Reading through depression and anxiety

I have been very ill with depression and anxiety for the past 17 months. And on the bandwagon which is changing medication, unbearable side effects (gaining 2 stone when I have fibromyalgia which causes severe pain in my ankles and knees was quite unhelpful), and the limit of 6 group classes of CBT (with men), not to mention two incidents of triggered PTSD, has made me somewhat on the wrong side of struggling to work. In November, I decided to change tactics and stopped starring at my computer with fear (and writer’s block). Instead, I went for reading pretty much everything I possibly could whilst not worrying about work (getting PIP was a huge help here). I’m much better and on medication with less horrendous side effects (except dry mouth – my current resemblance to a cactus is also not the most helpful thing).

I’m not very good at the whole asking for help or for even mentioning how I am – my acting skills are far more in the area of pretending to be a manic pixy dream girl (or at least they are in my head) than being honest about my mental health. This article that I came across on FB is what I would say if I could.

So rather than break with tradition of hiding, I’ve made a list of the books that I’ve loved over the past 4 months (the rest are listed here):

 

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A Room of Our Own: An Anthology of Feminist & Womanist Writing

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-44-24A Room of Our Own: An Anthology of Feminist & Womanist Writing is now available:

Paperback

Kindle

CreateSpace

 

 

A Room of Our Own: An Anthology of Feminist & Womanist Writing is a collection of essays, poetry, and short stories written by women. The proceeds of this book will be used to support this platform covering the costs of hosting and website maintenance and development.

Table Of Contents

Room For Our Dangerous Ideas  

Hair by Poppy O’Neill

Used Goods by Durre Mughal

Celeste by Lucy Middlemass

Practicing Self-Love by Priscilla Lugo

Room For Our Courage  

Prologue/Epilogue by Lorrie Hartshorn

Your Silence Will Not Protect You: Racism in the Feminist Movement by Claire Heuchan

An Indian woman by Sunayna Pal

The Outsider Within: Racism in the Feminist Movement by Claire Heuchan

Abortion by Erika Garrett

Room For Our Anger

Cyborg by Susan Dunsford

You women! You’re such bitches by Cath Bore

The Colour of Justice by Estella Muzito

Room For Ourselves

Sister, mother by Lorrie Hartshorn

Because Ogwugwu Said So by Egoyibo Okoro

Giving birth in a dictatorship by Erika Garrett

Feminist Mothering with Fibromyalgia by Louise Pennington

Room For Our Escape

Hollywood’s Woman Problem in Action Films by Christina Paschyn

Room For Our Future

What’s in a Word? by Millie Slavidou

Mother’s Lament by Susan Dunford

An Open Letter to Our Immigrant Parents by Priscilla Lugo

Being Chicana in College by Priscilla Lugo

Love Sick by Erika Garrett

Room For Our Knowledge  

I am not your Mami by Priscilla Lugo

Understanding Feminist Standpoints: Situated Knowledges of Gender, Race, and Class Inequality by Egoyibo Okoro

Hysteria in Performance: The subversive potential of performative malady by Effie Samara

My Mother Said by Durre Mughal

Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid – male entitlement in literature and laundry

Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid by Rufi Thorpe is beautiful, heart-breaking and enraging on how mothering impacts women’s abilities to become a published author recognising the selfish and narcissistic behaviour of male writers is rewarded whilst women are held to impossible standards. Yet, buried within this incredible piece of writing are the following two paragraphs:

“I have never worried that the mundane world would muddy my celestial paws; I’ve always been perfectly able to lick my stamps myself. In fact, I have been far, far too able. The older I get, the more I recognize the leveraging power of ineptitude. My husband can’t cook well; I do the cooking. My husband accidentally shrinks a few sweaters; I do the laundry. My husband can’t lactate; the baby comes to New York. In his inability to do things, he is excused from labor. In my rush to excel, to shine, to be a good wife and mother, I have done nothing but ensure my labor will be lengthy and unpaid.” …

There are other ways too in which I am invisible. I often feel that the work I do around the house is the work of an invisible person. How else could my husband consistently leave his underwear tucked behind the bathroom door? His wet towel on the bed? Surely, he does not imagine me, swearing, swooping to pick up his damp, crumpled briefs with a child on one hip as I listen to a podcast and ponder going gluten free. He is not making a statement with his actions, saying, “Here, wife, pick up after me.” Instead, I think that on some level he believes that he lives in an enchanted castle where the broom comes to life and sweeps, and the teapot pours itself.

Women are expected to do all the unpaid caring work. That Thorpe recognises this but gives her husband a pass on being lazy, thoughtless and inconsiderate is just too distressing.

It would be nice if we all lived in a house where a cooked from scratch, nutritious meal was served three times a day. But this isn’t the Victorian era and servants aren’t a mandatory statement of social acceptability. You don’t need to be a great cook to make dinner for a family – pasta and soup aren’t hard to do (and I say this as someone with dyspraxia where following instructions and accurate measuring aren’t actual skills, as my children can attest).

Men do not believe they live in ‘enchanted castles’. They believe that other people (read wife or mother) are going to do the shit work. Men who consistently leave dirty underwear lying around are making a point about who actually matters in the relationship.  It takes 30 seconds to put your pants in the laundry basket. It takes 30 seconds to turn the washing machine on and 15 minutes (max) to put away clean laundry. Working long hours is not an excuse for being unable to pick up your own dirty underwear – unless you think childcare and housework are not real work.  A man who can operate a smart phone can read the instructions on the label of clothes and the manual for a washing machine.

Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid isn’t heart-breaking simply because it evidences the extreme inequality between women and men, but because Thorpe sees this as inevitable in her own relationship. Thorpe thanks her mother for sacrificing so much, including never writing her own book, in order for Thorpe to succeed. That her husband is unwilling to put his own dirty underwear in the laundry basket to help support Thorpe is male entitlement writ large.

Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality: The Global Exploitation of Women

Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality was first published in 1995 and grew out of her work and activism following the publication of Female Sexual Slavery in 1979. The first half of the book, which is just theory, is brilliant. The second half felt outdated as it is based almost entirely on the research undertaken for Female Sexual Slavery. I would argue that the situation is actually worse now than it was even 10 years ago, particularly in relation to rape as an accepted tactic of war. I’d be interested to read an epilogue to the book which examines the reality of women’s experiences of sexual exploitation now and whether Barry thinks it is worse for women or if its just that I’ve become more aware of sexual exploitation.

I cannot recommend this book enough though. Barry’s theory on the global exploitation of women is incredibly important. She destroys the idea that prostitution can be consented to within a capitalist-patriarchy. She clearly proves that the sexualisation of human bodies renders women passive objects and men active participants. Barry challenges the heteronormative construction of pornography and prostitution and the hegemonic nature of capitalism which is built on the bodies of women.

I am adding this book to my list of Top Ten Feminist Theory Texts (in no particular order):

1. Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse

2. Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences. 

3. Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women

4. Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion: The Truth about Women and Men Today

5. Susan Maushart’s Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women

6. Sheila Jeffreys’ Beauty and Misogyny

7. Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue

8. Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics

9. Melinda Tankard Reist’s Big Porn Inc

10. Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality: The Global Exploitation of Women

Hilary Boyd’s Thursdays in the Park

This is one of those books that I really wanted to enjoy. It is the story of a woman’s reawakening after an unhappy marriage to an unpleasant man. Unfortunately, the entire book is the minimisation of male violence both in the marriage of the main character, Jeanie, and that of her daughter. Like Paula McLean, who wrote The Paris Wife,  Hilary Boyd seems to have little understanding of the level of coercion and control that is common. Boyd also gives both husbands an ‘excuse’ for their abusive behaviour: one is the victim of child sexual violence and the other suffers from extreme jealousy. Obviously, neither man is responsible for their own behaviour to the point that Jeanie labels herself a bitch for wanting out of her unhappy marriage.

I would really like to read a “romance” novel, since Jeanie had to find a new man rather than be happy by herself, that actually understood the dynamics of domestic violence. Just one.

Realm of the Goddess by Sabina Khan

I first heard of the Realm of the Goddess in a blog with author Sabina Khan on Women Writers, Women Books. As the mother of two daughters, it was this that got my interest:

Disappointed at this obvious lack of diversity to choose from, I decided that I would write one myself. I feel strongly about the need to expose our youth to the magical and colorful traditions that make up our world. I also want my daughters to read about characters like themselves, so that they are not always reading about “others”. Or feeling that they are always the “others”.

My children and others of their generation may or may not want to read about the immigrant experience. But they certainly want to see themselves reflected in the fiction of their time. They want to see characters like themselves battling evil, falling in love and fighting with their parents. They want to know that others like them are dealing with conflicts as diverse as arranged marriage, education, religion and all of the issues that plague young people, regardless of their ethnicity.

As a lover of the genre of fantasy in young adult fiction, I wanted to read a book that was outside the vampire/werewolf/witch theme. I was going to put the book on my Amazon wishlist (600 books long and growing), but it was free on kindle so I downloaded it. And, then couldn’t put it down. It is very difficult to build lego for your kid whilst trying to read a book at the same time and not to  be recommended.

Realm of the Goddess does follow the pattern of vampire/ werewolf / witch books but with Hindu mythology. That alone makes it stand out from the crowd, but it is the richness of detail of Hindu mythology that makes this book so fabulous. The inclusion of the mythology is not forced or that dreadful Wikipedia-style history which made A.S Byatt’s The Children’s Book so unbearable. As a history nerd, I do love historical youth fiction and ones which are correct are hard to find. Granted I knew only the basics of Hindu mythology, but reading this made me want to read more (all recommendations of books written by women gratefully received!).

The main character Callie was fabulously written with depth and intelligence. She also ate actual food with gusto – all kinds of food from the traditional dishes of her family to cheeseburgers and pizza. Her hair was never perfect standing straight up on end when she awoke to the frizz of humidity. Callie reminded me of the character of Claire Danvers in the Morganville Vampire books: intelligent, strong, loyal, and kind. The female characters in young adult fiction are frequently unbearable with their desperation to be with a man. Callie does have a love interest (and they do kiss) but the discussions of the relationship focus on what Callie believes is best for her. Realm of the Goddess joins the Morganville Vampires in being as close to feminist-friendly as can be written. This is why it will never get the publicity of Twilight, which reinforced the norms of our patriarchal culture. Callie not only challenges these norms, but also talks about the reality of male violence and rape. In fact, rape and other forms of male violence are integral to the plot and are clearly labelled as the sole impediment to women’s liberation and power.

This is the hallmark of a great book for me, strong female characters who are real. I want to read more by Khan as well as more books written about Hindu mythology.  I want to see Khan publish a fact book on Hindu mythology like Rick Riordan did for Greek mythology with his Percy Jackson books.

I’m also restraining myself from emailing daily to ask when she’s going to publish the second book.

Five Wounds by @KatharineEdgar

I have had the absolute pleasure of reading various drafts of this book over the past two years. I started the first draft one evening and spent the following day half-asleep. The worst thing you can do when you have fibromyalgia is stay up late reading a book, but I simply couldn’t put it down as it melds all my favourite parts of literature: a brilliant, capable and feministy teenage heroine and historical accuracy.

5 Wounds is the comingof-age story of 15 year old Nan – a fiercely independent and headstrong young girl whose life changes drastically during a period of revolution and rebellion. Nan was sent sent to live in convent school following an unfortunate incident as a young child. This afforded her a level of freedom and education that many young girls of her class would never have experienced.

However, this is 1536 and the schism between Rome and Henry VIII has changed everything. Nan’s dreams of remaining in the convent and becoming a great Abbess are destroyed after Henry’s troops close the convent. Instead, Nan was bartered as a commodity and betrothed, rather unwillingly, to the much older and frequently married Lord Middleham. Nan’s father gains more land from this betrothal and Lord Middle ham a wife younger than his children. Nan’s Catholic faith, nurtured during her years living in a convent leads to her involvement in the Northern rebellion against Henry VIII during the Pilgrimage of Grace. Nan is forced to choose between her faith and her personal safety. Does she chose treason or eternal damnation?

The true strengths of Edgar’s writing are the character of Nan and the accuracy of the historical context of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Nan is alternately naive and brave, and her flawed choices reflect her optimism, faith and failure to understand the full consequences of rebellion. She is equally a child and an adult – limited by the constraints of her gender but freed by her desire to change the world.

Edgar’s love of history and the breadth of her research only adds to brilliance of the story. 5 Wounds precipitated one of my favourite historical discussion The Great Whether-Or-Not Noble Women Learned to Ride Normally Debate. I voted yes on the theory that noble daughters were valuable commodities and no sensible father would allow an expensive piece of property to remain incapable of escape from the numerous wars/ tantrums and general violence that defines European history.

I loved 5 Wounds. It was fast-paced, exciting and utterly brilliant. I can’t recommend it enough!

You can buy 5 Wounds from Amazon now.

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].

16 books Mark Zuckerberg NEEDS to read to stop perpetuating VAWG

Mark Zuckerberg has given a list of 14  books he thinks everyone should read this year. Since he’s so concerned about the general knowledge of random people on the internet, I thought I’d give Zuckerberg a list of books that he needs to read so he can stop putting survivors of domestic and sexual violence and abuse at risk with the deeply stupid ‘real names’ policy on Facebook.

1. Lundy Bancroft, Why Does he do that? Insides the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, (Berkly Publishing, 2003)

2. Aisha Gill, ‘Honour’ Killing and Violence: Theory, Policy and Practice, (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)

3. Dee L.R. Graham, Loving to Survive: Sexual Terror, Men’s Violence and Women’s Lives, (New York University Press, 1994) – a full PDF of this text is available here.

4. Lynne Harne, Violent Fathering and the Risks to Children: The Need for Change, (Policy Press, 2011)

5. Michael P. Johnson, A Typology of Domestic Violence: Intimate Terrorism, Violent Resistance and Situational Couple Violence, (Northeastern University Press, 2008)

6. Lorraine Radford & Marianne Hester, Mothering through Domestic Violence, (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2006)

7. Evan Stark’s Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life (Oxford University Press, 2007)

8. Liz Kelly, Surviving Sexual Violence, (Polity Press, 1988)

9. Nancy Berns, Framing the Victim, Domestic Violence Media & Social Problems (Transaction pub. 2008)

10. Nina Burrowes, The Courage to be Me, (2014)

11. Gavin De Becker, The Gift of Fear, (Bloomsbury Pub, 2000)

12. Marianne Hester, Who does what to whom? Gender and domestic violence perpetrators. (Bristol University, 2009)

13. Kimmel, “Gender Symmetry” in Domestic Violence: A Substantive and Methodological Research ReviewViolence Against Women, vol. 8 No.11

14. Rachel Pain Everyday Terrorism: How Fear Works in Domestic Abuse, (University of Durham & Scottish Women’s Aid)

15. Jennifer Perry, Digital Stalking: A guide to technology risks for victims, (Pub, by Network for Surviving Stalking & Women’s Aid)

16. Women’s Aid, Virtual world, real fear: Women’s Aid report into online abuse, harassment and stalking.

Granted my list  has slightly more than 14 books, but I figure if Zuckerberg has taken the time out from running a multi-national corporation to give the general public a reading list, he has the time to make sure his corporation isn’t perpetuating violence against women and girls.

#ReadWomen and my erasure of BAME women writers

I’ve been reading books only written by women since 2011 following a conversation on cultural femicide on Mumsnet. There were lots of recommendations for writers I’d never come across: Barbara Kingsolver, Andrea Levy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Kate Mosse, Granted,  this was because I was mostly reading mysteries. My book shelves are full of Val McDermid, Patricia Cornwall, Kathy Reichs and Tess Gerritsen, but the majority of the books were written by men.

The books I’ve read over the last five years have been absolutely incredible and I’m so glad I started. It wasn’t until I read some tweets by Samantha Asumadu a few weeks ago that I started to think about how many BAME women writers I had read. So I did what all book nerds do and tried to remember high school math. These are stats:

2011: 16%

2012: 19%

2013: 8.8%

2014:  14%

2015: 18%

Had you asked me 3 weeks ago, I’d have said that at least 40% of the books I was reading were by BAME women.

I’d like to say this is because once I find an author I like, I read everything they’ve written which is why my bookcases are full of Meg Cabot, Agatha Christie, Charlaine Harris and Janet Evanovich but you can see the pattern there too.

I suppose it is rather like the research onto everyone assuming women speak more than men when it’s the exact opposite. I made the assumption that my reading patterns didn’t reflect white supremacist cultural practises. It took me two weeks to decide to write this as I was embarrassed, which is a stupid reason not to write.

My goal this year was to read 100 books written by women. So far, I’ve read 44. I’m changing my goal: I’m still hoping to read 100 books but 40% of those have to be by BAME women. Next year my goal will be 50%.