How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

So, I’ve finally got around to write a little something about Book 4 of Emma Watson’s feminist book club Our Shared Shelf – it’s Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman! 

«Though they  have the vote and the Pill and haven’t been burned as witches since 1727, life isn’t exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brasilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them?

Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-lout funny scenes from her own, from the riot of adolescence to her development as a writer, wife and mother. With rapier wit, Moran slices right to the truth – whether it’s about the workplace, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, popular entertainment, or children – to jump-start a new conversation about feminism. With humour, insight, and verve, How To Be A Woman lays bare the reasons why female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but for society itself.»

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I have already discussed this book with various friends and everytime they asked me what I thought, I came back to same response: «Well… meh!» It’s funny, it’s dirty (like, actually dirty dirty – the kind that makes you want to wash your hands afterwards!), it has a couple of interesting ideas… it’s just not very deep. What really bothered me was the humour. I’m not sure if I’m just not British or funny enough to get it, but it just felt over the top. I understand the attempt to make feminism seem more enjoyable than the bunch of angry, non-shaving man-eaters do, but there is a difference between joking about sexism in the office and joking about abortions – even if you’ve had one yourself. And the notion of what I have to do in order to be a woman I can simply not live up to. According to Caitlin Moran, I have to…

… finger myself ten hours a day

… stand on a chair and shout, «I AM A STRIDENT FEMINIST!»

… taste my own menstrual blood

… refuse to shave anything

… not wear high heels

… when pregnant, refuse to prepare myself for the birth

… not have a fancy, enjoyable fairytale wedding

… have an abortion

… … …

Okay, before any of you start yelling at their screens, I KNOW THIS IS NOT WHAT SHE MEANT! But her opinion on these things is so strong, it scares me a little. And that’s the real shame, because largely I agree with her! To be honest, I think it was about time someone pointed out that masturbation is not something only disgusting males do, and that women do have sexy fantasies. I agree that shaving our legs and everything else has turned into a bit of an unhealthy obsession in our society, and that high heels are just incredibly uncomfortable and useless, as are insanely expensive handbags. And she’s right about weddings, about abortion (god, I’ve been waiting fort hat exact opinion in an author!) – it’s all true! Well, mostly, anyway. So, in that sense, WELL DONE, CAITLIN!

I might have enjoyed this book more, were it more of a secret gem; but it’s so hyped and it’s supposed to be so extraordinary, I found it to be a bit of a let down. Her ideas are not inherently bad or wrong, but nor are they very original. But hey, maybe our society just needs to be reminded, and maybe Caitlin Moran can speak to people Emmeline Pankhurst couldn’t reach, and then the whole point of the book has been achieved! So I shall not condemn it!

To finish this round off, let me leave you with a part that I particularly enjoyed reading:

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Lots of love from the roots of my heart!
xxx

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All About Love by Bell Hooks

I am extremely excited about having finished the third book from Emma Watson‘s feminist book club «Our Shared Shelf» All About Love. New Visions by Bell Hooks; I mean I finished it, and it‘s still March! Yuss! I‘m on schedule!
Sorry. That‘s not why we‘re here.IMG_20160322_233624I never read the blurb because if Emma Watson gives you a book to read you don‘t go questioning it, all right? But I‘m not Emma, so I might as well give you the blurb:

«The word „love“ is most often defined as a noun, yet… we would all love better if we used it as a verb,» writes bell hooks as she comes out fighting and on fire in All About Love. Here, at her most provocative and intensely personal, the renowned scholar, cultural critic, and feminist skewers our view of love as romance. In its place she offers a proactive new ethic for a people and a society bereft with lovelessness.
As bell hooks uses her incisive mind and razor-sharp pen to explore the question „What is love?“ her answers strike at both the mind and heart. In thirteen concise chapters, hooks examines her own search for emotional connection and society‘s failure to provide a model for learning to love. Razing the cultural paradigm that the ideal love is infused with with sex and desire, she provides a new path to love that is sacred, redemptive, and healing for individuals and for a nation. The Utne Reader declared bell hooks one of the „100 Visionaries Who Could Change Your Life.“ All About Love is a powerful affirmation of just how profoundly she can.

To be honest, I had some trouble getting into the book, and at times also to keep reading. For one thing, the autho‘s big on generalisations. Right from the beginning she declares that love means something inherently different for men than it does for women. I generally disagree with feminists who claim that the difference between men and women is purely in the testicles because obviously testosterone does to a certain degree define how prone someone is to violence and other traits we claim as «manly.» Still, to say that «men» see love as such and such and that this would contradict any woman‘s point of view I found difficult to accept. She doesn‘t really leave any window open for cultural norms (I‘m sure that my male Honduran friends have a different idea of love than my male friends from New Zealand), nor does she really mention that her theories could apply to both genders.

Bell Hooks is also quite quick in drawing conclusions based on her own subjective opinion on the matter. For instance, in one chaper, she states without any lead-up:Bild 28I would have liked a little more information or reasoning as to how she came to this conclusion.

There were a number of other things that I‘m not going to go into detail about; such as the fact that she continuously contradicts herself or the beforementioned subjectivity. I still rated it four out of five stars, because from 20,000 ft viewpoint I agree with her overall message. In fact, many of the things she says can be life changing if applied in day to day life.

One of the things I‘m finding most inspiring is the notion that love is a choice. If we want to be able to love we have to let ourselves be loved. I feel she‘s sort of going into what we learned from Stephen Chbowski that «We accept the love we think we deserbe.» Well, actually, what we deserve and what we don‘t is our own decision. We can decide that we deserve the best ever treatment from our friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, teachers, parents, etc. Or we can accept abuse as a norm. What is important is that it might be a bad idea to value romantic love over friendship.Bild 29Abuse is not love, the author stresses. It‘s just that sometimes we confuse it for love, especially at a young age. But I completely agree on the fact that if somebody makes you unhappy in any way it is okay for you to leave the realms of this relationship.

Over all the book tries to lay the groundwork for a more loving society. And love appears in so many different aspects of our daily lives; honesty, justice, care, nurturing, forgiveness, selflessnes… the list goes on. Essentially, these are also the foundation of peace.

I hope the sun is shining where you are and I hope you have a lunch date, as I do right now, and I also hope that you know you‘re totally and completely worthy of love, you sexy noodle!

Lots of love from the roots of my heart!
xxx

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Wow. Just wow. In all honesty, I did not think I would like this book, but I am absolutely smitten.

«Set in the deep American South between the wars, it is the tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls „father“, she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie, and is trapped into an ugly marriage. But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic-maker – a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually Celie discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves.»

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I read this book as part of Emma Watson‘s feminist book club Our Shared Shelf, and I have currently twelve tabs open, all of them full of discussion topics. It‘s way too much to discuss in a singe blog post, so I decided to instead focus on quotations. I promise I‘ll try not to spoil anything, in case The Colour Purple is still on your T-Read list. The language of the book is incredibly beautiful, and the author has the talent of bringing difficult topics to the point.

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With this simple line Alice Walker sums up the message that Celie has received her entire life. How can a woman, who keeps being told that she is nothing, keep her dignity and a sense of worth?

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This is the first time Celie sees another woman defending herself against a man. Up until that point, this has never been so much as an option to her. And Sofia, this woman, puts her own well-being before her husband, while Celie sees no other way than stay obedient and suffer through her abuse head down.

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Throughout the story Celie stays very suspicious of men. In her opinion they are all prone to violence and oppression, which is the only treatment she has ever received. Falling in love with a man, to Celie, is unconsiderable. But Alice Walker also makes it very clear that relationships based on mutual love and trust do exist, and that they have nothing to do with abuse. Also, she emphasises on the fact that a woman can indeed be in love with a man and still be empowered. Love is not a weakness, no matter who it is you love.

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One big topic The Color Purple discusses is religion. Can somebody who has been raped, had her children taken away from her and been pushed into an abusive marriage still trust in a God that‘s good and just and loving? Alice Walker presents the concept of a God that does not believe in sin but wants you to be happy and free. This is a thought that eventually pushes Celie towards emancipation and sets her free.

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Just for context, this girl has only just been raped by a stranger. And yet, she refuses to be defeated by rejecting the belittling nickname, Squeak, that her boyfriend has given her. By renaming herself, Mary Agney resists the patriarchal words he has imposed on her. By doing so, she refuses to let the man in her life gain interpretive control over her.

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People can change and, more importantly, people can be forgiven. When Celie finds the strength and the courage to leave her husband and finally be her own woman, the man who has been nothing but a possessive and lazy bastard finally gains control over his life and finds some sort of inner centre. It is made very clear throughout the story that violence creates more violence, and that no person is violent or oppressive by chance. Celie‘s husband had a father who decided over his head what his fate was to be, so he saw no other way than to control the life of his wive. It‘s only when she takes this piece of control away from him that he sees a way to change.

To me The Color Purple is about love and discovering your worth, and this is made to count for men and women alike. It‘s a complicated setting because women are twice the victim – once in their role as women, but also by being black.

While reading the book, all I could think of was how privileged I am! I could have been anybody, but instead I‘ve been born into a white upper middle class family in freakin‘ Switzerland. If I were even so much as involuntarily touched by anyone people would consider this a violation and support me. No one has ever told me that I‘m worth less because of my race or gender. And that makes me feel so, so lucky!

Definitely read The Color Purple, you‘ll cry and laugh and you‘ll want to spread love. Really, you‘ll just want to wave this book around because it feels as if everyone should read it and that would make the world a much brighter place. Yes, it‘s that good!

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

BIG NEWS! Except not really big. And not really new. As I announced on Instagram about a month ago I have decided to join Emma Watson‘s feminist book club called «Our Shared Shelf» on Goodreads. My reason number one for joining is that it‘s Emma friggin‘ Watson, and basically if Hermione Granger opened a book club I‘d join without hesitation. But I also figured that I don‘t really know anything about feminism. I can see why women would need it in, say, Saudi-Arabia, but I have never really thought about why feminism might also be important to me personally. So reading a book about it every month might really be an eye opener.

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Last month‘s book was called My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem. It was a bit hard to get by which is why I finished reading it a little later than originally planned. There is a huge discussion board on Goodreads, but I‘m usually so busy that I can‘t really take the time to actively participate in the discussions; however, I decided to read through some of the arguments and put them on my blog. If anyone still wants to discuss certain aspects or opinions, please feel free to do so in the comment section. 🙂

First of all, the blurb:

«Gloria Steinem had an itinerant childhood. Every fall, her father would pack the family into the car and they would drive across the country, in search of their next adventure. The seeds were planted: Steinem would spend much of her life on the road, as a journalist, organizer, activist, and speaker. In vivid stories that span an entire career, Steinem writes about her time on the campaign trail, from Bobby Kennedy to Hillary Clinton; her early exposure to social activism in India; organizing ground-up movements in America; the taxi drivers who were “vectors   of modern myths” and the airline stewardesses who embraced feminism; and the infinite contrasts, the “surrealism in everyday life” that Steinem encountered as she travelled back and forth across the country. With the unique perspective of one of the greatest feminist icons of the 20th and 21st centuries, here is an inspiring, profound, enlightening memoir of one woman’s life-long journey.»

To me, one of the first and most important aspects of feminism that Gloria Steinem mentions is that of a functional community that listens to the needs of others. Or as she puts it:

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This doesn‘t just count for women but really for people in general. Women are just one group that is or was being oppressed, depending on region and culture. So feminism is about injustice being heard. And not just that – she states right in the beginning that helping somebody, be it women, men or children, you have to go about understanding them and their situation, every aspect of it:

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This can not be stressed enough. Steinem later tells the story of how she once tried to save a turtle by putting it back in the sea. Her teacher then explained to her that this turtle had just spent weeks crawling up the beach to lay its eggs – now it would have to start over. Her conclusion:

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To me that means that we can‘t, for example, just tell women in the Middle East to stop obeying their husbands. I, at least, am in no way entitled to do that. I know very little of their culture and I can not possibly fathom the outcome of such protest. Wouldn‘t everyone agree that Malala is a feminist? Yet, she wears a headscarf, just like millions of women do, and our western society tries to tell them that this is sexist and limits them in their freedom. How many women have we asked? Sure, they should be able to decide for themselves, and many aren‘t allowed to make such decisions – but unless someone from their own culture takes her headscarf off as an act of female liberation, many women will not even want that «freedom.» And I certainly have no say in it. Scrolling through Goodreads I found a few interesting comments on the topic and I take the liberty to quote them here (since Goodreads is a public sphere already):

«As a domestic violence survivor a friend of a friend used to try to help me by being mean to my abuser after we broke up. Nothing could have bothered me more than that because I felt that I had sacrificed years of my life to make him happy and someone making him miserable now was not a comfort to me, but even when I told her that she kept doing it. I loved this story because it reminded me of that and it gave me a way to remember that I have to make sure I’m doing the right thing for others.»

«I’m Mexican, which means my darker skin gives me away whenever I go on vacations to the US, and something that gets to me every time is the condescending looks people give me. People constantly talk to me slowly, as if I was stupid, when they don’t know that I’ve studied English ever since I was two years old. And when I reply with good English they look surprised, it’s insulting. As Latins we are constantly misrepresented as illiterate, lazy or even stupid. And even when I know I am privileged, it bothers me that people think they can put an entire nation down just because of the stereotypes they are bombarded with.»

That actually leads to another thread that I never even considered a part of the feminist movement: race. This certainly has a lot to do with the fact that I live in Switzerland where racism, although prominently existant, is not to be compared with racism in the United States. I never realised the obvious fact that black women in a white world would struggle twice as hard as their male counterparts – once because of the colour of their skin and the discrimination they had or have to face because of that, and twice because of their feminity that would discriminate them in both black and white cultures. I always think that stating somebody‘s skin colour is in itself a racist act – why should I care whether that girl next door has brown or white or purple skin?! But Steinem made me realise that in certain contexts it‘s an essential piece of information. Not because it necessarily says something about the person, but it says a lot about the society around them.

The author naturally also takes into account Native American societies. What I didn‘t know either was that gender roles aren‘t simply a given. They have changed throughout history and gender equality was a given in certain cultures. Steinem quotes Paula Gunn Allen:

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There is an incredible amount of topics Golria Steinem touches and discusses in her work and it‘s simply not possible to spread them out in a single blog post. I believe that the most essential thing I have learned so far is that feminism equals the fight for human rights. This doesn‘t come as a surprise, but feminism as a word has become more of an insult than the definition of an activist movement. It does not consider simple aspects of human rights such as a woman‘s control over her own body or the male rape victims or domestic violence. One very interesting opinion of Gloria Steinem‘s is the following:

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It‘s such an interesting thought that human rights would start with the fair treatment of women. I‘m not sure I entirely agree, and this quote will definitely have to be put in context. But it is certainly a thought I‘ll keep taking into account and that I might come back to on this blog as well.

My Life on the Road is a very moving and interesting read; I think I agree on almost everything Gloria Steinem has to say. She is definitely not a man hating, non-shaving women‘s libber that so many of my gender fear to be or seen as (and if you are, then good on you! There‘s nothing wrong with that either. Except, don‘t hate men. Don‘t hate, ‘k?)

I definitely recommend this book, even, and especially, if you don‘t consider yourself a feminist!

Lots of love from the roots of my heart!
xxx