Feminist Reading Journey: Alice Walker ‘The Color Purple’

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

I don’t know what it’s like to be poor (sure, my family were not what I would have called ‘well off’ but we were far from poor); I don’t know what it’s like to be black; whether I’m ugly or not is subjective and my cooking skills can be pretty decent depending on my mood. But basically what I’m trying to say is my situation in life is quite far away from that of the main protagonist of Alice Walker’s infamous novel ‘The Color Purple’; however that is the reason I started this whole journey. To read and learn about experiences other than my own.

One of my favourite traits in a person is when they can be empathic to other people. When they can push past whether something ‘offends’ them and see why it might offend others. Something, which is still lost on a lot of people. As, for example a few weeks ago I saw three men dressed up as the Jamaican bob sled team from the film Cool Runnings complete with black face, pop up on my Facebook feed, and a lot of the comments I saw focused on how it was just a ‘laugh’ and people should get over it. They concentrated on how it didn’t offend them, so people it did offend must just be oversensitive. I think this is a good example of racism in Britain works, and why people do not point to it as much as racism in America. It’s less blatant except when something like this pops up, and people cannot understand why their behaviour would cause offence. See also this brilliant article on how golliwogs are viewed in Britain today for this in action. Now, don’t get me confused, I am FAR very from being qualified to be the voice of racism within Britain. Not least, because I live in a privileged position that means I’ve never been the victim of it.

If you’re wondering what my ‘privilege’ is, basically I’m white, and I’m petite in height (this is not generally viewed as something that connotes ‘privilege’ but I’ll explain my reasoning a bit more below). And yes that means I get asked for directions a lot, as generally, people don’t see me as a threat. I’ve noticed this in airports/ in passport control, as well, where even my significant other has been treated different to me (not horribly I might add though- this experience is nothing compared to what people of colour have to go through), despite being the same level of politeness as me. However, he’s tall and some people can find the intimidating. I know this because when they realised that he was with me their whole body language towards him changed dramatically. I can only imagine what people of Asian, or black, or any other person who doesn’t present as white has had to go through.

However, forgive my rant. On to the book. Though, my rant is important because it shows just how good this book is at making you think about the racism in society that surrounds you, even though this book was set in a different time period and place to me. Also, for those not aware here is the context of the book, which I am unashamedly taking from Wikipedia: “Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of African-American women in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture”. The woman the novel specifically focuses on however is Celie, who is poor and uneducated and living in the American South, who begins the novel with a horrible home life, followed by a disastrous marriage.

So before I spoil too much of the plot let’s get onto the main things I love about the themes of this novel:

  • Female empowerment- Celie just doesn’t give up, no matter what life throws at her- she really rises like a phoenix out of the ashes (forgive my overdone metaphor).
  • Female friendships- it’s a little worrying that I still get happy about seeing positive female friendships in books and on the screen (though I’d like to point out this is not me referencing the film because I have yet to see it!).
  • Female sexuality- this book talks about female desire, which is important (obviously), and it has LGBTQ+ representation!!!

The Color Purple

Image: @aprilisthecruellestmonth/ Instagram 

So as you can see there is a heavy focus on the female within this novel, which is not entirely surprising as I’ve dubbed it as part of my feminist reading journey. However, in my research I saw that a lot of members of the black community were upset over the representation of black men as only being barbaric and as sexual predators. Though I believe this was mostly a criticism of the film (but I’m assuming by extension also the novel). However, a lot of people also said that it accurately depicted their experience, and the film was only supposed to tell one woman’s story, and not stand for black men and women everywhere.

Also, before I go on I would also like to take this moment to warn anyone who hasn’t read the book yet that it contains depictions of sexual violence (so if that makes you uncomfortable in any way shape or form I wouldn’t recommend this novel). It’s because of the sexual content of the novel and due to it’s depictions of ‘rough language’, and ‘homosexuality’ to name just a few concerns brought up (not forgetting the novel’s ‘negative image of black men’) that the book has been banned numerous times. I don’t know about you but if a book has been banned, I immediately want to read it more. Mainly, because the very idea of banning reading of any kind disturbs me to my core (knowledge is power after all).

The Color Purple The Kawaii Kollective

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

Overall, this book is about someone who had no voice, and following their journey to them finding their voice. While they were helped to that realisation by the friendships in their life on their way; ultimately Celie finds her voice all on her own. And I challenge you to think of a more empowering message than that.

There are though instances where fighting back also just sees someone constantly beat down (which, I’m sure a lot of people can find symbolic meaning in both now and for some constantly throughout their lives). Sofia, is one such character who experiences this, and she reminds me of a lot of strong people I know. Who would never give up on what they believe in. Unless it’s stamped out of them. Instead, of taking the sorrow from this, I try to see it as an example of if you crush someone so much, even the strongest people will fall. So that is why we need to ensure this unequal system of power that allows people to succeed in this is destroyed in the first place (though I’m sure you’re all thinking, if only it was that simple- and I completely agree).

So there you have it, ‘The Color Purple’ was everything I expected it to be, and delighted me in other ways (I was genuinely shocked to see depictions of homosexuality in the book- as I’d never heard this mentioned about the book or film before- though I’m not sure if the film is as explicit). If you like being sucked into someone’s world and truly feel like you’re feeling a character’s life, this novel is for you.

If you want to know more about what I thought about particular passages, etc. please don’t hesitate to leave a comment, as I fear this blog post is not as extensive as it could be due to that I’m currently fighting back a cold.

🍂April🍂

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Feminist Reading Journey: Naomi Alderman ‘The Power’

This book has quickly become one of my new favourites. Seriously buy it. Read it. Especially if you’re interested in gender relations.

The narrative is set in the future but looking back on a significant change in human history that occured. That change is when the world switches from a patriarchal society to a matriarchal one. The switch occurs because women around the world, particularly teenage girls, start to discover that they have the power to emit electrical shocks, some stronger than others. Slowly, but surely, women then start to rise up. However, when the power shifts so do women’s attitudes.

The PowerImage: April Wilson 

I don’t want to give a lot more away than that, and hopefully I’ve not given away too much. I have to mention the negatives this power shift brings though because as the title suggests the book is very much focused on power balances. The idea being that if any group has too much power that power will be abused.

Since the novel is also called ‘The Power’ I thought then it would be apt to pick a quotation that exemplifies how masterly Naomi Alderman explores power relations within the novel.

As always the lovely Caroline from The Kawaii Kollective has provided the illustration for this post.

“One of them says, ‘Why did they do it?’ and the other one answers, ‘Because they could’. That is only answer there ever is.”

-Naomi Alderman 

The Power NaomiImage: The Kawaii Kollective 

For real life examples of how easy power relations can shift you only have to look at the Stanford Prison Experiment. For those who don’t know what the Stanford Prison Experiment is it was an experiment conducted by the psychologist Zimbardo in which he assigned a group of volunteers the role of either prisoner or guard for a 2 week simulated prison experiment.

Soon the prisoners started to protest the conditions, and the guards started to harass the prisoners, and become sadistic. Eventually after 6 days the experiment was ended by Zimbardo after he was told by an outsider (he had become too involved in the experiment) that the conditions lacked morality.

If you are interested in learning more, as I’ve only briefly described what happened and not gone into some of the sadistic, humiliating tactics that the guards used, I suggest you read ‘The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil‘ or watch the film based on the experiment simply called ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment‘ (be prepared for graphic content). If you are interested in more examples of similar effects you can look up the Abu Ghraib prison atrocities (be warned graphic images will most likely come up in your search).

Also in relation to power dynamics, the novel does an amazing job at showing the reactions of different groups such as feminist groups, anti-feminists and everyone in between on the debate feel when the power balance starts to shift. And that power shift does a brilliant job more than a lot of arguments I have seen at showing what the current power balance is in the world today.

The novel also reminded me of how much a dialogue does need to exist. I will admit it is hard for me to watch content by anti-feminists. I however am going to make an effort to do so and not instantly judge the content. To do this I am going to watch ‘The Red Pill’ documentary by documentary film maker Cassie Jaye about the men’s right movement From watching the trailer so far some of the arguments brought up I do agree with. There needs to be more men’s shelters and men who are victims of abuse need to be treated seriously. I however, argue this should be a feminist argument (not that it has not been made as one before) if feminism keeps to what I believe it to be: the pursuit of equality. I can’t comment more on the rest of their arguments however without seeing the documentary first.

I also have been taking into consideration the words of the youtuber Laci Green (who I also just discovered- I’m more than a little late to the Youtube world), who talked about the need for an open dialogue, and debate. Though I admit it can be hard I am always trying to learn, and I want to make the effort to do so.

One part of ‘The Power’ that I also think makes it so effective is the way it shifts across different narrative viewpoints. Something, which when it is done masterfully I absolutely love (and ‘The Power’ certainly fits this brief). Though, when it’s done horribly it’s just confusing and a mess. ‘The Power’ follows the viewpoints of Roxy, a Londoner whose family runs a significant crime syndicate, whose world turns upside down when discovering her power; Allie a teenager who after discovering her power reimagines herself as Mother Eve and starts a new women’s movement that brings the women in religion iconography to the forefront; Margot who aspires to move up in the American government (and her daughter Jocelyn whose power comes with some complications) and significantly the male Nigerian Tunde who discovers the power of citizen journalism, as he documents women as they start to discover their power and makes it his mission to map this new movement around the world.

Tunde as a character however is not the only way that Naomi Alderman does a brilliant job at exploring how this event would unfold through social media and website forums without being cringe-worthy, which you can sometimes find from authors who either has not spend enough time on social media; cannot seem to understand it or are not digital natives.

Overall, this is a book that needs to be on university reading lists (I haven’t included younger audiences just because of the graphic nature of one of the scenes), especially when talking about gender. A lot of the times university can look back (which I cannot stress is still an incredibly important thing to do) but this novel is important in that it looks at gender balance in terms of the current political climate, which is something we all need to be aware of and do more.

This also needs to be on a university course reading list so I could talk about this with other people interested in debating gender (though I’ve also finished my undergraduate, and will be finishing my postgraduate degree soon so university is for NOW almost over for me). However, if anyone wants to allow me to teach a module on contemporary gender studies go ahead… (I’d be excited to see what the class could teach me as well).

So basically if you haven’t got the message of this blog post yet it’s basically to just read ‘The Power’ already.

Update: This is in regards to ‘The Red Pill’ by Laci Green. I am still very new to the concept of feminist debate and critique (though I’ve been engaging with feminism for years) so was not sure what to think when I first saw the video. For me personally it reminded me that I need to be ready to take part in more debate (and try to be on the defensive automatically), though I did not entirely agree with the way Laci seemed to be attacking feminists more than anti-feminists (I understand both sides have faults but the debate seemed very one sided). However, if you’ve watched the video I also highly suggest you watch Kat Blaque’s response video, as she highlights many very important issues with the video.

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Feminist Reading Journey: Sady Doyle ‘Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock and Fear…and Why’

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

So as mentioned in my last post, this year I set myself the challenge of reading for pleasure again, which quickly turned into what I have termed as a feminist reading journey: a chance for me to explore what I define as feminism and learn more about other women’s experiences instead of limiting myself to my own.

The second book that I read as part of my feminist reading journey was ‘Trainwreck: The Women we Love to Hate, Mock and Fear…And Why’ by Sady Doyle. However, I actually cheated a little with this book as I had already read it, as I received it as a christmas present from my boyfriend’s mum. I did though read it again the week I posted about it on Instagram. In fact, I was actually reading it as it was relevant to the essay I was writing for my Masters course (which I am anxiously waiting for my mark back for).

Sady Doyle TrainwreckImage: April Wilson 

‘Trainwreck’ is a powerhouse of a book. For anyone who has ever read women’s magazines, or was brought up on them (I read everything I could get my hands on) you’ll understand the narratives that Doyle is bringing up that these magazines (along with mainstream media) constantly recycle for famous women.

When I was growing up something always made me uneasy about these magazines, and I always gravitated to the fact that maybe it was because they weren’t deemed as very ‘high culture’, and I was someone who enjoyed literary classics (how could I enjoy both?). First of all, I know now that people should stop making these distinctions. You can enjoy whatever you want. Sometimes, we all need to read and watch something that we aren’t completely thinking about the whole time as well (to cool down our brains if you will). Secondly, I think the reason I was uneasy about these magazines was also how they made me feel. Like no one could ever be good enough. You were either too fat or too thin. Rarely, one of the women would be that perfect ‘size’ where they were just right, but they could easily have a big meal or a light lunch and end up swaying into a different category the next week. As someone who had little to no self confidence with the way they looked, especially regarding their weight, these magazines I know no did nothing to help. Unsurprisingly, they just fuelled my obsession making me more addicted to them (I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been in this cycle).

However, I want to make it clear that Doyle’s book does not blame the media solely for turning women into trainwrecks but our patriarchal society that allows women to only exist as binary opposites: the ‘good’ (silent) woman or the ‘bad’ (mad) woman.

One of the reasons I love ‘Trainwreck’ so much is that it talks about how these women shouldn’t be blamed or ashamed for what happened to them (so many times have I heard that Paris Hilton is a spoiled heiress who leaked her own sex tape for fame- everyone seems to ignore when she says how she felt betrayed when the tape was leaked).

Or as she put in her own words, with an interview with Piers Morgan:

“I didn’t want to be known as that, and now when people look at me they think that I’m something I’m not just because of one incident one night with someone who I was in love with. People assume ‘Oh, she’s a slut’ because of one thing that happened to me and it’s hard because I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life and explain it to my children. And it’s something that’s changed my life forever and I’ll never be able to erase it.”

She also described it, as,”the most embarrassing, humiliating thing that has ever happened to me in my life.”

I also love the way in which the book uses examples from the past, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, and Bille Holiday to show that this is not a new phenomenon; turning women into spectacles and trainwrecks when they become too vocal is nothing new!

In fact, I love this book so much I’ve actually talked about in an article before, in which I discussed the ways in which I believe Beyoncé by choosing to spread the news that she is pregnant herself on Instagram is showing that she is in control of the way she is viewed- she will not become a part of the media’s narrative- she makes the narrative.

When sharing the article on Twitter I was even lucky enough to get a reply from Sady Doyle who not only tweeted the article, but quoted it (I am beyond honoured she took the time out of her day to read this).

I am also so grateful that the lovely Caroline from The Kawaii Collective (who has been providing me with lovely illustrations of the authors I am reading along with my favourite quotation from the book) illustrated this beautiful drawing of Sady Doyle, surrounded by the women she refuses to let the media demonise (how many of these women can you recognise?).

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!

Sady Doyle

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

So I urge you to read ‘Trainwreck’ and then think about the famous women you have seen that are demonised by the media, and think about if the same narrative would still be in place if they were male?

The book I am reading this week is Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’.

Maya I Know WhyImage: April Wilson 

Next week I will be reading 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!