Feminist Reading Journey: Margaret Atwood ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

Let me start this by saying no I haven’t seen the Hulu TV series yet but I fully intend to! This post however isn’t about the tv series, or the film adaptation, it’s about the novel. I actually read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ as part of my undergraduate university degree, but I had read the novel before then because, well, because I like reading!

I also want to quickly address for anyone following this series that I will be reading some new books soon, and the series will be continuing. It’s just on a little bit of a hiatus while I try to finish my dissertation and sort my life out. When it properly comes back I’ll make a blog post letting everyone know, and hopefully have my reading list on there in advance so people can read along with me if they want to. I also want to take more care with the authors I select so that I can actually start to read a variety of different experiences. I try and make my feminism intersectional, and I know at the moment I’m not doing my best to represent that in these blog posts. In terms of a time scale, posts will also be every 2 weeks so that they are not rushed. However, for everyone who hasn’t been reading the rest of my blog posts, sorry about that ramble, and don’t worry I’m going to get on to this blog post now.

First of all, there is a reason that ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a classic, and for those of you who have burned before (like me) by the term ‘classic’ being bestowed upon a book because it is incredibly long and difficult to follow; don’t worry this isn’t the case here. The story (for those who don’t know) follows a woman called Offred (though this isn’t her ‘real’ name) and her life as a handmaid in the fictional dystopian future of Gilead (a military dictatorship). Her position as a handmaid in this dictatorship means that she is kept for reproductive purposes and her ‘job’ is to reproduce in an elaborate ceremony with The Commander (the male head of the household she lives at) with his wife attending (it’s as bad as it sounds).

Image: @aprilisthecruellestmonth/ Instagram 

I’m not going to say anything more about the plot than that as I don’t want to ruin anything, but think about the way reproductive rights are in the US (and continue to be in Northern Ireland, and other countries in which there are restrictions on abortion laws or abortion is illegal) and you get a sense of what is going on. Although, there was some positive news recently that women from Northern Ireland will be able to get an abortion in Britain for free. However, this verdict also came on the same day that: “Belfast’s Court of Appeal ruled abortion law in Northern Ireland should be left to the Stormont Assembly, not judges – effectively overturning an earlier ruling that the current abortion laws were incompatible with human rights laws” (Source: BBC News).

While a lot of people might argue that ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is not necessarily about abortion (which, I agree with to a certain extent); because in the tale the women desire to have a baby. However, they are still being controlled and forced into that one position- their reproductive rights are being taken away from them. I’m also not the only one to have made this link as women have been seen sporting robes similar to the ones depicted in the Hulu TV series in a number of protests related to reproductive rights and the fight against misogyny.

It for this reason that the quotation I ended up choosing is: “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down”. And this week the quotation is very apt not only in terms of equality, but in my own life. I’m coming up to the period where I’m at a bit of a transitional period in my life where I’m not quite sure where I will end up or where I will be. There is something also truly horrible in not knowing, which I hate more than just generally being in a horrible situation. However, I know I’ve just got to get on with it and things will turn around. And at a much faster rate than if I just let life take me where it may. But it’s hard, and I know my friends are finding hard, so basically in a round about way I just want to say if you’re finding everything hard that’s ok. Just try your best to let someone know that you’re finding it hard.

As always the quotation for ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has been beautifully illustrated by  Caroline from The Kawaii Kollective:

The Handmaid's Tale Image

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

In regards, to the quotation it is also incredibly relevant recently, as the fight for equality has felt difficult, especially with the series of headlines hitting the media regarding gender parity. Perhaps, the most famous of which is the news of the gender wage gap within the BBC, as well as the controversy surrounding the price of the morning after pill in Boots. Especially, considering Boots’ response that if the pill was priced cheaper it might mean that Boots is “incentivising inappropriate use”. Now then more than ever we need to be banding together to fight for change, while not letting these hits grind us down. And there has already been action with a number of female stars from the BBC acting together to write a letter urging the director general to fix the pay gap.

And this links to the main thing I have seen written about ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and that is that the story is not just a tale: but a warning or a sign of what is happening in our world (particularly, in the Global North, and specifically in America right now). I’ve touched on this already by discussing some of the restrictions placed on women having an abortion, but there is much more that is happening against gender equality and equal rights for everyone whatever gender they identify as (I don’t mean this remark as a flippant ‘whatever’ but as a way to include the variety of different genders people identify as) in Trump’s America.

The author of the article I just linked under ‘gender equality’ also mentions how President Trump doesn’t believe in climate change. In fact he actually pulled the US out of the Paris climate accord, which is horribly ironic considering that the reason why the majority of people in Gilead are infertile is due to radioactive pollution.

Many of the practices within the novel are also present within other countries in the world not just America, particularly regarding same sex love  (in the novel women are circumcised as a punishment for this, and this is something that is still carried out today though not necessarily as a punishment for homosexuality). This practice may be more familiar to you under the name FGM or Female Genital Mutilation, which can “lead to severe bleeding, pain, complete loss of sensitivity, complications during childbirth, infertility, severe pain during sex, recurring infections and urine retention. And in some cases it is lethal. Unlike male circumcision, female genital mutilation also inhibits sexual pleasure”.

I think then now is a good a time as ever to read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (perhaps the best time) and think about how the practices described are similar or the same to practices inflicted against either gender (as there is not a lot of mention in the novel of how these practices would affect people who exist outside the gender identities of male or female) within the world. Think about then how the world Atwood describes would be like for those who exist out of the 2 gender binaries just mentioned. Most of all, write, talk and protest about the injustices that too closely mirror our own.

After all, Margaret Atwood is being heralded as the ‘voice of 2017‘ so you might as well see for yourself what she has to say. As for me I’m finally going to watch the TV show, and not let anyone grind me down any longer.

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Feminist Reading Journey: Marge Piercy ‘Woman on the Edge of Time’

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

I’m happy to be back with another post in my feminist reading journey (here’s hoping I can start posting more regularly again). This time I’m focusing on Marge Piercy’s ‘Woman on the Edge of Time’, which is actually something I read in my undergraduate degree, but decided to revisit for this series. Not only because I didn’t have enough money to buy a new book but also because it is a real interesting book in terms of gender.

The novel follows Consuelo (Connie) Ramos, an Hispanic woman who is forcibly committed to a mental institution (somewhere she has been in the past for drug fuelled child abuse, which caused her to lose custody of her daughter) for fighting back against the man who was trying to force her niece Dolly to have a ‘backstreet’ abortion. In her time in the mental institution she is visited (it is never revealed if this is imaginary or not) by someone from the future called Luciente. Through Luciente Connie is able to visit the future, which a communal community where the prejudices of Connie’s time are seemingly eradicated.

Woman On The Edge Of TimeImage: aprilisthecruellestmonth/Instagram 

I won’t gave anything more away from that but let me just say there is a reason this is a classic utopian fiction novel. Though I think utopian fiction somehow doesn’t always shock as much as dystopian fiction. Something maybe, which is indicative of how we don’t notice problems until the worse happens. Hence, the increased amount of social and political commentary and criticism since Donald Trump has become President (which, I’m not saying is a bad thing). The reality of Connie’s life though is incredibly brutal and the dystopia in itself (though tragically just reality), although another dystopian future alternative to Mattapoisett (this is the residence that Connie visits in the future through Luciente) is also explored.

The future world basically plays out the core ideas of the women’s movement at the time, which we know widely have moved on to from in order to incorporate not just one perspective, and is what you will probably know as intersectional feminism. However, the novel does not ignore issues of racism, classism, homophobia or issues surrounding the destruction of the environment so is more intersectional than a lot of the critique from the era (and still that appears today).

Also, to understand Connie’s experience of the mental institution better and the concept of different experiences I think its useful to compare Connie experiences with the experiences related in Girl, Interrupted. Both woman suffer from a lack of privacy, and their agency removed. However, Susanna (played by Winona Ryder) in the film adaptation comes from what appears to be a middle class background and is white (at least this is the case for the film- I have read the book but can’t remember if there was any direct references to financial background). While her experiences in the mental institution are far from therapeutic if something happened to Susanna there would be people that would care, and it would not be as easily dismissed. However, it is important to note in the 1960s in general using psychiatry to control women was still commonplace (and actively criticised by the feminist movement) with Diazepam (Valium), which became known as ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ regularly prescribed to woman to cope with the pressures of being a housewife.

Themes, which were present in Season 1 of the popular show Mad Men, where Donald Draper (Jon Hamm) is told by his wife’s (Betty Draper portrayed by January Jones) psychiatrist what they discuss during their sessions. The way it is framed suggests that this behaviour is most definitely commonplace, and all it did was serve to infantilise Betty even further (which, was arguably contributed to her needing to seek help in the first place).

Betty Draper Mad MenImage: Mad Men/ AMC/ Lionsgate Television

However, there are fewer narratives of what the experience of being a mental institution is like for a woman of colour (this novel being the first I have personally come across), with the general psychiatric patient presented to us by the media as thin, white and generally ‘misunderstood’ (thereby trivialising mental illness). Even depictions in film  that are regarded as doing a good job at exploring mental illness, I have not personally seen show the experiences of a woman of colour experiencing mental illness (if there are examples, please direct me to them).

This is why Piercy’s novel is refreshing, and although as far as I can tell the experiences in the novel do not come from her personal biography, for the novel Marge Piercy was careful to talk to, “past and present inmates of mental institutions who shared their experiences with me” (taken from the acknowledgements page of the novel).

One other important theme within the novel is family, and the expectation that a woman should live only for her family. Connie is a primary example of this, as she is expected by members of her family (especially her brother) to be subservient and grateful no matter what. Because she’s a woman. She also carries the guilt of what happened with her daughter during the time she was going through the grief of losing someone dear to her. Everything Connie does is tied to family, and all the blood, sweat and tears she has lost because of them is dismissed. It is what she is supposed to do.

Hence, why I chose this quote from the novel for this blog post, which has been illustrated by the lovely Caroline from The Kawaii Kollective:

“You’ll do what women do. You’ll pay your debt to your family for your blood.”

Marge Piercy

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

‘Woman on the Edge Of Time’ is heartbreaking, defiant and hopeful all at once and that is why it is a classic piece of both feminist and utopian literature. Whether you are living in a situation where the prejudices against you are depicted still exist entirely or not this is an important novel to remind yourself that preventing these experiences is something that has been fought for a long time, and we should not let ourselves revert back.

 

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What I got for my Birthday: 2017 (Age 22)

So it was my birthday recently (the 12th June) and I turned 22. And pardon the pun but I am not feeling 22. Anyone older than me is going to laugh but 22 just feels so much older than 21. It doesn’t help that I feel like I’m going through another career crisis again where I’m not sure about what job my skills are best aligned for. At the moment though I just would like to earn enough to survive, and then figure out how I’m going to take the world by storm (tragic I know but we all have to start somewhere).

Let me also just start this post by stating that I am not doing this post in any way to boast about what I got for my birthday. I know I am very lucky and privileged to have this many people care for me and take the time to send me cards and presents. I just have always enjoyed these kinds of post on YouTube, so wanted to do my own blog version. Plus, another reason I started this blog was to make sure I not let significant moments just go by anymore. Forcing myself to catalogue everything in this way is the best scrapbook I will ever make and it means you get the thrill of delving into my not so fascinating private life.

Before I talk about the presents I received I first want to thank everyone who sent me cards, which includes my godmother Rita, my Nanny and Grandad, my aunts, Dave, Karen (who also got me some awesome TIGI Bed Head Colour Goddess shampoo and conditioner, which I would have took a photograph of but I’ve used half it already so it’s looking a bit worse for wear!), and to Holly who treated me to a meal at Harvester before my birthday. Also, thank you to everyone who wished me happy birthday on Facebook. If I’ve missed anyone out I sincerely apologise, it’s just being an idiot trust me, rather than a personal slight.

But now let’s get to the presents. I first have to talk about what my mother got me, though she is in fact yet to get the present (because she wants to give it to me in person) but I know that she is getting me some vegan Dr Martens. Expect to see me wearing them constantly as soon as I get them!

Before I show the rest of my presents however I’d like to apologise for my hideous carpet in advance- I did not chose it as I rent the property I’m living in.

From my boyfriend…

The Kat Von D Alchemist Palette 

The Alchemist PaletteI am especially fond of the rainbow effect that occurs when light reflects off the packaging. 

Alchemist Palette Inside

So it appears that constantly sending your boyfriend links to makeup pays off. In fact, he was actually really sweet and signed up to the notification list for the product (it sold out pretty quickly when it first came out) so he could buy it soon again as soon as it was back in stock.

Before this palette I was already a big fan of Kat Von D makeup. Firstly, because it’s vegan and cruelty free, and secondly because the liquid lipstick shades are ridiculously beautiful (which reminds me I NEED more of them- I only have Lolita II and Nosferatu so far).

The alchemist palette is kind of an all in one highlightet. I’ve experimented with it as a eyeshadow, on top of liquid lipstick and as a highlighter- all of which work! I have to say my favourite has been using it on top of eyeshadow and on top of my eyeliner (to turn it a bright blue!) but this is also partly because I need some more darker lipstick shades for the colours to really pop on top of lipstick (for lipstick I definitely recommend using a brush to apply).

You’ve probably already seen a million swatches of the product already but I took a quick swatch on the back of my hand if anyone is interested (finger swatches- no primer). From left to right the colours are green/emerald, blue/ sapphire, (by the way I have an insect bite under that swatch, apologises!) ultra-violet/ amethyst, pink/ opal. The palette is also tiny but I’ve been experimenting quite a lot and barely dented it so far so a little product definitely goes a long way.

Alchemist Palette swatches

Alchemist Palette Shades

Inside the Alchemist Palette 2

Chocolate and flowers 

I know that for a lot of people chocolate and flowers are kind of clichéd but I just really love having flowers in the room (plus I like using some of the petals to make dried flowers, which make your books smell nice too).

Also, it was nice to come home after work (yes, I worked on my birthday, I am a living martyr!) and see the chocolates and roses waiting on my bed.

Martin's presentRose Birthday

From my Grandad 

My grandad always likes to give each member of a our family a mixture of different pieces he’s picked up, or what he dubs a pandora’s box for our birthday. So I’ll go through each item one by one.

A blue pendant 

For anyone who looks at my Instagram story (so my sisters and Callie basically) you might have caught a glimpse of me wearing this necklace on my latest trip to London. I am also wearing a birthday present from my friend Callie in this photograph (and in the rose photograph as well), but more on that later.

Blue Pendant

Small ornament

I’m not really sure what this is or if it is of any historical significance but as far as I can tell it is a little tableau scene that you could prop up like a picture frame. Ideal for those who like to have a little bit of a vintage theme to their room. Since, I’m considering using the theme ‘vintage rose’ to decorate my room in the future this should fit in perfectly.

Small ornament 

Rose Scented Gifts 

My grandad recently went to Bulgaria to visit his sister so for my birthday I received a lot of rose scented items, as I believe that is a signature of Bulgaria. I haven’t tried them out yet so I will let you know how I find them but the packaging for the products is beautiful.

 

 

Rose Face Cream

 

 

 

 

Rose themed box 

So there was definitely a rose theme going on with the box, which I throughly appreciated since my favourite flowers are roses. This box also fits my ‘vintage rose’ theme nicely, and will be a great box to store jewellery in.

 

 

Owl ornament 

The other theme of the box was owls and reading. I don’t know about anyone else but owls and reading have always been linked together in my imagination, and since my grandad has always known me to be a bookworm I appreciated this theme a lot.

Owl ornament

Owl bookmark 

I love, love, love decorative bookmarks like this. It beats what I used to use as bookmarks any day, which was usually whatever was lying around so everything from receipts to spoons (yes, spoons). This is definitely a much prettier option.

Bookmark

Beatrix Potter bookplates 

I think this is a really lovely idea for anyone who has a lot of books, or someone you know who has put a great deal of time putting together a collection they want to keep or pass on. Basically, they are little pieces of card, which you can write your name on and stick into your books so everyone knows who that book belongs to. I also love that these are Beatrix Potter themed as I had the whole collection when I was younger (and hopefully still do- my book collection is everywhere) and loved them (and still do).

Bookplates

Notebook (with possible religious iconography) 

I get through notebooks with ridiculous speed so I am always very grateful to receive more of them. I’m not sure if the symbols on the front of this are religious, as I definitely think I see a cross. I don’t count myself belonging to any particular faith, though I don’t have any issues with using a notebook with this imagery unless anyone has any issues with me using it.

 

 

Leather gloves 

The last item I received are something I am going to give to another member of my family who is comfortable with wearing leather, as I’m not. I know my grandad wont ‘t offended by this (he probably did not know I don’t wear leather, as the subject hasn’t really come up between us).

Leather gloves

From my friend, Callie

My friend Callie was actually the one who made the cake in the main image for this article (with help from her friend Vickii who actually bakes for a living!). It was a glittery unicorn cake (as she knows I have a problem) with jelly beans in the middle (as I was really craving jelly beans the week before my birthday so subtly suggested they should be included in the cake).

Unicorn cake

Unfortunately because of the heat a lot of the roses melted but it still looked absolutely gorgeous (it also tasted amazing).

Inside of cake

The cake itself was raspberry and vanilla flavoured with funfetti sprinkles baked into the cake. It was also massive as you can tell from the picture above.

I actually have a video of me cutting into the cake and getting slightly stuck because I didn’t realise how big it was but I can’t upload it here, as it requires upgrading my WordPress plan (which, I really should probably do but I am also broke- the video is also not that interesting).

Pug Mug 

Anyone who knows me is aware that I have a minor obsession with pugs! Though to clarify I want to make it clear that I believe breeders should be encouraged to breed pugs with other breeds to help their health problems or make sure they breed the pugs with the least health issues. One day I dream to have my own pug, who I will love more than anything (sorry Martin though you knew this was coming), but for now thanks to Callie I have my very own pug mug for hot chocolates and green tea, as they are the only hot drinks I drink!

 

 

Lime Crime Velventines True Love Set 

Lime Crime is cruelty free and vegan. Two things I look for in my makeup (as a rule I won’t wear anything that is not cruelty free, and I try to wear vegan makeup as much as possible). These shades are also beautiful, especially the darkest shade. I’ve told Callie (who is a makeup queen and needs to do my makeup one day) that I’ve wanted to try some darker shades, as I’ve only really wore light shades and this shade did not disappoint. It wasn’t too dark to overwhelm me and it had a nice warmth to it that compliments my pale, freckly skin. You can see the picture of me holding one of the roses Martin bought me above, or the image of me wearing the blue pendant my grandad bought me to see what it looks like on me!

True Love Lime Crime

Here’s also some swatches on my really hairy arms! If anyone has any swatches of this product on a darker skin tone to mine and is happy for me to include them in this blog post let me know! I’m sure though there is a lot of swatches online of this product- I just wanted to highlight what they look like on my complexion.

Lime Crime True Love swatches

Also, the brown shade is really far apart from the others because I’m an idiot basically. The swatches on my hand are also the opposite way round to how you see the shades in the picture with the packaging.

Jelly Bean Magnet 

I think the magnet says it all really…

Fridge magnet

Though to be clear I do actually consume a lot of vegetables because as a person I’m quite healthy apart from my massive sweet tooth.

Tinkerbell Notepad

Tinkerbell is small and sassy so therefore I feel like we connect on a spiritual level. I’m sure quite a few people who know me will agree.

Tinkerbell notepad

Martin’s family 

I won’t mention all of Martin’s family individually by name in case they don’t want me too but thank you all of you for my present and card. Special thanks to Martins’s mum especially for sending it in the post to me.

Fjallraven Kanken Pastel Pink Backpack 

I LOVE this. Seriously, it’s so comfy and I really don’t get the strain I’ve experienced with other backpacks on the back when I wear it. Ever since I got it I’ve took it with me everywhere and since my colour palette is pretty much either pastels or black it goes with everything. I would definitely recommend this backpack for university or college (as it has a built in system that ensures laptops, etc. will be kept upright) and also as a day backpack for travelling. In this weather (I am not enjoying the UK heatwave!) I also appreciate the two spaces at the side of the backpack where you can store water bottles.

It also makes me miss when my hair was this colour.

Fjallraven Kanken Backpack

 

In my parcel was also a Cadbury’s bar but I’ve already demolished that so there’s no picture for that I’m afraid!

So that’s everything I got for my birthday this year! Despite the crisis it brought on I am thoroughly happy with everything I got and so grateful for everyone who liked me enough to buy me presents. I hope I can do as well as you all did for your birthdays!

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