Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “feminism”

lefaquin’s #CBR4Review #24: Manifesta: young women, feminism, and the future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards

As contemporaries of Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards have written a book that is in many ways similar to one of the first books I reviewed for CBR this year, bitchfest. Both books target young feminists and hope to invigorate young women everywhere to be revolutionary in their everyday lives. While bitchfest was an extremely varied collection of pieces from the magazine, celebrating women and feminism, Manifesta has a more coherent message and felt more organized as a whole (a fact definitely related to the clear structure of Manifesta and to the cohesive vision of the two authors who penned all of the chapters therein). Bitchfest was better at pushing the envelope on feminism, and brought a lot of new ideas into play for me (and, I presume, for other readers). While Manifesta is jam packed with information and ideas, Baumgardner and Richards don’t set out to really push the boundaries of contemporary feminism as much as they try to include everyone in their quest for equality.

Manifesta has a much more didactic feel than bitchfest, but even as a relatively well read feminist, I had a lot to learn from this book. Baumgardner and Richards were both big activists and writers in the early 1990’s, and they offer great firsthand narratives of young activists around that time. Additionally, Manifesta has a great look at the history of feminism while encouraging young women to be inspired by their feminist foremothers. I really enjoyed their discussions of motherhood and raising young girls to be feminists. Those were partially couched in discussions of barbies, the mainstream media, and looking at how to introduce positive female role models and healthy ideas about sexuality into the lives of young teens.

It was also really interesting to hear their take on feminist writers like Naomi Wolfe and Elizabeth Wurtzel, two writers who I feel have been criticized very harshly by the media – there was a pretty hilarious review of Naomi Wolfe’s book in The New Yorker earlier this year (Wolfe goes to a lot of tantric sex workshops, and start calling her vagina her yoni). However, Manifesta was originally written around 1999, and this reprint has some updates, but much of the content remains unchanged. I also liked Baumgardner and Richards take on Katie Roiphe and her theories on college campus date rape, and the take back the night scene. For the most part, the authors pretty clearly explain feminist history, contemporary feminist thought, and reason their arguments. The appendices are also pretty amazing – there is a huge set of fantastic footnotes, a great timeline of feminist history (which focuses more on recent events, but is still pretty comprehensive), lists of great feminist organizations to volunteer with, work with, or to simply use their services. However, I love that at the very end, they put a huge call to young women to get active in their communities, and pretty clearly spell out the ways in which everyone can donate their time or money to worthwhile causes. Although it’s not as necessary for me anymore, I think this would be a great resource for teenagers and young college aged women who are looking for a call to action, or aren’t quite sure how to put their feminist values into action (or even why they should).

Mrs Smith Reads The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, #CBR4, Review #24

“There is more than one kind of freedom. In the days of anarchy, it was ‘freedom to.’ Now, you’re being given ‘freedom from.’ Don’t underrate it.”
—The Handmaid’s Tale

The first time I read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, it was just after it was published in the mid-1980s. Thinking back, I remember the book being a quick read, with an interesting take on a dystopian future scenario which depicted a fundamentalist Christian political resurgence born out of the decadent, free-wheeling sexual and economic liberation of the late 20th century. In the story, women are reduced to chattel and are forced into marriage, servitude or sexual slavery by the Commanders of the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States of America. Education and reading are forbidden, heretics are executed and hung on a wall for all to see, women have no rights and can’t own property and the all-seeing eye of the government is based on fundamentalist, old testament “values” that preserve male superiority and control. I was in my early 20s and proud to have been an active participant in a decade of progress in women’s rights, the firm cementing of women’s choice in health care decisions, growing women’s employment and financial independence (even though it was the middle of the Reagan-era). I thought the allegory made for a good read, but seemed a bit far-fetched.

Hearing recently that two local women got 2000+ people to sign a petition to remove The Handmaid’s Tale (and others) from the suggested (not required) Summer reading list for Senior AP English students at my son’s high school, claiming that it “denigrates Christianity” and contains “pornography,” I was a bit surprised. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “I don’t remember anything about that book being even remotely steamy.” I did remember the repressive, puritanical regime and at the time I first read the book, I thought it pushed the envelope of possibility. Thinking about it again, in light of the most recent attempts at reigniting the so-called “culture wars,” in particular this small skirmish here in my own neighborhood, I wondered how I would feel about it today. So, I did what too often isn’t done in these situations: I downloaded a copy from the library to my Kindle and gave it a re-read.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #18: All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

As an avid reader of hooks’ work, I absolutely loved this book, and thought that hooks raised excellent questions about the state of love in our lives. I wish that more people would write about their search for fulfilling, feminist oriented relationships (and get more press for it). That being said, this candid discussion of love, relationships, and hooks’ search for a new kind of love is definitely not for everyone, even though I think that most readers could take away something new. Check out the rest on my blog.

pyrajane’s review#41: Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work Is Done by Susan J. Douglas

I love non-fiction books that are solidly researched and then written in a conversational tone.  There’s a time for textbook-like writing, but I prefer non-fiction where the author’s voice comes through.  Sarah Vowell does it and whenever I read her historical books I feel like we’re hanging out and she’s all “Oh, hey!  Did I tell you about President Lincoln getting assassinated?  Check this out…” and then we laugh and laugh and are best friend forever.

Douglas writes in this same way here and I really enjoyed it.  A different author could have easily made this a book of facts and I would have zoned out quickly and put it aside as things I sort of already knew, but am not interested in reading about in terms of numbers and percentages.  Instead, Douglas pulls from the research and applies it to pop culture and media and says “OK, look.  Here’s what the data tells us, but let’s look at what’s happening on TV.”  I appreciated this approach, and while it still didn’t make for a quick read over a day or two, it was a pleasure to spend time with it and think about my own stance on feminism.

Read the rest here and why this is good read for anyone.

DragonDreamsJen’s #CBR4 Review #59 & #60 Thendara House & City of Sorcery by Marion Zimmer Bradley

These two Darkover novels are so intrinsically linked that, once I read them back to back again, I decided they needed to be reviewed together.  Both of them form part of the Shattered Chain trilogy which deals with the Free Amazons of Darkover.

The  Shattered Chain was published in 1976 and deals with the Order of Renunciates, a group of women who believe in defining their own choices and destiny amid a very patriarchal society and culture.  Thendara House and City of Sorcery continue the tales of the main characters, Terran Magdalen Lorne and Free Amazon Jaelle n’ha Melora who end up exchanging places and eventually blades as Freemates.  These are both stories of women seeking to find their own places amid society’s expectations and following their true dreams.

While these books were written in the 70s and 80s amid our own exploration of Feminism, many of the issues that Bradley explored then still ring true today.  There are still women who feel that wrench between career and rearing children, between taking care of everyone else and finding time to take care of themselves.  These two novels, against a Science-FIction/Fantasy setting with great plot twists and character development, explore those issues in a deep and meaningful way without ever taking away from the story or weighing the books down with too much philosophy.

The more I reread Bradley’s work this summer, the more I marvel at her deft touch with words, plot and characters.  I appreciate that each book tells its own story, even though some of them contain familiar characters.  Each tale ends and yet they all weave together to form such a rich collection of stories to enjoy for the first time or rediscover once again.

Thendara House – Paperback format, 414 pages, published in 1983 by DAW Books.

City of Sorcery – Paperback format, 423 pages, published in 1984 by DAW Books.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #42 The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

I was hesitant to pick up another Margaret Atwood book after reading The Handmaid’s Tale.  I was told it was a dystopia, not a horror story.  Every time a new sound bite makes the rounds on the internet, be it about my rights or birth control or what have you, I started to wonder if I could build a feminist shelter and survive in there while the rest of the world turns into Gilead.

Luckily, The Blind Assassin is not a scary view into the future, although Atwood still uses feminist themes in the book.  The Blind Assassin mostly takes place between WWI and WII in Canada.  Iris and Laura Chase are the daughters of a wealthy button manufacturer.  After their mother died, Iris and Laura were mostly left to their own devices, with only the housekeeper keeping them in check.  Laura is an odd child; she is very literal and seems very detached from reality.  As the girls grow up, the Depression sets in and the button factory takes a hit.  The owner of a rival company makes a deal with the Chase patriarch – Iris in exchange for saving the company.  Around this time, Laura, a teenager now, falls for a college age anarchist, Alex.  The button factory burns to a crisp and blame falls on Alex.  Iris and Laura hide him out in the attic until he can get out of town.

A few days after WWII ends, Laura kills herself.  She is remembered for her book, published posthumously, called The Blind Assassin.  The Blind Assassin is a story-within-a-story, which makes the actual book called The Blind Assassin a story-within-a-story-within-a-story.  The fictional Blind Assassin is the story of a high society woman carrying on an affair with a man on the run from the law.  The man writes pulp science fiction for cash and begins to tell her a story of a town on another planet.

The feminist themes are subtler in The Blind Assassin compared to The Handmaid’s Tale, but they are still present.  The biggest theme is the idea of freedom.  Iris believes herself to be free, even though her new husband and sister-in-law control almost all aspects of her life.  She believes herself to be free because they will never be ever to control her mind.  This illusion of freedom shatters when Iris attempts to exert her believed freedom.  This passive “freedom” gives Iris a sense of autonomy, but it really works to keep her in control of her husband and sister-in-law.

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #14: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

This book is when you realize that the Millennium trilogy is really all about Lisbeth Salander. It takes up all the threads woven into place in Dragon Tattoo and starts to make a tapestry of them: Lisbeth’s mysterious back-story, what’s she’s done with the fortune she stole from Hans Erik Wennerström, the continued consequences of her guardian Bjurman raping her (and the revenge that is currently represented by the tattoo on his stomach), and the reappearance of her former guardian, Holger Palmgren — not to mention her relationship with Mikael Blomkvist. The book is structured around solving the murders of two people who were working on an exposé on sex trafficking for Millennium, and due to unforeseen circumstances, it’s Lisbeth the police are hunting for the murder. The police, Blomkvist and Millennium, and Lisbeth’s old employer, Dragan Armansky, are all trying to solve the murders at the same time, and they all have different reasons for doing so. What they really end up investigating is Lisbeth’s life, and they find secrets there that even she didn’t know.

Also fulfilled from Dragon Tattoo is Dragan Armansky’s premonition that Lisbeth would be the perfect victim, which sounds kind of offensive at first, but after having read this book, I see what he means. She is other in almost every way imaginable, and thus she is the perfect bogeyman, the perfect scapegoat. The media in the novel plays on Sweden’s (and our very human) cultural obsession with social deviance; it’s the kind of simplistic scapegoating that always assumes that different equals evil. She is presumed to be the murderer based on the preconceived notions of men who don’t even know her. Without directly stating it, Larsson is indicting the infrastructure of the criminal justice system and the men who run it — they let their prejudices about mental illness, sexuality, gender (the assumption that Lisbeth is a prostitute, just because she likes sex) influence the way they investigate these murders. And of course he sticks some men in there who just hate women, because they feel threatened by them.

The one criticism I have isn’t really a criticism, as it doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of the story. The book is structured so that the reader may be left in doubt as to whether Salander committed the murders, but it’s almost a waste of time. There is never a moment’s doubt about Salander’s innocence. We’ve come to know and trust her over the course of a book and a half, and we know that she would never murder two innocent people, especially people who have devoted a significant portion of their lives to exposing the men who make a living — or gain sexual pleasure — from exploiting and harming women.

Structurally, The Girl Who Played With Fire is also notable for the distinct lack of interaction — save for in its last two pages — of its two leads. Blomkvist and Salander spend the whole book apart, as Salander isn’t sure how to deal with her feelings for him, or with the hurt pride that comes with them. One of the things I like most about their relationship is how stupid Lisbeth feels for loving Blomkvist. She has no capacity for understanding her own feelings, or the feelings of others, and can’t fathom that Blomkvist might really care for her, even if it’s not in the way she wishes. She expects the worst of people, and for just a second there she let herself believe Blomkvist was different, so it was all the more painful for her when she realized she’d let him in where he could hurt her the most. It makes me sad. (Incidentally, I think that Rooney Mara did an impeccable job conveying that tender and guarded emotionality in Fincher’s film, something that I felt was lacking in Noomi Rapace’s version of Lisbeth, and that’s probably why I prefer the Fincher film over the Swedish original.)

Lastly, I just want to take a minute to talk about the unbelievable badassery of Lisbeth digging herself out of her own grave. I just love her so much.

[Link to original review here.]

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #13: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

This is my second time through the Millennium trilogy, so I’m going to try and keep this review short and to the point.

Everybody and their mother knows the story by now, or at least they should. Mikael Blomkvist, disgraced journalist, is hired by one of the richest men in Sweden to find out what happened to his sixteen year old niece, Harriet Vanger, who was murdered over forty years before. Lisbeth Salander is a socially introverted, genius hacker, whose life collides unexpectedly with Blomkvist’s, and the two form an unlikely partnership. I first read the books back in February 2010, and since then I’ve seen both film adaptations (Swedish and American) multiple times. I am so familiar with the story by now that I’ve internalized it. I am completely unable to be objective — as if I ever was able in the first place — Salander and Blomkvist are real people as far as I’m concerned, and I think it’s a damn shame we won’t ever get to hear any more from them past book three.

For those of you who haven’t heard plot details — where have you been? — I’m not going to say any more about the plot because part of the joy the first time is the discovery of all the twists and turns. What I am going to say is that even though Larsson’s writing may not be stellar*, his imagination more than makes up for it. Lisbeth Salander is one of my favorite characters in literature, ever, and the ways in which he makes use of her to say his peace about the rights of the dispossessed — specifically the rights of women in male-dominated cultures, and the marginalization of the mentally ill and those that are perceived to be sexually or socially deviant — ultimately elevates the trilogy beyond mere thriller/mystery status. It’s the reason I can sit here and read it (or watch it) multiple times and still the story will have lost none of its power, despite the fact that I already know all the answers to whatever mysteries it contains.

*For instance, lots of people become annoyed when he starts describing in detail meals characters eat, or actions they take that are seemingly irrelevant. I happen to find this quirk of his endearing, and all of those “irrelevant” details are part of what I love about his books.

Part of what fascinates me about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo as a first novel in a series is that Larsson kind of sneaks up on you with the point of it. You could very easily read the book and then assume that sequels will follow the pattern set up by the first one, and would focus on Salander and Blomkvist as a team who will solve mysteries like it in the future. Instead, Larsson mainly uses the story of the Vangers as an extended “meet-cute” for Salander and Blomkist, and to set up Salander as the protagonist. Her story is the real center of the trilogy. This book is as much about setting up the next two books as it’s about itself. Larsson wasn’t interested in creating a series of grocery-store mysteries. He was interested in delving into the nitty gritty of Salander’s life, and all the meaty stuff comes directly from it. She is the mystery and the challenge, not some murderer du jour.

The last thing I want to say is that it puzzles me when people express their disdain for this series by saying it’s misogynist. I have to wonder just exactly what kind of reading comprehension those people were taught in school, because these books are the very opposite of misogynist. Just because a story features misogyny as a theme, and characters who act in misogynistic or sexist ways, does not mean that story is espousing those misogynistic viewpoints. I can definitely understand people who simply object to the level of violence and dark sexuality that the book contains, but as far as I’m concerned, all that violence does have a very salient point at the end of it.

And now I’ve gone and lied to you about this being a short review. Whatever, I’m going to go make an omelet.

[Link to original review here.]

Mandazon’s Cannonball Read #CBR4 Review #2: Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein

Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a great book to read if you are new to media analysis and feminism, or want to gain an elementary understanding of the challenges in raising a daughter.  I appreciated Ms. Orenstein’s personal look into the gives and takes of raising a media-conscious daughter in a sex and body conscious society, but I was disappointed in the dearth of statistical evidence to back up her claims.  I would also not recommend this book to anyone who has taken an Intro to Women’s Studies class – you already know everything in this book.

Cinderella At My Daughter focuses on the animated and manufactured Disney princesses  (everyone from Cinderella to Miley to Mulan), our culture’s obsession and pressure for girls to associate with the color pink, consuming, make-up, dieting, and performing, and the virgin-whore dichotomy.

My favorite chapter in the book, “Just Between You, Me, and My 622 BFFs” focuses on the problem of living your life already through your next tweet or your next profile picture or funny status update.  As Ms. Orenstein summarizes, it’s “processing daily experiences as they occur, packaging life as you live it. ”   I started a Facebook account when I was a Freshman in college, when it was still known as “The Facebook” and it was only open to select four-year universities.  We had the option of posting a single profile picture, and there were no status updates, no photo albums, and no chat features.  Still to this day, every new status update I make or picture I upload makes me stop and pause – will this come back to haunt me in a professional or political future life?  What would my friends think of me if I post this?  Every part of my social identity is on display, and I am well past my anxiety-ridden adolescence and I still get concerned.  Ms. Orenstein explains that young girls are already so adequately primed to experience their sexuality and their emotions through how they look, that they are primed to consume and take part in these social networking sites that make every part of their identities on display: “Six hundred twenty-two people can witness everything she writes, every picture she posts.  Six hundred twenty-two people can pass that information on to their 622 friends.  Six hundred twenty-two people are watching her, judging her, at least in theory, every hour of every day.  How does that influence a child’s development?”

As I stated in the opening paragraph, this book has a lot of excellent qualities, but I do wish the author provided more statistical evidence to support her ideas.  I gave this book 3 stars – a good piece of non-fiction if you are new to media analysis or feminism, but I would also suggest this book to anyone who has a new daughter, niece, sister.

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