Christine Stark’s ‘Nickels’ – a tale of association

Cross-posted from: John Stompers
Originally published: 13.02.12

Christine Stark has been a role model of mine since 2004. That was the year she co-edited Not For Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography, which immediately soared up my book chart and remains a Berg top five today.

Not For Sale contains my favorite essay on prostitution, but Stark’s direct confrontation with so-called ‘sex radicals’ in the essay “Girls to Boyz: Sex radical women promoting prostitution and pornography” has the most forthright chutzpah of the collection. My admiration for her anti-pornstitution work led me to take special note of her various creative works released through radical feminist and artistic media.

Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation is Stark’s debut novel and it’s a doozy. The freestyle narrative announces itself on the first page through two fairy tales as understood by a small child. Stark plays with linguistic forms to translate the thoughts in a child’s mind, and it’s a testament to her skill that the unconventional style comes off much more genuine than parlor tricky. The punctuation and odd sentence breaks lend a breathless air and the cadence is tricky to catch at first, but much like watching a Scottish film, the initial confusion of familiar words in an unfamiliar dialect soon resolves and you’re hooked into the storyteller’s groove.

Read more Christine Stark’s ‘Nickels’ – a tale of association

Long Bay by Eleanor Limprecht

Cross-posted from: Adventures in Biography
Originally published: 31.07.15

From some scant archival details – and a haunting mug shot – Eleanor Limprecht has created a compelling and powerful work of historical fiction.

In 1909, Sydney woman Rebecca Sinclair was convicted of manslaughter.  A mother of three had sought an abortion from Sinclair, and died as a result.  Sinclair, in her twenties, was sentenced to three years hard labour at the Long Bay Women’s Reformatory.  Six months later she gave birth to a daughter.

The story begins with that birth.

Rebecca hears nurses’ heels, rustling skirts, the cut glass voice of the doctor.  In this long room washed with daylight there are nine other women with her, each of them preparing to give birth.  This is the Lady Renwick Ward, though there are few ladies here.  The patients are all poor, for the hospital is run by the Benevolent Society.  There are women on the ward who are married and many who are not.  Some who are having their first and some who insist this will be their last.  Still, she is the one they all speak of when they think she cannot hear.  She is the only one chained to the bed.

Read more Long Bay by Eleanor Limprecht

Re-visiting the continuum of sexual violence in the 21st century.

Cross-posted from: Mairi Voice
Originally published: 28.04.15

ANROWS Public Lecture with Professor Liz Kelly CBE

On Friday 13 February 2015 Professor Liz Kelly CBE delivered a lecture in Adelaide on re-visiting the continuum of sexual violence in the 21st century.

I had the great privilege of attending this lecture by Liz Kelly earlier this year and I would highly recommend listening to this lecture.
She talks of her early work and research “Surviving Sexual Violence” (I would recommend the book too.)


surviving sexual violence

Read more Re-visiting the continuum of sexual violence in the 21st century.

Inventing a Sacred, by @RoseAnnaStar

Cross-posted from: I am because you are
Originally published: 22.07.15

The Temple Of My Familiar by Alice Walker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Obenjomade, clean out your ears: THE WHITE MAN IS STILL HERE. Even when he leaves, he is not gone.”

“Obenjomade, cup your endearingly large ears: EVERYONE ALL OVER THE WORLD KNOWS EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT THE WHITE MAN. That’s the essential meaning of television. BUT THEY KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING ABOUT THEMSELVES.”

“If you tear out the tongue of another, you have a tongue in your hand for the rest of your life. You are responsible, therefore, for all that person might have said.”

Folk Memory, Matriarchy and Writing Back
Read more Inventing a Sacred, by @RoseAnnaStar

Marching on at Trouble & Strife

Cross-posted from: Trouble & Strife
Originally published: 18.02.15

Finn Mackay’s new book is several things at once. It’s a brief history of British feminisms from the beginning of the ‘second wave’ to the present day (with contextualizing excursions to the US and mainland Europe); it’s an explanation of what radical feminism was and is (and wasn’t and isn’t); it’s a detailed look at the origins and development of Reclaim The Night (RTN) as a form of feminist protest; and it explores the attitudes and motivations of activists involved in RTN today. Though the book is published by an academic press, it is evidently written (in plain English rather than theory-speak) to be accessible to a wider feminist audience. As well as the standard bibliography of references, it includes a list of resources for readers who want to get involved in campaigning, and a section on how to organize a RTN march.

Read more Marching on at Trouble & Strife

Sweeting the Pill by @smashthep

Cross-posted from: SmashtheP
Originally published: 31.01.14


Holly Grigg-Spall’s book Sweetening the Pill does an amazing job uncovering the harmful effects, questionable history, and medicalized misogyny of hormonal birth control (HBC). She points out that both the pharmaceutical industry and modern third wave feminism have downplayed the harms of HBC and have equated use of the pill with liberation. As she says,
Read more Sweeting the Pill by @smashthep

“Decent of you to allow that I may be a real person after all” by @sarahditum

(Cross-posted from Sarah Ditum)

Catherine Storr’s novel Marianne Dreams is a story about a girl whose drawings have the ability to direct her dreams – and whose dreams in turn have the ability to direct real life, though they do so in obscure and unpredictable ways. She has the problem of all responsible artists: her work doesn’t only represent the world, it alters it too, and though her acts of creation are powerful, she cannot control that power absolutely. (When I was casting around for my blog title, I came up with the name Paperhouse, after the film adaptation of Marianne Dreams, partly because at the time I thought I’d be writing mostly about journalism, partly because that strange relationship between representations and the things represented has always seemed to me the most important thing in the world to write about.)

Sometimes, explains Marianne, as she tries to comprehend the rules of the pencil-drawn world she has created, it’s as though the thing she draws has existed in advance of her drawing it – I imagine she means this in the same way that saying the word “cat” pulls a string of referents behind it, ideas of cats and cattishness that have been established long before the user of language ever shaped their palate around that collection of sounds. “So if I drew anyone, whatever it looked like, it would have to turn out to be you, because somehow or other you’re already here – I mean, you were here before I ever drew you, only I couldn’t see you till I’d drawn it,” she explains to Mark, the real-life boy who has been summoned into her dream-world.

But Mark is dismayed by this. He doesn’t like considering himself a part of someone else’s dream – and worst of all, the deepest insult to his dignity, that someone else is a girl:

“Oh, shut up,” Mark said. “Don’t be so beastly apologetic and so sure you’ve done everything. You seem to think this world belongs to you and that everything that happens here happens because you’ve made it. I don’t believe it, anyway. Look at you – you’re only a little girl.”

Only a little girl. The idea that he might be an object in someone else’s subjectivity upturns Mark’s sense of his importance, so he belittles Marianne and attacks her abilities. It is not tolerable to him that she should be the authority in this world of which he is a part, so he proclaims that her sex makes it impossible for her to have such powers. Nor is he alone as a male disturbed by the force of female imagination. A decade or so after I read Marianne Dreams, I read another book that, like Storr’s, presents the work of fiction as the creation of another country where strangers can meet and commune. “The art of writing is a very futile business if it does not imply first of all the seeing of the world as the potentiality of fiction,” writes Vladimir Nabokov – the book is his Lectures on Literature, based on the course he taught at Wellesley and Cornell in the 1940s and 50s. He continues:

The material of this world may be real enough (as far as reality goes) but does not exist at all as an accepted entity: it is chaos, and to this chaos the author says ‘go!’ allowing the world to flicker and to fuse. It is now recombined in its very atoms, not merely in its visible and superficial parts. The writer is the first man to map it and to name the natural objects it contains… Up a trackless slope the master artist climbs, and at the top, on a windy ridge, who do you think he meets? The panting and happy reader, and there they spontaneously embrace and are linked forever if the book lasts that long.

Like Mark in Marianne’s dream, the reader is somehow there already in the new world of the master artist, waiting to be clasped. But like Mark also, Nabokov cannot imagine at all that the artist could be other than male. When he says “the writer is the first man to map it”, that “man” is eminently sexed. The neutral human subject, to Nabokov’s mind, had a penis; his image of greatness is strictly drawn to exclude anyone with a vulva. Of the seven authors addressed in the lectures, only one is a woman – Austen – and she was included only because of faculty pressure. “”I … am prejudiced, in fact, against all women authors. They are in another class,” Nabokov grumbled in a letter to Edmund Wilson.

And even when persuaded that Mansfield Park could stand alongside Ulysses and Metamorphosis as a work of literary genius, Nabokov had to make it clear that Austen could never be considered part of the very first order of writers: “Novels like Madame Bovary or Anna Karenin are delightful explosions admirably controlled. Mansfield Park, on the other hand, is the work of a lady and the game of a child. But from that workbasket comes exquisite needlework art, and there is a streak of marvelous genius in that child,” he says, cloyingly patronising. It can hardly be inadvertent that Nabokov chose to compare Austen’s work with two novels by men about eponymous female characters of famed depth and vividness. Men can write women, is the message; but women can barely be believed to write at all in the true sense, whatever that is.

Exquisite needlework art. The game of a child. Only a little girl. Such gentle slanders against women’s work persist, as Phyllis Rose describes in her essay Prospero’s Daughter, often using the charge of privilege to imply triviality: “Women, who might well be considered a class in themselves, are attacked for belonging to the middle class – or, even worse, the upper class – by male critics who are themselves usually middle class but speak as though they were working a 12-hour shift in a steel mill.” Yet the truth is that, on our samplers and with our black sketching pencils, women’s art has always been able to comprehend the inner world of men. Men, after all, are people, and for women who see themselves as people too, the imaginative step from her subjectivity to his is not so very far. But for men who see women as strange subordinates, our interiority is inaccessible – possibly even entirely unimaginable. For misogynists (and a very great many male authors, including many of the very great ones, were and are misogynists) the humanity of female people is literally unthinkable.

One work that didn’t even obtain the status of needlework in Nabokov’s eyes is George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Nabokov is persistently snooty about the pursuit of “truth” in fiction, so perhaps this is why Eliot’s high realism holds little appeal for him; but the veracity of Eliot’s characters is one of her greatest charms. All of them, male or female, sympathetic or not so sympathetic, obtain the vividity and substance of convincing humans. They have an internal logic that means their actions are never quite predictable yet always consistent with what we know of them. Casaubon’s agonies of vanity and frustration, Caleb Garth’s self-abnegating honesty, Lydgate’s fine mind and spots of commonness – all these are recognisable as types of humanity. They are so much more than lines on paper: like Mark in Marianne’s dream, they seem to have existed in advance of and independently of the author invoking them.

Compare this with a densely-plotted Victorian triple-decker that Nabokov does think worthy of his attentions – Bleak House by Dickens. Nabokov loves Dickens: he urges his students to “embrace”, “bask in” and “surrender to” Dickens. (The eroticised submission in this approach is perhaps not unrelated to Nabokov’s relief at leaving the “porcelain and the minor arts” of feminine Austen behind for a properly masculine writer.) There is of course a lot to enjoy and admire about Bleak House, and Nabokov delineates it expertly, but there is at least one way in which it falls staggeringly short of Middlemarch: Dickens is hopeless at illuminating the inner worlds of his female characters. Even to call them characters is something of an overstatement. Esther, who narrates a substantial portion of the book, doesn’t have even so much subjectivity that you could call her a central consciousness: her personality, inasmuch as it exists, is a pure distillation of insipidity.

There is no female author of any reputation who writes men as badly as Dickens writes women, and yet Dickens’ stark incompetence with imaginary women is seen as no demerit to his genius at all. At most, it’s alluded to in a tone of light-hearted ribbing, as though it were a distinctive foible that added to his charm. But really, it is evidence that one of the most esteemed literary minds in our history was incapable of conceiving that women were people more or less like him. Consider a version of Middlemarch written under similar privations of cross-sex sympathy, with a listless wibbling jelly-form in place of Lydgate, and it should become obvious how appalling a shortcoming this is in Dickens. Yet it goes largely unremarked, because the idea that women are people – whole people, interesting people, active and complicated people – continues to be a radical innovation at the very edges of culture.

Some male writers acknowledge their own stuntedness when it comes to imaginary women. In the fantastical Lanark, Alasdair Gray’s eponymous hero is trying to rescue unwilling Euridice figure Rima from a hellish place called the Institution. Before he can take her away, however, he must cure her of a disease called dragonhide, which is a sort of metaphorical manifestation of emotional coldness. To do this, he reads to her, and although most of the books available in the Institution are unsatisfactory to her, she takes great pleasure in scandal-and-sensation novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish:

Once or twice he asked, “Are you enjoying this?” and she said, “Go on.”
At last she interrupted with a harsh rattle of laughter. “Oh yes, I like this book! Crazy hopes of a glamorous, rich, colourful life, and then abduction, slavery, rape. That book, at least, is true.”
“It is not true. It is a male sex fantasy.”
“And life for most women is just that, a performance in a male sex fantasy. The stupid ones don’t notice, they’ve been trained for it since they were babies, so they’re happy. And of course the writer of that book made things obvious by speeding them up. What happens to the Blandish girl in a few weeks takes a lifetime for the rest of us.”

Rima, even when her dragonhide is cured, remains inaccessible to both Lanark and the author. After a male-voiced omniscient figure called the oracle has spent half the book narrating Lanark’s pre-descent life (in which he was a young Glaswegian man called Thaw) Lanark turns to Rima and asks what she thought of his story. But Rima has heard something else entirely: “In the first place, that oracle was a woman, not a man. In the second place her story was about me. You were so bored you fell asleep and obviously dreamed something else.” Gray knows that the woman’s story exists. He understands that she has a self that is not subsumed within the hero’s subjectivity – and yet Gray cannot tell that story. It is lost to us, because she is a she. At their last encounter, Rima teasingly says to Lanark: “You always found it hard to recognise me.”

When I first read Nabokov’s Lolita, I thought the gradual vanishing of Lolita herself was a terribly good literary effect, and a proof of the novel’s moral intelligence: poor Lo, consumed by Humbert, shrouded in his pederast fantasy like the “Haze” of her surname, until she winks out of existence in the tragically obscure town of Gray Star. “Yes,” I thought, as a young woman of 17 keen to prove my own urbanity to this imperiously clever book, “Nabokov is telling us that the real Dolores was always there, obscured and despoiled as she was by her abuser.” But I think, now I have read many more books and found so few men capable of sympathy with their women characters, I was too generous to Nabokov – who after all shows little enough sign of being able to write or even read women.

If we want to know our own selves, women will have to tell our own stories, listen to our own oracles. We must ignore the voices of the men who declaim our triviality, remembering that for those who would control us, our humanity is the most dangerous thing about us. “It’s decent of you to allow that I may be a real person after all, and not just part of your scribblings,” says Mark to Marianne, with much sarcasm, in Marianne Dreams. How many male authors have afforded that much decency to the women they write? How many male critics and readers have been so decent to women writers? They always found it hard to recognise us. Women cannot be content with working for a place in this man’s world. Instead, we must illustrate our own dreams, write to invent new worlds altogether; and there, on a windy ridge at the top of a trackless slope, we will find our sisters and embrace.


I thought I was going to be a journalist for as long as I can remember. Then I had children and thought I was going to be an academic instead (because there’s a stable and lucrative business). Then I crashed out of a DPhil in 2008 and started working at a doomed craft magazine startup that year. I lasted six months before going freelance. I’m currently a columnist for The Guardian and operations editor

I’m also a regular contributor to New Statesman and New Humanist, and my work has appeared in EllePsychologies,Runner’s World and many other outlets. I write about feminism, family, fitness and some things that don’t begin with F but I can’t remember right now. And if that’s not enough, you can read more on my blog, Paperhouse (part of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network).

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann: Review and Feminist Insight by @JennyRaRaRaw

(Cross-posted from Ramblings of a Zen Kitten)

Valley of the Dolls is a Hollywood thrill-ride from start to finish and, as commentator Julie Birchill posits, is ‘the most fun you can have without a prescription!’

Author Jacqueline Susann took her chances at the American Dream by trying, and failing, to become an actress. Susann’s subsequent seen-it-all attitude became the base note for writing a thick novel in the style of a gossip column, in which she intricately weaves the debaucherous exploits of her three heroines. It is fantastically rumoured that Valley of the Dolls was written on a hot-pink typewriter.

However, the pressure of fame, screen tests and sexuality can be very daunting. The ‘dolls’ referred to in the title are a metaphor for prescription drugs and uppers; little red, yellow and green pills which tranquilize, energize and down-size the girls. Not that Anne, Jennifer or Neely are particularly concerned about the traditional ideals of what it means to be ‘feminine’ in 1940s America. Femininity in this cultural and time sphere has connotations of demureness, chastity, maternity, obedience, beauty and innocence. All but Anne are unconcerned about the (society-created) disadvantages of losing their virginity, and Anne, the anti-Venus, is labelled ‘frigid’ and worries that there is something wrong with her.
The character of Jennifer North, too, is completely against what the patriarchal standards of femininity believe to be ‘normal’. We learn, from her first third person perspective within the book, that she was involved in a lesbian relationship with a girl named Maria for several years, who divided her time between an innocent friendship role and sexual deviant. Maria not only initiated the sexual acts with Jennifer, but taught Jennifer how to explore and enjoy her own body. This is something Jennifer very much keeps to herself throughout the rest of the novel; potentially through fear of what her other friends would say.

DSCN2201 (2)

Set in the 1940-1960s, the reader follows the strive for glittering stardom with our ingénue protagonists Anne Welle (secretary-turned-model), Jennifer North (all-American beauty), and Neely O’Hara (hot-headed actress). The novel follows their journey from the savage fight to kick start their careers in the most world-coveted setting, where thirst for fame and fortune plagues the teens’ minds. Watching washed-up stars like Helen Lawson fall from grace only encourages them, as the girls are determined to avoid her mistakes.

The cut-throat nature of the agency business means that friendships are brought to their limit; after all, there is only room for one at the top. Moral qualities such as loyalty, chivalry and honesty are thrown to the wind in this dog-eat-dog world of Susann’s lavish creation.

More than just a fast-paced swipe at the media industry, Valley of the Dolls is essentially a feminist novel. If you are to take one message from it, let it be the one she screams at you: “Guys will leave you… your looks will go, your kids will grow up and leave you and everything you thought was great will go sour; all you can really count on is yourself and your talent”.

The character of Helen Lawson is the complete antithesis of what it means to be feminine. She is loud, abrasive, arrogant, sexually available and selfish. However, this apparent lack of consideration for all others around her is essentially the key which brings her much success and happiness. Albeit rather alone at the top, she is at the top and ensures that all of her (self-centred) dreams come true.

Jennifer is also notorious for her ‘European’ films where she appears in many roles completely naked; an artistic vision which the other girls label brazen and condemn her for. Femininity places a strong emphasis on a girl’s need and want to become a mother. We learn that Jennifer has seven abortions; the ultimate abhorrent act of disinterest towards the ‘natural’ mothering instincts she should possess. Her carefree attitude towards the abortions, as a medical inconvenience rather than any source of moral, philosophical or religious turmoil, further isolates Jennifer as deviant from the ideals of motherhood and, in turn, femininity.

The ultimate betrayal of the patriarchy, and probably the biggest feminist comment made by Susann in the whole novel, comes when Jennifer commits suicide. Before the final act, Jennifer is inches away from the happiness she has so eagerly sought her whole life. She is to be married to a Senator who, through the nature of their meeting and falling in love, convinces Jennifer he loves her for the person she is inside rather than the body so popular with cinema fans. When it is uncovered that Jennifer has breast cancer and is to undergo a mastectomy, her Republican husband-to-be enthuses about how much he cares for her breasts because they are in essence herself and he could not stand anything happening to them. This pushes Jennifer to silence and, after sneaking out of the hospital and home, overdoses on her dolls to leave the perfect embalment of the perfect body.

The reliance on stimulants for comfort has been likened to little girls clutching their dolls. Furthering the feminist theme, Susann’s, albeit subtle and implicit, use of the word ‘dolls’ could symbolise the treatment the girls receive by their male counterparts in patriarchal America.

With the creation of the television an ever-present threat and husbands becoming notoriously hard to hold onto, the search for happiness, and the discovery of what ‘happiness’ even means, for each girl becomes more and more difficult.

Addiction, ageing and (medical) affliction are inherent concerns for Susann. Unexpected twists and gruesome ends; this book is exhilarating and incredibly difficult to put down. If Carlsberg made novels about glamorous Hollywood hyperreality…





Ramblings of a Zen Kitten: I am a feminist and have been for some years, even more so after doing a gender studies module at university. My blog often contains feminist comments upon books I have read as well as current events happening in the world. I also write articles about beauty products, and the occasional poem. My Twitter handle is @JennyRaRaRaw.

Love in Revolution by @KatharineEdgar

(Cross-posted from Katharine Edgar)

I had this book in my ‘Young Adult Historical’ folder for a while but it was only when I was a few chapters in that I realised it wasn’t historical: Collins has set her story in an imagined country at a time that is never made clear. There are televisions, but many of the people still live a peasant lifestyle, so it’s some time in the late twentieth century.

She’s written historical before (The Broken Road, a story about the Children’s Crusade, based in medieval Germany) and a ghost story with a brilliantly realised partly historical setting (Tyme’s End). But the refusal to tie Love in Revolution to a particular time or place is a very successful decision. It gives it a mythical quality that makes the story resonate, it increases the sense of isolation and thus the intensity, and finally, it allows Collins to create a national sport, pello, which the characters are fanatical about.

Pello sounds a lot of fun. It’s a brutal, aggressive game involving two players bouncing a ball against a wall, hard enough to do each other considerable damage. It can kill. Every year the top players compete for the King’s Cup. One of the most famous pello players, known as The Bull, comes from the village where the main character, Esteya, lives, and the story begins when he returns for a visit and is challenged to a game.

Present at the game are Esteya, her brother, Leon, who has revolutionary sympathies, and Skizi, a young outcast from persecuted, gipsy-like community.

Through the summer Esteya’s secret relationship with Skizi grows stronger. But Communists like Leon are fomenting revolution, and when it comes, the consequences are bloody.

Love in Revolution is a moving, gripping, haunting book. Collins’ writing is plain and expressive all at the same time – ‘I felt like a chocolate bar left in the sun, all sticky and oozing’ ‘Skizi nodded, once, her eyes on my face as if I’d caught her doing something illegal’. (I wish I could write with such unpretentious beauty as she does.) It’s a coming-of-age story which fits seamlessly with the story of the coming-of-age in a country, as it abandons optimism and faces the reality of the post-revolution world. This is a book which deserves more attention, and should be read by teens and adults alike.

Love In Revolution by B.R.Collins, published by Bloomsbury Children’s, 2013.

Katharine Edgar: is a Yorkshire-based feminist who writes young adult fiction, including the forthcoming Five Wounds. She blogs about her historical fiction writing: Tudor history, women’s history, crafts and writing.


(Cross-posted from Du Erkennst Mich Nicht)

originally published in 2012

Caitlin Moran, author of How to be a Woman, is renowned as a comedic feminist. In laymen’s term, she’s the British Tina Fey. She often says that her insights give a fresh and “in your face” idea of what feminism actually means. But is her approach to feminism what society really needs to make the feminist movement evolve and move forward? The Feminist Texan says “No!”

Many topics Moran brings up in her book are very important to the feminist movement. These topics are the basic ones that most people know and often bring up, such as openness with the truth about abortion and the media’s distorted version of women.

Moran does get a bit away from every day feminism by quoting a well-known (and often times a bit strange) feminist named Germaine Greer. Though Greer is very interesting, when Moran uses ideas such as having a taste of your own menstrual blood, I’m sure it is easy to see how many people are lost and jump off of that bandwagon. She also puts down women who will not label themselves as a feminist even though the majority of them do have feminist values. Her idea of a feminist is best described from this description:

“Here is the quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hand in your underpants.

a. Do you have a vagina? and
b. Do you want to be in charge of it?

If you said “yes” to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.”

Another bad point to Moran’s approach to feminism is shown in her somewhat “White Privilege” attitude. This is seen in her response to an interview that she had with Lena Dunham, creater of the show “Girls.” Moran was interviewed by Bitch Magazine but the interview was killed and never ran in the magazine.

Moran was questioned on Twitter if she had asked Dunham about the lack of women of color depicted in the show. The response that Moran gave was definitely inappropriate and made her outlook definitely have a white privileged appeal. Her response: “Nope. I literally couldn’t give a shit aboutit [sic].”

Though I do find Moran quite interesting, I definitely can see where The Feminist Texan is coming from. For an introduction to feminism, I, personally, find Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti to be much more applicable to people’s lives and it is sassy and in your face, but it is truthful and gives good explanations to feminist topics and problems.

Du erkennst mich nicht: My blog ranges from anything and everything that could do with feminism. I also add in random articles that I find interesting, but the heart of the blog is about feminism.  (@CeliaHubbartt)

Lucretia Grindle: A little bit of feminism with your mysteries by @scallopsrgreat

(Cross-posted from It’s Just Not Feminine)

I’ve read two Lucretia Grindle novels The Lost Daughter and The Villa Triste and enjoyed both immensely. Both books are modern day crime mysteries, set in Italy with the roots of the mystery in the past. In the case of The Lost Daughter the story centres around events of the 1970s and especially the murder of the politician Aldo Moro and the Red Brigades. In modern day a young woman goes missing while studying in Italy. Her father and stepmother have just arrived to celebrate her birthday and prove to be the link back to a 1970s conspiracy. The Villa Triste begins in 1943 and the Italian partisans. In the modern day a partisan hero has been killed in highly specific circumstances possibly related to his time as or because he was a partisan. Both have been well developed mysteries with decent female characters.

The two main investigating police officers in both books are in fact male but the stories and mysteries are most definitely female-centric. In fact the focus doesn’t really stray from the female lead roles even when the story switches to the investigation that is taking place.

She is a woman who clearly likes other women and has an understanding of why, even not so likeable women behave the way they do. She doesn’t follow the stereotypes, which is refreshing. The female characters all have faults and positives. There is no dwelling on how the female characters look, in fact their appearances are only mentioned to set an initial impression and if relevant. They are also all doingsomething. They aren’t just companions to men or facilitating men doing things. They are the stars of their own story.

Grindle shows a real awareness of abusive relationships in The Lost Daughter. She seems to understand how and why abuse begins and why women get caught up in it. In fact the two main female characters, stepmother and daughter are groomed when they are young. However, in addition to that the police officers also recognise the dynamics at play. There are no excuses made or minimising of the abuse.

In The Villa Triste Grindle writes about two sister’s experiences during WWII. Apart from being really interesting, punctuated with factual information and statistics, it is an account of the war through women’s eyes. As most of history has been written seen through men’s eyes I really enjoyed reading about the emotions and fears of the two women, even though it was a fictional account. But it was more than that. Grindle seems to have an awareness that women’s history has been largely eradicated and makes an effort to highlight that and fill in some gaps. For example, did you know that out of approximately 200,000 partisans, 55,000 were women and 35,000 of them fought in armed engagements. So much for women not fighting on the frontline. So much for women not being as capable or too weak or too high a risk. This is emphasised perfectly in this quote and also sums up quite nicely why I have enjoyed her books:

‘That even in that day and age,’ he said, ‘in any day and age, that people always insist on believing their heroes are men.’

ScallopsRGreat: Feminism, Sport and a little bit of life [@scallopsrgreat]


Lisa O’Donnell’s The Death of Bees by @LK_Pennington

Cross-posted from: Louise Pennington
Originally published: 22.04.14

This is the best book I’ve read in ages and I’ve read some pretty freaking brilliant books lately. The Death of Bees was one of my random choices from the Edinburgh Book Festival. I always buy a few books by authors I’ve never heard of but this is the best one by far. It is triggering since it covers the systemic violence against women, particularly against those young girls who aren’t considered “proper” victims but it is also beautiful, funny and full of hope.  It is the story of two sisters, Marnie and Nelly, struggling to survive in  a Glasgow housing estate without their parents, who they’ve just buried in a shallow grave in the backyard. They are victimised and revictimised in every manner possible and left to self-destruct by a welfare state that doesn’t give a shit about poor kids from the housing estates. After all, when school is only “a convenient way for all of us to congregate in one place”, it is obvious that these are the kids no one cares about (p.47). But, it’s more than a litany of abuse. It’s about surviving, friendships, the meaning of sisterhood and what really makes a family.

I don’t tend to rate books but if I did, this one would have 5 stars. It’s beautiful (as I said when I bored Twitter senseless whilst reading it).

Picturing Frida at I am because you are: Trying to Decolonise My Mind

(Cross-posted from Roseanna Star)

461296Frida : a biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a long book of a rather short life: Frida Kahlo was injured in a traffic incident when she was eighteen and spent the rest of her life in pain and ‘invalidism’. Regardless of this, her persona was so vibrant and vital that her magnetism outshone her vivid, charismatic work, and if she had lived thirty more years the book would doubtless be three hundred pages longer.

But it would have been completely different. Frida would probably not have begun to paint if she had not been immobilised for many months after her accident, and if she had not been made unable to have children, she would have had them. And so she would not have painted her physical pain and her frustrated longing.

I enjoyed Herrera’s descriptive interpretations of Frida’s paintings and only rarely felt she had gone too far in taking them literally or carrying her own idea further than was justified. My highlight was her rejection of the inclusion of Frida in the Surrealist movement. Herrera unlines the cultural and individual specificity of Frida’s work and the personal authenticity of its non-realistic elements. Her work perhaps owes something to Mexical socialist realism and Latin@ Catholic iconography (the ‘naive’ ex-voto tradition is clearly an influence) but not to self-indulgent European navel-gazing. Herrera explains why Surrealism gained little traction in Mexico:

Mexico had its own magic and myths and did not need foreign notions of fantasy. The self-conscious search for subconscious truths that may have provided European Surrealists with some release from the confines of their rational world and ordinary bourgeois life offered little enchantment in a country where reality and dreams are perceived to merge and miracles are thought to be daily occurrences

I also loved her eloquent writing about Frida’s dress and ‘costume’, which was obviously a hugely important part of her process of identity. Although Frida’s maternal grandfather was indigenous, she had a middle class settler Christian upbringing and dressing in tehuana clothing was a deliberate, political, and perhaps disingenuous act of appropriation, motivated, it seems, by Communist anti-imperialism, aesthetic appreciation and the desire to hide her right leg, which was damaged by childhood polio and became increasingly problematic, probably as her injuries put an end to her therapeutic habits of exercise.

It’s always hard not to see the life of an artist primarily through their work, but according to Herrera, in many periods of her life Frida painted little. She writes that Frida’s relationship to Diego was often more important to her sense of herself than her art. Some of Frida’s writing supports this, but I am uncomfortable with Herrera’s adhesion to the idea, especially as Frida often complained about Diego too. She had many correspondants, friends, and semi-secret lovers, and organised Diego’s life and finances as well as her own. While he floundered without her, however inattentive he could be (apparently he lived for his work; unlike Frida he seems to have painted compulsively from childhood), she seems entirely capable of independence.

Diego was always unfaithful, but while he apparently tolerated Frida’s lesbian affairs, he seemed to be typically macho about her heterosexual ones, which she kept secret. Herrera gives far more attention to these associations with men, although affairs and intimacies with women may have been at least as important to Frida. But perhaps she did not write to her women lovers, or the letters have not come into the public realm, as those written to men have. I usually feel that biographers of bisexual women are annoyingly dismissive in this way: lesbian affairs do not count, just as they didn’t for Diego.

Frida and Diego were ardent Communists, and as world communism shifted and strained their allegiances were juggled too. But they retained the original impulse towards the rights of the people, towards leftist revolutionary and anti-imperialist politics. Frida was frustrated that she could not make political art, but Diego reassured her that her work was a worthwhile political contribution. Later in life, she became a teacher and led students in creating murals for a pulqueria and a women’s laundry. It was fun to read her scornful opinion of European bohemians who ‘did no work’ and spent all their time in idle talk. A message to Euro-USian hipsters not to co-opt Frida as ‘one of us’.

I am because you area bookworm trying to decolonise my mind

Mixing up my books for #ReadWomen2014 by @Trishlowt

(Cross-posted from Tricialo)

Earlier this year I discovered the brilliant #readwomen2014 campaign and was inspired to add a new page to my blog to keep a record of the books by women that I’m reading this year. I tend to think of myself as someone who reads widely, but as the list began to grow it didn’t take long to realise that it was starting to look like #readwhitewomen2014.

A recent Guardian article discussed the lack of diversity in the UK publishing industry and suggested that only one or two black or Asian authors are championed by British publishers at any one time. Irenosen Okojie also suggested that these tend towards Oxbridge educated, mixed race women like Zadie Smith and Monica Ali, (both great writers, but the implication being that a white parent and an elite education are helpful to succeed as a black writer in the UK).

My experience suggests that Okojie has it right. I buy most of my books from charity or second hand book shops and after realising that my to read pile was almost entirely written by white women I decided to make an effort to seek out a few more books by black and Asian women writers. This made me realise that very often; at least in the shops I visit, there are barely any black or Asian women writers on the shelves. Andrea Levy, Zadie Smith and Monica Ali do crop up with reasonable regularity, but I needed to actively search elsewhere to find other authors.


I checked out some book awards shortlists and found a list of Black and Asian British Fiction Writers, then searched out some likely candidates on a book swap site and bought a couple more on Ebay. My reading list for this year is now starting to look a little more varied and I’m enjoying discovering some great new, (to me), authors. Of course this on its own isn’t going to make a great deal of difference to the publishing industry which does seem to suffer from a general overall lack of diversity and inclusivity, but it is something I can do.

I like to keep books in circulation, so instead of reading and then getting dusty on a shelf, most of my books go back onto charity shop shelves or book swap sites. I often talk about books on and offline, and I write reviews online, so while I may not be putting money directly in an authors pocket with a swap or second hand purchase, hopefully it all contributes to a bit of extra buzz about a book that does lead to more sales somewhere along the line.


If, rather than unthinkingly buying the latest recommendation, lots of people made an effort to reach outside their reading ‘comfort zone’ it could help make a wider range of authors more popular and so encourage more diversity in publishing. There’s no good reason not to try and widen your reading experience and plenty of reasons why it’s a good idea to do so, so if you find your bookshelf is looking a tad homogenous, instead of sticking to the same old same old why not try and mix things up a bit?

Diversity in reading is a hot Twitter topic at the minute with popular campaigns like#LetBooksBeBooks #BoysReadGirls and #WeNeedDiverseBooks calling out all the sexist, racist, and other assumptions of the publishing industry and showing that there is a demand from readers for books that reflect a range of views and experiences. Great authors can transport us to another world. Wouldn’t it be great if publishing was more accessible to, and inclusive of, people of all backgrounds in every part of ours?

“Reading is supposed to expand one’s horizons. It’s supposed to enable people to experience lives and cultures and people they would otherwise never get to – and maybe even discover that the people who live those lives aren’t so very different.” (Elizabeth Vail,Huffington Post HT



TricialoMy blog started as a collection of book reviews but turned into more of a collection of opinion pieces. Recurring themes are feminist parenting & books.[@Trishlowt]

Girls Just Want To Be George, Jo, or Buffy: Reading Nostalgia and Heroines in Literature

(Cross-posted from Americas Studies)


A colleague shared the above image with me and I was reminded of so many books that have drawn me in to the point where I feel like I’m part of the narrative. For me, the trauma comes from having to let go of  immersed narrative experiences. Women and girls in literature like George Kirrin, Jo March and Buffy Summers diluted my awkward childhood and teen years with soothing images of independent tomboys with attitude and ambition.

Five_on_a_Treasure_Island_(novel)_coverartIt started with The Famous Five series. Of course I wanted to be George, a tomboy whose family and friends accept her to the point where they are happy to forego her real name, Georgina, allow her to wear boy’s clothes and crop her hair. I remember begging my mother to allow me to chop off all my goldilocks like George (didn’t work!). I felt utterly ruined by my name, Donna, which means “lady” – no name for a relentless tomboy!

Later it was Jo March of Little Women, the 19th century tomboy whose independent spirit captured my imagination! Again we have a character who adopts a masculine version of her name, crops her hair, uses slang, earns her own living and almost always rejects society’s expectations of her. As well as this, the matriarchal household was of great appeal to me, not having any sisters.

As a teenager Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a revelation – a female superhero who banishes her abusive boyfriend to hell, repeatedly saves the world from annihilation, and has a witticism for every situation. Of course this may seem like a deviation from the literary theme of this post. But one look at my Buffy book collection should assure the reader otherwise!


Not only did these women protagonists reassure my growing sense of self, but they encouraged me to read more and I have no doubt that they played a significant role in shaping my education and career choices to date. Then imagine my disappointment when I re-read The Famous Five last Christmas and found myself thinking what a petulant child George was – I guess this means I am getting old…

Winona Ryder as Jo March

However, I had my annual Little Women indulgence this summer followed of course by Good Wives, Little Men and Jo’s Boys. As always I was Jo, annoyed by Meg, bored by Beth, impatient with Amy, but warmed by the enduring Jo. Often readers comment on Jo being a sell-out for marrying. While it was probably the case that Louisa May Alcott may have compromised with the ideals of her contemporaries with this plot decision, one must not forget that Jo refused to settle for less than a man who respected her as an independent, intellectual equal. Let us also remember that Jo was the main breadwinner and head of the family in Little Men and Jo’s Boys.

Finally, Buffy has become even more dear to me in the wake of the current Twilight-infused Fifty Shades of misogynist mania – need I elaborate on these books’ shared message on the importance of having a boyfriend who abuses and infantilises you???


Americas Studies: This blog, Américas Studies is the product of an Irish feminist researcher in transatlantic dialogue with the Américas. It is grounded in my current experience as a doctoral candidate with posts about literature, film, feminism, and issues related to academia.

Deeply Romantic: Hemingway, domestic violence and romance by @LK_Pennington

paris wife1

Cross-posted with permission from My Elegant Gathering of White Snows

This month I received one of the free copies of Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife via the Mumsnet Book of the Month Book Club. I’ve enjoyed most of the books I’ve received free copies of with the notable exception of Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cakewhich bored me senseless and I gave it up after 50 pages. The Paris Wife, though, made me rage incandescently.

It started with the comment on the front from Sarah Blake who wrote The Postmistress : “As much about life and how we try to catch it as it is about love even as it vanishes …”. My first instinct was to bang my head off my desk. This is a book about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage; the Ernest Hemingway who isn’t precisely renown for his respect for women. I’ve not read Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress so I don’t know if this book represents her understanding of love but it sure as hell doesn’t meet mine.

The back cover is worse. It bears the quote “Deeply Romantic” from the Times Literary Supplement which is a publication I generally avoid because of, well, Rupert Murdoch. The less said about that man, the better. But, back to the point: “Deeply Romantic.” This is the story of an psychologically abusive man who belittles and isolates his wife Hadley at every opportunity whilst they live in Paris and then, in a grand gesture of romance, tries to get her to live in menage-a-trois with his mistress; one of Hadley’s only “friends.”

There is nothing ‘romantic’ about this relationship. Hadley is a lonely and isolated young woman who enters into a relationship with the first man she really manages to meet whilst living in a fairly suffocating family situation with a dying mother. Hadley may be several years older than Ernest but this isn’t a relationship of equals. She gives up everything for him and he tries to destroy her.Ernest used Hadley because he could but he had an escape route and she didn’t. This isn’t romance. It’s psychological abuse and it is utterly misogynistic to pretend otherwise.

Ernest had sex with another woman in the same bed as Hadley. It doesn’t matter that this other woman becomes his second wife Pauline or that she instigated the encounter. The point is this is a self-destructive man destroying the women around him and burning through friendship after friendship with his narcissism.

This isn’t romantic behaviour. It’s soul-destroying.Whilst this is a fictional account and we can not know what happened during Hadley and Ernest’s marriage for certain, it is utterly irresponsible to peddle this kind of victim-blaming misogyny as “romance.” If this were advertised simply as a fictional/biographical account of their marriage, then it would be an incredible book because it is beautifully written and McLain has some lovely descriptions of the loneliness within marriage and the feelings of isolation from everything but it’s peddled as a “romance”.

This trope is dangerous because it reinforces a cultural trope about “artistic” men which blames their victims for not being “understanding.” Roman Polanski has benefited quite well from this trope which has allowed him to take no responsibility for his very serious crime of child rape. And, get a standing ovation for his Oscar which was, frankly, one of the most appalling scenes of mass victim-blaming ever.

If Hadley were my friend, I would be phoning Women’s Aid on her behalf. The trope of abuse as romance is destructive and violent. It starts when we tell little girls that the boy in their class who pulls their hair and calls them smelly “loves” them. We teach our daughters that men don’t know how to communicate love effectively so have to resort to crass bullying and violence.

Good men don’t need to have their egos stroked daily nor do they get upset if you have friends.

Good men don’t treat their wives as appendages to be discarded when they get “old” or have the temerity to give birth and change the shape of their body.

Don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy this book. It is beautifully written and McLean’s descriptions of their marriage are equally sad and moving but this isn’t romance. It isn’t love.

It also isn’t actually about Hadley; mostly Hadley serves as a tool for defining Ernest. Depressingly, the book is really all about him. Hadley is just there, in the background, serving no purpose except as “sweet little wife” to big, important author. It would have been more interesting if it had been about Hadley. We spend far too much time celebrating “Great Men” and not enough time simply acknowledging women. The thing which would improve this book is to have advertised it as ” The Real Woman’s Guide to Spotting an Emotionally Abusive Fuckwit,” then Hadley wouldn’t be insignificant in her own story.

As long as we keep peddling these relationships as “romantic,” we will continue to institutionalise Intimate Partner Violence as normal. The Paris Wife might be representative of Hadley and Ernest’s marriage but it most certainly should NOT be representative of marriage. It’s the same crap that Gabriel Garcia Marquez tries to pass off as romance in Love in the Time of Cholera in which a selfish narcissist has a tantrum because the woman he “loves” marries another man. His response to this offence is to sexually violate a number of women including a teenage girl for whom he was a legal guardian. That is child rape. Not romance.

I call this The Norman Mailer Rule. If you meet a man who says Mailer or Marquez are romantic, don’t date them. Life is too short and love too precious to waste on these relationships.


These are the signs of Intimate Partner Violence as outlined by Women’s Aid:

• Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting/mocking/accusing/name calling/verbally threatening

• Pressure tactics: sulking, threatening to withhold money, disconnect the telephone, take the car away, commit suicide, take the children away, report you to welfare agencies unless you comply with his demands regarding bringing up the children, lying to your friends and family about you, telling you that you have no choice in any decisions.

• Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people, not listening or responding when you talk, interrupting your telephone calls, taking money from your purse without asking, refusing to help with childcare or housework.

• Breaking trust: lying to you, withholding information from you, being jealous, having other relationships, breaking promises and shared agreements.

• Isolation: monitoring or blocking your telephone calls, telling you where you can and cannot go, preventing you from seeing friends and relatives.

• Harassment: following you, checking up on you, opening your mail, repeatedly checking to see who has telephoned you, embarrassing you in public.

• Threats: making angry gestures, using physical size to intimidate, shouting you down, destroying your possessions, breaking things, punching walls, wielding a knife or a gun, threatening to kill or harm you and the children.

• Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts, having sex with you when you don’t want to have sex, any degrading treatment based on your sexual orientation.

• Physical violence: punching, slapping, hitting, biting, pinching, kicking, pulling hair out, pushing, shoving, burning, strangling

• Denial: saying the abuse doesn’t happen, saying you caused the abusive behaviour, being publicly gentle and patient, crying and begging for forgiveness, saying it will never happen again.


My Elegant Gathering of White Snows: a blog about male violence against women, celebrity culture and cultural femicide. [@LeStewpot] [FB: My Elegant Gathering of White Snows]



More articles on Mumsnet:

“It’s only 9 months to save a life” by @Herbeatitude 

Feminism and Motherhood: On Choice, Criticism and Self-Confidence by @LynnCSchreiber

Right, Listen up everybody by @TheSamDavis

The Signs of Controlling Behaviour: Red Flags and How to Spot them by @LynnCSchreiber

How Mumsnet put some fire in my belly and why I hope my boys embrace feminism by @mummytolittlee