The Power

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When I first started reading ‘The Power’, this year’s Baileys Prize Winner, I wasn’t convinced. The premise was amazing but the writing style didn’t grab me. I felt like it only skimmed the surfaces of each character in order to focus on the plot. But the more I read, the more I felt like that didn’t really matter. The plot was good enough.
What this book does wonderfully is expose just how ridiculously cruel gender bias is. This book is being sold as dystopia, but as far as I’m concerned (powers aside) it’s a fairly accurate depiction of modern life; the only difference is the pronouns have been swapped round. Instead of it being women who fear rape it is men. Instead of women being too afraid to walk the streets at night it is the men who finally realise that ‘the night was filled with monsters’. To a male audience I’m sure this will be a shocking revelation, but for women the night has always been populated with fiends.
It’s new to Tunde that ‘dread stalks him on quiet streets’ but not to us. To us this is simply reality. Written from the perspective of a man though and suddenly it sounds barbaric, reminiscent of books set in wars where the enemy lurks at every corner.
What is impressive about this book is how distinctly Alderman turns the tide. ‘The Power’ not only shines a spotlight on just how gender imbalance affects women’s lives, but unlike most post-feminist fiction, it also subverts the power structures of our society. It holds up a mirror and reflects the unfair and often unsafe world women live in.

It would be tempting to write a book that shows how a matriarchy would be much less violent than a patriarchy but instead Alderman has women raping men, killing them in cold blood, murdering each other in contest for power and not even showing mercy when it is children in the firing line. This book shows how it is literally just ‘power’ that got men where they are today. Pure, physical strength. They are no better than us, no worse. They just have power. And if there’s anything we can learn from this page-turner, it’s that power corrupts.

A Book A Week

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I’ve blogged before on my love of books. The stories they sell to us, the escapes they offer, the worth they hold. The art of choosing just one (or I’ll admit, sometimes two or three) from rows upon rows of them in bookshops. The shared act of discussing them, swapping them, lending and borrowing. Collecting them.

Simone de Beauvoir famously said, “When I was a child, when I was an adolescent, books saved me from despair: that convinced me that culture was the highest of values” a quote I can relate to a lot.

This year I challenged myself to read a book a week. I didn’t think I’d make it; these days my reading has acquired the pace of a snail.  But now we’re in June, halfway through, and I’m perfectly on target, currently reading book 26. Some of my favourite feminist reads so far have been ‘Girl Up’ by Laura Bates, Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’,  and Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’. Over the next few weeks I’m hoping to review a couple of my favourites.

You can view my reading challenge here: https://www.goodreads.com/feministfabulist

Recommendations for the next 26 books are highly welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not All Men

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Because it was dark and there was a man walking too close behind her.

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Yeah, yeah I know: not all men, right? But tell me something. It’s dark, you’re nine stone wet through, couldn’t crush a grape and a 6 foot guy you’ve never met before starts walking too close behind you. What you gonna do? In fact scrap that; it doesn’t matter how big you are, or how small he is, it’s always going to be intimidating. Statistically speaking, scientifically speaking, men are almost always stronger than women. It’s not sexist to say it, it’s just the way we’re built.

 

Put yourself in my shoes. It was early evening on a Friday night. I was alone, on my way to meet some friends in a bar. My skirt short, makeup plentiful. I’d already had a drink, and I won’t deny it, I enjoyed the double glances I got from guys as I strode through the streets. Confidence tapping out a rhythm as my heels hit the pavement.

 

There’s one particularly dark corner I don’t like going past; a rougher part of the city centre, unlit. As I walked past it to the main road I pulled my bag round closer, hand on the clasp. I look around more frequently and that’s when I noticed him. He’d come up close from nowhere like a shadow. So close behind me I could sort of sense him before I even turned around to check. There was nothing other than his proximity to make him seem suspicious. He was just a guy. Probably on his way to friends in bars just like me. All the same my stomach clenched tighter, and my heart skipped a couple of beats.

 

So back to that question – what you gonna do? Personally, I picked up my pace, trying to make it to the main road where it’s busier and better lit. Got my phone out and texted a friend.

 

Does that make me a chicken? A misandrist? A man-hating feminist. Or just somewhere all too aware of the facts. I know full well that ‘not all men’ are rapists and miscreants. I know full well that it’s not fair to make assumptions and label someone before you know who they are. But when you’re in that situation, and you’ve heard the statistics, heard the first person accounts from women who’ve not been so lucky, fear does not seem so irrational. It certainly doesn’t seem prejudiced.

 

We’ve all been there. Walking alone at night, wishing that we weren’t. Keys between our knuckles, hands at the ready on a mini can of hairspray. My mum bought me a rape whistle for Christmas. She just wanted me to be safe. But how horrific is it, that we, as women, have to prevent ourselves from being victims. That we have to arm ourselves with rape whistles and designers are creating anti-rape pants for women to wear on nights out. Where are the whistles that a man blows if he fears he’s going to become a sexual predator? Where are the anti-rape boxer shorts?

 

Rather than women having to cross the other side of the road because their stomach is churning with the thought of what the men behind them might do, shouldn’t a decent guy just think what it might feel like and slow down, or cross the road themselves? And before you shout but that’s unfair! We’re not the rapists! Think about it – neither are we.

In this situation, it isn’t women you should be angry at, rather the small minority of men that give you the bad name. Rage at them. Rage about the fact that by the time a woman turns twenty she’ll have been felt up by enough guys without consent, been wolf-whistled on her way to school more times than she can count and on average 1 in 5 of the women in her life will have been victims of sexual assault. You don’t get to say ‘not all men’. You don’t get to be pissed at us. If you do then you’re part of the problem.

 

I can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like for someone to look at you and only see a threat. For someone to fear you, and wonder what if…? I know it must be horrific, I know you are most likely innocent and haven’t ever hurt a fly. I know you probably feel awful when a woman crosses the street just to avoid you. But put yourself in her shoes. Stop saying ‘not all men’ because right now it doesn’t matter. Not all men are rapists but alone in the dead of night, all women are scared and that is not okay.

 

Facing Fear

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Anxiety and me go way back. I’ve worn the war wounds, cracked my knuckles and freaked the hell out. These days my anxiety is less of an iron belt cinched tight around my chest and more of a nagging great aunt who comes to visit once in a blue moon. I nod at her, smile and say, ‘yeah, yeah, sure. I’m just going to carry on, okay?’ On the rare occasion it does return full throttle though, those heart palpitations are pretty hard to ignore.

My default remedy is a duvet day, cups of tea and copious amounts of Netflix. It’s understandable to want to hide away from whatever it is that’s making your stomach tie itself in knots, but it’s not necessarily the best approach. I’m a firm believer in the be scared witless and do the thing technique. It might not work for everyone, but for me it’s tried and tested. Switching your phone off and ignoring the world might sound desirable but trust me, you’re going to have to turn it back on one day and the longer you leave it, the harder it’ll be. Ignore those somersaults, let your feet do their own little nervous dance, relax about your heart going ten to the dozen and then keep on going. Grab the bull by the horns and confront it with a shedload of sass.

I know it’s a hell of a lot harder than it sounds, and sometimes you do owe yourself a break, but the more you keep doing things that make you anxious, the easier they become. Try being scared of heights when you’ve climbed a God-knows-how-high wall thirty odd times. The nerves just start to wear thin. Whether it’s applying for a job, sending a text or even leaving the house. Try it. One step at a time. What’s the worst that can happen? Chances are it won’t be anywhere near as bad as you imagined.  

When I was at secondary school I had to make a speech as part of my English coursework. I literally couldn’t even read it out to just my teacher without shaking, blushing like a beacon, and having a full on anxiety attack afterwards. I could have given up there and then but I knew it was something I had to conquer. I started volunteering for any opportunity to practise public speaking. Cut to however many years later and I delivered a talk on employability to a lecture theatre full of freshers without even breaking a sweat.

If you do end up panicking it’s not the end of the world. Just stop, take a minute, breathe deeply and take a look around you. Recognise what is going on. One of my problems was that I didn’t even realise my anxiety was anxiety until years down the line. When you’re having a panic attack it’s easy to just think you’re ill. There were so many occasions when I was at school or college and my stomach hurt, I felt sick and dizzy, I couldn’t breathe. Instead of taking a moment and waiting it out it I panicked myself even more by wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I’ve walked out sick so many times only to feel better the second I’m on the bus home, or in the comfort of my own living room, it’s unreal. Your best bet is to stop and think. Why am I feeling like this? Am I really ill or is it purely anxiety? Am I safe here? Take deep breaths, drink some water, have a quiet word with yourself. Hide in a toilet cubicle if it makes you feel better. Tell yourself everything is going to be okay. Then go back out there and carry on winning at life.

The age old ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ theory is truth. Preach it and reap the benefits

 

 

P.S. It’s not always going to be possible. If you’re anxiety is too bad, don’t beat yourself up about it. Give yourself room to heal, time to pluck up enough courage to face the big wide world. Everybody works in different ways. Just do your best and the rest will follow.

Young + Beautiful

Rosie. Fierce Feminist and Business Owner. 20.

How confident would you say you were?   

My self-confidence changes minute-by-minute depending on a multitude of factors. When I’m alone in my room, fresh face of perfectly applied make-up, pouting at my mirror, perfect lighting illuminating all the right points of my face, I feel fucking hot. Standing in front of a full length mirror wearing nothing but a matching set of undies, I’m a literal supermodel. Out shopping, catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror, oh my God – what’s wrong with my face? Fresh out of a bath hot enough to boil lobster, my stretch mark glowing from the heat, are they always this bright and ugly? I can’t complain though really. On the whole, my body confidence is pretty good and I’m aware of how lucky I am to own a body which doesn’t stray too far from conventional beauty standards, and to never have experienced fat-shaming. My social confidence however, is permanently rock-bottom thanks to anxiety. I can go out thinking I look smokin’, but be too scared to enter a party by myself because my social confidence won’t match my body confidence.

                              

What is your favourite part of your body and why?

My mouth. Can’t eat without a mouth! And my favourite thing to do is eat. My lips are quite a decent thickness and they look pretty good slathered in my favourite liquid lipsticks too.


What is your least favourite part of your body? Can you say anything nice about it?

It’s a tie between my right eyebrow and my thighs, I think. Both are hang-ups probably made worse by comments I received when I was younger. I have a scar across my right eyebrow, I got it in an accident I had when I was a little girl and my eyebrow never grows right over it. My eyebrow idol is Cara Delevingne and it’s hard to achieve natural eyebrows like hers when you have a huge gap through one. When I fill them in I can achieve a pretty fleeky look though, so sometimes I’m quite proud of them, I guess. My thighs are quite jiggly and strangely out of proportion with the rest of my body, but they do work in harmony with my waist and boobs to give me that hourglass shape, so that’s kinda cool.


How has your body changed as you’ve entered your twenties?

I grew up being able to eat an entire buffet and never gain a pound. I made the mistake of not paying much attention to my comprehensive school PE teacher when she said our metabolisms will slow down and that old trick won’t work forever. My thighs are a bit bigger and my stomach sort of comes out a bit more than it used to but I can’t complain. It’s all fine really. I have an unnatural amount of stretch marks too.


When you’re getting ready to go out, what is your goal?

To be able to look in the mirror before I leave the house and know that I would defo fancy myself if I caught my own eye across the club. That doesn’t sound weird at all. Honestly, to feel confident, to look good, maybe turn the heads of a few guys and gals and to have fun! Dressing up and doing my make-up is so fun to me, I might actually prefer the preparation for going out more than the going out itself.


Would you change anything about yourself?

I feel like I’m supposed to be a good body confidence feminist and say no, I’m beautiful how I am. But that would be dishonest. Perhaps I’d leave my body how it is and change the desire to change something about myself? Silly answers aside: physically, I’d probably just want to make my body fitter and more toned, get myself one of those taut tummies and less jiggly thighs and get rid of that damn eyebrow scar. There’s more aspects of my personality I’d rather change but that’s off-topic.


Do you think how we look is important?

I think it is, but I don’t think it should be. It’s clearly important to society, or else people wouldn’t be rewarded for being beautiful and others wouldn’t suffer such horrific body shaming. It’s important to ourselves because of how important it is to society. But for the meantime, before all that changes (if it does), I think it’s important to just do whatever we can to be happy with ourselves so that we are mentally healthy as well as physically.


What is it like being a twenty something woman in 2017? 

Better than it was in the past but not great. I’m sure they’ll say the same things we say about the past in a hundred years or less after much more progress has been made. “Gosh, I can’t believe in 2017 America had a president who openly bragged about sexual assault! I can’t believe 1 in 4 women were likely to be sexually assaulted in their lifetime either, and that FGM was still a thing and trans folks were stigmatised so badly that 4 in 10 would attempt suicide!”

           

But looking more specifically at being a twenty-something, the good: young people are at the forefronts of progressive political movements like that which brought Jeremy Corbyn to become leader of the opposition and Bernie Sanders to almost become a presidential candidate, so we have hope and the drive to create change. We’re becoming quite aware of the sexism in our society and we’re making moves to eradicate it once and for all. The bad? That we still have to fucking do this anyway.

 


How do you think young people feel about their bodies? Do you believe that the media has fucked us up and distorted our vision?

I think the vast majority have some kind of body issue. Children are growing up hating their bodies and that hatred just keeps growing as their body changes and strays further from the Photoshopped images that are marketed to us as an impossible ideal. They are looking at models, actresses, musicians, whose magazine cover shoots are picked apart and put back together as the editor sees fit. When I was probably about 12, I developed a bit of an unusual obsession with the freckles in my face and dark circles under my eyes, after flicking through the pages of magazines and seeing perfectly airbrushed faces. Young, naïve me actually thought that it was actually possible to have no freckles, no dark circles, completely flawless and perfect skin, because the women in the photos did. I don’t know why it took me so long to realise those photos had been airbrushed, but I finally did after years of desperately coating my face in foundation to even out the tone. Trying homemade remedies to lighten my under eyes. Even now I apply copious amounts of light concealer to brighten that area, old habits die hard. So yes, the media has fucked up our vision so badly I didn’t even realise that I was aspiring to be a computer-generated image.


What is your dream for the future of yourself or the world in general?

For me to love myself 100%, all the time. For beauty ideals to cease existence and for the media to stop force-feeding us with fake interpretations of those ideals. This will only end when we are presented with media featuring authentic images. Images of plus-size women, women of colour, masculine women, trans women, disabled women, women with eyebrow scars and lots and lots of freckles!

 

 

Young + Beautiful

Kiran. Cake-Maker and Brainy Lady. 24.

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Describe your relationship with your body.

I have a very difficult and often confusing relationship with my body. There are days when I love the figure I see in the mirror and then there are times when I avoid looking in the mirror altogether. There are days when I feel beautiful in everything I wear and days where I feel like nothing in this world fits me right. There are days when I feel confident and comfortable in my own skin and days where I want to bury myself in the ground because of how I look. There are days when I wouldn’t change a thing about myself and times when I wish I could chop and change bits of my body until I was someone else. Like I said, it is confusing. However I am wholly aware that learning to love oneself is one of the world’s hardest tasks, especially when you are living in a world which makes money from individual’s insecurities and often works hard to make sure that people do not love themselves. I am slowly and painfully learning to love myself, every curve, spot and stretch mark and also working hard to remind myself that it is okay to look as I do.

How is your body different to what conventional beauty standards expect from you?

I feel as though my body is the complete opposite of conventional beauty standards. For one I am neither tall nor slim. Nor do I have long silky blonde hair and big blue eyes. I am average-short in height, on the overweight side and have medium length frizzy dark brown hair. My eyes are brown and of different shapes and sizes (making it even harder to get even winged eyeliner). I have scars on my face where I used to pop whatever pimples I used to get, I also have an uneven skin tone. All of this is far from the flawless complexion the world expects of me. I don’t have long skinny legs and neither are they perfectly shaved at all times, in fact they are stumpy, hardly ever shaved and also have ingrown hair. I don’t have a flat tummy (I have three rolls of fat actually) or perfectly long manicured nails (the last time I got a manicure was for my wedding over a year ago).

How do you feel about these differences?

I get frustrated and angry at these differences at times, especially if I am having one of those days where I hate myself. Having said that I also have the clarity to realise that I will never be able to fit into the conventional beauty standards because it is physically impossible for me and that is okay. I am a real working woman. My height is dependent on my genes along with the rest of my physique, therefore my hair, my length, the colour of my eyes even my weight to some degree is dependent on something which cannot be altered. I used to work in a locked rehabilitation centre which required that I had short nails and no polish. I am now a mother, therefore I do not have the time or the luxury to do my nails as I am constantly having to wash bottles and change nappies. My lifestyle along with my genes makes it virtually impossible to rise to the conventional beauty standards. I feel this is true for most, if not all, women, therefore it seems ridiculous to me that we even have a standard of beauty let alone one which seems so impossible to attain to most.

Do you feel the media has distorted our vision?

I feel the media has definitely distorted our vision. It has screwed up the way we view ourselves and others as well as distorting what our goals and priorities in life should be. I have seen young impressionable teenage girls more concerned about their looks and how many likes their selfies get on Facebook and Instagram instead of having goals and ambitions of what they want to achieve with their lives. This is such a tragedy to me.

Even for myself, while pregnant and even after I gave birth I have been concerned about my weight gain and how I will lose the baby weight, now three months postpartum it is still a concern to me. I often have to be reminded by those close to me that I should not worry about my weight as I am a nursing mother and to focus on my baby and that there is no rush to try to be slim. That I need to focus on being healthy. I feel as though the media has put so much pressure on us women that even after having given birth we cannot relax and give ourselves time to heal, we have to get back to trying to look good for the approval of others. This is especially true for women in the spotlight where every single thing they do, every single thing they wear and the way they look is scrutinised by the world. Such a shame.

 

What is your dream for the future

My dream for the future is that people will stop being judgemental of others, especially on the basis of their appearance. I want people to be able to live their lives loving themselves and not comparing themselves to others and other people’s opinions on what beauty should look like. I want the world to embrace everyone’s individuality and to focus on being healthy and kind and loving each other. God knows that is what the world needs the most right now. Frankly it shocks me that it is 2017 and that this is still considered a dream and is not already the way the world is.

Shrinking Violets

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‘The idea of shrinking is hereditary’ – Rupi Kaur.

For me it’s exactly that. Shrinking myself is a behaviour I learned from my mother. From growing up watching her front room workouts, and I’ll-start-on-Monday diets. It’s a behaviour I learned from the magazines left lying around the house, that I’d cut up to collage and instead admire the stick thin limbs of catwalk models. It’s a language I learned from the soaps I was brought up on. The adults I was brought up by. The books I read too young. Somehow, calorie counting was a rite of passage. It meant I was a grown up.

So Kaur’s poem hit me hard. Hit me because I, like countless other young women, wasted so many of my teenage years trying to shrink myself. Trying to avoid taking up space because I didn’t think I had a right to it. Trying to, ultimately, disappear. I tried to become invisible by starving myself, by standing up on a bus even when there were seats left to take. By staying silent in lessons, and truanting from school.

Asking whether the patriarchy was at the root of my teenage anxieties, or whether my anxiety simply manifested itself in a gendered way is like asking what came first, the chicken or the egg. It was an ecosystem of self-hatred and I was the feast; utterly consumed.

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There are a thousand articles that start with the same story. It’s curious that even now we know just how damaging the desire to be thinner is, the message still pervades. We are still told day after day, advert after advert that we need to shrink ourselves. That we need to be less.

To keep all the money and all the power in one male-dominated place, the patriarchy needs us small and silent. So it sells us images of bone thin girls and it sells us the idea that if we try this one thing, buy this one product, we’ll be that much closer to good enough. And we fall for it. Of course we do. They throw millions at this shit. It’s even leaked into the medical profession. Not-thin has become tantamount to being sick. Doctors tell us we’re overweight, even though we exercise our arses off and are toned to high heaven. A nurse sneers at my size 8 sister and tells her to cut back. How can we argue with this? How many women would have gone home from either of these appointments and cried? I know I would have. My confidence knocked with one fell swoop.

Let’s face it, it’s genius. What a way to keep the status quo. What a way to weaken the opposition. Because, how can we fight back if we’re running on empty? How can we function in the workplace if we’re seeing stars from lack of food. How can we speak out about what’s right and wrong, if secretly we hate every last ounce of flesh we’re standing in? How can we unite and fight if we’re racked with jealousy and secretly we’re tearing ourselves apart?

My weakness lately is when I hear other people talking about their diets. It’s all very well throwing out the scales, and ordering in the pizza but when I hear other people saying how much they’ve lost this week, I miss that thrill. I feel guilty for being bone idle and even more, I feel out of the loop. That world used to be mine. But of course, I’m mentally healthier on the outside looking in.

It’s a hard one, and I’m no more enlightened than the rest of us. I’ve relearned a language. Forged a new lens to look at my body through. I don’t weigh myself anymore because it becomes an obsession. I don’t diet any more because it becomes a competition. But I still look at my body from time to time and wish it was better. It’s hard to break the habit of a lifetime. One thing is different though, even if I do slip, I know now I have a right to unapologetically take up space. I know I have a right to put my opinions out in the world, and not feel guilty about it. And I know I need to do more of it; we all do.

We need to stop shrinking, unfurl our wings and broaden our horizons. Outspread the manspreaders. Get on your soap box. Be like my sister who only calorie counts to see what new levels of greed she can achieve in one day. Be loud, be big, be bold, and don’t be afraid to inhabit your space. It belongs to you. Your presence isn’t an inconvenience, it’s a blessing. Own it.

The poem in the photograph is from Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey.