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’!  

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).

 

GA Book Club #8: ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ by Maya Angelou

Credit: https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/maya-angelous-life-in-photos

February was a short month- I can’t quite believe how quickly it’s come and gone. I really felt the missing 2/3 days (along with it being a busy month generally) when it came to reading this months book for the Girls Against Book Club and it was the first time I’ve had to consider delaying the book club post.

But here we are- on time! I finished Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings only a few days ago but I know for sure that it taking me the best part of the month to read it had nothing to do with the quality of the book itself. In fact, I was looking for a spare moment all the time so I could read it. This autobiography is heartbreaking and genuinely shocking. It’s hard to believe that the events of the first 17 years of Angelou’s life really took place and harrowing to hear her describe them first-hand. But the fact that this incredible woman has been through so much really just makes the things she achieved in this part of her life and later on even more incredible and admirable.

Maya Angelou was an American author, poet, singer, dancer and civil rights activist- clearly a woman of many talents. She was born in 1928 and died in 2014 and has lived through some of the most significant changes for both women and people of colour. She has championed the rights of these two groups of people all her life and is a women I truly look up to and this autobiography only increased the admiration I have for her.

As mentioned, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings deals with the first 17 years of Angelou’s life and in these years it seems that she went through more difficulties than most people do in their whole life. Many of these difficulties were imposed on her because of her race and/or her gender. As always, I’m going to discuss some of the most interesting, shocking and touching parts of the book although it’s going to be seriously hard to narrow them down as I have bookmarked quite a few pages…

A particularly harrowing moment towards the beginning of the text is Angelou’s remembrance of her uncle having to hide in a bin from the KKK. An ex-sherrif warns her ‘Momma’ (grandma) of this by telling her that ‘the boys’ will be coming to town. Angelou depicts the sense of fear she felt at hearing this statement as a child but also her bewilderment that those who were capable of such cruelty and hatred were referred to so nonchalantly. The really harrowing thing about this memory is that for me, Maya Angelou is a modern woman and the fact that she lived and can remember when the KKK were still casually terrorising people of colour really emphasises the fact that this didn’t occur so long ago. It’s easy to distance ourselves from past events but hearing them described first-hand makes them seem very real. It’s a reminder of the necessity of intersectional feminism as we consider how astoundingly differently white woman and people of colour were treated in the lifetime of Angelou and many other people who are still alive today and have these memories.

Undoubtedly though, the most disturbing, shocking and upsetting part of this text is when Marguerite (as Angelou describes her younger self in the novel) is sexually assaulted and raped by her mother’s boyfriend. I don’t want to discuss this section of the text too much as I feel that no one should try and tell this story but Angelou herself. However I feel that it is important to mention how truly upsetting this part of the text is as the reader sees how emotionally and physically affected Marguerite becomes by this experience, something that she never really forgets or seems to recover from throughout her childhood.

Another part of the novel I want to discuss is Marguerite’s visit to the house of a white woman who calls her a different name to her own because ‘That’s too long. She’s Mary from now on.’ The sense of ultimatum in this statement seems to symbolise how white people during this period, and often still today, attempt to rewrite the narratives of people of colour, defining them by their terms and not their own. Marguerite’s decision to ‘accidentally’ drop her favourite casserole dish and smash it really made me smile (and laugh) and it felt like such an empowering moment in the text.

There are many sections of the text that seem to summarise Angelou’s experience of a child but the one that I think does so the best is this- ‘It was awful to be Negro and have no control over my life. It was brutal to be young and already trained to sit quietly and listen to charges brought against my color with no chance of defense.’ Not only is Marguerite going through all the inevitable changes and difficulties of childhood but she is doing so as a black girl in Southern America. Everything seems to be more difficult for her because of this. The fact that she grew up to be such a successful woman despite these difficulties (and maybe because of the determination she gained through these experiences) is truly inspiring.

Another great quote from the novel is this: ‘The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same that that she is caught in the tripartite of crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power.’  Again, this seems to highlight the importance of intersectional feminism as it portrays how deeper the struggles go for WOC compared to white women, especially those who are navigating their childhood.

I really can’t recommend this autobiography enough. Even if you’re not a big fan of autobiography (its not usually my genre of choice either) this one is not only engaging but important. Maya Angelou is ‘a truly phenomenal woman’ as Barack Obama describes her, as is printed on the cover of my copy, and I feel like we all owe it to her to read this book to see just how true this statement is.

For the month of March the Girls Against Book Club will be reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This will be the second book we’ve read by Adichie (we read We Should All Be Feminists in September) but the first work of fiction. It follows the story of three Nigerian teenagers who, as they grow up, follow different paths, with one moving to America, one to London and the final remaining in Nigeria. It deals with themes of love, race and identity and I’m hoping it will be a really interesting and enlightening read, as We Should All Be Feminists was.

I’d love it if you joined us in reading Americanaand if you do, be sure to join our GoodReads group to stay updated on where we’re up to and join in on the discussion. If you’d rather contribute your views privately/anonymously feel free to send us an email at girlsagainstbookclub@gmail.com. Any views contributed will be, with your permission, included in next months post which will go up on Sunday 1st April.

I hope you’ll join us in reading this novel and I’ll see you back here in April!

Written by Alice Porter (@aliceporterx on Twitter).

GA Book Club #7: ‘Women & Power: A Manifesto’ by Mary Beard.

For the first month of 2018, here at the Girls Against Book Club, we have been reading Women & Power by Mary Beard. Mary Beard is a classicist and in this short yet informative book, she traces the origins of misogyny to their ancient roots. The book is split up into two sections ‘The Public Voice of Women’ and ‘Women in Power’ which are both developed from lectures she gave, respectively, in 2014 and 2017.

At only 107 pages and the book itself being relatively small in size, I managed to read it within 24 hours and it was definitely a page-turner. Beard develops a strong argument and discusses many important, and less mainstream, moments of history, whether its factual events, mythology or literature. Reading this book truly proved to me that, as Beard states in her preface, ‘When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has had thousands of years of practice.’

As always, I’m just going to discuss some of my favourite parts of the book, although I’ll have to narrow them down a little as I’ve bookmarked more pages than I’m sure you care to read about. Beard begins the first section of the book, ‘The Public Voice of Women’, with a discussion of the Odyssey, a fitting place to start in considering origins. She discusses a particular part of the poem when a mother is condemned by her son to a different room whilst the men are talking,  a scene I have seen repeated many times not only in ancient literature but in literature published right up until the 20th century. Beard states that this is an example of how ‘an integral part of growing up, as a man, is learning to take control of public utterance and to silence the female of the species.’ This stuck with me in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns, as it has become undeniably apparent just how often women are silenced by men who are willing to abuse their positions of power.

Another part of this section of the book that immediately stood out to me was Beard’s discussion of how ‘women’s voices raised in support of women’s causes’ are all too often ‘niched’ into that area and dismissed by many as a result. Roxane Gay and Jeanette Winterson discussed a similar phenomenon with regards to literature written by women being specifically and unjustifiably labelled as ‘women’s fiction’ which I discussed when we read Bad Feminist and Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit as part of the book club. The fact that women who are professionals in their fields feel this like they are being ‘niched’, as Beard puts it, like this makes it undoubtedly clear that this is a problem that needs to be dealt with. Women’s art and women’s issues generally should not be pushed into a corner purely because of their authorship or their topic of discussion. Art created by cis-males and issues affecting them are not treated as such.

From her own experience, Beard also discusses how ‘unpopular, controversial or just plain different views when voiced by a woman are taken as indications of her stupidity.’ This is something I totally relate to and experience regularly. I  often feel like this happens to me when I am speaking to older men, but it is definitely an all-too regular occurrence with men of a similar age to me too. In a discussion about politics, for example, often if I say something that the man I am speaking to doesn’t agree with they won’t even consider for a moment what I am saying but will simply laugh and shake their head. This is something that happens so frequently that I am genuinely picturing men who have done this before giving me this extremely patronising shake of the head.

At the beginning of the second section of the book ‘Women In Power’, Beard spends a considerable amount of time discussing the novel Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a fantasy novel about a world with only women that has existed for around 2000 years; the book club will be reading this text in May (click here for our reading list from January-July). I thought it would be interesting to take note in this post of some of the things she says about the novel so we can refer back to them and see if we agree when we read it ourselves. She asks a series of questions the novel provokes, ‘How have we learned to look at those women who exercise power, or who try to? What are the cultural underpinnings of misogyny in politics or the workplace, and its forms…How and why do the conventional definitions of “power” (or for that matter of “knowledge”, “expertise” and “authority”) that we carry round in our heads exclude women?’ These will definitely be things I will be keeping in mind when reading the novel. Beard concludes, with regards to Gilman’s book,  ‘my basic premise is that our mental, cultural template for a powerful person remains resolutely male.’

The remainder of this section of the book discusses how the political power structure that currently exists in Europe and all over the world is one that is shaped and crafted for the benefit of men. Beard gives examples of how women have tried to fit into this power structure, for example Thatcher taking voice lessons in order to make her voice sound more deep, but, ultimately, concludes that this is not the best way to deal with tackling it. She states, ‘You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure.’ This is the quote that is included on the back cover of the book and one that I think nicely summarises Beard’s apparent aim in giving these lectures and writing this book. It really did make me think differently about how I can improve my feminism and was a great way to start the new year, inspiring me even more to continuously critique systems that exclude women, LGBTQ people as well as POC.

For the month of February the GA Book Club will be reading I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, an autobiography by a strong WOC dealing with issues of gender and race. This is a book that I’ve wanted to read for such a long time and I can’t wait to finally tick it off my list this month.

I really hope you’ll join me in reading I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings! If you do and have any thoughts you’d like to share with the book club, please email them to girlsagainstbookclub@gmail.com. Or/and join our GoodReads group and get involved with the monthly discussion. All contributions will be included in next months post which will go up on Sunday 4th March.

Happy reading!

Written by Alice Porter (@aliceporterx on Twitter.)

GA Book Club #6: ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ by Jeanette Winterson

Welcome back to the Girls Against Book Club and Happy New Year! I’m really excited to continue with the book club in 2018 with, hopefully, more and more people getting involved. Throughout the last month, we’ve been reading Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, a novel which I will discuss in this post.

I really enjoyed reading this novel throughout December; it’s engrossing and relatively easy to read.  The issues that it brings to light are also an important aspect, for me the most important aspect, of the novel and it’s therefore a book that I would recommend to everyone.

The novel tells the story of Jeanette, loosely based on Winteron’s own experience but not autobiographical as she stresses in the introduction which I will touch on soon. Jeanette is adopted by a woman who is determined to make her a Christian missionary and her entire childhood is dedicated to this purpose. However, when Jeanette comes out as a lesbian, she is completely isolated by the Christian community she has grown up around and is forced to reconsider everything she has been taught by them.

In the introduction of the novel Winterson criticises those who have described her novel as autobiographical, stating that male writers use their own names and experiences in fiction frequently without this being called autobiography. ‘Is this assumption about gender? Something to do with creative authority? Why shouldn’t a woman be her own experiment?’ These are some of the questions she asks on this topic in her introduction.

Another interesting part of the introduction is Winterson’s exploration of why it took so long for Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit to have been viewed as ‘literature’. She states that if she had been a straight white male, it would have been given that title from the beginning. Roxane Gay discusses a similar subject in Bad Feminist, the first book club text, in reference to the disregard of women’s literature and it’s something that has stuck in my mind ever since reading the book and writing the post about it. The fact that this has now been brought up by more than one female author shows that this issue is pervasive, affecting female authors around the world.

I love reading introductions of books and I cannot understand why anyone skips them; they often shape my understanding of the context of the entire novel and can often change my opinion of the entire novel. The introduction to Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit was no exception. But on to the actual novel and some of my favourite moments!

There are lots of humorous moments in the novel and they are often produced from the many eccentric ways of Jeanette’s mother. A part that I found particularly entertaining was Jeanette’s discovery that her mother had been lying to her about the ending of Jane Eyre (WARNING: Jane Eyre spoilers ahead- although I don’t know if you can spoil a novel that’s been in print for nearly 200 years); Jeanette’s mother’s version of the story sees Jane end up with St John, an evangelist, rather than Mr Rochester, which particularly upsets young Jeanette when she finds out. Although this was a humorous moment of the novel, it portrays the importance of  literature and popular culture for children growing up as it really does have the ability to help shape us as humans. It also shows the extent to which Jeanette’s life has been shaped by Christianity, making the church’s abandonment of her later on in the novel because of her sexuality even more devastating.

The end of the novel was the most powerful part for me. The writing becomes less about narrative and more about meaning I think and there are some really important extracts. The pastor explains that Jeanette’s sexuality is a result of the church’s ‘going against the teachings of St Paul, and allowing women power in the church’ because ‘having taken on a man’s world in other ways’ Jeanette had also done it sexually. This reasoning is clearly utterly ridiculous but not shocking. Men blaming women for things that have nothing to do with them is a frequent theme in books, films and life and the sarcastic and mocking tone Winterson creates in describing the pastor’s thoughts on why women are to blame for absolutely everything was the perfect satire of this issue.

Honestly this next section doesn’t have any sort of theme but I just want to discuss two of my favourite quotes from the novel that I couldn’t help re-reading and going back to.

The first is ‘my mother had painted the white roses red and now she claimed they grew that way.’ How beautiful! This metaphor summarises the events of the novel so perfectly and the phrasing is stunning- I love it! It was also a really important moment in the novel as Jeanette realises that her mother and her community have given her a mould for her identity that is wrong, and she is glad she doesn’t fit into it.

Another brilliant and important quote from the novel is ‘But not all dark places need light, I have to remember that.’ Jeanette’s childhood in this novel is extremely difficult and unlike anything I know of and, again, Jeanette’s acceptance that she can move on from it as herself was such an important and inspiring moment.

This was a really important read for me. It reinforces how difficult many LGBTQ people’s upbringings can be and portrays the importance of acceptance in allowing people to form their own identities.

For the first month of 2018, the book club will be reading Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard. It’s a non-fiction book that traces the origins of the misogyny within our society to it’s ancient roots, examining the ways in which history has mistreated strong women. I think this is going to be a really interesting and educational read and I’ll hope you’ll join me in reading and discussing it!

I’ve also released a list of the first 6 books the book club will be reading in 2018 that you can view here. I’m hoping this will allow more people to get involved with the book club as it means you can start reading the books that excite you a little bit earlier if a month isn’t enough OR if you have any leftover Christmas money left you can treat yourself to copies of some of them now!

As always, don’t forget to join our GoodReads group here and contribute to the monthly discussion. Or email us with your thoughts on Women & Power at girlsagainstbookclub@gmail.com.

I hope you all have a great 2018 and are looking forward to reading some brilliant feminist texts by strong and inspiring women, as I am!

Written by Alice Porter (@aliceporterx on Twitter).

Book Club 2018

Hi everyone! Here’s a list of books the Girls Against Book Club will be reading during the first 6 months of 2018. I’m hoping releasing this list will encourage more people to get involved as it means that people can pick the books they think they’ll be most interested in and start reading them early if a month isn’t enough. I’ve included the dates we will be reading them from too and will release the rest of the books for 2018 later in the year. I really hope you’ll get involved with the Book Club throughout 2018 and don’t forget to join our GoodReads group here!

Sunday 7th January- Sunday 4th February:

Mary Beard- Women & Power

Sunday 4th February- Sunday 4th March:

Maya Angelou- I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Sunday 4th March-Sunday 1st April:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- Americanah 

Sunday 1st April-Sunday 6th May:

Audre Lorde- Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

Sunday 6th May- Sunday 3rd June:

Charlotte Perkins Gilman- Herland

Sunday 3rd June-Sunday 1st July:

Carrie Brownstein: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

GA Book Club #5: ‘Feminine Gospels’ by Carol Ann Duffy

Welcome back to the Girls Against book club! It’s the first Sunday of December which means it’s time to discuss the book we’ve been reading
during November, Feminine Gospels by Carol Ann Duffy. This is the first time the book club has read a poetry collection and I’m hoping those of you who joined in this month enjoyed reading it. I have to admit that I struggled to get
through the collection a little because, as an English Literature student,
poetry is something I generally read in an academic sense. This meant that not
only did I need to be in a quiet environment when reading the poetry, which is
difficult when you do most of your recreational reading on public transport, but it was also difficult for me not to over-analyse every single word in each of
the poems. However I’ve wanted to read some of Duffy’s poetry for a while and so I’m glad I finally have and it was a nice change to read something other
than a novel recreationally. Anyhow, let’s get on with discussing some of the
poems that I liked!

‘Beautiful’ ,one of the first poems in the collection, references the lives of notable historical female figures, depicting how they are defined by their appearance to men. Duffy describes Helen of Troy as ‘the girl next door’, Cleopatra as ‘wrapped in satins, like a gift’, Marilyn Monroe as a ‘dumb beauty’ and Princess Diana being told to ‘act like a fucking princess’. This portrayal of the women as defined by their looks is undermined by the tone of anger created throughout the poem, which feels like a fight against the objectification these women and many other women all around the world face. This is epitomized by the last line of the poem, ‘History’s stinking breath in her face’ which depicts the terrible effects of creating a persona of a woman and forcing her to live by it, such as in Princess Diana’s case.

Another poem in the collection, ‘The Woman Who Shopped’, is an interesting criticism of capitalism and the commodification of women and their bodies. The first section of the poem is a seemingly never-ending list of someone’s wants, ‘wanted a wedding, a wedding dress, groom, married him, wanted
a honeymoon, went on one’. The second part of the poem sees the women in
question transformed into some sort of department store, portraying how excess can affect the self but also perhaps depicting the damaging effects of
objectifying and commoditizing women’s bodies, as Duffy states that ‘crowds
would queue overnight at her cunt, desperate for bargains’. The use of metaphor throughout the entire collection was a clever way to force the reader to reconsider aspects of our society and particularly the role of women as often impossibly hyperbolic situations were given a real meaning which made me think differently about the topics in discussion.

Perhaps my favourite poem in the collection is ‘Loud’ as Duffy uses it to deal with real-life issues head on, preceding the poem with the statement that ‘Parents with mutilated children have been turned away from the empty hospital and told to hire smugglers to take them across the border to
Quetta, a Pakistani frontier city at least six hours away by car.’ It’s so
important that creators of art use their voices to help tackle issues going on
in the world and Duffy’s decision to include this statement in the collection
is brilliant as it forces the reader to acknowledge that the things in this
poem, and in all of the other poems, are truly happening, providing no escape from this fact. The poem itself is also great as it
portrays a woman who finds her voice as a result of the issues Duffy makes the reader aware of. Finding your voice is something I feel a lot of women remember experiencing whether that’s through reading a book, talking to a teacher or parent, social media or, as it so happens in this poem, through something that makes you so angry that you are determined to find your voice in order to change it. I remember the moment I found my voice and this poem reminded me of that. ‘Now she was loud’ Duffy writes, epitomizing the change that takes place in a woman when they realize what they should be fighting for.

Feminine Gospels as a collection is empowering and inspiring and I am so glad that this text and many of Duffy’s others are studied at schools as this is the type of text that could really enable a young person to find their voice and motivate a generation to try and change the world. In terms of poetry it’s pretty easy to read so I would definitely give it a go if you haven’t already and are looking to widen the types of texts you read like me!

One of our lovely new reps Megan Ryder-Maki (@ixxmcmxl on Twitter) told me about her views of the poetry collection:

‘Carol Ann Duffy’s collection is a powerful depiction of the inequalities and injustices women have faced throughout history to present day. Duffy challenges The Gospel Truth in her title alone, an account created and
historically taught by men. However, she does not exclude men from her poetry collection. Instead, she focuses on the female form and transcends reality entirely in poems such as ‘The Woman Who Shopped’ and ‘Map Woman’. This gives us an example of the perception and sexualisation of women in a metaphorical and symbolic way rather than simply isolating and blaming men. The shocking but powerful collection is one of my favourites from Duffy and for those who read it, you will never forget it!’

For the month of December we will be reading Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up as a lesbian within a religious family and community. I’ve chosen this book, with the help of some of the other GA reps, because Winterson is a truly inspiring woman within the literary community and generally as she
uses her literature to explore topics within and surrounding intersectional
feminism and this is a book that I’ve wanted to read for a while about important real-life experiences.

I’d love it if you want to get involved in reading this novel over the next month! One of the reasons I’ve decided to read it now is because it’s fairly short at under 200 pages and I know December is a busy month for everyone, including me, so I hope this encourages you to join in. Plus, the first Sunday of January falls on the 7th, which gives you even more time to read the book! Remember if you do decide to read this month’s book you can contribute your thoughts to the discussion section of our GoodReads page (https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/19084704-december–oranges-are-not-the-only-fruit) or email us at girlsagainstbookclub@gmail.com
with your thoughts to be featured in next months post!

Written by Alice Porter (@aliceporterx on Twitter).

GA Book Club #4: ‘The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic’ by Jessica Hopper

Welcome back to the Girls Against Book Club! For the month of October, we’ve been reading ‘The First Collection of Criticism By A Living
Female Rock Critic’
by Jessica Hopper, a title that, on the first page, she
states is not entirely accurate. The title of this collection of essays is what drew to me to it though. The lack of music criticism written by women perhaps reflects the disproportionately lacking amount of women in the music industry generally, or perhaps the amount of women who are given opportunities rather.

Sexual assault at gigs, from my experience, affects women at a much larger rate than it does men and perhaps the domination of men in the music industry is the reason why the issue was largely ignored before campaigns like Girls Against. I chose to read this book as part of our book club in order to learn more about the experiences of a woman in a male-dominated industry and to amplify the voice of a talented female music critic.

I thought parts of this book were great but others, I didn’t enjoy so much. This is in no way a criticism of Hopper’s writing style, which is engaging, humorous and honest; it’s purely because some of the artists she writes about I’ve never heard of and some of the essays were originally written when I was 6 years old, making it difficult to understand some her points of reference. Obviously, this book is not handmade for each and every reader, ready to go with artists they like and cultural references they can understand and so I really don’t feel justified in criticising the text for this reason. But personally for me it made it a little bit less of an enjoyable read and someone who is perhaps a little older than me with a better general knowledge of music would have enjoyed it much more I’m sure. I do think the text would have benefited from a structural change in terms of grouping the essays by date rather than category as the essays at times were loosely grouped by category anyway and it was a little disorienting reading essays one after another that jumped from 2003 to 2013 to 2007 etc.

Anyway, with my little moan out of the way, I’ll move on to some of the essays I enjoyed.  The first essay I liked is titled ‘Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t’. It explores the distorted portrayal of woman in emo music, in which Hopper states woman are ‘denied the dignity of humanization through both the language and narratives, we are omnipresent yet chimerical, only of consequence in romantic settings.’ I don’t listen to much emo music and so can’t comment on whether this has changed since when the essay was first published in 2003 but this representation of women is present in many music genres that I do listen to and I think Hopper explains it nicely here. A line from this essay that really resonated with me is ‘men writing songs about women is practically the definition of rock ‘n’ roll’ as it seemed to explain to me why I unconsciously shifted to listening to so many more female fronted bands. A lot of the male-fronted bands I used to listen to, and admittedly still listen to now at times, do often just write songs about romanticized versions of women and I’m as bored of this in 2017 as Hopper was when writing this essay in 2003.

Another essay that I enjoyed, one of Hopper’s artist-specific essays, was ‘Deconstructing Lana Del Rey’. Lana Del Rey has been one of my favourite artists since ‘Born to Die’ and Hopper’s commentary on, what she describes as, the ‘Authenticity Debate’ surrounding Lana was really interesting to me. Hopper indirectly mocks those who ‘don’t understand’ Lana Del Rey and are determined to get to the bottom of ‘what she is’ and outlines the debate surrounding this. In response to this she simply states, ‘Being sexy and serious about your art needn’t be mutually exclusive, even when your art involves being a pop package.’ A simple statement like this portrays how unfounded the questions surrounding Del Rey’s image are and for me, this ‘debate’ just goes to show that society is still a little bit afraid of women who do not perfectly fit into it’s mould of what a woman is and should be.

Hopper’s essay on Courtney Love and Hole was definitely one of my favourites to read. ‘Live Through This’ is such a great album (that you should go and listen to right now if you haven’t already) and her conversation with the band is really interesting. The essay is titled ‘You Will Ache Like I Ache: The Oral History of Hole’s Live Through This’ and Hopper describes ‘Love’s surety of her band’s rightful place in the hierarchy’ as a sort of rite of passage for ‘every girl with a guitar’, describing the album as ‘the portrait of a woman claiming her power’. Listening to this album feels incredibly empowering and I couldn’t have summarised it better than Hopper does here. There were so many lines like this one in the collection where Hopper put my long and confused thoughts into a well-written and simple line and I always think that having the ability to do this makes someone a really great writer.

It is clear in all of these essays how truly passionate Hopper is about music and this along with her vast and extensive knowledge of the music industry makes her the ideal music critic. She put together this collection of criticism to, in her own words, ‘help mark the path’ of music criticism written by woman, dedicating the book to ‘those that came before, those that should have been first, and all the ones that will come after.’ This set of essays was my first real look into music criticism written by anyone of any gender and I can vouch for the fact that it sets an amazing example not only for women but for everyone and I sincerely hope that more women are given the opportunities to become music critics. I only wish that my knowledge of music was more extensive generally so I could fully appreciate every essay in this collection and essays to come- I will work on that!

For the penultimate book of 2017, we will be reading Carol Ann Duffy’s collection of poetry ‘Feminine Gospels’. I really wanted to incorporate some poetry into the book club before the year was over and who better to begin with than the first female and LGBT British Poet Laureate? She’s even Scottish which is where our campaign’s roots lie with two of the three current founders being Scots too! In this poetry collection Duffy focuses on the theme of female identity and explores it historically, archetypically and in various other ways.

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in then please join us in reading it during November! If you have already read ‘Feminine Gospels’ or are planning to then be sure to join our GoodReads group here so you can keep up to date with the book club and contribute your views on the text. Alternatively, if you’d rather contribute your views anonymously or privately you can email us at
girlsagainstbookclub@gmail.com
with your thoughts. The next book club post will go up on Sunday 3rd
December so be sure to tell us what you think of the text by then for a chance
to have your views included in the post.

Written by Alice Porter (@aliceporterx on Twitter).

GA Book Club #3: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

The month of September is over which means it’s time to discuss ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. I hope you’ve been able to get involved with the book club this month either by reading the essay or watching Adichie’s TED Talk.

What I like about this essay is its accessibility. It’s accessible first and foremost because of its length; I’d have a much better chance of convincing someone who isn’t particularly interested in either reading or feminism to give this text a go than I would offering them a chunky and thick hardback. Its pocket-sized design is really great in this way, and the relatively short length of the text does not take away from its quality either as it moves quickly, covering many different aspects of feminism, making it the perfect text for the aforementioned purpose. Adichie also creates accessibility in her writing style through combining anecdotal stories of her life with a humorous tone and limited use of subject-specific or low frequency lexis.

However, the essay’s length and style also had some drawbacks
for me personally. After watching Adichie’s Ted Talk, I was surprised to
discover that it was almost identical to the essay I had just read and I felt
like some aspects of the text could have been expanded on more as it almost
moved too quickly for me. Although, this is coming from someone whose main
interests are reading and feminism and would happily read hundreds
of pages on the things Adichie discusses. This essay would have been absolutely great for me a few years ago when I was first discovering feminism and although this meant it was lacking in some ways for my current self, I can appreciate it’s worth as a ‘guidebook’ or ‘introduction’ to feminism and I am glad it exists as it does! Anna, one of the founders of GA, described the text in a similar way when I told her we would be reading it this month for the Bookclub.

Despite the fact that reading this essay didn’t completely blow me away, there were some parts of it that I found really interesting. For example, Adichie’s consideration that physical strength was the defining factor that made men the more powerful and important gender one thousand years ago. Through
discussing this she highlights the absurdity that this could ever be used as an
argument to promote gender inequality in our world today where, amongst other things, intelligence and creativity are valued much more highly. She puts it nicely stating, “We have evolved. But our ideas of gender have not evolved very much.”

Adichie’s forgiveness of the people who have been unintentionally misogynistic towards her throughout her life is also important. In describing her experiences of being on the receiving end of misogyny, for example in describing waiters who greet the man she is with but not her, she states “The waiters are products of a society that has taught them that men are
more important than women, and I know that they don’t intend harm’. Even though the way in which the men act anger and upset Adichie, she understands that they are not acting in such a way out of spite but rather because this is the way society has taught them to act. Although Adichie telling these men that they should also greet her might have made her feel better, it probably would not have changed the way they view gender and specifically women in society, but watching her TED Talk or reading her essay might have. It can take a great deal of energy calling out people every time they make a misogynistic comment and Adichie shows the importance here of picking and choosing when it is most productive to react. That said, of course sometimes it is totally okay to call people out when they are being blatantly and intentionally misogynistic and you’re always justified in doing so!

Even before watching the TED Talk, I read parts of the text in my head in Adichie’s voice and was confused why I recognized the line, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man.’ I soon realized that part
of Adichie’s essay/talk is included in Beyoncé’s song ‘Flawless’ which is why I
recognized what I was reading. For me, this reflects the accessibility of this
text because it is an example of how Adichie really brought this discussion into
the mainstream. I feel as if this text is really important for our generation
as it has been represented by many different forms of media and in a world
where media dominates, it is necessary that a message can be received on as
many platforms as possible and it is Adichie’s straightforward prose that allows for this to be the case.

Another aspect of the text I enjoyed was Adichie’s statement that women are portrayed as ‘inherently guilty’. This portrayal hugely affected me when I used to find excuses for the misogyny I experienced, particularly when I was groped and particularly when no one else knew about it because I was in a packed environment such as a gig. This victim-blaming mind-set was so harmful for me because society has taught us to ‘close your legs’ and ‘cover yourself’ as Adichie comments on in the text. I want to use this as a reminder to never blame yourself for being on the receiving end of misogyny.

Although Adichie has come under some controversy recently for her comments about transgender women, her discussion of gender in this text is seemingly pro-LGBTQ. She states ‘The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are.’ Although I wish Adichie would have further discussed the transgender community in this text, she regularly rejects stereotypes and traditional views of gender throughout. Again, it seems that she does not go into too much detail on the subject because she does not go into too much detail on anything in this text, it’s main drawback for me, but these subtle references help the reader more easily understand the experience of transgender people.

I think my favourite part of the essay is Adichie’s rejection of the so-called evolutionary argument. She states ‘Some people will bring up evolutionary biology and apes, how female apes bow to male apes- that sort of thing. But the point is this: we’re not apes.’ Simply put, this sounds so obvious! But I am regularly surprised about how when I express my thoughts on anything that people tend to disagree on, someone says ‘well, apes do it so it must be natural’ or ‘well, that’s how cavemen lived so it must be right’. We have evolved for a reason! We are supposed to be making progress socially and intellectually so it baffles me that people refer to our primitive ancestors or
to apes, who we can all agree are not as intelligent as humans, as a point of
reference.

Overall, I would recommend this essay. It wouldn’t necessarily be my first recommendation for someone who takes great interest in reading and feminism as I think, if you have the time and the want to do so, there are better and more informative texts to read. I would however recommend this to someone who has considerably less interest in either reading or feminism or both. Considering the short amount of time it takes to read though, it is worth a read for anyone who has the best part of an hour on their hands, maybe not even that if you’re a fast reader!

For the month of October, we will be reading ‘The First Collection of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic’ by Jessica Hopper. It was recommended to me for the Bookclub by a fellow GA rep, Sophia Simon-Bashall, and the title immediately caught my eye. It seems like a great fit for our campaign and although music criticism is not something I am particularly well read on, I am very much looking forward to giving this collection of essays a go!

If this book sounds like something you’d be interested in I hope you’ll join me in reading it over the next month. You can send us your thoughts on the text either on Twitter using the hashtag #GABookClub, email us at girlsagainstbookclub@gmail.com 

or join our GoodReads group and contribute to the monthly discussion by following this link- https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/230714-girls-against-book-club

The post discussing Jessica Hopper’s essay collection will be up on Sunday 5th November so keep an eye out on our Twitter page for the link then. And if you do have any thoughts on any of the essays then make sure you send them in before this date for a chance to be featured in next month’s post!

Written by Alice Porter (@aliceporterx on Twitter).

GA Book Club #2: The Colour Purple by Alice Walker

Welcome back to the Girls Against Book Club! For the month of August we have been reading ‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker, a novel first published in 1982 that follows the life of a black woman named Celie. It is set in rural Georgia during the period 1910-1940 and tells the story of the many struggles Celie and those around her face during this period in her life that she documents in a series of letters. I found this novel to be absorbing yet harrowing as it exposes many of the problems women of colour faced in the early 20th century and some of which they still face today.

I’m going to start by discussing the structure of the novel as I think it is an important feature of the text. The events of the novel are recounted through a series of letters written by Celie addressed to God for most of the novel, then eventually addressed to her sister Nettie. Initially for me, this epistolary form was confusing as the letters jump straight into the events of Celie’s life with barely any recognition of the context surrounding them. However, this structure reflects two very important aspects of the text. The first is that the letters portray Celie’s isolation, as she believes she has no one to confide in other than God as everyone in her life during the first part of the book – other than Nettie who eventually moves away – treats her cruelly. Celie’s letter writing and her increasing levels of freedom throughout the novel also depict how necessary literacy is in order to gain liberty. Walker also makes this clear at the beginning of the novel when Nettie encourages and helps Celie to improve her knowledge stating, “You got to fight. You got to fight.” Something that always interests me when learning about oppressed groups in the past and in the present is the efforts of the oppressors to prevent the oppressed from gaining an education and how vital knowledge seems to be for groups and individuals in gaining freedom. Alice Walker illustrates beautifully in ‘The Color Purple’ that knowledge truly is power.

‘The Color Purple’ is a novel that follows Celie’s increasing levels of self-awareness that she gains through the help of other women. This self-awareness is eventually what sets her free from many of the things that have oppressed her throughout her life. The two women who have the most influence on Celie’s journey of self-awareness are her sister, Nettie, and
Shug Avery. Nettie and Celie have a wonderful relationship that is at the heart
of the novel and whether Nettie is physically present in Celie’s life or is so
only through letters, she constantly supports and empowers her. At the beginning of the novel when Celie’s husband showers Nettie with compliments Celie explains, ‘He try to give her a compliment, she pass it on to me. After while I git to feeling pretty cute.’

Celie and Nettie’s bond created throughout their childhood and teenage years is so strong due to the dreadful things that they both endured, so much so that when Celie gives up on writing to God, she writes to Nettie instead. She does so because ‘the God I been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all the other mens I know. Trifling, forgitful and owdown.’ This is a hugely important moment for Celie as she realises that she should not worship God just because she is told to, just as she should not submit to the men in her life as she is told to. From completely accepting all of the awful things in her life and refusing to fight them, to denouncing everyone that has played a part in her struggles, even God, Celie gains a great deal of autonomy throughout the text despite the subjugation individuals and society have tried to implement on her.

When Nettie leaves to become a missionary, Shug Avery, who at the time is Celie’s husband’s girlfriend, takes over in Celie’s empowerment. Shug is perhaps the most mportant individual who directly influences Celie’s life as she encourages her to redefine life in her own terms and allows her to be herself completely, emotionally and sexually. This is exemplified by Shug’s assurance that Celie is still a virgin because although she has technically had sex, she had never enjoyed it. Shug continues to help Celie to abandon what she has been told about religion, sexuality and many of the other things she has been oppressed by as a black woman, as she engages in sexual relations with her leading to a lasting romance between the two and helps her open her own business. Celie’s relationships with the women in her life truly reflect the importance of female solidarity and portray the life-changing effects of looking out for the women around you.

Walker also effectively highlights the difference between the oppression white women face and the oppression black women face. This is portrayed through a story Sofia, a strong black woman, tells about the white woman she works for. She tells Celie that Miss Millie’s husband bought her a car but that he refuses to let her drive it and although this represents the oppression all
women felt because of the strict gender roles in the early 20th century, when reading this section of the book it seemed highly trivial to me compared to the things in which the black women had been through. I found this anecdote to be an interesting way to portray the privileges that people have and the importance of understanding intersectionality.

The final aspect of the text I wish to discuss is the way in which it dismantles gender stereotypes. There are so many examples of the way in which Walker does this throughout the novel but an important one is the conversation Celie has with her husband towards the end of the text. In discussing Shug and Sofia, two of the most outspoken women in the novel, Mr _____ states “Sofia and Shug not like men…but they not like women either” and in reply Celie says, “You mean they not like you or me.” This conversation portrays how restrictive stereotyping is as Celie’s husband is completely unable to describe the way in which these women are simply because they do not fit into a gender stereotype and Celie immediately recognises his narrow-mindedness and highlights it through that simple sentence.

As usual, I asked for your thoughts on the novel and I am really appreciative of people becoming involved with the book club as it’s always interesting to have multiple viewpoints of a text. We had an email from a girl called Alice this month who is doing a feminist reading of this text for her English coursework and contributed many interesting thoughts. Here are some of them:

‘For my essay I’m going to talk about gender roles as well and how with the characters of Sofia and Harpo the roles are almost reversed with Sofia beating Harpo rather than the other way round!’

 This is something I hadn’t considered in terms of gender roles and I think it is another example of the way in which Walker attempts to dismantle stereotypes. Thank you very much for your email Alice!

I think this is novel is a very worthwhile read as it not only has a gripping and emotive storyline but touches on so many issues surrounding gender and race. It is very well written and I became so attached to the characters that the last letter made me cry – I always think this is a good testament to a novel’s quality.

So, for the month of September the Girls Against Book Club will be reading ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ by Chimamand Ngozi Adichie. Adichie
is a Nigerian author and in this essay she offers a definition of feminism for
the twenty-first century. It’s a text that I’ve been meaning to read for a
while and it’s also relatively short, which I think will be good for the month
of September with many people not having as much time on their hands as they did during the summer months. Adichie also did a ‘TED Talk’ with the same title that you can watch if that works better for you- https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_we_should_all_be_feminists?language=en#t-3644

I hope you’ll join us in reading this essay! If you have any thoughts on the text or the author you’d like to contribute you can email us at
girlsagainstbookclub@gmail.com
or join our GoodReads group and contribute to the monthly discussion by following this link- https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/230714-girls-against-book-club

The post discussing ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ will be up on the Girls Against blog on Sunday 1st October so there is plenty of time to give it a read before then and I would love it if you did!

Written by Alice Porter (@aliceporterx on Twitter).