperialism, identity—are relevant and timely for British readers too.
Read more How have we come to this? by Yasmin Rehman for @strifejournal

Angel of Harlem- Kuwana Haulsey

Cross-posted from: Les Reveries de Rowena
Originally published: 12.11.16

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“Sometimes Harlem would just do that, you understand. It would open up and reveal itself in a rigorous display of scents, various and commanding, floating its sounds around and above you, where they swirled generously, like autumn colours. In  a while, you couldn’t tell what was what, really, or where the sensations came from.”- Kuwana Haulsey, Angel of Harlem

This is one of the most beautifully-written books I’ve ever read. Inspired by true events, it’s the story of Dr. May Edward Chinn, the first black woman physician in Harlem (in the 1920s). While reading the story, it’s natural to be amazed by how tenacious people can be, especially marginalized women.  Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about hearing about the first person to do something, to gain some sort of achievement. Even now there are always firsts but it’s not until I read this book that I thought more deeply about what being the first black female doctor in Harlem entailed. Not only is she black, she’s also a woman, so the question that entered my mind was this: How do marginalized people, women in particular, continue on despite society telling them from all angles that they are not supposed to be there?

 


Read more Angel of Harlem- Kuwana Haulsey

Why I Want to #Read & Discover More #Welsh #BME #Writers

Cross-posted from: Durre Shahwar
Originally published: 01.02.16

 

 

 

A while back, I attempted to compile a list of Welsh BME writers to read on Twitter. Since then, I’ve sat on this for months, thinking and then overthinking it; “is this necessary? Are you really going to be that person? How will people respond?” Yet every now and then, I’m reminded of this little project of mine, whether it is through the tense political climate, or the conversations I have with people.

I would firstly like to say that most publications etc. in Wales are very open to diverse and intersectional experiences in literatureParthian Books regularly publish books by diverse authors, while platforms such as Wales Arts Review regularly give voice to, and review books by diverse writers. Both are also platforms I contribute to and work with. Yet while this is the case, the Welsh BME voice in literature remains a quiet one. ‘Difficult’ is a euphemism for what has been my search for BME and intersectional experiences in Welsh books. Whether the problem is simply that Wales isn’t as diversely populated as London or other areas in England, or whether there is a lack of promoting and reaching out to writers from different backgrounds who are Welsh, I can’t say. 
Read more Why I Want to #Read & Discover More #Welsh #BME #Writers

Oromo women protest male violence under banner of goddess Atete

Cross-posted from: Suppressed Histories Archive
Originally published: 16.03.14

I found this article while searching for information about the Oromo goddess Atete on a scholarly database. Here the southern Ethiopian goddess hardly appears in her own right, most of the Oromo having (incompletely) converted to Islam or Christianity. Yet she has survived in women’s domain, especially in a ceremonial period around birth, known as Qanafa, which remains sacrosanct. The women fiercely defend this time sacred to Atete and, although they are abused at other times, militantly confront men who commit abuse during the Qanafa seclusion. Much of the information available about Atete revolves around these ritualized female protests rather than the actual rites of the goddess. 

Jeylan W. Hussein. “A Cultural Representation of Women in the Oromo Society.” African Study Monographs 25 (3), October 2004, pp 103-147 Online:

Oromo scholar Jeylan Hussein outlines the decline in women’s status in recent history, losses that have accelerated since conversions to Christianity (pushed by the dominant Amhara group) and Islam (embraced by many as a means of resisting these traditional enemies of the Oromo). He cites testimony of elders and historical records that indicate that women’s status was better in earlier times and that gender inequality hardened in the colonial era. [108-9]

It’s not that the old laws weren’t patriarchal. Oromo society was already patrilineal, with a harsh sexual double standard that stigmatized females and practiced boy-preference. Men who could afford it married several women, and senior wives ranked far above additional wives and concubines. Hussein analyzes numerous proverbs, showing how they describe women as inferior beings, as weak, fickle, irrational. They overwhelmingly depict women as men’s chattel. Several proverbs advocate beating wives, and compare them to donkeys and horses who could be tamed and beaten at will. As Hussein summarizes, Oromo sayings prescribe male mastery and female subordination. [121-28] 
Read more Oromo women protest male violence under banner of goddess Atete

15 Year Old Girl Invents No Battery Flashlight Powered by Heat from our Hands

Cross-posted from: Women Rock Science
Originally published: 29.06.13


15 year old Ann Makosinsk from Victoria Canada has invented a flashlight that doesn’t need batteries and instead is powered by the warmth of our hands. She was researching alternative energy methods when she came across the Peltier tile, a tile which generates electricity when cool on one side and warm on the other. She did some calculations and discovered that the energy generated could be enough to power a flashlight. Ann did months of research on transformers and circuitry before coming up with a working prototype. She is a top 14 finalist at the Google Science Fair and is going onto the finals of the competition later this year. 
Read more 15 Year Old Girl Invents No Battery Flashlight Powered by Heat from our Hands

Harmful Oklahoma Court Ruling by @rupandemehta.

Cross-posted from: Rupande Mehta

It was a good and bad week for victims of sexual assault and rape. While former House Speaker Hastert was being sentenced to 15 months (yup, only 15 months after the judge declared him a “serial child molester”) for molesting young boys when he coached as a wrestler, the Oklahoma court shocked everyone with the declaration that state law does not criminalize oral sex with a victim who is completely unconscious.

Right, why didn’t we think of that? An unconscious person is completely capable of giving consent so why prosecute someone who took advantage of the VERY fact that the victim was unconscious and orally sodomized her?

I have to be brutally honest here: some days the fight to make folks understand what constitutes violation of a person’s body seems so hopeless. On days like these, I feel I am transported to the hell holes of Pakistan, India and other countries where rape and other forms of violence against women is a daily fact of life. My mind cannot accept the fact that a verdict of that magnitude was issued by a court in the United States. It seems like the work of moron village elders and other local leaders, who need five witnesses to prove a rape, not that of a judicial body in the United States.


Read more Harmful Oklahoma Court Ruling by @rupandemehta.

Qatar to host World Cup despite appalling human rights record

Cross-posted from: Slutocracy
Originally published: 23.01.17

First published on Mint Press News on 27/6/16

 

Recently, Qatar jailed a Dutch tourist for having sex after she reported her rape. The case revealed to the West how rape victims are treated in Qatar.

As Qatar will be the host of the 2022 World Cup, this raises the question of the risks faced by soccer fans if they are sexually assaulted during the World Cup. However, another pressing issue is that of how locals are treated. As MyMPN reported, local women and men who suffer sexual assault are likely to be at even more risk of prosecution than tourists.

Qatar has an appalling human rights record more generally — especially when it comes to women and migrant workers. The workers building the World Cup projects are being exploited by the Qatar state and corporations.
Read more Qatar to host World Cup despite appalling human rights record

50 billion shades of feminism by Rahila Gupta for @Strifejournal

Cross-posted from: Trouble & Strife
Originally published: 06.07.13

The brutal gang-rape that took place on a bus in Delhi in December 2012 galvanized feminists both in India and around the world. Among them there were differing views on what this horrific incident meant and what should be done about it; but those differences did not stop women from taking united action. Rahila Gupta argues that if we keep our larger goals in sight, while also acknowledging that different contexts call for different political responses, the many shades of feminism can merge into one strong, vibrant colour*.  

It’s become fashionable, after the meteoric rise of that mediocre book, to refer to 50 shades of everything. When it’s applied to feminism, however, I worry that it underlines our divisions whilst appearing to celebrate our diversity. At the level of discussion, it’s important to tease out our differences; but at the level of action, we’re trying to build bridges and coalitions by keeping the bigger goals in sight.

Shades of opinion are not just about women squabbling among themselves about the best way forward, but about different contexts giving rise to different demands. With that in mind, I want to talk about the brutal gang rape on a bus of a 23 year-old woman who was left for dead in Delhi last December. Different shades of opinion emerged in the solidarity actions that took place in the UK, but they did not prevent a common platform of action.
Read more 50 billion shades of feminism by Rahila Gupta for @Strifejournal

Eat The Sky, Drink The Ocean – a review

Cross-posted from: Obscure & Unnecessary Drama
Originally published: 29.04.16

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 10.03.55Goodreads Rating : 3.75/5

Review:  The first time I ever heard Annie Zaidi speak dates back to my post grad days when she has a special session with us filled with her page-3-kinda-like-ermygod stories. As expected, massive eye rolling happened. Fast forward 3 years later, I see her again, this time with Mandy Ord at JLF 2015. More eye-rolling and subtle scoffing, until she and Mandy spoke about alternate endings to iconic tales in our culture, such as the love saga of Salim and Anarkali. I was like a dog who picked up a new scent. That one story and the epic cliffhanger was sufficient enough to itch my mind and click ‘add to cart’ on Amazon.


Read more Eat The Sky, Drink The Ocean – a review

Meritocracy, the enlightened west and other myths about women in politics by @MsAfropolitan

Cross-posted from: Ms Afropolitan
Originally published: 16.01.17

It is interesting, that, in discussions about gender equality, “merit” only comes up when we are speaking about women taking up positions that are traditionally male. Nobody questions whether it is meritocratic that, say, prostitution is a predominantly female profession, or that a disproportionate amount of women work in underpaid caring jobs. Similarly, to imagine that competence alone accounts for male dominance in politics is a fantasy. Merit, from Latin meritaremeans “to earn”, and if any group in society has earned a fair chance to shape it, it is women. This is what my latest piece for the Guardian, there titled “On parliamentary equality the UK is 48th. It could learn from No 1: Rwanda” and shared below, is about. 
Read more Meritocracy, the enlightened west and other myths about women in politics by @MsAfropolitan

Review: How You Might Know Me by Sabrina Mahfouz

Cross-posted from: Durre Shahwar
Originally published: 19.11.16

Screen Shot 2017-01-23 at 09.41.32How You Might Know Me is a result of years of creative writing workshops with women from the UK’s growing sex industry and Sabrina Mahfouz’s own experiences of working in strip-clubs. It is told through four characters: Sylvia, Tali, Sharifa and Darina, who each use the poetic form to tell their stories, be it through a traditional verse, or a more contemporary, free verse with punchy lines.

The collection examines “taboos, surprising sexual encounters, the politics of desire, the vastly differing viewpoints on sex work and most prominently, the status of women’s equality in the UK today.” What the collection also is, is inclusive and representative of women from different backgrounds and cultures.
Read more Review: How You Might Know Me by Sabrina Mahfouz