Review: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

154510581 Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of how her early years led her to live an on-the-road kind of life, traveling, listening to people, learning, and creating change. She reveals the story of her own growth in tandem with the growth of an ongoing movement for equality. This is the story at the heart of My Life on the Road.

I had never heard of Gloria Steinem before this book was featured as the January pick for Emma Watson’s “Our Shared Shelf” book club, but I saw the book at work and thought it looked interesting, so decided to give it a solid shot.

I did not expect to love it half as much as I did. I didn’t expect to learn new things and find it incredibly inspiring and enriching to my long stifled feminism. I feel that I’m okay to loudly and proudly say that I am a feminist, as I don’t believe that the movement is solely about shutting men down- far from it, I have no problem with most men. I have problems with a certain type or group of men, but I have similar problems with certain women. But anyway, I digress.

“Feminist” has become a pretty dirty word to a lot of people. I’ve had people who don’t even know me talk down about “man hating, ugly feminists” and expect me to agree with them. My ex boyfriend repeatedly told me he would dump me if I ever said I was a feminist, for heaven’s sake… now I wish I had, but it’s a long time ago now.

Gloria discusses these ideas of feminism and breaks down the attitudes that have brought them about. She also discusses wider topics, such as the civil rights movement, indigenous rights, advocacy, her nomadic childhood, mental illness and politics with great sympathy and great anecdotes. Her storytelling throughout the book is phenomenal- for example, she talks of her most interesting experiences with taxi drivers, and I really didn’t want it to end!

The book is strangely organised, but I didn’t have a huge issue with it. I felt some parts would have been better slotted into other chapters, or some chapters would have slotted in better before or after others, but in general I thought it was fine. I didn’t really like that she assumed the reader was American, but perhaps she didn’t expect the book to gain the global readership that it has attracted.

The book details Steinem’s achievements as an organiser and advocate, but focus is often shifted to those that have inspired her throughout her journey. A chapter about her amazing friend, Wilma Mankiller (what a name!), was beautiful and truly inspired me to try and be as calm and patient in my own bodily suffering as she was.

I took quite a long time reading this book, as I felt the need to stop frequently to digest ideas and wrote all over the margins, underlining and commenting on ideas and thoughts. My copy now looks rather manky, but luckily the dust jacket is still there to cover up my sins…. and regardless, I will be keeping this book to read over again, to pick up and reinforce ideas and to contemplate.

So my first ever book club pick has been quite the success, though I read it a month late. I probably won’t read The Colour Purple, which is February’s pick, right now as I just don’t have the time at the moment. It doesn’t help that I couldn’t get a copy through work either! The OSS people seem to have wiped out the supplier’s stock! Well done!

I’d seriously recommend this book to anyone wanting an inspirational and enlightening book, to any woman wanting to read more about feminism without it being too “radical” (definitely no bra burning in this one, and no man hating either!) and those interested in contemplation of a nomadic lifestyle.

4.5/5 and Leo with a wine glass, not an Oscar.

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DNF Review: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

From familiar fairy tales and legends – Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires and werewolves – Angela Carter has created an absorbing collection of dark, sensual, fantastic stories.

Sometimes, I think I know everything. Sometimes, I should just listen when someone tells me they think I might not enjoy something, for whatever reason. 

My boyfriend has read Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter and enjoyed it. I picked this up in Kinokuniya and said that I thought it looked interesting.

“Oh, yeah, I’ve read her before. She’s good” he said

“Yeah?? I’ll get it then!” says I.

“Ahh… I’m not sure you’ll like it, to be honest. I’m really not sure it’s going to be your thing”

I scoffed and said that I am the Walrus and do not have a “thing”.

I take it back. I was wrong.

Oh, it could have worked. It could have worked on so many levels. Here we have a controversial female writer- well, you know that’s up my alley. We have frank discussion of sex- there I am again. We have the patriarchy being tipped upside down and shaken around- where do I buy the tickets?

I mean, I’ve never really been into short stories, but didn’t actually realise (because this cover didn’t mention it, grrr…) that it was short stories… but I thought I’d overcome it for this case. I’ve been growing fonder of some writers, like Katherine Mansfield and Kate Chopin, as well as Virginia Woolf’s shorter stories, so why not Carter too? I already don’t like fairytale retellings as well, but thought that a super cool feminist twist would be awesome!

The problem for me is that I really have an issue with what Carter is doing here, and it got in the way of enjoying the stories. I am not a fan of her brand of feminism- that is, demeaning and rejecting feminine traits in favour of more masculine ones in a bid to be “equal”. I felt that she pushed it way too far, to the point of them being anti-feminist. Some of the stories, such as The Snow Child, end up pitting one woman against another… how is that particularly subversive, feminist or different? The protagonist of The Bloody Chamber still needs to be saved, albeit by her badass mum!

Carter believed that passivity is never a virtue, and so women need to be the opposite. My response is, since when was passivity a purely female trait? I agree that being passive to the point of being a doormat isn’t a good thing, but why reject women who are naturally quiet and “soft”? Since when did being soft, sensitive or quiet become a negative attribute? Why is masking your femininity by deliberately being uninterested in your appearance the only way to combat male expectations? Why do women have to become masculine in order to be treated equally?

I’m hardly a passive woman, but I also like being feminine, and there is nothing wrong with that. Just because a woman is feminine and wants to look pretty does not mean a man is collaring her, as literally happens in The Bloody Chamber. Women should be tumblr_m55gf9Vaxa1ro8qpoproud of who they are, without having to change the way they look or behave- it is our right to do so, whatever way they choose to do it. If a woman wants to wear makeup, so be it. If a woman chooses not to, that’s fine also. They should both be equally respected, but I feel Carter isn’t doing this.

I’ve done a bit more research on Carter’s views on feminism and sexuality and let’s just say, I’m not a fan. She doesn’t go as far as other radical feminists, but let’s just say that she was a big fan on the Marquis De Sade, and I cannot be okay with that. Her justification of his type of pornography just doesn’t sit well with me at all. I didn’t think a lot of the rape and sexual violence was necessary in the stories that I did read in The Bloody Chamber. I’m not prudish or squeamish, so it wasn’t the necrophilia or gruesome murders that turned me off. I don’t even care about her messing around with fairy tales, since I’m not really into them either.

As for the writing, I found it to have moments of beauty, moments of genius and, alas, 10381378moments when I felt like Carter was just trying too damn hard to be literary.

Frankly, when it came down to it, the decision to abandon this book came down to pure boredom. While reading The Courtship of Mr Lyon, I was bored. I got halfway through Puss-in-Boots and didn’t bother reading the ending properly. I did like The Bloody Chamber, but the heroine bothered me and I felt that the feminist angle was skewed to the point of it being irrelevant.

I think I read just over half of these stories, plus researched, so while I don’t usually do reviews on books I’ve abandoned, I felt that I just had too much to say to let it slide this time. Feminism is such a controversial thing at the moment, and while I applaud Carter for smashing boundaries, I just cannot be okay with the way she has depicted strong women in this work. Taking the “violently sexual latent content” of a fairy tale is fine- admirable even. There’s so much hinted in them that is never addressed or looked at; we gloss right over them to the romance and happily ever afters. I’m just extremely disappointed in this work as a whole, as well as the individual stories.