Top Eleven Favourite Books of 2014

These are my top eleven favourite books of 2014 in no particular order:

Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place

There is little I can say to give this book justice but Kincaid’s essay on the impact of colonialism, slavery, and corruption in Antigua as seen through the prism of reality/unreality (tourism) is a must read.

Lynn Harne’s Violent Fathering

Harne’s text needs to be read by every single person involved in the family courts, child protection, police and politicians since she debunks the theory that children need fathers, even violent ones, in their lives. Harne examines all the research which demonstrates that children are actively harmed by domestic violence and that forcing women to continue to relationships with a violent partner for the ‘sake of the children’ is all about men’s rights to women and children as possessions and not about the children. She makes it clear that despite this evidence on the harm violent men do to children (and their mothers) government policy insists on the rhetoric children need fathers because of misogynistic, patriarchal assumptions about men’s rights. Preventing violent men from continuing to abuse their former partners through contact with their children is not what is best for children – particularly when these men continue to commit financial child abuse through the withholding of maintenance.

Lorraine Radford & Marianne Hester’s Mothering Through Domestic Violence

This is another essential read for anyone working in social services, education, the criminal justice system, family courts and anyone blaming the victims of domestic violence instead of the perpetrator. Hester and Radford approach the issue of mothering from a variety of ways making practise recommendations from research evidence and knowledge of the law. They also make it clear how the separation of children from mothers, within social services, when dealing with domestic violence causes both groups harm, particularly with the government policy to encourage women to leave violent relationships with very little in terms of practical support and legal protection to offer them and the increase of violence for many in the post-separation period. Effectively, this book is clear evidence that the current responses to domestic violence, in law and practice, work to undermine mothers and blame them for their own victimisation. Far too little professional intervention is aimed at the perpetrators. Good practice should be based on the individual needs of mothers and children, not on the rights of violent men.

Anita Rau Badami’s Can you hear the nightbird call? and Tamarind Mem

I read these whilst in Canada caring for my sister. Can you hear the nightbird call? follows three women after the partition of India, migration to Canada exploring family, love, hate and the seeds of terrorism. Tamarind Mem is the story of Kamini and her mother Soroja, and confronting the past. It is about the love and difficulties which bind mothers and daughters everywhere. These are both incredibly beautiful books and were read at a time in my life when family, love and hate were rearing their heads in my personal life.

Marilyn French’s War Against Women

This book is 25 years old but still relevant. The war against women continues unabated – but with more violence and hatred.

Lydia Cacho’s Slavery Inc.: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking

Slavery Inc. is incredibly heartbreaking as Cacho tracks the rape traffickers and their victims from Mexico to Turkey, Thailand and the US exposing their not-so-hidden connections with tourism, pornography, illegal drugs trade, arms dealing, money laundering, terrorism and the illegal trade in body organs. The first person interviews with all who are involved in this industry  make this a truly powerful, if terrifying, book.

Denise Thompson’s Radical Feminism Today

The book was based on Thompson’s PhD entitled: Against the Dismantling of Feminism: A Study in the Politics of Meaning which is a much better title considering the book is about defining feminism and not about the state of radical feminism today (or as it was in 2001). Why the publisher thought the title Radical Feminism Today was an appropriate title for a book on defining feminism is, frankly, boggling.

Thompson is a radical feminist and her definition of feminism is about male domination. In this she critiques a wide variety of feminist  and non-feminist writing which use terms like patriarchy, gender and sex without referencing biology or the reality of male domination and male supremacy. A feminism which does not recognise this reality is not, in fact, feminism.

Thompson deals with the issues of gender, race and class by insisting on the primacy of male domination and supremacy: women all suffer from the effects of the Patriarchy which is historically and culturally contextually whilst acknowledging the importance of multiple oppressions in how women experience Patriarchy. A major theme throughout the text is that we simply are not working with defined terms; instead we allow them meanings which do not have biological realities (gender). In order to do feminism, we must define what it is we mean by feminism and cannot simply be by women for women otherwise it is reduced to the idea that everything a woman does is feminist because a woman does it. Feminism has to recognise male supremacy and domination or it is simply irrelevant.

Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy

Lerner’s thesis is based on the belief that women’s oppression is based on both women’s potential reproductive ability and their potential as sex objects which occurred before the creation of private property and a class society. This is then institutionalised in practise through the creation of slavery, the codification of laws and the creation of monotheism. Lerner’s thesis is, obviously, far more complex than that brief sentence and her work deserves more thought than I’ve written.

Beatrix Campbell’s End of Equality

Marina S. wrote a fabulous review of this text for Trouble & Strife that says better than I can why this is such an important book:

As is often the case with the best of feminist writing, this slim volume makes clear something which has been stubbornly inexplicable: what went wrong for the feminist movement? Why was our revolution unfinished? How could we have failed so badly (we think) when seemingly so close to achieving our goals? Two generations of feminists have wrestled with these questions, quite often wrestling with each other in the process. Recrimination and antagonism was bred from a frustrating failure of the liberal paradigm to explain the backlash of the 80s and beyond. If history always marches towards greater equality, and we are not seeing that equality manifest for women, then the fault, the thinking goes, must be in us: we have failed to be inclusive; we have failed to understand race; we have failed to take the correct attitudes to sexuality, marriage, domestic labour, sex work.

In contrast to this soul-searching, Campbell locates the seeming retreat of feminism in a squarely material framework. The reassertion of capital’s power after its brief post-World War II retreat rolled back or arrested not only feminist politics, but the civil rights movement, the student rebellions and other political liberation movements that were active in the 60s and early 70s. What she terms the ‘neo-patriarchal’ paradigm congealed around and in support of the neoliberal economic and political turn in global affairs in the last third of the 20th century. Not just Britain and the US, but countries as politically diverse as China and India went through processes of ‘liberalisation’ beginning in the 70s, and the impact of these changes on women has often been profoundly regressive.

The biggest philosophical difference between neoliberal, patriarchal politics and feminism is that the former is profoundly pessimistic. Human nature in the neoliberal reading is base, selfish, violent and grasping – and incapable of reform. All radical politics is embedded in a confidence that people will strive to cooperate, coexist and care for each other if the material conditions they find themselves in don’t militate against it.

It is no coincidence, in this view, that we live in an age of war without end; an unintelligible series of local skirmishes and conflicts in which women, and the cooperative, relational social capital they nurture, are often the hardest hit, not as accidental ‘collateral damage’ but through deliberate acts of mass rape and disenfranchisement that hit purposefully at the heart of social existence. Violations of human rights, in Campbell’s phrase, ‘are not side effects, but a decisive methodology’. Feminism’s project, in her view, is to bear witness to the ‘wit and heroism that makes up everyday life amid chronic violence’.

Anna Politkovskaya’s A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya

It feels like I have read this book a thousand times. This is just another war with another brave woman crossing into hell to report on genocide, mass rape and the real consequence of capitalism. I have read it a thousand times reading testimonies of Holocaust survivors – Odette Abadi, Eva Brewster, Ruth Elias. I’ve read it when the countries named were Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bangladesh. I’ve read Linda Polman’s catalogue of failures of UN peacekeeping forces in Somalia and Haiti. I have read it in Beverly Allen’s Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia  and Anne Llewellyn Barstow’s War’s Dirty Secret: Rape, Prostitution, and Other Crimes against Women. I have read Judith Zur’s research into memories of violence among Mayan Indian war widows. I have read about the Rape of Nanking and the slaughter of civilians at Mai Lai. And, I read every blog posted on Women Under Siege about BurmaNorth KoreaLibyaSri Lanka Darfur and countless other war zones where sexual violence is an intrinsic part of genocide. I have read feminist texts like Beatrix Campbell’s End of Equality  which demonstrate the direct link between capitalism and the oppression of civilian populations through sexual violence and war.

The names of the perpetrators change. The name of the conflict zone changes. The civilian populations targeted change. The names of the reporters changes. The names of those murdered grows longer. But, still the Twentieth Century remains one where genocide, mass rape and torture were normal – a  century where more people lived in abject poverty without access to clean water, sanitation and even food in order to perpetuate a capitalist economy that privileges very few.

Anna Politkovskaya’s text is powerful, distressing and enraging. It is a catalogue of torture, murder, rape and the acceptability of concentration camps all whilst the rest of the world looks on and does nothing. It is about men’s desire to exert control and power: to control natural resources, including people. We allow children to starve to death and grandmothers to perish from preventable diseases despite having the ability to prevent them because it would interfere with men’s desire for power.

Trashing Boxing Day sales ignores structural poverty within the capitalist-patriarchy

My FB and twitter feed are full of people commenting that they wouldn’t dream of going to the Boxing Day sales – just as it was on Black Friday. I can understand the desire to comment on rampant consumerism that our capitalist-patriarchy is predicated on, but targeting the people buying in these sales is not appropriate because it completely ignores the issue of poverty.

I believe that the patriarchy will not be smashed unless we also destroy capitalism. There is no way to make capitalism ‘fair’ – it will always be predicated on the exploitation of the unwaged labour of women as carers for children and family and the the labour of people who live in “non-industrialised/non-Western” (or whatever othering term is being used this week).

Advertising makes us believe we are shit parents for not buying our kids the must-have toys of the season. We know it’s a scam to make rich men richer and that our kids won’t be scarred for life if we don’t buy them the toy, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t buy the toys because we don’t want our kid to be the one missing. As a single parent, I’ve always shopped in the sales. This is why we have the entire first edition of the Lego Harry Potter castle (75% off at Tescos), Playmobil school (50% off), pink micro-t scooter (25% off plus free delivery but only if you get the pink one) and numerous Barbies, Polly Pockets and My Little Ponies (both the branded and non-branded ones). Did I need to buy these for my daughters as a single parent? No. Did I still line up on Boxing Day, first day of the annual Playmobil sale at Toys’R’Us ( 40% off & if you spend £40, you get a ‘super’ set worth £20 free!) and Black Friday. You betcha.

They didn’t make me a better mother and they didn’t compensate for my eldest daughter’s father being a dick and either failing to even make contact at Christmas (having not paid child support all year) or sending her a puzzle for 18 month olds when she was 6. I still shopped on those big sales day because I didn’t want my kid to be the one at school who didn’t have a gazillion presents to talk about. And, I know most of these are made by people, including children, who are making less than a pound a day and frequently live without clean water and sanitation. It feels shit being in this position but I’m very lucky compared to many single parent households as I never lived under the poverty level.

So many women, and it almost always women, live in poverty because men refuse to financially support their children and the state colludes with these men by allowing them to perpetuate financial child abuse. The state, and increasingly NGOs, collude with multi-national corporations forcing huge swathes of the population of the planet into poverty with farm subsidies in ‘industrialised’ countries, commodifying water, running a “war on drugs” when we have a worldwide shortage of medicinal morphine & have destroyed the cash crops of indigenous famers, and denying workers a living wage (whether they be living in a slum in India or in London).

Capitalism requires people to live in poverty in order to continue. We need to challenge the corporations like Apple (I say typing on my new Apple computer bought on credit card as my old one was dying) who build their products in inhumane conditions or Nestle, who continues to promote their formula in areas with no access to clean water despite the fact that this actively kills babies, or any company who participate in the arms trade – all of whom are culpable in mass genocide.

Yes, there are many people buying in the sales who are ‘middle class’ but let’s talk about why they feel the need to line up at Next at 4 in the morning  for sales. Are they buying work clothes that they can’t afford at normal prices? Buying bags to make them look ‘professional’ at job interviews? Clothes for the kids to wear on weekends (since school uniforms are more expensive because it forces you to buy two sets of clothes)? School shoes which are grossly over-priced and completely impractical for girls to play in? Are they buying that TV because it’s the only form of entertainment they have?

Instead of denigrating people who buy at these sales, let’s talk about the capitalist-patriarchy, consumerism and poverty. Let’s examine why it’s considered acceptable to denigrate those who shop on Boxing Day but not those who line up in the week before Christmas spending thousands to have the Perfect Christmas. After all, spending hundreds on one toy the week before Christmas is as damaging to the planet as it is to spend 1/2 on the same toy on Boxing Day.

#DickheadDetox: Matthew Sanders for being a selfish tosser

This as swipe, having had a massive temper tantrum at being caught illegally parking in a parking space for people with disabilities has chosen to spend the whole day wasting the time of police officers, traffic wardens and blocking a parking space. This is so quintessentially entitled male behaviour that it’s almost impossible to believe it’s true. But, no, Matthew Sanders, currently of Birmingham but hopefully soon a guest of His Majesty, is genuinely having a huge tantrum because he got caught illegally parked:

A driver who parked in a disabled bay is in a stand-off with Birmingham City Council – after jumping back into his car to stop it being towed away.

Double glazing salesman Matthew Sanders, 34, is still inside his Vauxhall Tigra, which is now on the back of a low loader in Birmingham city centre.

The drama began when he was given a ticket for parking in a disabled bay.He said he was then angered when wardens tried to tow the car, which he said was not causing an obstruction.

I’ll be here all day. They have targets. This is private corporations ripping people off at Christmas.This is my only form of transport and need it for work and I’ve got to pick my daughter up from her mum’s.The council is short of cash and is trying to load my car up to cost me more money.I can’t afford to get it released so if they try to get me out I’ll just write it off.

– MATTHEW SANDERS

See, he’s got reasons for  being an asshole: like having a job and a kid. Weirdly, lot of other people have jobs and kids and don’t behave like gigantic fucking tosspots. And, ruin everyone else’s day with public displays of arrogance, narcissism and general fucking stupid.

I live in hope this dude with be billed for all the wasted hours of the traffic wardens, police, tow truck driver and everyone else caught up in his whinge-fest.

Bad Feminist Alert: I bought lego friends

LEGO-Friends-on-Fire

(image from here)

Granted, I’m being somewhat facetious here since buying your kid the toy they asked Santa for doesn’t make the Top 500 List of Things Bad Feminists Do. When Lego Friends first appeared, I swore up and down I would never buy them. And, here I am wrapping several sets from Santa.  With my teeth clenched. Muttering rude words about the capitalist-patriarchy. Feeling like a sell-out. But, Small wanted them so I bought some.

I had this horse riding stable as a child:

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This is the lego friends version:

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Lego is a brilliant toy, but I want them to have non-gendered Lego. We do have the Harry Potter castle which is fabulous – as long as you don’t touch it. The moment you try to connect the sets together, they all collapse on each other. This might be why I found most of the original sets in Tescos for 75% off.

Small actually wanted the shopping mall, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy it:

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I’m not entirely sure why she wanted the shopping mall since she breaks out in hives within 2 blocks of a real one and has been fairly consistent in her belief that Marks & Spencers are the main entrance to the Underworld – although, to be fair, anyone who has been shopping with my mother thinks this way too. Even Playmobil, usually the sensible toy maker, has made a shopping mall:

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I tried to balance feminism with Lego’s pink palace shite and bought the following sets:

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and I got the Research Institute (which is 1/3 via Lego Direct than it is on Amazon)

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I’m going to build a research centre in the jungle so the lego friends characters can help run the nature reserve where the centre is located. I may even toss in some information about Dian Fossey.

Because I am absolutely not over-thinking this at all.

 

This is the reality of male violence:

6 Dead, 1 Wounded and Gunman on the Loose in Montgomery County Shooting Spree

Officials have not released a motive for the shooting, but several of Nicole Hill’s neighbors and friends said the woman feared for her life as the two went through a bitter custody dispute.

“She knew and [Bradley] would tell her that he was going to kill her,” said friend Evan Weron. “She would go around to all the ladies in the neighborhood ‘This man’s going to kill me.’ She felt threatened.”

This is the reality of male violence: Nicole Hill Stone knew that her ex-partner would kill her. She knew and she told people. Yet, Bradley William Stone wasn’t considered a risk to her despite being a former army reservist suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and a history of violence.

Stone not only killed his ex-wife Nicole, he also killed her mother Jo Anne Koder and grandmother Patricia Hill, as well as her sister Trish Flick, her husband and their daughter Nina. Only 17 year old Anthony Flick survived his gunshot wounds.

The media is already reporting these brutal murders as somehow out of character:

Matthew Schafte, who told ABC News that he’s known Stone for 20-plus years, says he broke down in tears when he heard about the shootings.

“I would describe him as a laid-back guy — loving his family, loving his country. I know he had issues with his children over a custody battle or something,” he said. “A decorated veteran, who would do anything for his country, anything for anybody.”

“I just broke down in tears. I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe it, because this isn’t the Brad that I know.”

“A couple of months ago, I was hanging out with him, we sat down and had a drink,” he added. “We were just talking about old times, how everybody was doing, and he told me he was going through some things with his kids, but that’s about it.”

Men who kill their children do not love them. They view them as possessions. As with most family annihilators, I expect we will soon learn about a history of domestic violence – all of which will be excused despite the fact that fatal violence is not uncommon in men who perpetrate domestic violence. We are already expected to feel sorry for Stone due to the ‘custody battle’ – as if it is normal that a legal disagreement over child custody should end in fatal male violence.

We need to stop pretending these are isolated incidents and start focusing on the fact that male violence constitutes state-sanctioned terrorism against women and children.

Man Haron Monis wasn’t a risk to the public because women don’t count

Man Haron Monis was placed on a two-year “good behaviour bond” in 2013 after writing a series of offensive letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. He was then charged as an accessory in the murder of his ex-wife Noleen Hayson. Monis was released on bail. Since then, he has appeared twice in court on 40 sexual assault offences. The magistrate, who originally granted Monis bail, said he did not represent a threat to the public. He was not deemed a threat at subsequent hearings. Now, two more people are dead following Monis’ siege of a café.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is asking if the hostage taking could have been prevented. The answer to this question is yes, but not for the reasons Abbott is suggesting. Had Monis’ clear history of multiple counts of sexual violence been taken seriously, he would not have been granted bail. Monis was not considered a risk to the public because we still define public to mean men.

Monis was charged with 40 separate sexual offences and was still not deemed a threat to the general public. This is the reality of rape culture: systemic violence against women is simply not considered a problem. We need to start using the term terrorism to define male violence and we need to start recognising that women are human too. Until we do, men like Monis will continue to perpetrate these crimes, which are not ‘isolated incidents’ but systemic, state-sanctioned terrorism against women and girls.

Foyles think women are thick as pig shit

Apparently, Foyles think women are too stupid to read books. Because nothing says we respect our customers like this piece of sexist drivel:

Don’t be discouraged if your mothers uses the book you gave her to press flowers. Any reason to open a book is a good one.

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You do have to wonder who is in charge of their advertising since it’s widely recognised that women buy the majority of books – for themselves and for presents for other people. It isn’t really the  best advertising tactic to insult the intelligence of your largest customer base. At least, I wouldn’t have thought so. But, what do I know: I’m only a mother and clearly too dim to have opinions and shit.

<thanks to Julia Hilliard for flagging this up!>

Feminist Books for Kids for Christmas Gifts!

jhp50b341cece7de         Greta and Boris: A Daring Rescue: by Sian Norris

Greta’s best friend is her cat Boris. However, little does she realise her bewhiskered buddy is actually the Prince of the Kingdom of Cats. So when he is kidnapped by the Rat King, a young warrior cat named Kyrie Mi-ke is sent to find Greta, and together they face a mystical and magical adventure to bring Boris home again.
Greta must face the challenge of the staircase of the autumn leaves; cross Cloud Top Land and the Milky Sea; end the war between the two tribes of mice and face the truth of the Millpond; before facing the Rat King himself.

Small gives it 2 paws up.

Jump!Mag, a non-gendered magazine for girls that focuses heavily on history and science, has expanded into publishing e-books

Lucy Evans, The InstaExplorer:

Lucy Evans, InstaExplorerLucy Evans, the InstaExplorer series will follow our adventurous young heroine around the world, as she visits friends and family in far-flung destinations. Armed with her wits, and her trusty smartphone, Lucy solves mysteries, gets into scrapes and has a lot of fun… all the while sending messages back to her Instagram followers!

More from the fabulous Millie Slavidou here on Jump! Mag and coming soon – a free eBook with tales of a Greek Xmas!

 

 

12 Science Words That Don’t Mean What You Think They Do:

12 Science Words

 

You might use the words ‘proof’ or ‘theory’ in everyday life, but do you know what they mean in the world of science? Science writer Sam Gouldson takes a closer look at science vocabulary and explains how the meaning of words differ when used in the context of science writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More suggestions for feminist friendly kid books here.

Je Me Souviens

Geneviève Bergeron

Hélène Colgan

Nathalie Croteau

Barbara Daigneault

Anne-Marie Edward

Maud Haviernick

Maryse Laganière

Maryse Leclair

Anne-Marie Lemay

Sonia Pelletier

Michèle Richard

Annie St-Arneault

Annie Turcotte

Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

Is sexism still acceptable when racism isn’t?

I’ve seen this sentence used numerous times in the past few weeks in feminist blogs and online discussions and it horrifies me. The idea that racism is no longer acceptable comes from such a place of privilege that I struggle to understand how someone could genuinely believe this. UKIP have increased their membership and won a local election. They dominate the media. The Tories anti-immigration policies are inherently racist and are getting stronger because they are appealing to racist voters. This is with discussing the lack of representation of Black* people in the media and the higher echelons of business and industry. To claim that racism is no longer acceptable is to perpetuate white supremacist culture. It completely erases the experiences of Black people and actively implies they are making shit up when they point out racism. It is an asinine statement to make and those making it need to do some self-reflection on their own racist behaviour.

Setting up racism and sexism as a dichotomy also completely erases the lives of women of colour. It assumes that the experiences of white women with sexism are qualitatively worse than Black men with racism. It ignores the fact that Black women experience both racism and sexism and these cannot be separated. It also completely negates any discussion of class – both within and outwith racism and sexism.

Feminists need to stop using the phrase “why is sexism still acceptable when racism isn’t” and start reflecting on their own participation and privilege within white supremacy culture. We need to challenge women who believe this and we need to start acknowledging that racism and sexism are not separate entities: that they work together and that all white women have privilege over Black women and that poverty does not erase this privilege. An analysis of women as a class requires understanding how classism, racism, misogyny, and lesbophobia work together to oppress all women but that those oppressions are experienced very differently for individual women. Misogyny was the first form of oppression but that does not mean it exists outwith other forms of oppression now – or that there is a hierarchy of oppression.

The theory of intersectionality is important and it needs to be reclaimed from those who have not bothered to read Kimberle Crenshaw’s work.

 

*I’m using Black as a political category with the understanding that racism is experienced differentially within/ outwith specific communities.