Tag Archives: Feminism

Florence King – Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady

ConfessionsofaFailedSouthernLadyFor some reason reading this felt kind of like reading Are You There God It’s Me Margaret, if that book had been written for adults and if Margaret had turned out to be a lesbian later in life. This was a great read in which Florence King details her life growing up in Washington DC under the tutelage of her Grandmother, determined to make Florence a lady despite failing with her own daughter, Florence’s mother.

While this book is Florence King’s memoir and tells the story of her life from growing up in the 1950s in Washington to her pursuit of higher education before falling in love with professional writing, Florence’s grandmother is by far the best part of this book. Her grandmother’s obsession with feminine weakness, even to the point of competition with other women over whether nervous breakdowns, or “female troubles,” were the true marker of femininity, is the most hilarious part of Florence’s story and becomes a reoccurring theme throughout the whole book.

Even though King writes about her grandmother with a sense of humour, she still maintains a great deal of respect for her and it becomes clear how much of an impact having such a strong willed grandmother, and mother, albeit in a different sense, had on her life. King writes beautifully which makes her memoirs a treat to read and enjoy.

Rebecca Solnit – Men Explain Things to Me (2014)

MenExplainThingsToMeRebecca Solnit’s book, published in 2014 has been has been lauded as having “become a touchstone of the feminist movement.” As I find with many collections of essays, some are a hit, while others miss the mark. Most however are strong, well thought out and provoke heated debates.

Her first essay, the titular “Men Explain Things to Me,” is so on point it’s hard to believe that no one had really vocalized this before. Basically Solnit details her experiences with various men who patronize women and “Mansplain” things. In fact this piece is credited with launching the term “mansplaining,” which has found its way into popular vernacular.

Her essays dealing with rape culture and sexual violence as well as the notions of gender equality are no less important, and she carefully balances thought provoking arguments with hard facts in an emotional plea for justice. She reiterates a widely held perception; that we live in a world that teaches don’t get raped instead of don’t rape, something that needs to change. In one of her more nuanced pieces, Solnit challenges opponents to gay marriage stating that such opponents do not want to preserve traditional marriage, but rather traditional gender roles. A same-sex marriage is a union between equals, and that is more threatening to right wing conservatives than simply the idea of “gay” marriage.

Solnit however is hopeful. She writes about the ways in which rape culture is being dismantled on college campuses and does acknowledges that she knows many kind, gentle, and decent men. Still her essays are important for showing us not only how far we’ve come, but also how far we still have to go.

Julie Klausner – I Don’t Care About Your Band (2010)

IDontCareAboutYourBandAnyone who reads this blog knows that I am a huge fan of funny books written by funny women. In her memoir, Julie Klausner shares what she has learned from dating her fair share of Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, Felons, and Other Guys.

My favourite chapter of hers is about how to handle dating a musician. I pulled two quotes that I thought were so brilliant.They show just how bitter and cynical she is, while also passing on some much needed wisdom.

“Your man will always love his bandmates in a way you can’t touch because they are the guys who help him create music. You can only help him create a living human being with your dumb uterus”

“Don’t you know that a musician who writes a song for you is like a baker your dating making you a cake? Aim higher” 

Klausner writes a bit like Chelsea Handler in detailing her outrageous escapades, but there is something a bit more subtle in her writing compared to Handler’s. Klausner is far more open and honest about her true feelings, she was genuinely hurt and heartbroken by a number of the guys she was involved with and lets the reader know it. It’s great, and there were so many times throughout this book where I identified with her. We’ve all been there, had our hearts broken by people who didn’t always deserve us, and its just always so reassuring to know that now matter what you’re feeling at the time, it will get better. Julie Klausner got through it and went on to write a fantastic book about it.

Tom Robbins – Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976)

evencowgirlsgetthebluesProbably the most absurd book I’ve read in a while, which speaks volumes about the time that it was written (1976).

The novel follows the life of Sissy Hankshaw, a white trash woman born with enormously large thumbs who considers her mutation to be a gift as it aids with her hitchhiking, her preferred mode of travel. Living as a hitchhiker, Sissy soon becomes a model for The Countess, a male homosexual tycoon of feminine hygiene products. The Countess also owns a ranch, operated by sexually open and promiscuous cowgirls. Through her travels Sissy meets the cowgirls and many other interesting characters including “The Chink,” an escapee from a Japanese internment camp who becomes hailed as a hermetic mystic. Through her travels Sissy explores her own sexuality through her interactions with various characters.

This is definitely a “hippie” novel exploring themes such as free love, drug use, political rebellion, animal rights, feminism, and religion, in a strange yet wonderful way. The chapters are short and are often filled with philosophical diatribes and short quips in which Robbins inserts himself as a character. It’s not really the type of book that I normally enjoy reading, but I had a good time. The movie was considered to be an overwhelming failure, but I think I’d still like to watch it, the trailer looks just as insane as the book was to read.

Lena Dunham – Not That Kind of Girl (2014)

NotThatKindofGirlI respect Lena Dunham, I admire her work, but unfortunately I just don’t relate to her. In most memoirs that I read I can find some chapter, or passage, or even the most passing reference that I can relate to. This was not the case. Lena Dunham has led such a different life and has experience so many different and unfamiliar things that I just couldn’t relate to anything she wrote about.

That being said, Lena is a fantastic writer; her book is written with an eloquence and grace that I was not quite expecting. She writes about traumatic experiences from her childhood with humour that can only be possessed by someone with the benefit od hindsight While I could not personally relate to her experiences with OCD, sleep disorders, therapy, and loneliness, they were written in a way that inspires understanding.

While Dunham does not write explicitly about her TV show Girls, one of the more fascinating parts of her book was seeing where the inspiration for certain story arcs and characters come from. Lena Dunham’s parents are both artists so she grew up with the New York art scene that Marnie is so separately trying to break in to. She spends one chapter writing about the antics that her and her two best friends caused while working at an upscale children’s boutique, Peaches and Babke. Her scenes translate directly to the episode(s) in Girls, which feature Jessa working as a sales clerk in an upscale children’s boutique, avoiding work at all costs. There are many other allusions to the show throughout her book and it was interesting to see where Lena has drawn her inspiration.

While I didn’t find Lena Dunham relatable, she writes with her own voice, in a very elegant and inspired way. There were certain parts of the book that I didn’t like, but overall Not that Kind of Girl, left a good impression.

Amy Poehler – Yes Please (2014)

YesPleaseFirst, I love Amy Poehler, I cannot stress that fact enough. I love her so much, and I wanted to love this book so much but I just couldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book; funny and well-written, but it was just missing that certain something that makes a book like this amazing. Her stories and anecdotes fell flat for me, and there were times where I knew she was trying to be funny, but I just didn’t find it funny.

She spends a majority of her book complaining about how hard it is to write a book, or mentioning her divorce. Still, there are some shining moments and the stories she tells about being in drugs (Amy Poehler smoked a lot of weed), about Parks and Rec, and about her children were simply wonderful.

I was talking to some friends about my mixed feelings towards this book, and they all mentioned hearing that the audio book got rave reviews. I was intrigued, and even though I know Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are both immensely talented in everything they do; in my head Tina strikes me as more of a writer and Amy a performer. So I bought my first ever audio book with an itunes gift card from three Christmases ago.

The audiobook does make the story come alive. You get Amy, as well as a host of guest stars reading her book and getting off track with other conversations. I would highly recommend the audiobook for Amy I would highly recommend the audiobook for Yes Please, but also be warned that you do miss out on the pictures/doodles/art that are included within the pages of the physical book.

Roxane Gay – Bad Feminist (2014)

BadFeministI have very mixed feelings about this book. I really admire Roxanne Gay, her writing and her ability to speak so passionately about important issues. Gay provides commentary on a number of subjects ranging from reproductive right to her thought on The Hunger Games. Throughout her writing Gay also remains very aware of her own privilege; She is a woman of colour, but acknowledges that she grew up in a middle class household and was afforded her certain opportunities.

Privilege is something that I am also keenly aware of. Throughout my undergraduate work studying the effects of slavery and free Blacks in Antebellum America caused me to examine my own privilege; was there any way I could possibly understand the lingering effects of slavery? In grad school, studying the Black experience in Upper Canada, I was also constantly reminded of my own privilege, especially from my Grad supervisor. While I am aware of my own privilege I do not think that believing The Help and Twelve Years a Slave to be good movies makes me a terrible person.

The portrayal of Black suffering in film is something that really angers Gay. While I found myself totally agreeing with her in her beliefs about feminism, and was moved when Gay described her own experience with sexual abuse, this is where she lost me. I liked The Help. Is it totally self-congratulatory towards white people? Absolutely. But Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis both stood out to me with their Oscar worthy performances. Gay is also critical of 12 Years a Slave, and I share some of her gripes, most notably the use of Lupita Nyong’o’s character (and body) to move along the story of Soloman Northup, a male. Still the movie is the first representation of the Black experience, as written by a Black man, and the movie deserved the accolades it received from The Academy.

Gay complains that there needs to be a different presentation of the Black experience; one that does not focus on suffering. I understand this, and I whole-heartedly agree. Other ethnic groups face the same issue. Almost every single movie to deal with the Jewish experience nominated for an Oscar, has dealt with the Holocaust. (Sophie’s Choice, Schindler’s List, The Pianist, and even the Italian language film Life is Beautiful.) While there definitely needs to be more examples of the Black experience in popular culture that move away from one of suffering, these movies are historical (although The Help takes great liberties) and the fact that they portray Black suffering in a historical sense is accurate and should not diminish the quality of these films.

Gay made me feel a number of things with her collection of essays. I agreed, I disagreed, I was moved, and I was outraged. For me, the mark of a good book is that it makes to feel something, and so with that said, I think Roxanne Gay did a good job.

Rating: 3.5/5