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).

How Anteros are Empowering The Girls at The Front

Photo taken by Harriet Brown (hatphoto.co.uk).

Empowerment through music is such an amazing and important thing, especially for girls. Anteros, an indie rock band from London who formed in 2014, proved the importance of this at their show at Jimmy’s in Manchester on Sunday 4th February.

Ready to spend my, usually chilled and centred around going to bed early, Sunday night singing and dancing away to the music of Anteros, I headed to Jimmy’s in the heart of the Northen Quarter of Manchester. Anteros were playing in this venue as part of Jimmy’s Independent Venue Week gigs and, although I didn’t attend any of the other shows, I feel like this energy-filled show was the perfect way to end this celebration of live music in unique venues.

The band were really friendly, making their way on to the stage by way of the crowd, chatting and hugging members of the audience on their way there. But as soon as the music started they were transformed into something out of  a music video; their performance started as soon as they stepped on to the stage.

Laura, the lead singer, especially was incredibly confident and entertaining. I was genuinely shocked at how amazing her voice sounds live and this accompanied by her energy-filled dancing made for an amazing performance. Her engagement with the audience was also really nice to see, holding her hands out to girls on the front row and putting her arms round them whilst allowing them to sing the songs together.

I turned to my friend at one point and told her ‘It’s amazing how much confidence she has, I’d never be able to get up on stage and do that!’ I’ve always admired women in bands who are so comfortable on the stage and entertain the audience effortlessly by completely allowing themselves to let loose and be who they are. Whether its Izzy from Black Honey, Rakel in Dream Wife or Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell, I always feel so empowered after watching women in bands perform and Laura’s performance was no different!

Towards the end of the gig, Laura spoke directly to the audience about her experience of lacking in self-confidence throughout her life and the troubles constantly comparing herself to the girls and women around her have caused. After assuring the audience that she now accepts and loves herself for who she is, she invited all of the girls in the audience onto the stage to dance with her to ‘Bonnie’, a song she wrote with the hopes of empowering the women listening to it.

Being on the stage and dancing around with all the other girls was SO empowering. After telling my friend minutes earlier that I’d never be able to get on the stage and be myself, there I was without a care in the world ‘dancing in the middle’, as the song lyrics go.

It made me realise how important it is for musicians to empower girls of all ages, but especially young girls, to be themselves and love themselves for who they are. Laura inviting us up on stage on Sunday night might have made even one girl realise that being in a band or creating music is what she what she really wants to do. Or made another girl who was feeling bad about herself regain confidence and feel empowered. It certainly kickstarted my week in a really positive way.

This encouragement is also vital within the indie/rock music scene, a scene that is dominated by male artists. Young girls who are just getting into this type of music and go straight for the ‘big bands’ will find themselves with little other choice than to listen to music by white male artists, providing them with little to look up to in terms of relatable role models. And although most of the music I listen to is by female-led indie/alternative/rock bands, most/all of them do not get the attention they deserve. This is a problem throughout the entirety of the music industry, as illustrated by some of this years festival line ups that are lacking completely in all aspects diversity (read our post on the Wireless line up here) and one that will not be solved overnight. However empowering girls and women to ‘pick up a guitar’ (as the saying goes), start a band or even just get involved with the music industry is such an important step in moving towards a more diverse community within music and actions like Laura’s really do make all the difference.

Girls supporting girls and women supporting women is SO important. Watching Anteros play on Sunday night reminded me to always support the women in my life in whatever they’re doing and I hope the smiling faces of all the girls on the stage had this same effect on everyone else at the gig too.

If you have the chance to see Anteros live, take it! This was my first time seeing them live and I had such a fun night. The band’s interaction with each other is incredible to watch and Laura is seriously cool- her voice and overall stage presence will have you captivated from the minute the show starts.

 

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).

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).

GA Book Club #1: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

‘Books are often far more than just books’ writes Roxane Gay in her essay ‘I Once Was Miss America’. This statement rings true to me when writing this blog post and epitomises why I want to use this book club to discuss important issues. The meanings and implications that many of the books I have read have helped shape my perspective of the world. ‘Bad Feminist’ was one of these books, as I first read it a couple of years ago when I was beginning to discover feminism as something that aligned with my beliefs, but was fearful to outright call myself a feminist in fear of ‘getting it wrong’. This book allowed me to realise that I could still be a feminist even if some of my past and present habits did not align with my beliefs, as long as I was working on improving these things. As the last line of the book states, ‘I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.’

‘Bad Feminist’ is very accessible, not only because of its conversational voice throughout but because of Gay’s complete willingness to admit that she is far from the ‘perfect feminist’, if such a thing really exists. The book also begins with the claim that feminism is flawed ‘because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed’. This is important to remember, especially for people who are quick to denounce feminism, and the statement allows a reader who is sceptical of feminism to find a middle ground with Gay, perhaps making them more willing to listen to what she has to say.

‘Me’

The first set of essays have a confessional tone, as does much of the book, as Gay, amongst various other things, goes into detail on her competitive scrabble wins and losses. These essays are humorous and portray Gay as relatable and charismatic to the reader, allowing her to discuss the hard-hitting issues this book is about whilst remaining approachable to the reader. This aspect of the text makes ‘Bad Feminist’ a really great book for someone who is still finding their feet as a feminist and is perhaps feeling overwhelmed, and Gay’s discussion of popular culture would also be useful for this reader as it is something most people can use as a reference point and reflects how the promotion of intersectional feminism is still absolutely necessary.

My favourite essay from this section is ‘Peculiar Benefits’ as Gay discusses the necessity of acknowledging privilege but the dangers of completely silencing those with it, which would create ‘a world of silence’. She claims: ‘we need to get to a place where we discuss privilege by way of observation and acknowledgment rather than accusation’, which is crucial as I have witnessed how excluding individuals from conversation has dwindled discussion rather than encouraged it.

‘Gender and Sexuality’

These essays have an autobiographical format, which allows Gay to use her own experiences to discuss gender and sexuality, whilst also considering their portrayal in popular culture.

In ‘How We All Lose’ Gay denounces the view that women should be grateful because of the progression of our position in society over the last 100 years, stating, ‘better is not good enough, and it’s a shame that anyone would be willing to settle for so little.’ As a woman who has been told that the cat-calling that makes me feel physically sick from vulnerability should be taken as a compliment, I can vouch for the fact that just because our rights have improved, we are yet to gain total equality. Gay states ‘if the patriarchy is dead, the numbers have not gotten the memo’ and, from my experience, neither have the men who shout sexual remarks at a women walking home alone at night.

‘The Careless Language of Sexual Violence’ is an essay that explores how damaging the casual ways in which we deal with rape can be, from living in a time that ‘necessitates the phrase rape culture’ to it’s gratuitous portrayals in television and film. Gay discusses how language is often used to ‘buffer our sensibilities’ from the brutality of sexual assault, leading to sympathy for the perpetrator and isolating the victim. This is something that is hugely relatable for me as someone who would shrug my soldiers when I was sexually assaulted at gigs saying things like, ‘they only pinched my bum, it’s not a big deal’ whilst feeling completely uncomfortable for the rest of the night, Even at a gig around a year and half ago when I spent the last two songs being grinded on and groped despite my clear unease and efforts to move away leading me to leave the gig early, I refused to accept to myself that I had been sexually assaulted and even attempted to make up excuses for the perpetrator in my head. Being sexually assaulted felt a great deal more significant than being ‘felt up’ but had I immediately accepted that that was what had happened to me, I know it would have been much easier to remove any responsibility for what happened from myself. This essay does a great job at bringing the importance of the language around sexual assault to light that, as Gay states, is not just careless but criminal.

In ‘Beyond the Measure of Men’ Gay discusses how the actions of women are often compared to and measured against those of men and portrays the prevalence of this this through certain books written by women being labelled as ‘women’s fiction’ but similar books written by men being simply fiction for everyone. She states ‘narratives about certain experiences are somehow legitimised when mediated through a man’s perspective’. This is something that I had never considered but found really interesting as a book-lover.

In the essay ‘Some Jokes Are Funnier Than Others’ Gay considers the humour behind rape jokes. She concludes that they not only serve to remind women that their bodies are open to legislation and public discourse but also that it is because sexual violence is embedded into our culture so deeply that people feel comfortable in making these jokes. Gay talks about her experience of rape in this book and, for me, her story alone would be enough to make rape jokes unfunny and completely insensitive. She also explains why women are allowed to respond negatively to misogynistic humour, ‘We are free to speak as we choose without fear or prosecution or persecution, but we are not free to speak as we choose without consequence.’

The final essay I’m going to discuss from this set is ‘Blurred Lines, Indeed’ as it discusses how music and feminism are linked – something that is particularly relevant to Girls Against. She looks at how rape culture is embedded and accepted in popular music such as in Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ that ‘revisits the age-old belief that sometimes when a woman says no she really means yes.’ Gay comments on how the culture that supports entertainment that objectifies women also elects lawmakers who work to restrict reproductive freedom. Gay describes this as a ‘chicken and the egg’ situation and as ‘trickle-down misogyny’. If we cannot deduce whether it is the lawmakers influencing the media or the media influencing the lawmakers should we really be willing to treat these songs as insignificant?

‘Race and Entertainment’

The next set of essays are significantly shorter, seemingly because they are much more focussed and specific than the previous set, as Gay discusses how race is portrayed in entertainment through considering various films and their significance.

The first essay is centred around The Help and Gay’s take on a film/book that I initially enjoyed was really interesting and helped me to see it in a different light. She explains how The Help is a white interpretation of the black experience and is ‘an unfairly emotionally manipulative movie’, offering us a ‘sanitised’ picture of the early 1960s portraying life as hard for white women, and slightly harder for black women, when in reality life for black women was immeasurably more difficult in segregated America. Gay also describes the black women in this book and film as ‘caricatures…finding pieces of truth and genuine experience and distorting them to repulsive effect.’ After reading this essay I can see that this film that I initially enjoyed was seemingly created for the purpose of enjoyment alone. It uses real historical events that are distressing to provide entertainment and not to truthfully portray the painful history of black Americans because if this were the film’s purpose, an accurate depiction of their experiences would have undoubtedly been more of a priority.

Gay feels similarly about Django Unchained, a film that I have not seen and so have less authority to comment on, describing it as ‘obnoxious’ and ‘indulgent’ as Tarantio uses a traumatic cultural experience to ‘exercise his hubris for making farcically violent, vaguely funny movies that set to right historical wrongs from a very limited, privileged position’. She also touches on the Oscars and how ‘Hollywood has very specific notions about how it wants to see black people on the silver screen’, as critical acclaim is often dependent on black suffering or subjugation. She asserts that despite this, audiences are ready for more from black film and I certainly agree with this- there is a great deal more to black experience and history than slavery.

In a further essay ‘The Last Day of a Young Black Man’ Gay discusses the detrimental effects of demonising young black men in contemporary cinema in reference to the shooting of 22-year old, defenceless Oscar Grant. The effects of the demonisation of young black men in society are terrifying and Gay’s examination of how this is reflected in film is harrowing.

Orange Is The New Black is the subject of the last essay in this set ‘When Less Is More’ as Gay explains how its source material concerning a privileged white woman serving a prison sentence will never be anything more than this. She also states that ,as black woman, she is tired of feeling like she should be grateful ‘when popular culture deigns to acknowledge the experiences of people who are not white, middle class or wealthy, and heterosexual’ and that the way in which we are focussing on OITNB’s attempt at doing this shows the extent to which we are forced and willing to settle.

‘Politics, Gender and Race’

These seven essays cover a broad range of issues and are much less focussed than the previous two sets. In the first essay ‘The Politics of Respectability’ Gay discusses the danger of encouraging respectability politics, stating that the targets of oppression should not be wholly responsible for ending that oppression. She uses examples to portray the problems in suggesting that just because one person from a marginalised group has been successful this does not mean everyone is able to reach this same level of success. This is an interesting essay that shows the many ways in which different groups of people can be diminished and the difficult consequences of this.

In perhaps my favourite essay of the entire book, ‘The Alienable Rights of Women’, Gay discusses reproductive healthcare and why it is so important to women’s freedom. Repeating the phrase ‘Thank goodness women do not have short memories’ throughout the essay, Gay explores how trivially reproductive freedom is discussed by certain politicians and why the ongoing debate surrounding it, usually instigated by men, is ‘the stuff of satire’. People have actually questioned me on why reproductive healthcare is a women’s rights issue and although I usually have a long and detailed answer to this, Gay sums it up neatly, ‘There is no freedom in any circumstance where the body is legislated, none at all.’

‘The Racism We All Carry’ explains how racism is embedded in pretty much all of us because ‘We’re human. We’re flawed. Most people are simply at the mercy of centuries of cultural conditioning.’ Gay comments on the fact that for many people, there are times when you can be racist and times when you cannot, depending on your company and setting. Sadly, I feel this is true for a great deal of people, proving Gay’s previous point.

‘Back To Me’

In the final set of essays, Gay plainly states that she ‘falls short as a feminist’ and describes the ways in which she does. Not only this but she describes how feminism has been ‘warped by misperception’ and that her main issue with it is that it ‘doesn’t allow for the complexities of human experience or individuality.’ Gay’s rejection of a prescribed form of feminism is really what makes her approach so accessible. She concludes in stating that although she might be a ‘bad feminist’, she is committed to the issues feminism promotes despite its issues and that it’s importance and necessity cannot be denied.

I enjoyed reading ‘Bad Feminist’ this time round as much as I did reading it for the first time, however there are some small issues I have with it. Gay’s complete acceptance in sometimes falling short as a feminist and straying from the principles that she believes in provides reassurance for the reader but perhaps too much leniency. It’s okay if some of your habits don’t completely align with your views but I think rather than completely accepting it, it’s important to work on changing them and improving yourself and Gay’s approach is often a little too laidback for me. I would have also liked Gay’s essays to have been more focussed on the topics they were supposed to be centred around according to the sub-heading they were under. Although I enjoyed the essays themselves, I felt like the way in which they were organised into sub-headings was a little bit lazy and last-minute and this is especially relevant to the penultimate set of essays, ‘Politics, Gender & Race’.

Despite these arguably minor issues I took with the book, I think it is great because it covers such a wide range of topics in an informative, thought-provoking way and I would recommend it to feminist newbies and veterans alike, so much so that I rated it 5 stars on Goodreads, which is rare to say the least! If you can’t get hold of the book, many of her essays are available online including some of the ones I have mentioned.

For the month of August, the Girls Against Book Club will be reading ‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker. If you aren’t familiar with this feminist classic, it’s a novel, first published in 1982, set in rural Georgia that focuses on the life of women of colour in the 1930s. I’ve wanted to read this book for a while and I hope that you will join me in reading or re-reading it!

If you do have any thoughts on ‘The Color Purple’, the Girls Against Book Club would love to hear them and we will feature any comments we particularly enjoy in the September blog post. You can send them to us any time before Sunday 3rd September by emailing us at girlsagainstbookclub@gmail.com or joining our GoodReads group and contribute to the monthly book discussion here.

Written by Alice Porter (@aliceporterx on Twitter).

GA Book Club: Welcome!

Girls Against began as a campaign that aimed to establish a discussion of the issue of sexual assault at gigs and although this discussion has been firmly established, we are still working on expanding it. Not only do we want to discuss the issue itself but we want to bring to light the issues surrounding it – i.e the deep-rooted attitudes installed in our culture that have made sexual assault at gigs commonplace. And with that, welcome to the Girls Against Book Club!

We hope to use this book club as an opportunity to discuss a range of important issues whilst amplifying the voices of people whose values are in alignment with the campaign’s. We want to encourage you to become more involved with the campaign by contributing your thoughts on the matter of discussion. Hopefully this will widen the scope of discussion surrounding intersectional feminism.

It isn’t going to be limited to one type of text – we’ll be including both fiction and non-fiction texts as well as poetry, which will hopefully mean you can get involved whatever genre you prefer! There will be opinions, reviews and ratings of each book on the first Sunday of every month on the Girls Against blog and this post will also include the book we’ll be reading for the following month. We hope that making this book club monthly will give everyone enough time to get hold of the book, read it and gather their thoughts on it.

The book we’re going to start with is ‘Bad Feminist’ by Roxane Gay, a series of essays on various issues that Gay discusses through her experiences as a woman of colour whilst also providing a commentary on the state of feminism today. The majority of the book is split into three main sections titled, ‘Gender and Sexuality’, ‘Race and Entertainment’ and ‘Politics, Gender & Race’, so seemingly it is a good one to kick-start our book club with as it focuses on many of the topics we hope to discuss.

As mentioned, we want you to get involved! This book club is going to be a discussion and so your thoughts and opinions on whichever book we’re reading will be very much appreciated! You can send us an email with your opinion at girlsagainstbookclub@gmail.com. Any comments on the book we particularly enjoy will be included in August’s post.

I’m really looking forward to using this book club to discuss the issues that are important to Girls Against and myself and I hope you are able to take advantage of it in the same way!

Written by Alice Porter (@aliceporterx on Twitter).