logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: feminism
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-02-17 23:56
Politics, drama, and horses...not necessarily in that order
South Riding - Shirley Williams,Marion Shaw,Winifred Holtby

I decided to tackle a rather formidable bit of fiction pretty much on a whim in the form of South Riding by Winifred Holtby. It took me much longer to read than I had anticipated but that's just a good lesson that sometimes you need to take your time with a book. :-) Apparently this book is a literary classic although I had only heard about it recently through a YouTube channel (Mercy's Bookish Musings if you're curious). What drew my interest (besides the gorgeous cover art) was the setting which is a small area of Yorkshire. (As some of you may know, I'm kinda obsessed with the English countryside and I had the very good luck to visit Yorkshire in 2015 and fell a lot in love with it. THE MOORS, YA'LL.) South Riding is a fictional area of Yorkshire where city councilmen (and a councilwoman) pretty much run the show. If you've ever lived in a small town, particularly a rural one, then you'll recognize the intricate balance between government "officials" and their fellow townspeople. This was set in 1933-35 right at the start of WWII when the country was still harboring hope that the war could be avoided. Our main character, Sarah Burton, is a headmistress who is a revolutionary (at least to the people in South Riding) and ready to shake things up. The lone female on the City Council, Mrs. Beddowes, sees in Sarah a chance to improve the reputation of the school but she also feels that she can muster some amount of control over her (spoiler alert: this is doomed to fail). There are quite a few side stories such as that of Lydia Holly who lives in poverty but aspires to be an academic success the likes of which South Riding has never before seen. Not to mention the rather despicable men who like Mrs. Beddowes are on the City Council. One of them really turned my stomach. *shudder* I went into this book thinking that it was likely to be a romantic tale but if anything the romance was between the characters and their town. It's quite plain that Holtby harbors a nostalgic love of the Yorkshire where she grew up and it's palpable on nearly every single page of this book. If for nothing else, I enjoyed South Riding because of this. Otherwise, it wasn't exactly a life changing read (read Dickens for that). I'd give it a solid 6/10.

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-02-05 17:54
American Housewife, by Helen Ellis
American Housewife: Stories - Helen Ellis

My first thoroughly enjoyable read of the year. Despite never having been a housewife (or wife, period) myself, I felt like this short story collection's ideal audience. There are plenty of films and books that cover similar ground--the details, drudgery, absurdity, and even darkness of being a housewife--but Ellis manages to make the content fresh through voice and form.

 

All the stories made me laugh out loud or grin sardonically, from the first, brief portrait of a modern housewife, to the email exchange between two passive aggressive--and then just aggressive--ladies occupying the same building (my favorite), to the Dumpster Diving with the Stars reality show. Some stories, like the first, are flash fiction and read like prose poems to me. Others are fuller, like the ending story about contemporary novel writing in the age of sponsorship and social media. In that story and others, the horror of aspects of our culture becomes real.

 

Satisfying and sharp-tongued (without looking down on its characters), this collection completely won me over from the start.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-01-30 20:47
Book Review: Ann Veronica by HG Wells
Ann Veronica - Sita Schutt,H.G. Wells,Margaret Drabble

I had serious doubts about this book when I first started it, not only is it not science fiction, but a ROMANCE, from HG Wells? Yeah, okay. I was thinking it was going to be ridiculous, but once I started reading it, I realized it was completely different from what I had first thought — it’s an early book about feminism. And you know what? It’s done rather splendidly.

 

Ann Veronica is the youngest of a fairly well-to-do family. She’s not your typical turn-of-the-20th-century girl — she studies biology at a college (with her father’s permission) and enjoys talking about her intellectual interests with others. Her close friends are burgeoning suffragists, so she often joins their discussions about how women aren’t free to do what they want and how they’re caged up in society because men keep them imprisoned, basically. So, when her father literally locks her in her bedroom to prevent her from going to a ball, she runs away to the city to make it on her own. She quickly finds out that there’s not a great way for women to make a lot of money, and renting out an apartment in London actually costs quite a lot. Basically, she has to face harder truths than she realized were out there and more fully understands the plight of women because of her decision to not live under her father’s roof.

 

What I love about this story is how it covers everything and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. It gives a clear, honest look at exactly what the situation of women was for that time period — hardly any job prospects (and any available were drudgery for pennies), no respect, and no vote. Their lives were at the mercy of the men in their lives and they weren’t taught anything about how to survive or live in the world. Ann Veronica even gets herself into a misunderstanding with a man and it’s sad how much that particular “misunderstanding” can still be seen in today’s world. They talk as if they’re friends, and they go out to lunch together as friends, and then he locks her in a room with him “to make love” because of course she had to know that they weren’t really friends and he wanted her, and deserved her after all that he’d given her. (Isn’t it creepy how familiar that sounds?) HG Wells does a tremendous job in outlining the various difficulties that women faced when they fought for equal rights and equal opportunities in London and really hits, if not all, then at least most of the points.

 

The first half was wonderful, but it does start to drag a bit as the book goes on. I think the first half of the book is perfect and it would have been 5 stars if it had continued in that vein, but then Ann Veronica falls in love and the whole story sort of starts to fall apart and get into themes that don’t make sense for where the book started. Alas. Basically, I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest in feminism, its roots, or even how it was viewed during this time. I was blown away by how insightful this story was and a little saddened by how true those themes remain. If not a great story, it’s interesting to see the thoughts and themes of feminism from a male author born in the 19th century.

Source: www.purplereaders.com/?p=3322
Like Reblog Comment
review 2017-01-27 15:02
Sister Outsider
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches - Audre Lorde

his book is everything. It's been slow going to figure out how to review it or just talk about it. It just has everything in here from systemic issues in government and society to systemic issues within feminism itself.

I'd been meaning to read Sister Outsider for a while but kept putting it off until I made it my Letter S read for Litsy A to Z. That's the beauty of reading challenges, they make you actually sit down and decide that now is when I'm going to read this or that book that I'd been meaning to pick up.

I was a little underwhelmed by the first essay, which is mostly about a visit to Russia. What I did appreciate about this was the acknowledgement that communism isn't the answer either. Capitalism has many issues, but I'm hardpressed to consider them lesser problems to communism, but maybe that just where I lean right.

After the essay on Russia, every essay got me more pumped. It was the perfect book to be reading while gearing up for the women's march last weekend. There were so many lines and paragraphs that have given language to things I was seeing but not quite able to fully digest, like this one:

Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you, we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs upon the reasons they are dying.

It is so powerful. And it's like this over and over again with different topics.

The essay about raising a son echoed many of my own concerns about my son, who is only 6 now. I took him with me to the women's march and I hope that he's glad he went when he's old enough to understand what we were doing there. It's a concern that he'll not see it when he gets older (unless we've somehow reached equality by then but I don't see it as likely) but I am certainly less worried about the things that she is. It's a contrast that must be remembered when we choose what to take a stand.

Much of the book brings about questions about how the treatment women of color. It makes me more aware of the fact that sometimes I could hurt things when I'm trying to help. It's a reminder not to speak for women of color but to find ways to propel their voices.

It did tweak me a bit that Lorde consistently neglected to capitalize America, but I get it. By tweak, I do not mean annoy. It's a style choice and it makes it's own statement. It did it's job to demonstrate the demotion in importance of the country as opposed to the black population, as she consistently capitalized Black when talking about the population. I understand it, though you can see that I can't quite bring myself to do it. It is one of the subtleties of an essay written by a poet.

As mentioned in my TTT on Tuesday, I already know that this is one of those books whose sentiments will not leave me any time soon. Since the first time I poked a toe into the world of what feminist politics mean and what they mean to me, the divide between white feminists and black feminists has been a point of contemplation and discussion. The terms perturb me and I more often call myself an intersectional feminist, since I am neither black nor completely white and my ideals don't completely line up with either. As Lorde indicates, though, we do not have to completely agree on all problems, how to handle them, or how to prioritize them in order for us all to work together as feminists. But we do need to remember both our differences and our similarities to do this adequately.

It's hard to have a "favorite part" in a book like this, but it is this paragraph that my mind keeps coming back to as the sentiment that I've seen in many places about integrating the rest of the population with the white feminists that seem to so often forget everyone else in their climb to parity with men:

You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other. I do not have to be you to recognize that our wars are the same. What we must do is commit ourselves to some future that can include each other and to work toward that future with the particular strengths of our individual identities. And in order to do this, we must allow each other our differences at the same time as we recognize our sameness.

Given the many women of color that I saw in DC on Saturday, I hope that we are already doing that. But I know in herstory that women of color help to propel the voice for the cause and then get shut out of it once the men are at the table to negotiate. We must not let it happen again.

This is one of those books that all feminists must read, that women in general should read, and that would be a great addition to any course, conference, or book club or anything on social justice in general or feminism specifically.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-01-25 20:36
Review: The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin

Though I last read The Left Hand of Darkness some fifteen years ago, it had been on my mind frequently as my first North Dakota winter got underway. As the temperature plummeted to -20°F (feeling even colder with the wind rushing down from the icy north), as the snow piled up in feet, as a simple walk from my car to the grocery store became a race against frostbitten fingers, all I could think about was Genly Ai and Lord Estraven, trekking across the glacier in LeGuin’s most famous novel.

 

I had already been planning to focus on rereads in 2017. As my nation, as the world, veers drunkenly into ominous and uncharted new dimensions, I’ve been craving the comfort of reading stories whose endings are known, whose dangers have been mapped and rendered tame. But I had forgotten how The Left Hand of Darkness actually ends.

 

It begins in the capital city Erhenrang, in the nation Karhide, on a planet called Gethen or, more descriptively, Winter. Genly Ai, originally from Earth, has been sent with a mission to invite the Gethenians to join the Ekumen, a galactic alliance of human societies. He comes alone, as Ekumenical Envoys always do, so as not to frighten or antagonize his hosts (“One alien is a curiosity, two are an invasion,” he explains.) But, as probably should be expected when inserting oneself into the political sphere of any human nation, Ai soon becomes a tool of multiple factions both within and without Karhide – and none, it seems, have much interest in prostrating themselves before some mythical League of Nations from beyond the stars.

 

When the Karhidish government, nominally a monarchy but actually a loose federation of diverse tribal groups, falls under the spell of a Trumpian demagogue with unity on his lips and war on his mind, Ai decides to leave Erhenrang and try his luck with Karhide’s major rival. The country of Orgoreyn runs a tight Soviet-style ship; their national motto is “papers please!”, and their secret police love nothing more than to send dissidents and deviants off to the Voluntary Farms, which aren’t exactly farms and certainly aren’t voluntary. It isn’t long before Ai finds himself on the wrong side of the wrong people, and throughout the second half of the book, must escape from a labor camp on foot, across a continent-wide glacier in the dead of winter on a planet so frigid it is named after the ice. His savior and only companion on this expedition is a person named Estraven, the disgraced former Prime Minister of Karhide, who had been exiled as a traitor. S/he is, perhaps, the only truly honorable person on Gethen – certainly the only one Ai ever meets (though, hanging around politicians, I suppose he’s lucky he met even one…)

 

The book, narrated primarily by Ai, refers to Estraven with male pronouns, but this is something I won’t do in my review. Because Estraven is neither man nor woman. Though “typical” humans in every other way, all Gethenians are androgynes, spending the majority of their lives in a sexless state. Once a month, they enter a period called “kemmer” (heat, rut, estrus), where they, upon finding a partner, take on the characteristics of one or the other sex. In this way, the same individual may be father to one child, mother to another. Genly’s permanent maleness is seen as a perversion by them – being always sexually responsive, how do his people ever get anything done?

 

It is the gender politics of Gethen – or, really, the lack thereof – that have made The Left Hand of Darkness a classic of feminist science fiction. To me, though, it feels odd to read a “feminist” book where every single character is referred to as “he”. One of things I remember about reading this the first time is how much this bothered me, the consistent use of masculine pronouns. The Ekumen’s (and LeGuin’s?) excuse for writing this way is as follows: “Lacking the Karhidish ‘human pronoun’ used for persons in somer [the sexually inactive state], I must say ‘he,’ for the same reasons as we used the masculine pronoun in referring to a transcendent god: it is less defined, less specific, than the neuter or the feminine.” And to this I say: bullshit. Masculine pronouns are certainly “defined”, in that if you refer to a person as “he”, I will picture a man. It’s incredibly difficult to train the brain not to. The narrator even acknowledges this, saying: “But the very use of the pronoun in my thoughts leads me continually to forget that the Karhider I am with is not a man, but a manwoman.”

 

I am not quite sure what to make of LeGuin’s intent here. Although inventing or appropriating a gender-neutral pronoun could potentially be jarring or break the flow of narration, I think it should be a bit jarring to read about a civilization of complete neuters, where we as readers can’t automatically slot any character into one of the two most basic categories we understand: man or woman. In fact, I don’t think it’s even necessary to use a gender-neutral pronoun to do this, as Ann Leckie demonstrated ingeniously in her Ancillary Justice series, where everyone is referred to as “she”. There, though the characters aren’t androgynes, gender is considered irrelevant in the narrator’s culture, and the use of “she” forced me every time it was used to consider that the character in question may identify as male, or female, or neither, and the lack of confirmation was both jarring and refreshing. (It also led to some humorous reviews, where careless readers scoffed at this “society full of lesbians”…)

 

The first time I read The Left Hand of Darkness, I wrote this all off as LeGuin being unintentionally sexist. I figured, this book was written in the 60’s; maybe just the idea of an androgynous culture was considered radical, and who cared whether they were all called “he” – it was just language, after all. But rereading the book now, I think LeGuin was being subtler than that. The entire novel is infused with Genly Ai’s point of view – even when Gethenians are narrating, Ai is translating. And Ai is a man from Earth, a very 1960’s-ish Earth from what we can tell. It no longer seems to me that LeGuin couldn’t handle gender-neutrality well; rather, Genly Ai can’t.

 

Ai’s sexism is subtle, but it is definitely there, and as I read through the book this time, examples started to jump out at me. The powerful political leaders that Ai spends most of his time with are referred to as men exclusively, with little thought or cognitive dissonance. It is only when Ai begins to meet downtrodden Gethenians, such as the other inmates at the labor camp, that they begin to seem feminine to him – and always in a negative way. “Among my fellowprisoners I had for the first time on Winter a certain feeling of being a man among women, or among eunuchs. The prisoners had that same flabbiness and coarseness. They were hard to tell apart; their emotional tone seemed always low, their talk trivial.” He speaks later of their “gross, bland fleshiness, a bovinity without point or edge.” When Gethenians lose power and prestige, when they lose their very freedom, suddenly they seem womanly to Ai. Later, when Estraven explains why, though s/he loves Karhide, s/he is not a patriot, Ai is again disgusted: “There was in this attitude something feminine, a refusal of the abstract, the ideal, a submissiveness to the given, which rather displeased me.” Again and again, when Ai encounters any traits in a Gethenian that are not associated with virility, aggressiveness, or authority, he is suddenly reminded that the person before him is not a man, but something lesser, something a bit vulgar. Something feminine.

 

Ai is not really an unreliable narrator, in the sense of being a liar or a madman, but his biases are insidious, threaded throughout the novel and rarely drawing attention to themselves. It is not that Ai hates women; like many men, he has just not thought much about gender politics. When asked by Estraven, who has never met a woman, whether they are inferior to men, Ai has trouble responding. “No. Yes. No, of course not, not really. But the difference is very important. I suppose the most important thing, the heaviest single factor in one’s life, is whether one’s born male or female.” He’s hardly a misogynist; it’s just that a gender studies class would probably do him good. As a character Ai is likable, but he is probably not the ideal individual to lead the reader on this anthropological journey through Gethen. And that is, I think, the point.

 

One of the themes in this book is cultural misunderstanding – how the same action or trait can be seen in contradictory ways by different civilizations. As this idea is a staple of virtually every first-contact or anthropological science fiction story, I tend to take it for granted by now, but I like how it’s handled here. On their trek across the ice, Estraven and Ai begin to understand each other in ways they never had before; they become friends, and even begin to love each other (in a strictly platonic way, Ai hastens to point out – sex with a Gethenian would just be too weird for him). But they also recognize the ways in which they are too different, too alien, to fully comprehend each other. And they leave it at that. I love Ai’s dawning understanding toward the end of the novel:

 

“I thought it was for your sake that I came alone, so obviously alone, so vulnerable, that I could in myself pose no threat, change no balance: not an invasion, but a mere messenger-boy. But there’s more to it than that. Alone, I cannot change your world. But I can be changed by it. Alone, I must listen, as well as speak. Alone, the relationship I finally make, if I make one, is not impersonal and not only political: it is individual, it is personal, it is both more and less than political. Not We and They; not I and It; but I and Thou.”

 

This duality, between I and Thou, relates to the title of the novel, which comes from a Gethenian poem: “Light is the left hand of darkness / and darkness the right hand of light. / Two are one...” Ai thinks that Gethenians are obsessed with the unity of all things because they are sexually undivided; other humans, separated into men and women, are therefore obsessed with duality. But Estraven disagrees: “Duality is an essential, isn’t it? So long as there is myself and the other.”

 

I’m not sure where to leave this review, other than at that. This book is a classic, and deservedly so. The ending broke my heart in a way I was completely not expecting – how could I remember so many specific plot points from reading this so long ago, but forget how shattering it is in the end? But I was a different person then, and the world was a different place.

 

Speaking of the world, maybe in the end I can take heart in the quick and absolute downfall of Tibe, the Karhidish Donald Trump. I can take heart in the prevention of total war between Karhide and Orgoreyn. I can take heart in people like Estraven, who love their homelands but are resolutely unpatriotic, who would be happy to serve a good government if they ever could identify one. Maybe there’s hope for us too. Maybe it won’t even require the intervention of a galactic civilization, to remind us how small we really are.

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?