We Should All Be Feminists

wsabfTitle: We Should All Be Feminists

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Summary: ‘I would like to ask that we begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently…’

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: At 50-odd smaller than average sized pages, this is a quick read. It’s also an excellent read. It should be a compulsory read.

Whether you’re a woman who has experienced sexism every day of her life, whether you’re a man who recognises the inequality of the sexes, whether you already call yourself a feminist–you will still gain something for reading this. Of course, the people who really need to read it are none of the above.

Adichie has such a straightforward, easy writing style. Not a single word is wasted or superfluous, and even in print she comes across as so calm and patient. Calm is definitely something i find it hard to remain when talking about sexism and women’s rights. But i think that calmness helps her make her arguments, helps get her point across without sounding challenging or immediately prompting a defence. (And having now heard some of her TEDx talk she based the book on–yes, her delivery is perfect and comes across just as well in writing.)

For so few words the book covers so much, starting from childhood, adolescence, relationships, adulthood, socialising, and work. I’ve lived with some of these things all my life, but some i hadn’t considered in great detail, or hadn’t experienced to such an extent. To have things put so plainly really makes you stop and take them in.

Most importantly, i think, reading it didn’t make me angry. I didn’t feel mad at the world, for all its injustices and prejudice and sexist culture. Becoming fired up and ready to fight is the norm for me when discussing these issues. But Adichie’s words and her calmness in laying them out only calmed me in turn. It made me feel less isolated, knowing there are women going through the same things i am, fighting the same fights. And it also gave me hope that it can be talked about, recognised and fought on a broader level.

I want to buy a dozen copies and leave them about at the bus stop, in cafes, on desks. It’s so small and seems so innocuous, that i think people might actually pick it up. Even if they just flick through it and read a page or two, it would offer them something, a thought or perspective they hadn’t considered before. It might make them think and look around them, it might make them see and act.

The Yellow Wallpaper

tywTitle: The Yellow Wallpaper

Author: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Summary: Best known for the 1892 title story of this collection, a harrowing tale of a woman’s descent into madness. Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote more than 200 other short stories. Seven of her finest are reprinted here.

Written from a feminist perspective, often focusing on the inferior status accorded to women by society, these charming tales are not only highly readable and full of humour and invention, but also offer ample food for thought about the social, economic, and personal relationships of men and women–and how they might be improved.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I read and adored Gilman’s Herland a few years ago. I did, and still do, think that is a book that should be compulsory reading for everyone. However, after finishing The Yellow Wallpaper and the other short stories contained in this book, i think everyone should read this book first.

The stories are short, easy to read and, on the face of it, easy to digest. Their message–the point Gilman is trying to make in each story–is quite clear, and well told. She has a talent for making her point–for clearly portraying inequality and sexism–without ever making it about us verses them; without outright blaming or alienating men. Really, more men should read her work. And by ‘more’ i mean ‘all’.

My favourite story was by far ‘If I Were A Man’, where a wife inhabits her husband’s mind and body, with both her own and his memories and thoughts. She/he is able to evaluate the mindset of both sexes, and make a small move to bring them to more of an understanding.

The title story, The Yellow Wallpaper, was another excellent story. It felt very much biographical; some how striking a more personal–more real–chord than the other stories. Delving into her psyche and mental health, which are so easy dismissed and overlooked by the males around her. I think this is both a reflection of the time period’s (lack of) understanding of mental health and a comment on sexism. I think both of these are issues that are still rife today, and still desperately need to be talked about more.

My only real qualm with this book is the fact that, by the very nature of short stories, the concepts and issues broached are not delved into deeply enough. They are a light, quick and skimmed view of feminist issues–which is the very reason i think this book would be perfect for people to read before Herland. These stories would plant the seeds that Herland could then help grow.

With Gilman’s bibliography being as long as it is, i feel a strong need to get my hands on some more of her work!

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: A colour in the title.

The Female Man

tfmTitle: The Female Man

Author: Joanna Russ

Summary: Joanna’s world is recognisable; it’s very much like ours. So is Jeannine’s–except that in hers the Second World War never happened, the Great Depression is still going on, and inequality is even more rampant.

But Janet’s world is different. On the planet Whileaway there is no problem of relations between the sexes because there is only one. Janet is unfettered, she is free to lead her life as she wants, as an able and competent being, as a female man.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: There are two things i need to explain in this review. What i loved about this book, and why it took me a month to read it. It was a random purchase from a library book sale, and i was instantly intrigued and eager to read it. Science fiction and gender? Yes, yes please.

On the gender front, this book is brilliant, and the science fiction aspect only helps explore things. It brings together four versions of the same woman (the author, Joanna Russ, essentially), from alternate realities and times. One from a 1930s version of the present day, one from a time unspecified but which represents the author’s and readers own time, one from the female-only world of Whileaway, and lastly one from a world which is engaged in a literal war of the sexes. Their views on their worlds and their own identity and behaviour differ wildly, but still they stick together, travelling and learning.

Honestly, i wished i’d read the book with a pencil in hand to mark the lines and passages that struck me as right, as making the best point, as putting the perfect words to things i have felt and experienced all my life. There were so, so many. There was one particular chapter that spanned several pages, and i just want to type it out, word for word, and make the world read it. I’ll have to settle for quoting here the line that summed up a lot of it so succinctly for me:

For years I have been saying Let me in, Love me, Approve me, Define me, Regulate me, Validate me, Support me. Now I say Move over.

Urgh, this book just makes my heart feel more alive, feel a glimmer of hope, feel like it’s not just me; it’s all women, in all walks of life, in all sorts of ways. It makes me feel understood and not alone. Jael, in particular, also made me feel fucking empowered. And the very end, damn. That very last paragraph. This book will stay with me for a long time.

And so, why only 3.5/5? Why did it take me so long to read? Because as a work of fiction, as a story… it fell so flat. I think this book would work so much better as a series of essays, because that is already what it reads like, on the whole, to me. The thing the story lacked was a strong narrative and any kind of drive, which in turn left me with no drive to keep reading, to keep picking up the book. I had no desire to know what happened next, because nothing was happening. It felt a lot like free writing at times, like character studies at others, and often it was not clear who was narrating. Some sections are written in first person, but it’s not easy to distinguish whose, which took my mind away from the story and the meaning, and i began to focus on details and technicalities.

I enjoyed the book immensely when i was reading it, but found it so hard to pick up again when i wasn’t. I enjoyed each section and the individual messages being conveyed, but the story they were supposed to fit around just seemed non-existent. I would have liked more structure to the chapters and individual stories told throughout the book, so they each existed in their own terms, rather than in and around a narrative that failed to make the most of itself around them.

Despite the haphazard structure and lacking narrative, there was so much to love about this book, and i will be seeking out more of Russ’ feminist science fiction works. I hope more of it weaves the two together more seamlessly into a worthy story, without compromising on the amazing feminist literary criticism. Some might argue that this book is outdated, but i wonder which world they are living in, because it’s not one of the ones represented in this book.

This knocks two squares off my Bookish Bingo: LGBT main character and a main character my age.

The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad

knitTitle: The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad

Author: Derrick Jensen & Stephanie McMillan

Summary: The six women of the Knitting Circle meet every week to talk, eat cake, and make fabulous sweaters. Until the night they realise they are all the survivors of rape—and that not one of their assailants has suffered a single consequence. Enough is enough! The knitting circles becomes the Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad. They declare open season on rapists, with no licenses and no bag limits. With needles as their weapons, the revolution begins!

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I think my expectations were too high for this one. I knew of some of Derrick Jensen’s non-fiction books, and his general political leaning. So a book by him about a group of women forming the Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad had to be amazing, right? Not so right.

Let’s start generally. Generally, this book reads like it’s written for 9-13 year olds. At several points i considered giving this book to my 9-year-old niece, the only thing that stopped me was the fact that she wouldn’t understand a lot of the references. Generally, the humour is trying too hard. It’s past funny and into cringe-worthy slapstick territory. It’s not clever humour, it’s not even well done humour, it’s loud and poorly written humour. Generally, none of the characters were well-developed or likeable. They weren’t hateable, either, they were just two dimensional and there to serve an obvious point. Generally, the plot progression was ridiculous. Nothing was believable. Maybe i was being to logical and rational in a book that had neither of those things, but i’d like a story about the eradication of rape to be somewhat based in reality.

More specifically, i like that the book broaches important topics that are not often discussed in day-to-day life. Rape, exploitation of women, women’s rights, media influence, police brutality, how fucked up politics is, religion, extremist groups and more. It broached these topics, but it did not discuss them. Instead, it tried to use humour and over the top caricatures to make their opinion of these things clear. Key word in that last sentence: tried. Rather than making their opinions clear, they shoved them into the reader’s face, while using such awful humour, i’m sure anyone who didn’t share the opinions would laugh it all off as a bad joke.

Ultimately, that’s my problem. That this book isn’t doing anything. It could have provided readers with an opportunity to think about things, things they might not have considered before, because they are told by the world that those things are normal. It could have helped a lot of people start to think about their life and the world around them a little more. Instead, it’s a poorly written book of bad humour. Wavering close to offending me, and allowing others to laugh at what they should be thinking about.

Purely on quality, this book is really only worth two stars, but i felt obligated to throw on an extra, because it is at least trying to write about subjects that should be written about–read about–more. But really, it’s a book about rape. I think this book could have been so much more well written, and with witty, intelligent humour. I think this book could have been written with a lot more respect.