Thursday, 21 August 2014

Devouring Books: The Women's Room by Marilyn French

"What I'm trying to understand is winning and losing. Now the rule of the game is that men win as long as they keep their noses comparatively clean, and women lose, always, even extraordinary women."

The Women's Room is a book I hadn't even heard of until I saw it in a charity shop when I'd left the house without a book and needed something to read. I guessed, from the title, the blurb, and the fact that it's 'the kind of book that changes lives', that it would be feminist to a certain degree, but what degree that was I didn't know until I started reading. And oooooh, boy...

So, The Women's Room is sort of the tale of one woman, Mira, and her journey from excessively smart child, to reluctant wife and mother, to a divorced woman, to a graduate student. It's sort of about her, but it's also about all the women she's known, during all these roles, and the individual stories each one has to tell. It's written in such a way that you don't necessarily remember all the characters, and what they did, but you remember their stories because they've probably happened to you, or to women you know. Although it's fictional, The Women's Room does strongly relate to the roles and positions of women in the late 60s and early 70s in America.

Predictably, I loved it. It's not the kind of book you're going to like if you don't like authors strongly pushing their own agenda in a novel, sometimes to the detriment of narrative, but, having almost started my literary education with The Grapes of Wrath, I think that's something I'm ok with. There's a lot in this book that, even though it was written in the seventies, still resonates today, although there are some things that I think have improved, which is kind of a relief. I wouldn't say The Women's Room changed my life, but I can imagine that, as a woman right on the brink of second wave feminism, it might have been an earth shattering kind of read.

While this book mostly focuses on the women (obviously), the parts where the men are talked about are the parts where I think the most has changed. In Mira's married years, the men are described as kind of unknown entities, even to themselves. They're unadventurous, they go out to work and they come home, and expect certain things from their wives that their wives dutifully oblige*, and it's all very very Stepford wives-y (only it's not because we get to know how the women feel about all this). I feel like this is one part where things have changed, or are at least getting better, if only because people want more than they've had before and so both halves of couples tend to work now. I really do feel like the advent of feminism has made more men (I know not all men, of course not all men) willing and pleased to have equal roles in a relationship. So there's that.**

There are also parts in this book where women as male property is discussed, and there's even a passage that reads a lot like a recent thing I've read about women being disgusted that they have to say 'I have a boyfriend' before a man will leave them alone, because any reason like 'I don't like you' isn't good enough for men to leave them alone, only seeing the woman as another man's property will do that. Here's that passage:
"That a woman was not marked as the property of some male made her a bitch in heat to be attacked by any male, or even by all of them at once. That a woman could not go out in public and enjoy herself dancing without worrying what every man in the place was thinking, or even worse what they might do, seemed to her an injustice so extreme that she could not swallow it."
I mean, right?! In a way, I feel like this is a thing that's only gotten worse- in that, in my theory of utterly unproven investigation, I feel like, as much as some men have gotten better because feminism exists (see above), some have also become threatened by the whole idea of women being stronger, and encroaching on their territory, which I think has led to an increase in things like domestic violence, and sexual assaults and even just general assholery from men towards women.***

Basically, The Women's Room was everything I didn't know I wanted it to be. I think there were points where I wanted to know more about all of the women, but their stories were just included as cautionary tales to be moved on from as soon as possible, but on the whole, the wide variety of women's stories**** was just so interesting, and enveloping, and also kind of eye-opening. I suspect this was even more eye-opening to women who were just beginning to wake up to the idea of feminism, and I think this is just as important to read for its social history as it is in itself. But, what it is in itself is a damn fine book, so I guess it's kind of a win-win situation.

*Didn't that sound overtly sexual? It wasn't supposed to! I just meant, like, their dinner on the table, the kids in bed or at least clean already and so on.
**I know the whole issue is a lot more complicated than I'm writing about here, and studies show that women still do more housework and are expected to do the child rearing and I could go on about this for days, but for the sake of brevity, I'll say that things seem better, on the whole, than they are in this book and that's all I've got for you.
***I'm definitely oversimplifying here and, again, there's TOO MUCH to say that I'm not going to bore you with right now, BUT just as a flipside to my own argument, it could just be that domestic violence and sexual assualts and general everyday sexism are just more reported now than they have been before. Which is depressing in itself.
****That should probably be white, middle class women's stories, but there is at least a little bit of discussion about race that I appreciated

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Devouring Books: Freakonomics by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner

I read Freakonomics so fast that it didn't even make it to my 'currently reading' sidebar of shame. It made its way into my bag on a Tuesday morning, because I needed something new to read on the train, and by Saturday morning, I had raced through it, not only on public transport but also in spare minutes of my current, annoyingly busy life.

There's probably something you should know about me before I start talking about this book. I really hate economics, and when I say 'hate', I really mean 'don't understand'. I really think of economics as being a lot of smoke and mirrors, of governments saying 'the economy is weak' when really what they mean is 'this won't really affect you, but it will affect the richer people so to help them out, we're going to raise VAT' and I'm already at the limit of what I understand. I'm not even sure I know what I'm talking about right now, if I'm honest.

Freakonomics, though, is awesome. I didn't need to know anything about anything really economic to understand any of it, but I feel like I came away from it with a greater understanding of the wider point of economics (incentives/disincentives, anyone?) but more importantly, I got to laugh at the KKK on a train because those guys are RIDICULOUS (apparently they add 'kl' to the start of every word, so they'll go to a klavern to hold a klonversation and does anyone else find the KKK less scary already?)

The point of Freakonomics, other than to be completely awesome and hilarious and everything else, is to challenge our perceptions on things we believe almost instinctively to be true, by looking at the numbers behind them. You think all drug dealers are rich? You're basically only thinking of the top dogs*. You think it's in Real Estate Agents' best interests to make you the most money for your house? It's a lot less hassle for them to convince you to take the lower offer. You want to know why crime rates suddenly dropped in the 90s? You might have to go all the way back to Roe vs Wade and think of how many less unwanted children there were to turn to lives of crime for that one...

It's all just incredibly interesting, and presented in a way that means you can't not care about it- I think the real genius of it is that it's a collaboration between an economist and a writer, so if any of Levitt's ideas and studies were presented in a less than interesting way (I don't know if they were, but they might have been) then Dubner comes along and writes them in a way that makes you give a shit. Of course, the other real genius is that they're talking about real life things, not obscure financial things, so of course you're going to care if what you call your child makes a difference (not really) and if you should trust your real estate agent (again, not really) and how to win at online dating:
"In the world of online dating, a headful of blonde hair on a woman is worth about the same as having a college degree- and, with a $100 dye job versus a $100,000 tuition bill, an awful lot cheaper."
Good thing women don't only want to get married these days then, huh?

Basically, Freakonomics is the only thing I've ever read in my life so far that has made me care about economics. I learned some stuff, was amused by even more, and when I have kids, I won't think that taking them to museums and things will necessarily make them smarter. I'm really excited that Super Freakonomics is something that exists, and I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for it so I can read it soon.

*To be fair, I've seen The Wire so I didn't think all drug dealers are rich. The guys on the street, also the guys most likely to die, pretty much earn the least.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Sunday Sundries: My Week In Bullet Points

I really have no brain power to say anything useful right now, but here are some bullet points of my life this week:

  • I worked an evening shift on Wednesday, which meant that I could happily go to Whole Foods on Thursday and buy vegan marshmallows and gummy sweets* so, you know, it was a lose/win situation
  • An entire rundown of my Wednesday: Woke up too early, did yoga, had a shower, went to say a final goodbye to Becci (my ex-housemate/friend etc), had lunch at my grandad's, went to the hospital to see dad, saw sister who had been in Toronto/NYC (and got presents!), went to work, came home, watched The Great British Bake Off, fell asleep, got woken up by housemate coming in, literally stumbled off to bed. It was a long ass day on not-enough sleep.
  • Which, really, has been the theme for the week. I've had a headache nearly every day, and not enough free time for anything, really.
  • Except, that is, watching Robin Williams films because oh my god, have I mentioned how sad I am about this? I literally cried on Tuesday morning (which doesn't surprise me because I'm still emotional about, well, everything right now) which I totally wasn't expecting: I don't think I really thought about him a lot, but at the same time, it's like he's always been there, you know? I think anyone growing up in the 90s probably saw a LOT of Robin Williams films.
  • What I watched: Jumanji (ohhhh yeah!), Awakenings (which I hadn't seen before but was pretty awesome/sad), Good Will Hunting (So amazing. I've now seen it three times in less than a year which is unprecedented for how I watch films now) and, of course, Aladdin- my favourite regularly animated Disney film**. 
  • I've also decided I need to watch Dead Poet's Society, because it's RIDICULOUS that I haven't- I realised that I haven't because there's this episode of Friends where the woman who's stolen Monica's identity says "Did you ever see Dead Poet's Society? I came out of that movie and thought, 'Well, that's two hours of my life I'll never get back.'" Why have I been taking movie advice from a fictional criminal? It's difficult to say...
  • New housemate came back from holiday this week, so I've had to get used to there being 4 people in the house again. It's fairly ok, but I'm not very good with new people so I'm like some kind of housecat trying to figure out the new inhabitant or something. He's totally fine, I am my own problem!
  • Yoga has kind of become my punishment for not running, which I haven't done since July (a combination of fear of falling over like I did the last time I went, and also it being TOO HOT***
  • I got emails on Friday telling me about my introductory day for my Masters and reminding me how soon that is (SO soon). I'm still really excited, but also scared, but also excited and ALSO a little bit tired by the whole idea. The fact that right now I basically have no spare time and I'm trying to add full-time studenthood to that... It's a little bit scary. But still, I shall make it work, because I need it to.
Annnnd, that's been my week. It has gone by in no time at all, and not in the good way that usually implies. But still, another week is another chance to do better so we shall see how this one goes. I hope yours is too good to be true.

*Which I have now lost, but I'm sure they'll turn up... Hopefully...
**I know that's a cop out, but my favourite Disney/Pixar film is The Incredibles, and my favourite non-animated Disney film is Mary Poppins, and how am I meant to choose between them? HOW?!
***Not really a concern now, I'll admit. I'm aiming to go today, but who knows? Otherwise, punishment yoga it is!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

"It's *exhausting* being cynical."

Oh heyyyy, remember how there was a readalong and it finished and I didn't write anything because my life has become a joke of responsibility and having to do things and having very little free time where I'm actually conscious? (I fell asleep watching The Great British Bake Off last night. Something has to give) Anyway, there was a readalong and it's finished now and it would be pretty redundant of me to write almost anything about this last section (and can I remember it in its entirety? Not really) because no one's going to really care, and yet I am going to finish this like I started it- with grand enthusiasm, and a sleepy, sleepy brain.
Or, what I really mean is, I'm kind of going to sum up my feelings about the book and possibly mention some stuff from the last bit. Who knows, let's see.

SO. I was really happy that Johanna kind of went 'hang on a minute, what am I doing?' by being all sexual objecty rather than sexually in charge, but I'm also kind of pleased that her epiphany didn't have to be 'oh my god, I've been being treated not really as a person but as a thing, therefore I must never have sex again', but more 'I must seize control of my own sexual future which does not mean that I can't have sex with whoever I want whenever I want' (feminism, bitches). I also thought the self harm thing was really nicely handled- it was horrible and distressing, and it was supposed to be, but it was interesting that it was a one time thing, and Johanna intended to use the scars as a reminder never to feel that way again, whereas self-harming is often represented as something desperate people do over and over again, and never ever learn from.

(I'm not saying that that's not sometimes the case, in fact I know it is, but I also think there's another side to it that isn't always presented, in that people can be driven to self harm and then also go oh no. I will never do that again, and actually stick to it. Also I realise I'm rambling a bit now... Ok, back to the point, if there is one...)

So! This seems to me to be a pretty good mission statement for life: "I believe in music and gin and joy and talking too much, and human kindness." I'm pretty sure this is already Frances's life motto since all of those things are totally applicable to her, and, you know, she's pretty cool, I like her a bit. Incidentally, Frances has also been reading How To Build A Girl (she's the person who introduced me to Caitlin in the first place, so this makes complete sense) and texted me because she was horrified that one of Tony Rich's posh friends was called Frances... I couldn't be as horrified because COME ON, that is totally a posh name.
Now that I've fully Goslingised this post... I think one of my favourite things of the whole book, more than the revolutionary wanking, more than all the stuff about poverty and living on benefits and everything like that, was the kind of battle cry of 'don't be cynical. Or at least try not to be.' This resonates with me quite a lot, because I have, at times, been the most cynical person in the world. I'd rather hate things than love things, and I'd rather moan about things I don't like than gush about things I do. And you know what? Johanna, Caitlin, whoever is completely right- it's EXHAUSTING. It's hard to share the things you love because other people might not get it, or might not feel the same, but in the long run, it's so much harder just hating things all the time. I probably haven't been as cynical as I used to be for quite a long time now, but I feel like HTBAG has pointed out to me why I used to be, why I still find it easier to be mean about things than loving about other things, and has reminded me that hey- maybe I shouldn't do that anymore.

So, to summarise: This book is awesome. I don't know if I could have loved it any more, except maybe if Krissi had actually come out- but then again, I've heard that it's going to possibly be a trilogy and therefore, patience my friends, am I right? A giant thank you to Emily for hosting the readalong, and hey, don't forget that if you're in America you can totally preorder the book here (and you definitely should). Apologies for not exactly sticking to the schedule, but I'm pretty impressed with myself for getting all the posts in anyway! Go me..?

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Sunday Sundries: Grrrrrrrr...

This week's Sunday update could have gone one of two ways- I was either going to tell you about things I've watched recently (I have serious feelings about Ducky from Pretty in Pink) OR I was going to rant about a couple of things about fat that I've read recently. Since I seem to have woken up in a bit of a mood, guess which of these it's going to be...

(Aside: Hi, guys! In general life, things have slowed down a tiny bit, although I've still been way busier than I would like. Notable things this week: I ate about a million pizzas (or, you know, 3), said goodbye to my beloved housemate/friend, celebrated my other friend's birthday (with pizza), and got a little bit promoted at work- so all in all, not too shabby! Flip side: papa's still in hospital, I'm still tired, I haven't been running for about a month. Aiming to change at least the last of those today)

So. Here are the two infuriating things, let's discuss.

1) I read this article on the Daily Mail website (I know) a few weeks ago, and pretty much responded to it, out loud, with a string of profanity and then some throwing of my phone (onto my bed, I'm not an idiot). If you don't want to read it, because you're a sane and sensible person who doesn't want to stab themselves in the face today, the title of the article is 'Why are today's young women so unashamed about being fat?' (I KNOW) and it's basically an attack on fat people who dare to be happy in front of her.

Literally, this idiot's starting point is in an airport, waiting to go on holiday, and she's upset that there are fat people in front of her who are happy. When they're also waiting to go on holiday. From this starting point, this clearly means that all young, fat women are happy, all the time, and how dare they? Don't they know that they're disgusting flabby messes who should be constantly ashamed of themselves, and shouldn't be happy until they've starved themselves to a size that will please this one, stuck up, moron?

The main issue I have with it, though, is that this person literally thinks we live in a world where fat people are more accepted than skinny ones. This is an actual quote:
"We live in a society in which it has become ok to shame people for being skinny, but to come out and say 'You're fat. Not healthy, not a good look' would be tantamount to a crime."
I don't know where she lives, but it can't be here because that's the least accurate description of British, and Western society I've ever read. We actually live in a society where if you're not skinny, then you're nothing; where fat is discriminated against and openly mocked and commented on in the street, and where bitchy writers can be bitches online and think it's ok to comment on other people's bodies. You know what? It is not ok to comment on other people's bodies.

Since she probably doesn't actually know any fat people, she absolutely has no ideas what the girls she sees at the airport (or generally in the streets- you know, the ones she wants to tell to go on a diet) go through on a regular basis, and even if they don't get shamed for their bodies on the regular, and genuinely are happy with themselves, then they are fucking unicorns and there's no way that's a bad thing.

Basically, privileged white ladies who don't know anything about anything shouldn't write things for national newspapers. But when that newspaper is the Mail, then what the hell did I expect. And I know, I know, clickbait, but Jesus Fucking Christ, just why? Why.

2) In slightly less depressing news, but along the same lines, the Great British Bake Off is back (wooo!)  and the first contestant to leave was Claire Goodwin, a *gasp* fat women who is also adorable and has a pretty great fringe. During the airing of the show on Wednesday night, Goodwin actually had to put up with a whole string of tweets calling her fat. Which is just fucking fabulous, nice work Britain.

So, in response to said unnecessary tweets, Goodwn wrote a blog post that's pretty great, and has been summarised on Buzzfeed here, but this is hands down the best part:
"If we cannot as human beings monitor our own social conduct, then we must look to our companions to guide us. So maybe that is the answer. These so called trolls don't have any significant social contact to help them monitor their own behaviour. No one cares enough or is close enough to guide them. I'd rather be fat."
Translation: Yep, I've got a belly, but you guys have literally no friends or family that cares about you. Get a fucking grip on yourselves and start forming relationships before you DIE ALONE. I'll just be over here, enjoying my cake and my life and my social relationships.
The main reason all of this is so incredibly frustrating is that we're never talking about men. We're never talking about flabby dudes, chubby guys, men with guts. Their bodies belong to themselves, and they're not taught to be ashamed of them in the same way women are, over and over and over again. Any time a woman is being fat shamed, it's basically like saying to them 'what are you doing? Why are you trying to be unattractive to men? Do you even want to get married?' which is so ridiculous that I can't even because OH MY GOD not everyone has the same taste in people, and OMG maybe that's not all we can strive for in this world, you know? Men are allowed to do what they want because they are the menfolk and we must bow down to them, but women? You'd best be doing exactly what they tell you to, or you've pretty much failed at life.
THE END (I will probably be less angry next week. Perhaps.)

Monday, 4 August 2014

"I do not think I would have been me at any other time. I would not have been allowed."

So, this was the section that was all about sex, huh?
We can get to that later, but first we'll talk about a little bit that wasn't about sex... but instead about how Johanna's parents won't take any money from her. Whether or not this is foolish, I think both that it was incredibly decent of Johanna to offer it to them (even if it was motivated by guilt), and incredibly decent of her parents not to take it. The last thing they want in the world is to be supported by their teenage daughter, and maybe the thing they want most is for her to make it. Somewhere, and somehow, they want her to make it in a way they maybe haven't.

And then there was all the sex.
I like how, once again, sex isn't so much included to be titillating, but to be more realistic and sometimes maybe a little bit too realistic- the cystitis chapter (if you will) made me want to cover my lady parts and scream in horror, so yeah. Did not want. But anyway, it's a lot more an exploration of what sex is and sometimes isn't, especially for women, and once again Caitlin has been amazing at not going 'oh, look how sexy it was' but rather 'yeah, I kind of tore the skin a little bit.' And she gets 10,000 points for this: 
"'The skin was dead soft, like baby cardigans, and it curved a little to the left- I think because he's left-handed and it bent that way from wanking. I was dead proud of working that out. I felt like... David Attenborough, working out what some ants were doing.'"

Maybe the most interesting part of this whole section was Johanna's page or so on exactly why she's being SO MEAN in her reviews. I get this in a certain way, because I always find it easier to write about things I hate than things I love. I didn't really know why this was, other than because it's really fun being mean about stuff, but I feel like Johanna really nails it here. It's easier to write about things you don't like because you've got nothing invested in them. If you hate something, you can hate it as much as you like and it doesn't cost you anything, because you're comfortable putting that opinion out there, and comfortable in writing it off.

When it's something you love? It's much harder to talk about why you love it, because that reason is often something deeply personal, or too tied up in your personal history to even begin to explain. It's difficult to explain the ways you love something, because the way you love it could be different from the way other people do, or, worst of all, they might not love it at all. I do constantly go 'I LOVED THIS SO MUCH, READ IT', but when it comes down to talking honestly about the reasons I did, it's a lot harder to pin down, or just to discuss. Or, to put it another way:
"It is a million times easier to be cynical and wield a sword, than it is to be open-hearted and stand there, holding a balloon and a birthday cake, with the infinite potential to look foolish."
It is. But I work on it, you know? Genuine emotion is a lot better than forced cynicism, if you ask me.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Sunday Sundries: Oh, wow

Do you ever get to a point in your life where literally everything has been happening at the same time, and so many huge things are going on that each new one just kind of feels like white noise on top of white noise on top of... Well, you get the idea. And when you reach this point, each new thing is kind of welcomed with an 'eh' rather than a 'woah'? Yeah, basically I'm a little burnt out on new stuff happening.

To be fair (and slightly more specific)- most of these big things aren't technically happening to me. So, hey, remember how I said my cousin was having a baby? SHE HAD A BABY- so, much bigger for her than for me. 
Still pretty big for me

Also this week, my beloved housemate/friend moved out officially (booo) and an Australian man has taken her place (as I write this, I have met him for approximately 5 minutes... He seems very nice!) which makes me officially queen of the house. Which I can't complain about. Again, this house move is bigger for both of them, but am I totally affected? I am. Am I acting like Becci (said ex-housemate, current friend) is dying? A little bit (quote of the week: "This will be my last Yum Yum Tree [our favourite chinese] ever." "I'M NOT DYING.")

And that's just this week, really. Over the last month I've moved workplaces, tied down that whole Masters dealy (i.e. I paid a deposit, so now I really have to do it) have been to the hospital way more times than I'd like, and really the fact that I've just kept on trucking is sort of impressive to me. I have been known to buckle under the pressure of a lot of change, but maybe when that change is in the right directions*, or at least in directions I don't mind turning, then it's all ok.

Or maybe I'm just kidding myself and will have an inevitable nervous breakdown when things have calmed down somewhat. But I don't think that's how it's going to go. 

So, to sum up, things are happening and I am ok with them but if things could maybe happen a little bit less then that would be good and I would be ok with that, too. Basically, this is sort of an information post, but it's mostly here to stop me from ranting about the whole Israel thing because maaaaan do I have some fairly not-well-informed-politically, but morally-well-informed opinions on that whole mess. I try to save those kind of rants for people I know in life, just to keep them on their toes. Or something.

(Here's what I will say- how can America sell many, many arms to Israel and then go 'naughty Israel! You probably shouldn't do that or something but here you go, have another tank, shhhh'? Pluuuus many more thoughts. You don't want them all. You just don't.)

May your weeks be wonderful, but maybe a little bit less big-life-stuff-y than mine was this week. Just, for your own sakes, ya know?

*Not that Becci leaving is a step in the right direction! But I understand how it's good for her and not a terrible horror for my life. Oh yeah, and that whole hospital thing, but sadly, I'm kind of used to that at this point.