The Clan of The Cave Bear

I’m not going to lie here. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel bored me senseless: the never-ending descriptions of berry gathering and mammoth slaughtering. I did care about Ayla but I was rather hoping she’d kick the ever-loving crap out of Broud from about chapter four. The only way I’d read the next five in the series is if somewhere along the way Ayla finds herself commanding an army to flatten Broud.

Honestly, the only book I’ve come across lately which bored me even more was A.S Byatt’s The Children’s Book. One decent chapter followed by hundreds of pages of drivel about hideous people no one could possibly care about being horrible to one another; held together by what felt like a series of primary school essays. Or, several hundred pages of “look-at-me, I can use Wikipedia and copy and paste pretentious twaddle about shit no one cares about”. Either way, the book was dreadful and dull.

There are some brilliant entries for Worst Book in the World on this thread. Lord of the Flies features heavily as does The Room and The Slap; although, i personally like The Room.

Children’s Fiction Recommendations


Children’s fiction has always been something I’ve enjoyed; retracing treasured books from my childhood or raiding my daughter’s bookcases. I like to tell them it’s a quality control measure but it’s really just an excuse to read books adults aren’t “supposed” to read. We have an extensive collection of children’s fiction, some of which is positively dire: Linda Chapman’s Magic Unicorn and Daisy Meadows’ Rainbow Magic spring to mind. I bought them because my kids read them and encouraging a love of literature when they are young is one of the two most  important gifts you can a child (the other obviously being unconditional love).

We do have the usual classic childen’s literature written by women and featuring strong female characters: L.M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon, Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series, and Judy Blume’s Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. There really is a lot of excellent children’s literature written by women; this list is also weighted to Canadian writers). 
These are some of my favourite and less well-known children’s books (at least in the UK; some are winners of major children’s literary prizes in North America:
Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust: This a very harrowing tale of a young girl living in the Depression in the US who suffers a major family tragedy. It is incredibly beautiful but also incredibly sad and isn’t for sensitive children. It’s also written entirely as poetry which makes it utterly incredible.
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time: Like Hesse’s Out of the Dust, A Wrinkle in Time is also a Newberry Prize winner. Meg Murry and her small brother have to rescue their father after he goes missing whilst expirmenting with time travel and the Fifth Dimension. It’s a book about string theory and physics aimed at 8-10 year olds. What’s not to love?
Jean Little’s Mine For Keeps: All of Jean Little’s books are beautiful but this is the first one I ever read and I have a soft spot in my heart for it. Sally Copeland has just returned to her family after boarding at a special school for children. Sarah’s cerebral palsy is the reason she lived away but the book is really about family and love main fitting in. Home From Far is my other favourite.
Kit Pearson’s A Handful of Time and Awake and Dreaming: These are both aimed at 8-12 year olds but deal with issues of death, homelessness and loss. Beautiful but difficult for sensitive children.
Susan Terris’ Nell: Nell is the story of a 19th century woman who is affianced to her cousin but does not want to marry him. She responds to the lack of control over her future by developing anorexia. 
Carol Matas’ Lisa: Lisa was the first Carol Matas book my mother bought me for my 12th birthday. I’ve since collected all her others but this one remains my favourite. It’s the story of a young Jewish girl in Denmark during World War Two who, along with her brother and his best friend, joins the Danish resistance. Jesper is the sequel to Lisa but Matas’ most famous book is Daniel’s Story which was used as the basis of a touring educational program by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 
Karen Cushman’s Catherine, Called Birdy: This is the story of a young girl in Medieval England who does not want to just be another member of the landed gentry sold off into marriage by her father. The best part of the story is the flaming chickens as weapons of mass destruction. It’s worth reading just for that line. 
My daughter’s current favourite books:
Small: Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy, Polly Dunbar’s Penguin, Gillian Rogerson’s You Can’t Eat a Princess, Mary Hoffman’s Amazing Grace and Julia Donaldson’s Zog
Teenager: Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Tamora Pierce’s The Immortals and Song of the Lioness series, Patricia Wrede’s The Enchanted Forest, Trudi Canavan’s Magician’s Guild series, Allison Croggon’s Book of Pellinor series, Rochelle Mead’s Vampire Academy, Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires.

Top Ten Feminist Must-Reads

So, this isn’t the most imaginative or creative Feminist blog post but it is a topic that comes up continuously on Mumsnet. And, for me personally, I do find it incredibly interesting what individual Feminists believe are the most important texts to read. Books are the windows to people souls: even if they just own copies of leather-bound classics which have never been opened. You just know that a man who owns everything ever written by Norman Mailer and has clearly read them multiple times is probably a nincompoop and undateable to boot. A man who reads nothing but mysteries but has never heard of Dorothy L. Sayers is probably a little bit on the serial killer/stalkery side of the not dateable material.
Some of these books were FeMNist Book Club choices on MN and I have linked to those threads where applicable. I also couldn’t limit myself to 10 but it’s my blog so I didn’t; despite the title.

1. Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse: This is perhaps the most deliberately misread and misquoted second wave Feminist text. The question: “what intercourse is for women and what it does to women’s identity, privacy, self-respect, self-determination, and integrity are forbidden questions; and yet how can a radical or any woman who wants freedom not ask precisely these questions?” is central to her thesis but fundamentally deliberately misread. Read it and judge for yourself.

2. Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences. This book isn’t actually a “Feminist text” but the basic premise behind the book is that sex/gender differences aren’t biological but rather reflect socialization and cultural practises. Or, at least, there is currently no evidence that sex differences are biological and until the point that we can definitely prove otherwise, it is simply bad science to pretend otherwise. Fine argues that the differences we “see” are simply sexist myths dressed up as science. It also contains my favourite debunking of the theory that men need to be taught to be Daddies: the story of the Daddy Rat. You need to read it for this story alone.

3. Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women. This book is 20 years old but basically could have been written yesterday. All you need to do is replace the chapter on kinder-whore fashion with BDSM fashion and replace the names of Right-wing reactionary Handmaidens of the 1980s with people like Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Amanda Platell, Jan Moir and Nadine Dorries. Faludi does this herself in The Terror Dream: What 9/11 Revealed About America but Backlash remains as important a Feminist text now as it did 20 years ago. In fact, in many ways, the backlash of the 1980s was nowhere near as destructive as the current backlash which has taken its cues from the pornography industry.

4. Natasha Walter’s Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism: Selling women and girls bodies as “empowerment”: the new Backlash. The real consequences of “choice” Feminism.

5. Robin Warshaw’s I Never Called it Rape: The Ms Report on Recognising, Fighting and Surviving Date and Acquaintance Rape. The title is self-evident. This is one of those books which should be a required text in PSHE.

5. Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion: The Truth about Women and Men Today: This is basically a catalogue of reasons why Feminism is more important today than it ever was. The fact that a teenage girl in South Africa is more likely to be raped than literate or that 2/3 of illiterate people are women and 2 women a week in the UK are killed by their current or former intimate partners are statistics that can not be denied; even by MRAs although they do try. It’s not theory but a manual on how to combat misogyny [or at least recognise misogyny]. This should be another mandatory text for PSHE.

6. Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. This is simply about just how damaging hyper-sexuality and the pursuit of physical perfection as the source of female empowerment really are; empowerment being one of those things that people with actual access to power don’t need to bother with. It’s the terrifying story of mass-consumerism and the destruction of girls. This should be required reading for upper primary children.

7. Susan Maushart’s Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women: This should be another set text in school. There are far too many people running about claiming that men can’t be good at housework because they don’t “see” it. The real problem is that men benefit from this myth at the risk to women’s emotional and physical health. The idea that men need to be told what to do take live in their own house is misogynistic bollocks of the worst kind.

8. Sheila Jeffreys’ Beauty and Misogyny: This is another deliberately misinterpreted book and one that you definitely need to read for yourself. The critiques of the fashion industry and the comparison with high heels and Chinese foot-binding are brilliant. Cultural relativism has a lot to answer for.

9. Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue: This is one of the classic second-wave Feminist texts which is more relevant today than when it was first written due to the increase in discourse about women’s value being solely about their appearance and the idea that the only women who have value are “thin”.

10. Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics: This is another classic second-wave text although one which feels a bit dated to those already interested in Feminism and Feminist theory. It was ground-breaking when it was first written and it’s a testament to the power of Millett’s work that we now consider her work “normative.”

11. Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room: This is the only fiction book on my list but it’s the one which demonstrates the true power of Feminism: women supporting and loving other women.

12. Susan J Douglas & Meredith W Michaels’ The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women: It’s exactly what the title says: why mothers are demonized and how that demonization destroys women. It should be given out as a mandatory text at the first midwife/ adoption/fostering appointment.

13. Gail Dines’ Pornland:How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality: This is an incredibly distressing book and one that needs to be read but it is triggering and horrifying and utterly depressing. Robert Jensen’s Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity is worth reading in conjunction but only if you are feeling emotionally capable.

14. Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men: Another required text at PSHE. The ability to identify abusive men is a gift we need to give our daughters. We need to stop pretending Beauty and the Beast is a romantic film and that Norman Mailer is anything but a violent misogynist.

15. I Blame The Patriarchy: Technically, this is a blog not a book but I think it deserves to be considered under the rubric of “must-reads”.

Esther Freud’s Lucky Break


I have to admit here that I never heard of Esther Freud before getting a freecopy of this book from the Mumsnet [non-feminist] fiction book club. I have vague recollections of thinking that I might enjoy watching a Kate Winslet movie called Hideous Kinky but I don’t think I ever got around to actually watching it.

Clearly, this was a massive over-sight on my part since Lucky Break is fucking brilliant [and that’s not just because I’m still cranky about wasting my time reading the misogynist wankfest which was Paula McLean’s The Paris Wife last month]. It is well-written, funny, engaging with a host of characters that you might actually want to be friends with – as well as some men that should immediately put on the list of undateable wankers.Loved the fact that she left the ending open so I could choose their futures. It’s the only disappointing bit of Kris Radish’s The Elegant Gathering of White Snows. The epilogue was unnecessary and ruined my fun of deciding the happiness of the characters. I like the fact that Freud leaves us with an ending which isn’t really an ending. I like being able to believe that Jemma dumps the useless selfish narcissist Dan and waltzes off into her own successful career as a screen writer and actress with 4 children under ten in tow whilst he gets stuck playing a chicken in really bad ads which only air at 4 in the morning. Or, that Nell is actually the successful and incredible actress she deserves to be and finds a real partner and not the usual arsehat that successful actresses end up with in real life. I also hope she waltzes back to the “drama school” she attended and gets to make fun of the directors there who didn’t recognize the real talent when it was in front of them. I like the fact that I can believe that Charlie is finally happy with who she is instead of what she thinks should make her happy. 

So, this is obviously an outstanding recommendation since it does deal with the issue of the “casting couch”; that lovely euphemism for the sexual exploitation of women within the industry and the total failure of the industry to take that exploitation seriously. It deals with being invisible for not being a “proper woman” and reading this in conjunction with Sheila Jeffries’ Beauty and Misogyny for FeMNist non-fiction book club this month was a real pleasure. They meshed so well with Freud demonstrating some of those very real harmful cultural practices outlined by Jeffries [and the suggestion of using spanx as rain gear is just genius].

Sexualised Violence Against Jewish Women in the Holocaust

In December 2010, a fairly significant text on the experience of Jewish women in the Holocaust was published to little to no fanfare. The book, Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust, wasn’t the first text to address the issue of sexualized violence in the Holocaust. After all, survivors started writing about their experiences in diaries during the war and testimonies published in the immediate post-war era. However, and as with the experience of women in history, these stories were subsumed and eradicated under a Patriarchal discourse which suggests that if didn’t happen to men then it wasn’t important [which is fundamentally bizarre because men were raped during the Holocaust. Rape during warfare is gendered and most victims are women and children but to pretend that men weren’t raped is equally problematic.]. Rape, during the Holocaust, was not a systemic part of the genocide but the frequency with which it occurred suggests, at the very least, a policy of mass-rape as a by-product.

Since it’s inauspicious publication, Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust hasn’t exactly been getting lots of publicity; partly because its an academic text and academic texts don’t usually make the New York Times Best seller list but, mostly, because of the subject matter. That is until Gloria Steinem, one of the original reviewers of the book, got properly involved. Her outrage at the failure of sexual violence to be located in and considered part of genocide and modern warfare partly inspired the founding of the Women Under Siege online project. Women Under Siege is possibly the most important piece of feminist activism of 2011. It features 6 conflicts during the 20th century in which rape is used as a tactic of war: Holocaust, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Darfur-Sudan, Egypt and Libya as well as blog posts on sexualised violence in other war zones in the 20th century. The erasure of the gendered experiences of women in war from mainstream political and historical analysis is shameful and the most concrete example of Patriarchal-Capitalist Misogyny in practise.

This International Women’s Day, we need to stand up for these women and make sure their voices are heard; that their experiences are no longer white-washed out of history in order to support the aims of the destructive military-industrial complex and the Patriarchy.

Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust Contents

1. Aspects of Sexual Violence

Death and the Maidens: Prostitution, Rape and Sexual Slavery during World War Two by Nomi Levenkrom

Sexualised Violence against Women during Nazi “Racial” Persecution by Brigitte Halbmayr

Sexual Exploitation of Jewish Women in Nazi Concentration Camp Brothels by Robert Sommer

Schillinger and the Dancer: Representing Agency and Sexual Violence in Holocaust Testimonies by Kirsty Chatwood

2. Rape of Jewish Women

“Only Pretty Women Were Raped”: The Effect of Sexual Violence on Gender Identities in the Concentration Camps by Monika J. Flaschka

The Tragic Fate of Ukrainian Jewish Women Under Nazi Occupation, 1941-1944 by Anatoly Podolsky

The Rape of Jewish Women during the Holocaust by Helene J. Sinnreich

Rape and Sexual Abuse in Hiding by Zoe Waxman

3. Assaults on Motherhood

Reproduction Under the Swastika: The Other Side of the Glorification of
Motherhood by Helga Amesberger

Forced Sterilisation and Abortion as Sexual Abuse by Ellen Ben-Sefer

4. Sexual Violence in Literature and Cinema

Sexual Abuse in Holocaust Literature: Memoir and Fiction by S. Lillian Kremer

“Stoning the Messenger”: Yehiel Dinur’s House of Dolls and Piepel by Miryam Sivan

Nava Semel’s And the Rat Lauged: A Tale of Sexual Violation by Sonja Hedgepath and Rochelle Saidel

“Public Property”: Sexual Abuse of Women and Girls in Cinematic Memory by Yvonne Kozlovsky-Golan

 5. The Violated Self

Sexual Abuse of Jewish Women during and after the Holocaust: A Psychological Perspective by Eva Fogelman

The Shame is Always There by Esther Dror and Ruth Linn

Other Academic Texts Discussing Sexualised Violence During the Holocaust
Elizabeth R. Baer & Myrna Goldenberg, Experience and Expression: Women, The Nazis and the Holocaust, (Detroit: Wayne University State Press, 2003)

Judith Tydor Baumel, Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust, (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1998)

Renate Bridenthal, Atina Grossmann & Marion Kaplan, When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984)

Jonathon C. Friedman, Speaking the Unspeakable: Essays on Sexuality, Gender and Holocaust Survivor Memory, (Lanham: University Press of America, 2002)

Esther Fuchs, Women and the Holocaust: Narrative and Representation, (Lanham: University Press of America, 1993)

Marlene E. Heinemann, Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986)

Esther Hertzog, Life, Death and Sacrifice: Women and Family in the Holocaust, (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2008)

R. Ruth Linden, Making Stories, Making Selves: Feminist Reflections on the Holocaust, (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1993)

Dalia Ofer & Lenore Weitzman, Women in the Holocaust, (Yale: Yale University Press, 1998)

Carol Rittner & John K. Roth, Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust, (Minnesota, Paragon House, 1993)

Rochelle Saidel, The Jewish Women of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004)

Zoe Waxman, Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony and Representation, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)

 

Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us From Violence


The February Non-Fiction Mumsnet Feminist book club was Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us from Violence. It isn’t an explicitly feminist text [and, obviously, not written by a woman] but I was so incensed by the absolute misogynistic twaddle being peddled as “romance” in Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife that I think the following information can not be stressed enough:

(T)here are many reliable pre-incident indicators associated with spousal violence and murder. They won’t all be present in every case, but if a situation has several of these signals, there is reason for concern:

1) The woman has intuitive feelings that she is at risk.

2) At the inception of the relationship, the man accelerated the pace, prematurely placing on the agenda such things as commitment, living together, and marriage.

3) He resolves conflict with intimidation, bullying, and violence.

4) He is verbally abusive.


5) He uses threats and intimidation as instruments of control or abuse. This includes threats to harm physically, to defame, to embarrass, to restrict freedom, to disclose secrets, to cut off support, to abandon, and to commit suicide.

6) He breaks or strikes things in anger. He uses symbolic violence (tearing a wedding photo, marring a face in a photo, etc.).

7) He has battered in prior relationships.

8) He uses alcohol or drugs with adverse affects (memory loss, hostility, cruelty).

9) He cites alcohol or drugs as an excuse or explanation for hostile or violent conduct (“That was the booze talking, not me; I got so drunk I was crazy”).

10) His history includes police encounters for behavioral offenses (threats, stalking, assault, battery).

11) There has been more than one incident of violent behavior (including vandalism, breaking things, throwing things).

12) He uses money to control the activities, purchases, and behavior of his wife/ partner.

13) He becomes jealous of anyone or anything that takes her time away from the relationship; he keeps her on a “tight leash,” requires her to account for her time.

14) He refuses to accept rejection.

15) He expects the relationship to go on forever, perhaps using phrases like “together for life,” “always,” “no matter what.”

16) He projects extreme emotions onto others (hate, love, jealousy, commitment) even when there is no evidence that would lead a reasonable person to perceive them.

17) He minimizes incidents of abuse.

18) He spends a disproportionate amount of time talking about his wife/ partner and derives much of his identity fiom being her husband, lover, etc.

19) He tries to enlist his wife’s friends or relatives in a campaign to keep or recover the relationship.

20) He has inappropriately surveilled or followed his wife/ partner.

21) He believes others are out to get him. He believes that those around his wife/partner dislike him and encourage her to leave.

22) He resists change and is described as inflexible, unwilling to compromise.

23) He identifies with or compares himself to violent people in films, news stories, fiction, or history He characterizes the violence of others as justified.

24) He suffers mood swings or is sullen, angry, or depressed.

25) He consistently blames others for problems of his own making; he refuses to take responsibility for the results of his actions.

26) He refers to weapons as instruments of power, control, or revenge.

27) Weapons are a substantial part of his persona; he has a gun or he talks about, jokes about, reads about, or collects weapons.

28) He uses “male privilege” as a justification for his conduct (treats her like a servant, makes all the big decisions, acts like the “master of the house”).

29) He experienced or witnessed violence as a child.

30) His wife/partner fears he will injure or kill her. She has discussed this with others or has made plans to be carried out in the event of her death (e.g., designating someone to care for children).

De Becker’s book is not without criticism particularly in its use of “choice” discourse in discussing intimate partner violence [IPV]. There are two clearly competing and conflicting theories: one in which women need to trust their instincts to prevent being victims and one in which women are being held responsible for being victims. He’s quite honest about his abusive father and I wonder how much of the second theory is [unconscious] unresolved anger at his own mother for not “protecting” him even though he [consciously] understands the pathology of IPV. However, the psychological IPV in The Paris Wife is so constant and insidious that the idea that it can be “romantic” is dangerous, destructive and the reason that Mumsnet has such a well-used Relationships board.

Black History Month


February is Black History Month in North America so I thought I would read books written by women who identify politically as Black; although not necessarily American. I’ve lined up Harriet Jacobs slave narrative, Patricia Hill Collin’s From Black Power to Hip Hop, Jennifer Hayashi Danns with Sandrine Leveque’s Stripped, Sapphire’s The Kid, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I’m looking for more recommendations of Black women writers in time for Black History Month in the UK in October.#readingonlybookswrittenbywomen

Naming

I couldn’t chose a name that accurately reflected my political aims with this blog and my love of literature. Instead, I’ve taken the name from the first book I read when embarking on feminist activism against the cultural femicide of women writers: The Elegant Gathering of White Snows by Kris Radish. It is a celebration of the power of sisterhood, the power of silence and the phenomenal women in our lives. I could not be who I am without the support and brilliance of those women around me; particularly my FeMNists without whom this would not exist.