Feminism is for Everyone, bell hooks
A great intro to feminist positions now as well as how they got here.
A little boring for me as I know most of this.
Still useful to see things clarified so clearly – for example, she is adamant that there is a place for men in feminism and the early feminist movement erred in not envisioning men’s place . How feminism is not about equality but about ending sexism.
How having a domestic helper is not implicitly wrong but that feminism must grapple with how to make the employer-employee relationship more fair.
How feminisms retreat into the academy meant that popularizing the feminist message through feminist television, feminist schools etc failed. I dunno though there seems to be plenty of popular feminism around, some crap and some pretty good, thanks to the advent of blogging. So maybe feminism did not get popularised in the institutional way she envisioned but we’re getting there.
Leave the Grave Green, Deborah Crombie
Why do I keep reading these? The mystery itself was better this time.
However, just when I thought liked Kincaid better, he goes and sleeps with a suspect and I’m like really? Then, the ending with Gemma. Again, whatevs.
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World, Hans Rosling
Confirmed my view that we present things too simplistically: our misplaced nostalgia for the past (things are getting better, not worse), the idea that India and China are the world’s biggest polluters and the threat of climate change rests on the them, that income inequality is worsening.
He stresses the importance of data, of comparing numbers sensibly not just throwing one big number out there, of not going for the big, sexy, simplistic narrative.
And finally how the media is rarely a good source. As someone who works in news, who tries my best to counter the worst excesses and to fact check, my biggest professional takeaway from this: do your best but lower your expectations.
Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld
My thoughts on my chick lit blog here.
Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel
I really needed to read this book right now. The central question: can the death of sex in marriage be avoided?
Some insights: stop trying to quantify sex (the number of times, the number of orgasms), (too much) intimacy can (sometimes) kill sex, the danger of monogamy sliding into celibacy, the tension between fear of abandonment and fear of being engulfed that we bring to sex.
She also has a podcast which is very interesting. Her insights are great. I feel like I have never had a therapist in her league.
A Man called Ove, Fredrick Backman
This is like a male version of the Eleanor Oliphant and I didn’t love it as much. It’s a more than decent read but I weirdly didn’t take to Ove. He was so … manly. And even though he overcame his prejudices, or that they were just a smokescreen to begin with, I never really forgave him them? Like we are always supposed to congratulate these white dudes for befriending foreigners of learning that women are not stupid (admittedly Ove thinks everyone is stupid) and I’m like whatevs.
But read it yourself and see what you think.
Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch
Don’t usually like fantasy but quite liked this one. Maybe because it weaves modern-day London and policing quite convincingly with wizardry. Though I was not particularly into the more ghoulish parts of the mystery, I liked the mythology of the rivers and how they were personified.
I will probably go on to book 2.
Scoop, Evelyn Waugh
I have been wanting to read this forever, given that it’s supposed to be a classic and the premise is journalism.
But seriously so much gratuitous racism. Okay, maybe, this was the prevailing attitude and not Waugh’s attitude but so much description of blackness and pink hands and very white teeth and natives, who are either slovenly or sinister. Admittedly the white dudes are hardly paragons but I just found the whole thing pretty unbearable.
I googled after to see if this book had fallen out of favour, but nope, people are still falling over themselves to praise it with just the odd mention of the racism.
Brief Gaudy Hour, Margaret Campbell Black
Not the best but maybe because it’s Anne Boleyn and her story is overdone. Still, some of the transitions in the novel were abrupt. The end was moving – Why do all these women die?
Their unhappy endings notwithstanding, their fascination as strong and ambitious women is the draw. Each new telling offers new facets to their minds, new takes on the same broad events – in this one Anne is clear eyed about her own flaws (unlike Henry). Percy is presented as her one true love and her disappointment in that explains her motivation for what followed.
Nick of Time, Elizabeth Grosz
I loved Grosz’s work when I came across her in a French Feminism class. Here, she reads and attempts to redeem three thinkers who have fallen out of feminist favour (Darwin, Nietzsche and Bergson – or at least she tries to rescue the first two, I am not familiar with Bergson and haven’t got to his part of the book yet).
Her interest is their treatment of time, but in the Darwin section that I will talk about here, I was more interested in sexual difference. One of the many splits in feminist theory for some time has been between those that insist on difference (i.e. what Grosz terms the “irreducible” difference between the sexes), a position I associate with Luce Irigaray, and those, in the Judith Butler school of thought, who argue that sex/gender is a construction. The latter group is not saying that there are no differences in genitalia and reproductive organs, just that these differences are not as significant as they are made out to be by all the meaning that is layered onto them.
Intellectually, I am of the Butlerian school. Butler advocates making “gender trouble” and I am attracted to her vision of disruption and blurring of binaries. Emotionally, however, I find myself in the Irigarayan mode, instinctively feeling feminine difference. (This instinct should not be overstated, because instinctively one also feels that the earth is flat). However, I am one of those women who is mainly interested in and attracted to women, and I do find myself falling (out of convenience) into essentialised statements about women, even though I know and accept that “woman” is a construction, but the people I am speaking to often do not. I also love Irigaray’s writing, and I see some sense in her argument that trying to erase sexual difference is not going to benefit the feminist cause. Grosz follows on from Irigaray (while Butler explicitly breaks with her).
Darwin has been roundly critiqued for presenting a deterministic universe in which what happens is apparently inevitable, and in some sense, the best possible outcome (the survival of the fittest). Grosz’s reading of Darwin makes him much more contingent. He does not argue for only one possible outcome, she points out. He also explicitly states that the lines between variations, species, etc is blurred.
She also finds useful his explanation of sexual difference. Darwin proposes, and Grosz concurs, that the sexes split into two for evolutionary reasons – to allow further cross-hatching of the gene pool. Once reproduction involved two sets of genes – X and Y – to be swapped and mixed, and the sexes existed, sex selection further came into being, whereby each sex in each species developed secondary sexual characteristics that would attract a mate. Thus, the differences between the sexes in each species became pronounced for evolutionary reasons.
Fine, but I don’t understand why these differences should be “irreducible” even in the 21st century. Grosz notes that Darwin says evolution never reverses itself, so presumably, now that we have two sexes they are bound to stay. But, I’m not convinced. What is to prevent a further split in the future? What is to prevent a fading of differences due to sexual selection?
When I was a teacher, I found it quite difficult to distinguish male from female when students did not particularly dress to highlight their sex. There are definitely people that conform to the feminine or masculine side of the spectrum, but most people do not. Their reproductive organs account for less of their behaviour than their upbringing and experiences.
I did find Grosz’s reading of Darwin interesting. She made a good case for how he is less conservative than he is made out to be – even if he did see himself as a descendant of the thinkers of his time, Malthus, Smith, Ricardo et al.
Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen – Alison Weir
Clearly I gave into my Tudor craving in April.
Alison Weir is my favourite prolific Tudor writer because she is a historian so I find her takes more believable, but also because her writing style is less la di da than say Philippa Gregory. My absolute favourite in terms of style is Hilary Mantel, but she has only a trilogy unfortunately.
I am hardpressed to choose between Henry’s wives – I even read a really good novel on Anne of Cleves and Katherine Parr – they all sound like exceptional women in their own way, but Jane Seymour is provably by least favorite after Katherine Howard (and I have some respect for the latter’s daring).
Given that Jane was such a mousy and devout soul, it’s hard to imagine her inspiring passion in the king, who tended towards strong women. However, that she was the opposite of Anne is sometimes put forward as her attraction. The other possibly more interesting question is how she felt about Henry. Was she essentially strung along by events or was she a woman in love?
In this telling, Jane comes across as deeply conflicted – she disliked Anne because she was faithful to the old queen and religion, but she also knew that Anne was essentially not unfaithful and that she was doing to Anne the very thing she condemned Anne for. Apparently in some twisted religious way, she convinced herself that Anne was not really Henry’s wife. Also as someone who has very little attention from men she couldn’t help being flattered by this attention from the highest quarters.
Still overall she struck me as such a milk toast towards the end – a woman who could see injustice taking place but who wanted to convince herself that what she wanted was right.