Feminism, what does it mean? For most of my adult years I’ve considered myself a feminist, but I’ve never really dived deeper into the world that that one word represents. My idea of feminism has always been unclear and evolving, and it seems that instead of one set definition of feminism there are, in fact, several different perspectives. To study this ideology and its arguments, I decided to go with modern writers – in the hopes they would be more relatable – instead of jumping straight into the daunting classics, such as The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. I chose two non-fiction books, How To Be a Woman and Men Explain Things To Me, which I read close to each other. In the end, I gained more insight to the current issues in feminism as well as perspective to some of the older arguments, but I’m not yet finished with my reading of the topic.
PAPERBACK; 312 P. EBURY PRESS, 2011 SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY
Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven’t been burned as witches since 1727, life isn’t exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them?
Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from the riot of adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother. With rapier wit, Moran slices right to the truth—whether it’s about the workplace, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, popular entertainment, or children—to jump-start a new conversation about feminism. With humor, insight, and verve, How To Be a Woman lays bare the reasons female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but also for society itself.
Caitlin Moran’s second book How To Be a Woman is a part-memoir and part-discussion on feminism. Caitlin Moran is a British columnist, music journalist and comedienne/speaker who has been writing a column for The Times since she was 18 – wow! My introduction to Caitlin Moran came when her third book, How to Build a Girl was published in 2014, but it wasn’t until I had read We Should All Be Feminists that I really started to look up articles and interviews of Moran. She is an amazingly outspoken and funny person, so it took me no time to get myself on the waiting list for the library’s copy of How To Be a Woman.
The book narrates Moran’s own experiences growing up and is presented almost like a set of chronicles from her teen years to moving to London, getting her first job, dating, marrying and having children. Alongside her memories and the funny incidents of those years she weaves in topics such as female sexuality, inequality, sexism and abortion. Moran approaches feminism through humour which is why even the worst moments have laughter-lines. In her thinking, the next wave of feminism should come through laughter and ridicule! She is unabashedly honest and almost crude about some of the topics which I think is part of her charisma that shines through also in her speaking. Having read a lot of her interviews before How To Be a Woman, the book did repeat a ton of things that I had already read. Nevertheless, I found the book to be a very enjoyable read as well as in parts educational. There were some parts with which I had a slight problem with (such as her flippant approach to the drug use in her youth) but in general I think the book might work well with women who do not already consider themselves feminists. Also recommendable to people who want to learn more about Caitlin Moran’s life.
HARDCOVER; 144 P. GRANTA BOOKS, 2014 SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY
Rebecca Solnit’s essay ‘Men Explain Things to Me’ has become a touchstone of the feminist movement, inspired the term ‘mansplaining’, and established Solnit as one of the leading feminist thinkers of our time – one who has inspired everyone from radical activists to Beyoncé Knowles. Collected here in print for the first time is the essay itself, along with the best of Solnit’s feminist writings.
From rape culture to mansplaining, from French sex scandals to marriage and the nuclear family, from Virginia Woolf to colonialism, these essays are a fierce and incisive exploration of the issues that a patriarchal culture will not necessarily acknowledge as ‘issues’ at all. With grace and energy, and in the most exquisite and inviting of prose, Rebecca Solnit proves herself a vital leading figure of the feminist movement and a radical, humane thinker.
In 2012 Rebecca Solnit published an essay titled Men Explain Things to Me and it quickly went viral. The title essay calls out the trend of men explaining things to women in a way that assumes that the listener doesn’t already know about it. The prime example in Solnit’s essay is the case where an older gentleman began talking to her about this highly acclaimed and very important book mentioned in the New York Times and continued his explanation even after he was told that the book in question was actually Solnit’s. There is much more to the essay, so if you’re interested, you can read it from Huffington Post‘s website.
Men Explain Things to Me and Other Essays is bound in this beautiful edition with seven essays and Ana Teresa Fernandez’s art included in between them. At the back the book is said to “hum with power and wit” and that Solnit’s essays are great “because they make you angry”. And that is true. Especially the first two to three essays present injustices that are hard to swallow, touching on topics such as mansplaining, IMF, Strauss-Kahn, equal marriages, and world bank. From the start it is clear that Solnit’s essays take a completely different approach to Moran’s funny tone. However, in her later essays about Virginia Woolf, inspiration and art the tone is a lot more calmer, but the magic is still there. These were really the essays that got me thinking and wondering – that gave me something new to work with. Solnit beautifully ties Fernandez’s paintings into the discussion of how we interpret art and whether it is possible to “read” art in a certain way. Her style of writing is serious, but witty, and invites the reader to participate in the discussion. Because the book is tiny, I read some of the essays several times to appreciate the overall style and craft with which they were written. The anger of the beginning did put me off for a while because it was so different from Moran, but as I read on, I warmed up to Solnit. I’d highly recommend Men Explain Things To Me to both women and men, as it has the potential to open eyes and give new perspective to the society that we live in. Moreover, it is not just a book about feminism – it is a book about us and them, about injustice and acceptance.
How can I tell a story we already know too well? Her name was Africa. His was France. He colonized her, exploited her, silenced her, and even decades after it was supposed to have ended, still acted high hand in resolving her affairs in places like Cóte d’Ivoire, a name she had been given because of her export products, not her own identity.
Her name was Asia. His was Europe. His was wealth. Her name was Her, but what was hers? His name was His, and he presumed everything was his, including her, and he though he could take her without asking and without consequences.