Update: What’s happening with my Feminist Reading Journey

Image: Pexels 

It’s been a lot more than a hot minute since I’ve written a post for my feminist reading journey series so I thought now would be a good time to have a bit of a catch up and discuss what’s happening with the series. So sit down, have a cup of tea (or if you are like me and hate tea, another beverage) and settle into this short and sweet post. To put it simply, I’m bringing the feminist reading journey posts back. Although, I’ve said in the past that they will be every two weeks; I think for everyone’s sanity including my own- more sporadic than that might be better but I will see how it goes.

I will be relaunching the series next week with a post about The Color Purple. I’m not sure what day the post will be out yet, but it will be an additional post to my normal Monday and Friday posts. Posts in this series I’ve decided will always be like that (apart from this one now), as I feel like putting the series in my regular content will limit my content a bit.

After that I’ve devised a line up (in no particular order) of books I’m hoping to complete by the end of the year. I’ve tried to pick up a line up from authors with a variety of different backgrounds and from different positions- as I always want the books I’m reading to not necessarily be books I know I’m going to agree with. I also think there is something interesting seeing how feminism has changed throughout the generations. The books I picked also discuss a variety of issues that I’ve not explored as of yet, including where body image stands in feminism, and I will also be looking in more detail about gender’s place within feminism- specifically looking at a novel by Kate Bornstein (a transgender author- I mention this only because it is important that transgender individuals are able to tell their own narrative), which ‘offers alternatives to suicide for queer youth struggling to be themselves’.

So without any more of my ramblings here is what is coming up. Next week when I post my The Color Purple post I will announce, which novel is coming next, and so on and so forth. So if you want to read along with me please ensure you check where I am at the end of each post. I’m also going to try to post my reading updates on my Twitter so make sure to follow me there: @aprilcruelmonth.

  • Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
  • Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
  • Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire by Sonia Shah
  • Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach
  • Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis
  • Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti
  • Hello Cruel World by Kate Bornstein
  • The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur (to check out my post on Milk and Honey click here.)

So there we have it. Who know if I will be able to get all of these completed by the end of the year, but here’s hoping. If you have any more suggestions, please let me know.

🍂April🍂

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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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Feminist Reading Journey: Rupi Kaur ‘Milk and Honey’

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

For anyone who isn’t aware of Rupi Kaur, well for one you should be. And two, let me do a little summary that although won’t properly categorise her awesomeness; will help give you an idea of what I knew about Rupi Kaur before reading ‘Milk and Honey’.

Before reading due to the cover of the book I knew that she was a New York Times bestselling author. I also knew that she had become famous after a photograph she posted on Instagram, depicting a woman lying on a bed having bled through her trousers  on her period, was removed from the social media site. Twice.

She responded with a public post that basically destroyed Instagram and made it clear she would not be censored. You can read the full post here, my favourite lines of which are:

“Their patriarchy is leaking.

Their misogyny is leaking.

We will not be censored.”

Well, I for one could tell she was a poet right away. Like how you can probably tell from my writing that I definitely am not.

It was this controversy surrounding Instagram that was the first time I was made aware of Rupi Kaur, as I had recently been researching the shame that surrounds periods and menstruation. Something, which had particularly grabbed my attention when I started to think about what homeless women must go through when on their period. I was of course not the first person to think about this, and in my research for the article I then wrote about the subject; I came across the charity #TheHomelessPeriod and Binti.

After, writing the article I actually also contacted Binti about volunteering for them, and I have since written several articles around the subject for them. Some of which you can find on my published page.

So as you can tell I went into reading ‘Milk and Honey’ having known Rupi Kaur through her photography and her position as an advocate to end the shame surrounding periods. What I found is a book of poetry so rich and full about all the struggles women go through life. Some I could relate to. Some I could not (due to my heritage in comparison to Rupi Kaur). But what I didn’t know I learnt from. And what I did know gave back that feeling that is hard to describe, but maybe is best described as being like honey to honour Rupi Kaur. As the feeling I am describing is both sweet and familiar, and also soothing just like honey. It is that feeling you have when you have read something that reflects back an experience you have also had and makes you no longer feel alone.

What Rupi Kaur has written I think intends to do just that, which you can see by the different subsections she chose to categorise her poetry by: ‘the hurting’, ‘the loving’, ‘the breaking’, ‘the healing’. Also, her poetry although devastatingly brutal at times is easy to read if you are not used to poetry. Or are new to poetry. As if I am being honest, although there are some poems I love; poetry has never been my go to option. I’ve never been able to have the same sustained connection with poetry, as I have been able to have with novels.

However, as ‘Milk and Honey’ depicts a journey through poems it provides a narrative and so a safe, similar space that us novel readers are used to feeling. Not that of course this is anything new for books of poetry, but when thinking of narrative poems; many people probably remember the long poems written in old English that they used to struggle with. Here is instead something you can sink your teeth into with being an english student.

However, all the while you are reading Rupi Kaur manages to sink her teeth right back into you. Partly, because there is an undeniable sensual edge to a lot of the poems that is open and unafraid (and of course makes me slightly uncomfortable to talk about just because that’s who I am) in its explicitness.

Rupi’s poems reflect how in recent years there has been an increasing movement of women taking back their sexuality and talking about it openly and honestly. Including the highs and the lows, and what sexuality is like for women from their own perspective. Rather, than the male lens that is constantly thrown on sexuality.

Women then are no longer giving into the theory that women have to be in competition with each other over these matters. Instead they want to discuss it. Something, which connects to the poem, which I chose to showcase alongside Caroline from The Kawaii Kollective’s beautiful illustration of Rupi Kaur.

“other women’s bodies

are not our battlegrounds”

-Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur 1Image: The Kawaii Kollective

I’m also happy to share a special bonus image of Rupi Kaur by The Kawaii Kollective, which is for now exclusively on this blog post!

Rupi Kaur 2Image: The Kawaii Kollective

The reason I chose this poem out of all the beautiful poems in the collection is that it is something I have personally over the last few years really tried to drum into my head.

I used to obsessively reading ‘women’s’ magazines. You know the ones that talk about who’s gained weight and who’s lost it. No one was perfect. Everyone who was tiny was revered (and then berated the next week). I didn’t enjoy the content but I couldn’t put it down. I internalised what the right weight was, the right size, always chastising myself for never living up to that ideal.

This continued into the start of my first year of university, and was not helped by the internet (not that I didn’t use the internet before university but I generally started to spend a lot more time on my laptop in general at university) where you could easily google someone’s weight and height. There were even websites dedicated to guessing (which I’m not going to put here because I don’t want to encourage anyone to go to them) celebrities weights and sizes. In the comments I would read I’d see people debate someone’s weight extensively, and argue passionately about whether a particular celebrity was telling the truth.

I hated the way these comments talked about women, and each other. But it was something I couldn’t stop.

I’m not sure how, though I knew why, but at one point I did stop.

I made a conscious decision to not read these magazines or look at the websites anymore. And I found myself a lot happier. No, it did not automatically cure the anxieties I had about my weight. But my weight and body image became something that no longer took up almost every working hour of my day.

The reason I am talking about this is because it is not just celebrities we do this to. I think Facebook as we are all aware is one of the biggest culprits for this. We all look on in glee if someone has gained weight, or slightly annoyed if someone has lost it. When quite frankly it’s none of our business. I’ve managed to stop myself doing this recently, as I’ve become more aware of the damage always talking about someone in terms of weight has done to me and others I know.  Now, I try not to engage with the changes in people I know past surface value. If someone loses weight and is happy about it, good for them, as long as they are healthy and happy, that’s all I care about. If someone gains weight, not that I’d ever make it my business or talk to them about it (I never know why people think it’s their business to comment); it’s none of my business. All I try to look for now is if someone is happy, and if they are not.

Personally, beyond this kind of conversation I will not talk about changes in my weight. This is only because I know I’d obsess over the figures. The weight before. The weight after. The gain or loss. It made the situation worse for me. Obviously, I am not saying no one should not talk about it ever. But I personally don’t have any sage wisdom to share. I don’t know enough about nutrition or exercise. Therefore, I don’t want to say anything. I’m not saying someone cannot be proud of their weight loss or weight gain for that matter. I’m just avoiding the subject because of my own personal experiences.

That’s why this poem was one that resonated with me the most. Though I can also think of an extension to the poem as well. Other women’s bodies are also not our aspiration. Your body is never going to live up to someone else’s. We all have different body shapes, etc. This also applies to men, non binary and trans individuals, or the gender identity you define yourself as (as these are categories in which issues with weight are still not discussed as much as they should be). Personally, this was something that took me way too long to realise, and plagued my teenage years, as my body shape then was different to all my friends.

I think in the end what I take from ‘Milk and Honey’  is that you can always rebuild yourself back up and start anew. You can change the way you think. About yourself. About other women. Don’t let anyone ever make you think you can’t. It’s never too late to change the way you think. We can all heal (as cheesy as that sounds).

Whether you can relate to the struggles that Rupi Kaur covers such as bad relationships, father issues, the way women are sexualised within society, or not, ‘Milk and Honey’ delivers Rupi Kaur’s perspective of being a woman. Read it if you can’t relate and prepare to cry if you can.

Feminist Reading Journey: Helena Kelly ‘Jane Austen: The Secret Radical’

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

First of all I want to apologise for being so behind with posting, as if you look at my Instagram you will find that the actual book I am reading is several posts ahead of this post! April is deadline time (I’m currently studying for a Masters) so I am afraid I won’t be catching up anytime soon, but be prepared for a serious amount of catch up work in May (I am hoping that May is going to be the month I bombard this website with content). This post then is about the third book in my feminist reading journey ‘Jane Austen: The Secret Radical’ by Helena Kelly.

This book was actually purchased right at the start of my reading journey when I had not really formulated a plan yet to what I wanted to read, but I actually like how it fits into my journey because of the way it paints the secret feminist history of one of the world’s most famous writers: Jane Austen (and I think before I look forward I need to a certain extent look back). Having been a Jane Austen addict in my youth (both of the novels and the various film and TV adaptations); I instantly gravitated towards this book when I saw it in my local Waterstones.

Jane Austen The Secret RadicalImage: April Wilson 

When I saw this book it reminded me of how I wished when I was doing my literature degree that we studied Jane Austen more, and I also was fascinated to see how the author was going to convince me that Jane Austen was a radical. Though I did by no means position her as a conservative or the alt-right icon that was recently bizarrely attributed to her (and has been frequently attributed to her in the past). I always thought for the time period she was in she had to be different and strong willed. After all, she was a female author when they were sparse/ often censored and she allowed her characters to breach class boundaries, which was radical for the time.

I was also interested in reading this book, as although I have read most of Jane’s novels I have to admit I have never read ‘Persuasion’ or ‘Emma’ (though I have seen a TV adaptation of it) so was interested in learning more about the novels, especially ‘Persuasion’ as I often seen it credited as a bit of a dud in the Jane Austen canon.

What was refreshing when reading was that each chapter had an equal amount of attention and care dedicated to it making me want to go out and read each Austen novel again just as much as the other. I have to admit though that it made me want to read ‘Mansfield Park’ again the most because of the complexities surrounding slavery that Kelly reveals lie within the novel that I had not picked up on (seeing the adaptation on ITV starring Billie Piper before reading the novel I think made my reading of the novel clouded by wanting to compare the two). I think it also didn’t help that Britain’s past concerning slavery is often glossed over in the school curriculum. We learn about the Tudors, the Egyptians, the Romans and then we usually end up skipping a great chunk of history and covering the First and Second World War (or at least that is what I remember from my experience).

I have seen and read a lot about American slavery, but British slavery and the true cost of the luxuries that were in Britain at the time are often overlooked, and not mentioned. I studied the effects of the empire in Victorian Britain but Jane Austen belongs to the point in British history that I think has become lost a little in school education (at least from my experiences in the UK).

I think if you are going to take anything from the book it is the desire to read Austen again. Though that doesn’t mean you will want to devour every work she ever wrote. Despite, the merit her novels have in discussing issues relating to the time she lived in; some are still more enjoyable and well written than others.

I for one plan to read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Mansfield Park’ again, as well as delve into ‘Emma’ and ‘Persuasion’ for the first time.

Whether Helena Kelly’s findings are new and revolutionary I do not know. I have not studied Austen enough academically to judge, but either way she gives an accessible starting point to both those used to academic scholarship and to those who are not. Whether you agree with everything she says about Jane Austen’s works or not doesn’t matter as she does her job by making you think about them. You end each chapter wanting to read the work she is talking about and see if your reading will now match hers, or if there will be differences.

In this way Helena Kelly certainly achieves what she intended to do:

“I’ve been working quite hard in this book to convince you Jane is an artist, that her work is carefully considered, structured, themed, that she uses her writing to examine the great issues of the day”.

 – Helena Kelly, ‘Jane Austen: The Secret Radical’ 

That is why the quote I choose and Caroline from The Kawaii Collective very kindly illustrated is one that calls on the reader to read Jane Austen’s novels again, as all Kelly wants is for Jane to have the voice that in her life she was often denied.

Helena Kelly Jane AustenImage: The Kawaii Kollective

This drawing, along with all of my other collaborations with The Kawaii Collective was originally inspired by Kimothy Joy’s collaboration with The Huffington Post.

Be sure to also check out Caroline’s Etsy shop if you like what you see and want to purchase her art work!

For all Jane Austen fans, ‘Jane Austen: The Secret Radical’ is a great book to read to get you excited about Austen again (though I doubt a lot of people need this encouragement), and a valuable part of my reading journey.

The book I am reading this week is yet to be announced. Be sure to check out my social media channels tomorrow for the announcement!

Last week’s book was Rupi Kaur’s ‘Milk and Honey’.

If you have any suggestions for what I should read next please comment below.

If you are interesting in collaborating with me on this project as well please let me know. My inbox is always open!