GA Book Club #11: ‘Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl’ by Carrie Brownstein

Welcome back to the latest instalment of the Girls Against Book Club! For the month of June we’ve been reading Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl  by Carrie Brownstein, a memoir by 1/3rd of the band Sleater Kinney. Today I’m writing this post collaboratively with Emma, who you might know from our monthly book club Instagram live videos. Rather than having my thoughts on the book and then Emma’s separately, I thought I’d intertwine them throughout the post (if you get confused, my thoughts will be in normal font and Emma’s will be in italics). So, with that, here’s Emma with a bit on Brownstein’s biography:

Carrie Brownstein is one third of Time’s ‘best American rock band’, Sleater- Kinney which was integral in the formation of the ‘riot grrrl’ movement. Often associated with third- wave feminism, the riot grrrl movement allowed women from different backgrounds to come together and express themselves creatively and utilise their music to make political statements about what they were facing within their individual communities and society as a whole. Sleater Kinney were known for their lyricism against war and traditional gender roles. In this memoir Carrie Brownstein captures perfectly what it was like to be a young woman in the underground feminist rock-punk movement that has helped shape music from the 1990’s through to today.

I wasn’t very familiar with Sleater Kinney before reading this memoir and I was kind of worried that this would diminish the book’s value for me. It definitely didn’t though and this book can clearly be enjoyable for Sleater Kinney fans and those who aren’t as familiar with them alike. Although I do think I would have enjoyed some particular details more if I was a bigger fan- such as the descriptions of the intimate moments that the band had- the book’s value, for me, was in learning more about the band who were so integral to the Riot Grrrl movement and getting some perspective from a  woman whose life has been shaped around being ‘a girl in a band’.

Emma writes on Brownstein’s reflections on being female in an overwhelmingly male space:

 In her memoir, Brownstein retells her dissatisfaction with life and her longing to belong within the music scene. As an all female band, the trials and tribulations the band faced are presented in the memoir allowing us to understand the unwavering determination and strength within them. Sleater Kinney’s lyrics  ‘As a woman I was taught to always be hungry…We could eat just about anything / We might even eat your hate up like love” are expanded through her explanation of them ‘To me, that perfectly summed up being a young girl. It was the first time someone put into words my sense of alienation, the feeling that all these institutions and stories we’d been taught to hold as sacred often had very little to do with my own lived experiences.’

One of the most interesting moments in the book for me was Brownstein’s frustration with constantly having to defend herself and her band against the questions they are constantly asked but might not have answers to. She writes, ‘ More than anything, I felt that this meta-discourse, talking about the talk, is part of how it feels to be a “woman in music” (or a “woman in anything”, for that matter- politics, business, comedy, power.) Even today, I feel that women in music are constantly asked ‘how it feels’ to be where they are and who they are and with these questions comes a sentiment on the interviewers behalf, consciously or not, that they do not deserve to be there or shouldn’t be there. These ‘how does it feel’ questions are usually asked to people who have reached milestones, who are the first people to reach a certain point, such as walking on the moon or beating a world record. But women being in bands and within the world of music are no longer anomalies so why are we still asking them these questions? And how do we expect them to answer it? As Carrie writes, ‘To this day, because I know no other way of being or feeling, I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman in a band- I have nothing else to compare it to.’

As well as womanhood, fans, from being one to having them, and fandom is also a significant theme in this memoir as Emma discusses:

Brownstein’s passion for music is described as she intrinsically interweaves her self with her love for the likes of Madonna and George Michael. It is this love for music and the thrill of being a fan that provides the stability and purpose to her life. ‘To become a fan of something, to open and change, is a move of deliberate optimism, curiosity, and enthusiasm.’ Brownstein’s sense of attachment to music allows her to transport herself within the music acting as her only salvation from her troubled life. Starting with her early years, her life is tracked out through an intimate style of growth. When Brownstein’s mother is diagnosed as anorexic, during this period of her life it is evident that her sense of security is gone. Her later struggles arise when her Father admits he is gay leaving her doubting her previous relationship with him. Brownstein’s experience as a bisexual woman is explored throughout the memoir as she retells her relationships with her other band members and the struggles which this inevitably brought.

I think this part of the book is what is so important about it for many people and why many music fans hold it close to their heats. Carrie’s love of music is so undeniable throughout this book and it is the thing, for me, that made this book so deeply personal. Brownstein defines herself through music and lives to play it, literally moving cities to find Sleater Kinney. She talks about needing Sleater Kinney in a way that allows the reader to truly understand how much the band means to her. And the fact that the messages in their music promoted feminism and not ‘a version of feminism that was being dumbed down and marketed sloganized, and diminished [but one that drew] deeper, more divisive lines’ perhaps made the band even more important to them, and it certainly does for their fans and for the reader.

I do think some parts of this book were lost on me just because it feels like it’s written for someone who is a Sleater Kinney fan, which is fine, I’m not criticising the book at all but, for me, I just know I could have appreciated it more than I did! Despite this, Brownstein’s writing style is beautifully personal and easy-to-read, a combination that isn’t easy to perfect, and her story is as emotional as it is inspiring.

Here’s Emma’s final thoughts on the book:

In Brownstein’s electrifying memoir, her journey of self-acceptance is written with a beautiful, fiery narrative tracking the events of this incredible woman’s life.This deeply personal memoir exploring the effects of deep passion for music brings inspiration and awe to the reader. With sharp wit and language echoing her jagged, alliterative lyrics, Carrie Brownstein’s writing transports you back to the 90’s and encourages you to treasure the music that truly ignites your soul.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this new format for the book club posts, do let us know as we might make it a monthly thing! Be sure to watch our Instagram Live video on Monday evening to hear more of our thoughts on the book as Emma and I discuss it further!

It’s now July which means the book club has officially been up and running for one year now, how exciting! So this month we are going to go back to our roots and read ‘Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body’ by Roxane Gay as the first book we read was ‘Bad Feminist’ by Roxane Gay!

Written by Alice Porter and Emma Randall

GA Book Club #10: ‘Herland’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Welcome back to the Girls Against Book Club! During the month of May, we’ve been reading Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a feminist utopian novel published in 1915. Before we move on to talking about that though, I want to mention that we’re coming to the end of the list of books I prepared for the first 6 months of 2018 and I will be creating a list for the remaining months very soon. So, if anyone has any recommendations please send them over to us by some form of social media! The books we read are centred around themes of intersectional feminism and issues within the music industry so if you can think of anything that you think might be a good fit, please let us know!

Now onto the novel! Herland was recommended to me by one of the founders, Anna, when we were first coming up with ideas for the book club and how it should be run and I’ve wanted to include it as one of our books ever since. It’s a fairly short novel- my copy is only 124 pages- with elements of humour and a first-person, reflective narrative, which makes it pretty easy to read.

Perkins Gilman was one of the earliest first-wave feminists, born in Connecticut in 1860, she spent her life writing poetry, fiction and non-fiction, all of which had feminist aims. Her short story The Yellow Wallpaper, published in the late 19th century, is considered one of the earliest and most important works of feminist fiction. I read this as part of my English A-Level and loved it, so I was really keen to read this novel. I enjoyed the novel and thought it was most useful for exploring the ideas of early feminists. Because this book was published over 100 years ago, I do think there are some gaps in it and some ideas that are problematic and, although I am going to discuss them, I’m very aware that Perkins Gilman is always going to inevitably be a product of her time. Despite this, I think the idea of the book is a really interesting way of portraying the backwardness of a patriarchal society and presenting the merits of feminism and Gilman’s ideas would have been totally revolutionary to a contemporary reader.

The most problematic element of this novel is the fact that it is framed as a utopia, as obviously a first-wave feminists idea of utopia is going to be different to that of a modern feminists’ version. Perkins Gilman’s idea of a utopia is an island of women who are able to give birth without having sex and are living in an advanced world without poverty, war or any other of what might be considered ‘the vices of society’. Through portraying three men who have entered this country for the first time, Perkins Gilman is able to debunk many contemporary myths about women. First and foremost, she deals with the rhetoric spawned by many at the time about the incompetency of women’s ability to govern and even work. This is depicted by the repetitive claim of the three men who enter the country that ‘There must be men’, because they are so impressed with the country.

However this utopia seems to also enforce contemporary, and maybe even current, myths about women, namely the one that women are naturally maternal and that their overwhelming purpose is to have children. In describing the women of Herland, one of the men’s mentors tells them ‘You see, we are Mothers’ and they are persistent in describing how natural maternity is to each and every one of the women. Their womanhood is so linked to their motherhood that it seems to suggest that women who are infertile or simply did not want to have a child, would not be considered as a woman in Herland. This is very much a case of considering the novel as a product of it’s time though, as obviously, I’d like to think, views around motherhood and maternity have transformed significantly over the past 100 years. But nevertheless, it’s an element of the novel that I found consistently problematic. Also problematic is the way in which the women are framed as having no sexual desire whatsoever, as this suggests, as many of Perkins Gilman’s contemporary’s would have believed, that women are naturally chaste beings. One of the Herlanders even describes sex as seeming ‘so against nature.’

There are some parts of the novel that are still relevant to modern feminism though, which I really enjoyed, especially because they were often presented in a humorous way. For example, when the men marry three of the women of Herland, the women are confused at the prospect of changing their maiden name asking, ‘Do the husbands then take their wives’ maiden names?’ Obviously now, there is much less pressure on women to take their husband’s names but for readers of Herland in the early 19th century, seeing how confused this female character is about this tradition would have really made them question it and the connotations of this element of marriage.

Another part of the novel I found really interesting was the men’s assumption that all of the women of Herland would be young, stating ‘Most men do think that way’. Obviously, this is a stupidly ignorant way to think but it made me think about the discussion around the use of the world ‘girl’ rather than ‘woman’ when describing a female adult. I’ve mostly heard this discussion around the term ‘Girl Boss’, as many believe it sub-consciously suggests that a boss figure is inherently male. Many have also commented on how strange it is that we are referring to women in their 20s, 30s and 40s as ‘girls’ when we would rarely refer to men of these ages as ‘boys’. This assumption within the novel really made me think of the reasons, connotations and consequences of defining the female figure as one of youthfulness.

An issue that I knew I would have this book is it’s lack of intersectionality. Gilman was a white woman writing before most feminists had began to consider intersectionality within feminism and so I assumed that her representations would be restrictive. As mentioned before, the women of Herland are portrayed as having no sexual desire, seemingly because of the fact that there is no men on the island, totally ruling out the idea of bisexuality or lesbianism. The fact that children and birth is described as the women’s ‘raison d’etre’ is also exclusionary of trans women. It is ambiguous as to whether there any women of colour in this country but the fact that there is no mention of any, to me, suggests that there isn’t or, if there is, there narrative is being silenced, as three white men from an American society that was inherently racist, surely would have commented on the appearance of women who were not white.

I realize that I have criticized the novel quite disproportionately in this blog post and that is because I feel a responsibility to pick up on some of the things that Perkins Gilman ignored, whether she did so sub-consciously or otherwise, and as a product of her time, there are many. But there are so many merits to this book and I hope this discussion of it hasn’t taken away from them. I’d really recommend reading the novel for yourself because I simply don’t have the word count to go through all of the things I liked about this novel as well as all of it’s problematic elements.

If you would like to hear a more balanced review of this novel, head over to our Instagram page tonight (Sunday 3rd June) at 6pm as Anna and I will be going live to discuss Herland and I’ll, hopefully, have time to go a little bit deeper in my discussion.

For the month of June we will be reading ‘Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl’ by Carrie Brownstein. This book has been highly recommended to me by another GA rep, Sophia, and although I don’t know much about the author, I’m really excited to read it! GoodReads describes it as ‘From a leader of feminist punk music at the dawn of the riot-grrrl era, a candid and deeply personal look at life in rock and roll.’

Speaking of GoodReads, we have a group page over there where everyone is free to discuss the book of the month! I’d love to hear your thoughts on ‘Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl’ before, during and after you’ve read it over there but if you’re more comfortable contributing your views privately, you can send them to girlsagainstbookclub@gmail.com. To have your views included in next month’s book club post, please send them over before Sunday 1st July! You can also send us your thoughts via Twitter (@girlsagainst) or Instagram (@girls.against).

 

Written by Alice Porter (@aliceporterx on Twitter).

GA Book Club #9: ‘Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches’ by Audre Lorde

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/audre-lorde

Welcome back to the GA Book Club! It feels like I haven’t written a book club post in a long time because the first Sunday of the month has fallen a little later than usual. But that’s good because it’s given me time to really get stuck into April’s book, Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde.

Before I talk about the text, I’ll tell you a little bit about Lorde herself as she is truly a remarkable woman. Born in New York City in 1934, Lorde was predominantly a poet throughout her life. In everything she did, she voiced issues of gender, race and sexuality. Lorde herself was a black, female, lesbian feminist, something she discusses throughout many of the essays in this book, and so, obviously, these issues were very close to her heart. After a long battle with cancer, that she documented in The Cancer Journals (1980), she passed away in 1992 shortly after taking on an African name, Gamba Adisa, meaning “she who makes her meaning clear.” She is viewed as an important figure in the twentieth century feminism movement and, in my opinion, is one of the few second-wave feminists who consistently advocated intersectionality within feminism.

The essays and speeches within this text are both academic and personal but each and every one of them felt like a really important read. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to talk about every essay within the book but I will discuss some of my favourites.

Moving through chronologically, I’ll start with ‘Poetry Is Not a Luxury’, one of her shorter essays. In this essay, Lorde discusses how essential poetry is for women’s existence in a world where they are restricted in so many ways. She states, ‘Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.’ She also describes the power of poetry in bringing freedom and revolution to women. As a lover of literature and a believer that culture really can bring about change, I loved this essay so much.

In ‘An Open Letter to Mary Daly’, Lorde discusses what is today referred to as ‘white feminism’ and portrays the dangerous problems of exclusionary empowerment. She discusses the importance of white women, who are inherently privileged by the very nature of their race, speaking up for black women. She addresses white women in saying, ‘The white women with hoods on Ohio handing out KKK literature on the street may not like what you have to say, but they will shoot me on sight.’ This anecdote is the perfect example of why it is so important for everyone to make use of their privilege. It also reminded me of the recent incident of two black men being arrested at a Starbucks in America   for no other reason than that they were there. If you watch the video, it’s clear that the black men know they cannot speak up for themselves in fear of further accusations, whereas the white man is`able to do so without caution. This is a great example of how to use your privilege but also a harrowing representation of the extent to which racism still exists in America.

In a further discussion of the importance of intersectionality within feminism in the essay ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’, Lorde points out that it is not just necessary to value intersectionality but extremely beneficial. She states, ‘Difference must be not merely tolerated but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic.’ Lorde’s discussion of feminism is so ahead of its time and, despite the fact that it was first published in 1984, it’s still a really important book for 2018 because of this sophistication.

‘A room of one’s own may be a necessary for writing prose, but so are reams of paper, a typewriter, and plenty of time.’ This quote from the essay ‘Age, Race, Class, and Sex’ might just be my favourite from the entirety of the text. By referencing Virginia Woolf’s book about the disadvantages women face in the cultural sphere, particularly the literary one, Lorde portrays how there isn’t just one level of oppression. It may have been hard for white women to break into the literary world because of societal attitudes and disadvantaged education but many black women may not have even had the privilege of any education  and the societal barriers that faced them meant that maybe they couldn’t get a seat on the bus, never mind admission to university. I am not degrading certain types of oppression in this discussion but rather portraying just how many different levels of oppression there are, which is why we must consider women as a group as varied and diverse and cater our feminism as such. As Lorde states, ‘Some problems we share as women, some we do not.’

Finally, Lorde’s essay, ‘The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism’ is so great and extremely thought-provoking. She explains why angry responses to racism (and all other issues of discrimination) are totally justified. Today, we are told to talk about feminism and oppression in a ‘calm and collected’ manner in order to be ‘taken seriously’- but this essay made me think, why should we? We have a right to be angry about the oppression women, people of colour and the LGBTQ community have faced. We shouldn’t have to smile and calmly dismiss sexist comments in order to be taken seriously. We should be taken seriously because these issues are real and affect millions of people every single day. Lorde states that dismissing black women’s arguments purely because they are angry ‘is merely another way of preserving racial blindness, the power of unaddressed privilege, unbleached, intact.’ So the next time someone tells you that they will not listen to you if you are angry, tell them that you won’t listen to them unless they ARE angry, because they should be.

One of our reps, Emma Randall, is sharing her views on ‘Sister Outsider’ this month:

‘Audre Lorde’s  ‘Sister Outsider’ is filled with inspirational and eye opening passages. Whether it being in her anecdotes during her ‘Trip to Russia’ and ‘Grenada revisited’ or in the transcript of an interview with Adrienne Rich, Lorde teaches us what it is like to be a black lesbian feminist through the powerful use of words in this collection.  For me,  ‘Sister Outsider’ amazed me in the way in which she used language to convey her thoughts and opinions. By writing almost poetically, Lorde was able to question the representation of black lesbian feminists and tackle issues regarding racism, homophobia, ageism and sexism in such a powerful way.  In the essay ‘Poetry Is Not A Luxury’,  Lorde explores the power of poetry and that it is ‘the vital necessity of our existence’ as it allows us to conceptualise ideas. Poetry provides Lorde with the ability to challenge society and the racism embedded into the system.  Through poetry, those who have been oppressed are strong, she explains there is power in such differences and these must empower us.  The oxymoron in the title ‘Sister Outsider’ suggests that Lorde doesn’t fit into any group in society and that she  must create a sense of belonging for herself. The struggles faced by Lorde are presented in ‘An Open Letter to Mary Daly’. In this letter, Lorde writes to the white feminist author Mary Daly asking her about the absence of black goddesses in her book ‘Gyn/Ecology’.

‘Why are her goddess images only white, western European, judeo Christian? Where was Afrekete, Yemanje, Oyo and Mawulisa? Where were the warrior goddesses of the Vodun, the Dahomeian Amazons and the warrior women of Dan?’

Lorde shows that a Eurocentric scope dealing with only the ecology of Western women has been included in the book. In excluding black female heritage from the book Lorde suggests that a lack of understanding about the history of the black female is evident. This again marginalizes Lorde, deeming her as an outsider. It is important to take this message and apply it to our own experiences.  Is the representation of all women included? Her letter received no reply from Mary Daly and was subsequently opened up to the community of women.

This collection has influenced many of my current thoughts and opinions, Lorde is able to inform the reader of the institutional dehumanization that oppresses minority groups in 1970 and 1980 America. Yet, this collection expands to all areas of society and it is timeless,  I would recommend it to all.’

Emma and I will be going live on the Girls Against Instagram this evening at 5:30pm to discuss more about our views on Lorde’s essay collection so keep an eye out on our Instagram to join in the discussion and ask us any questions!

For the month of May, the book club will be reading ‘Herland’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Published in 1915, this is the earliest novel we have read so far. It’s a utopian novel describing an isolated society composed entirely of women. Perkins Gilman was a feminist writer of the 19th and early 20th century and she also wrote the well known short story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. ‘Herland’ is a fairly short novel so there’s no excuses not to join in and read it this month! You can join our GoodReads group to keep up to date with the book club and contribute to the discussion of all of the texts we read. You can also email us with your views on ‘Herland’ at girlsagainstgiggroping@gmail.com and, with your permission, we will include them in next month’s post! The post on ‘Herland’ will go up on Sunday 3rd June so please send any opinions over before then.

Hopefully see you over on our Instagram this evening for more discussion of ‘Sister Outsider’!  

I’m a backing singer for a band that is playing a couple of festivals this year and feel so strongly about this campaign as a victim of sexual assault at a festival, is there anything I can do while at the festivals to help the campaign?? -Molly

Hi Molly,

The best thing you can do is raise awareness. Talk to artists, members of security, people who are working at the festival, people who are attending the festival about the issue of sexual assault at gigs and about what is being done to stop it! We would always say to look out for people who look uncomfortable in crowds too and check if they’re okay, if they are, they’ll still think it was a nice gesture that you asked and if they aren’t, you could help someone to get out of a bad situation, possibly one involving sexual assault within the crowds. Hope this helps, good luck with the festivals!

Hi, Since I feel so strongly i was looking to become an ambassador or rep or anything? But i saw that you werent recruiting so i was wondering when you would be as id love too? Thanks- Chantelle

Hi Chantelle! We haven’t got any plans to recruit more reps in the near future but keep an eye on our social media as when we do decide to take on more reps, we will post about it on there. Have a look at our reply to the previously asked question on this page about how to get involved with the campaign as doing some of the things we’ve suggested there will definitely mean you have a better chance of becoming a rep when do recruit!

10 Songs That Will Make You Feel Empowered

Music is one of the many empowering, influential, and motivational tools in life. These 10 songs contain lyrics that address the strength and courage of every woman. Hopefully, they inspire you to become the best version of yourself.

Alicia Keys – Superwoman

The combination of Alicia’s vocals and her deep-rooted feminist lyrics, makes this an empowering song for all women. She likens herself and other women to superheroes. Women go through a lot, but this song is a reminder of how strong they are.

Little Mix – Power

Power is a sassy, female-empowering anthem! From the beginning to the end, this song is energetic and infused with lyrics that clearly define the power of women. This song is a bold statement that says “Yes! WOMEN HAVE THE POWER!” The electric sound in the chorus makes it a feminist anthem any woman would like to blast any time of the day.

Hailee Steinfeld – Most Girls

Hailee uses this song to celebrate all kinds of girls, and hits home with a chorus that declares girls as strong and powerful. On this track, Hailee encourages women to do whatever they want in life as long as they feel like Queens.

Daya – Sit Still, Look Pretty

Daya’s lyrics are for every girl who would like to make her own rules and choices in life especially when it comes to men. Daya paints a picture of a girl who does nothing to please a man. She would rather chase her dreams and have “7 men to do the chores, cause that’s not what a lady’s for”.

Hailee Steinfeld – Love Myself

Who says a woman needs a man to feel beautiful or strong? Never! This song describes finding self love without a man’s presence. The lyrics address coping after a breakup and realizing self-value, while also functioning as an implicit sexual-anthem. The chants of “I love me” and “Hey” in the chorus reinforce a feeling of self pride and inner beauty.

Alicia Keys – Girl Can’t Be Herself

‘Girl Can’t Be Herself’ alludes to the expectations of women in the media and in society. To a lot of people in society, female beauty is defined by material things such as weight, makeup, and clothes. With her lyrics, she redefines the meaning of “beauty” and sprinkles some insightful words about inner beauty. Her words on this song are so powerful and empowering that they’re sure to make you feel like the most beautiful girl in the world.

Demi Lovato – Confident

It’s hard for women to walk through the thick forest of insecurities that life presents, but “Confident” is the song every woman can have on repeat as she continues that journey. The lyrics in this song apply to women who feel held back from doing certain things with their life. It is also a charge to do anything you want with your life.

Kesha – Woman

‘Woman’ is a funk-infused country/rock jam, lyrically exploding with female empowerment. Men often exaggerate their significance in a woman’s life.  However, Kesha reverses and redefines gender roles on this track with seriously empowering mantras.

Keith Urban – Female

‘Female’ is a ballad that urges respect for women. The lyrics on this song questions the definition of “Female” by the society, while praising female figures for being strong. The lyrics are thought-provoking and function as a call to action for women to be respected in the world. In the bridge, Keith Urban sings:

“She’s the heart of life
She’s the dreamer’s dream
She’s the hands of time
She’s the queen of kings”

Those lyrics present love, respect, support for females while eliciting a feeling of pride, and strength from listeners.

Beyoncé – Run The World (Girls)

On this song, Beyoncé stretches the theme to nothing short of a new world order lead by females. She makes it clear that she and her female compatriots (Everywoman) can not only “make these millions” and “bear the children”, but persuade men to simply do “anything” they ask. Also, on this high-energy anthem, she gives no room for other opinions on who runs the world — GIRLS! Beyoncé mentions “Girls” 52 times in this song; that’s empowerment at its peak.

Written by Tommy Monroe (@TommyMonroe_ on Twitter).

GA Book Club #9: ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Welcome back to the Girls Against Book Club and Happy Easter if you celebrate! If not I hope you’re enjoying a long weekend (if you’re in the UK). The extra time this bank holiday weekend has provided has been necessary for me in order to finish this month’s book, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Its the longest text the book club has read so far at 477 pages and I ,admittedly, finished it very last minute. It has also been one of my favourite books we’ve read so far, although I am partial to a long novel so I suppose a bit biased, and I’m excited to discuss it in this post!

Its difficult to summarise the plot of the novel as it has so much going on but I’ll give it a go for the benefit of those of you who haven’t read or finished the book yet. Americanafollows the lives of the Nigerian-born childhood lovers Ifemelu and Obinze, the former who moves to America for further study at University and the latter who moves to Britain in order to improve his life. Ifemelu is hugely successful in America, launching a popular blog about race, whereas Obinze spends his time in the U.K. in fear of being deported, which eventually happens when he is on his way to get married, which, if he was able to have gone through with, would have allowed him to legally stay in the U.K. Ifemelu and Obinze eventually reunite in their hometown of Lagos and rekindle their romance after many years apart in separate continents.

In describing the structure of this novel, I suppose it sounds like a love story, which it is. But its so much more than that. This book is an eye-opening commentary on race, immigration and black identity but moreover it provides an important insight into the experience of black women. A quote from The Guardian is printed on the front of my novel which states, ‘Some novels tell a great story and others make you change the way you look at the world. Americanah does both.’ I couldn’t agree more with this statement as the novel was not only enjoyable and engrossing for me to read but really provided me with a better education on the struggles that black people face and how each and every one of us can help to tackle them.

The novel describes the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze both separately and together but mostly focuses on Ifemelu’s teenage years and then her experiences in America. There are also excerpts from Ifemelu’s blog ,”Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-­American Black”, which I thought were so great. Including these excerpts that very overtly discuss and confront many of the issues that Ifemelu and the other black characters face forces the reader to think about the political implications of the novel and ensures that it is impossible to read this text without considering its significance.

One of my favourite blog posts was ‘What Academics Mean by White Privilege, or Yes It Sucks to Be Poor and White but Try Being Poor and Non-White’. In this post, Ifemelu discusses white privilege as well as Peggy McIntosh’s ‘test’ for white privilege. This as a great example of how the novel forces the reader to consider their own political awareness.

Another blog post that I enjoyed was ‘Friendly Tips for the American Non-Black: How to React to an American Black Talking About Blackness.’ In this blog post, Ifemelu explores how important it is for white people to listen to POC’s stories and accept what they say, rather than disputing them or comparing their experiences to their own, which, of course, are totally different. In addressing the ‘But black people are racist too’ argument, Ifemelu gives a clear-cut explanation of why this is not true, ‘racism is about the power of a group and in America it’s white folks who have that power.’ This is such a simple but effective way of explaining the difference between racism and prejudice and I hope Adichie’s ability to explain this so coherently helps people understand this vital difference.

Americanah explores many societal issues within western society regarding both race and gender. Adichie, in this novel, is particularly interested in the perceptions of black people in America compared to Nigeria, as Ifemelu is consistently surprised at how much people’s actions are, sometimes sub-consciously, sometimes not, influenced by the fact alone that she is black. After a strange encounter in the supermarket when the cashier goes out of her way in order not to describe an employee as black, Ifemelu asks her friend, Ginika, who is also Nigerian, why she would not describe the employee by her race. In reply, Ginika states ‘Because this is America. You’re supposed to pretend that you don’t notice certain things.’ Seemingly here, Adichie is portraying that one of the real problems with race in society that there is no open discussion about it. To be ‘colour-blind’ is not productive in a society where systematic racism has been enforced until fairly recently;people’s perceptions towards Ifemelu because she is black, and particularly because she is a non-American black, prove that no one really is ‘colour-blind’ to race anyway, as Ginika states, they just pretend to be.

Ifemelu is in America during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign  and a significant portion of the novel is spent in exploring the significance of such a presidency. A really touching moment is when Ifemelu is with her boyfriend, Blaine, who is a black American, and his friends and they discover that Obama has indeed become the president of America. Adichie describes their overwhelming happiness in a touching passage that proves how important his presidency was to black people in America. While they are celebrating, Ifemelu’s younger cousin, Dike, texts her saying, ‘I can’t believe it. My president is black like me.’ I felt like this moment in the novel proved not only how significance this presidency was for progress for POC but also portrayed the importance of representation, whether that’s in arts, the media or, in this case, politics.

If you haven’t read this novel, I would 100% recommend it. The only thing I didn’t enjoy about it is that sometimes it felt like it didn’t need to be as long as it was as there was a lot of, sometimes unnecessary, detail. However this didn’t stop me from constantly picking the novel up and enjoying every bit of it. Moreover though, I would recommend it because it really does provide an education that goes further than I’m assuming most white people have on what it is to be black and I do feel that its fair to say that this novel has changed the way I think.

During the month of April the Girls Against Book Club will be reading Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde. Lorde (1934-1992) was a black lesbian poet and feminist writer who grew up in Harlem. In this collection of fifteen essays and speeches, she considers issues of sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia and class. I think this is going to be a really interesting and insightful read and I’d love it if you joined me in reading it.

Send us your thoughts on the text on Twitter @girlsagainst or, if your thoughts don’t quite fit into 280 characters, send us an email at girlsagainstbookclub@gmail.com. You can also join our GoodReads group to keep up to date with the book club and join in the discussion on this months text. Please send your thoughts over before Sunday 6th May which is when the next book club post will go up.

We also have a list of the books we’ll be reading up until July which you can take a look at here if you want to get ahead of the book club or spend some extra time on a particular book!

You can purchase Sister Outsider here.

Written by Alice Porter (@aliceporterx on Twitter).

 

Powerful Words From Girls Who Galvanised The World At The ‘MARCH FOR OUR LIVES’ Rally

Led by students and survivors of the shooting which left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the world watched and supported the demonstrations that took place in Washington, D.C. and other parts of USA. The ‘March for our lives’ rally is a call to action on gun violence and the importance of students’ safety. With so many shootings and deaths in the first quarter of 2018, students, activists and survivors of shootings expressed their frustrations in compelling and emotive speeches. However, some women stood out as they eloquently presented their speeches while they elicited various empathetic and sympathetic reactions from the audience.

NAOMI WADLER

Naomi Wadler, an 11-year-old fifth-grader from Alexandria, Virginia, who led a walk-out at her elementary school was on the stage to give a voice to African-American women and girls who had been silenced. In her speech she said, “I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.” She also added, “I urge everyone here and everyone who hears my voice to join me in telling the stories that aren’t told – to honour the girls, the women of colour who were murdered at disproportionate rates in this nation.” Although, she acknowledged how young she and her friends were, the words she spoke made the crowd go wild like she was a younger embodiment of Oprah.

EMMA GONZÁLEZ

Emma González spent 6 minutes, 20 seconds on stage. Each second representing the time Nikolas Cruz spent aiming at her schoolmates. “No one could comprehend the devastating aftermath or how far this would reach or where this would go,” González said. “For those who still can’t comprehend because they refuse to, i’ll tell you where it went: right into the ground, six feet deep.” During her time on the March for Our Lives stage, she listed her slain classmates in a poem which she composed. For over 4 minutes, she didn’t speak but her silence said a lot and remains one of the most impactful statements at the protest. According to reports, she’s responsible for the loudest silence in the history of social protest in USA.

YOLANDA RENEE KING

The 9-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, made a surprise appearance on the stage. Just like her grandfather, she also had a dream to share with the audience. She said, “My grandfather had a dream that his four little children will not be judged by the color of the skin, but the content of their character. I have a dream that enough is enough and that this should be a gun-free world, period.”

EDNA CHAVEZ

Edna Chavez who is an activist and youth leader in Los Angeles, spoke passionately about the need not only for gun law reform but also for drastic cultural change in schools. Edna, who lost her brother to gun violence, commanded the stage to give a moving speech about the trauma survivors face and the urgent need for change. She said, “I have lived in South L.A. my entire life and have lost many loved ones to gun violence. This is normal. Normal to the point that I have learned to duck from bullets before I learned how to read.” In her speech, she emphasized that more guns and more police on campuses is not the answer while stating that cops in schools are more likely to “profile and criminalize” black and brown students than to make them feel safe.

SAM FUENTES

Sam was one of more than a dozen students injured last month when Nikolas Cruz attacked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “Our mission is simple and our ambitions are unbeatable”.“Let’s keep the guns out of the hands of
the wrong people and keep them in the hands of the safe and reasonable.” she said. Fuentes ended her address, asking the crowd to join her in signing ‘Happy Birthday’ for one of her classmates, Nick Dworet, who died during the February 14 massacre and would have turned 18 on March 24. Unlike many Happy Birthday songs, this was too difficult to sing as tears rolled down and voices quivered.

DELANEY TARR

The 17-year-old survivor of the Parkland, Florida, massacre, stood before thousands at the ‘March for Our Lives’ protest in Washington, D.C., to vow, “We are not here for bread crumbs. We are here for real change.” Her words were firm and unfeigned as she addressed the real purpose of the “movement”. She spoke passionately about gun control and the 17 people killed by Nikolas Cruz.

 

 

 

AALAYAH EASTMOND

Before the day of the protest, the 17-year- old said she will be marching not only for tougher gun laws — but for the classmate whose body she hid beneath during last month’s massacre at her school. In her speech, she said “Yes, I am a Parkland survivor and an MSD student, but before this, i was a regular black girl and after this i am still black and I am still regular and i will fight for all of us.” More than anything, Aalayah sounded determined to fight for “her angels” to stop gun violence.

 

 

 

Written By: Tommy Monroe (@TommyMonroe_ on Twitter).

Problematic Song Lyrics

As young women growing up in a world where music surrounds us, whether that’s on the TV, radio or played in clubs and bars, the misrepresentation and degradation of women is constantly echoed around us.

Even thinking about this song enrages me. Blurred Lines peaked at number one in at least 25 countries, becoming the number one song of 2013 in several of them. Yet, this highly misogynistic song celebrating the ‘blurred lines’ of consent, should not have been given this spot in the charts or in my opinion even produced. If the song title is not enough to cause concern, the lyrics ‘I know you want it’ suggests a complete lack of consent and is full of assumption that is extremely problematic. This not only perpetuates a toxic stereotype of male dominance and female submission but is actually celebrating the rape culture that for so many women across the world is terrifying and dangerous.

Music is a very important thing for many, and we need to start to question the content of the lyrics in the songs all around us:

1. Blurred Lines- Robin Thicke

Even thinking about this song enrages me. ‘Blurred Lines’ peaked at number one in at least 25 countries, becoming the number one song of 2013 in several of them. Yet, this highly misogynistic song celebrating the ‘blurred lines’ of consent, should not have been given this spot in the charts or in my opinion even produced.

Throughout the entire song, references to what could be interpreted as a rape scene are made ‘Do it like it hurt, like it hurt’ ‘Baby, can you breathe?’ this not only suggests that while he hasn’t been given any direct consent but chooses to believe he has, he is now endangering the woman by forcing himself upon her. Theses lyrics are extremely explicit and the visual imagery that is seen in the music video also provides a problem regarding the sexualized female form that can be evidently seen. This song was extremely accessible for many teenage boys and girls on platforms such as YouTube, not only causing a problem regarding their individual safety and to what they are exposed to in the lyrics, but it also shapes their views and opinions regarding consent.

By idealising these issues through the music video it teaches young boys that consent isn’t important and that ‘no doesn’t always mean no’. This is a highly toxic message to provide as organisations such as ours are constantly trying to combat issues regarding sexual assault, so I don’t understand how a song with lyrics as harmful as these can be praised while trivializing sexual assault.

2. U.O.E.N.O-  Rocko featuring Future and Rick Ross

A second lyric where by rape culture is again celebrated is in the song U.O.E.N.O by hip hop artist Rocko featuring Future and Rick Ross. Ross raps the lyric ‘Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it’. Suggesting that he used a drug and then took her home to take advantage of her in a vulnerable position. By making subjects such as sexual assault and ‘date rape’ drugs normalized, it not only encourages these kinds of actions but it makes assault survivors feel less validated. These song lyrics are completely harmful for women and men as they encourage the violation of women and the fact that it is seemingly acceptable.

3. ‘All About That Bass’-Meghan Trainor

This familiar, catchy, char-topping pop tune  also raises a cause for concern. While celebrating the ‘boom, boom that all the boys chase’ it suggests that if you have curves or a larger bottom or boobs then men are going to view you as beautiful. Although this song prides itself on body positivity and acceptance with lyrics such as ‘skinny bitches’ it seriously degrades those who are skinny or aren’t as curvy as figures like Kim Kardashian or Nikki Minaj who possess the iconic ‘hourglass figure’.

Meghan Trainor also sings ‘boys like a little bit more booty to hold at night’ while this message not only suggests that your beauty is defined by how males feel about you, it again marginalizes those who are thinner. Why can’t this pop tune celebrate loving every single size and figure of our bodies not dependent on how others view our worth but how we regard ourselves? Does this song really have to make those who are curvier feel better by calling those who are thin ‘stick figure Barbie doll’? Instead of encouraging self -doubt and knocking self -esteem of those women who don’t fit into this ideal of ‘all the right junk in all the right places’ let’s embrace body positivity of ALL shapes and sizes because we are all individually unique and that is what makes us beautiful.

4. Taylor Swift – ‘Blank Space’

This catchy pop tune has been a worldwide hit, but unfortunately, the tale behind it seems to promote the over-generalised stereotype that all women are insanely jealous, destructive beings. It also solidifies the idea that it’s acceptable for women to be both physically and mentally abusive in relationships, therefore making society believe that women can’t be domestic abusers. The lyrics, combined with the video released for this song portray that idea perfectly.

One example of this is in the video where Taylor gets progressively angry at her boyfriend for being on his phone and messaging other people while he’s with her. Yes, it’s annoying when you’re not being payed attention to, but the video implies that she’s angry because he’s speaking with other people that aren’t her, which shows clear signs of an unhealthy and mentally abusive relationship. This is further backed up through the line ‘oh my god, who is she? I get drunk on jealousy’, which shows how Taylor is unhappy with him speaking to other females, again showing signs of controlling within the relationship.

Taylor also, unfortunately, shows evidence of physical harm in the video – pushing him away and throwing a vase in his direction, as well as stabbing a portrait of him with a knife, burning/cutting up his clothes and attacking his car with a golf club. It’s safe to say that if this was the other way round, and there was in fact a man carrying out these actions towards Taylor, it would be deemed much more unacceptable by society and fans alike. Unfortunately, this implies to society that every woman is ‘crazy’, even if they don’t show it.

Although this is just my personal interpretation from the song/video, I think it’s important to see how important it is that women represent women well. Yes, it’s okay to show unhappiness/anger in a relationship, but it doesn’t have to be done in a way that might not only imply that women are always likely to act in an unacceptable way, but also upset victims of domestic abuse that may have had similar things happen to them.

Written by Samantha Hall and Emma Randall (@_samanthahall_ and @emmarandall99 on Twitter).

The Songs I Listen to Are Misogynistic, Does That Mean I Am Too? (PART ONE)

This post is the first of a two-part series on the blog centred around the debate of whether you can still be a feminist if you listen to misogynistic music. In this article, Neive considers this  debate in relation to the indie genre.

A poster from CATB’s merch stand a few years ago.

Every strand of the music industry is encompassed by at least a degree of misogyny and the indie genre is no exception. Separating art and artist is a debate that has caused significant divide in this genre in particular, although it is often not characterised as such (which is another issue in itself), and the undeniable sexism which is at play is inexcusable. As much as it would pain me to stop listening to some of my favourite artists, I think the issue of continuing to support them boils down to the fact that by supporting them, you are indirectly supporting their views by default.

It goes beyond just lyrics it appears too, and so think that is an integral turning point for when it becomes acceptable to continue supporting such bands. It is incidents such as Catfish & The Bottlemen’s infamous merch stand poster from a few years ago, which makes you stop and consider what the bands you are listening to are really thinking. The aforementioned poster is blatant objectification, as much as it may have been intended as a joke. I think that with instances like this, there is an extent to which it is a joke, but an important factor to consider is how much the ideas and beliefs behind the joke are genuine. Of course, there is always room to reform and learn from past mistakes, and with this being a few years ago, it is completely possible that since then, the band have been educated.

At the end of the day, not everyone is automatically aware of the injustice and prejudice within our society, especially if you come from a place of social privilege. Begrudging someone the opportunity to educate themselves and overcome their internalised discriminatory attitudes is unfair. However, when no attempts are made to rectify this misogynistic mindset, I think it becomes evident that this issue is of no concern to the artist.

As a band, regardless of the size or number of fans, you are awarded with at least some level of power and obviously there are bands that use this power for good and at least try to assert a positive influence over fans who are often young, impressionable and vulnerable. Despite this, it is integral to acknowledge the artists who abuse this power and take advantage of their audiences.

It is bands like Misfires and Mooseblood, who have been publicly condemned and accused of using their status to sexually harass and take advantage of their fans. Yet still, there are some fans continuing to support them, and festivals continuing to book these artists, and here in lies the issue. By providing continual support despite their actions, you are ultimately funding their pursuits and allowing their career to flourish.

This could be detrimental- allowing them to have influence and power over an even wider audience and showing they can just behave in this manner without any backlash is completely wrong. I think in cases like these, separating art and artist is not possible. An artist’s personal life and beliefs have such a significant impact on their art, and thus their misogyny and art are intertwined. Therefore, supporting these artists extends to supporting their misogyny and so it is imperative we do not separate the two and instead actively criticise their views and prompt a change by showing acting in this manner is unacceptable.

Written by Neive McCarthy (@neiveeee on Twitter).