Feminist Fridays: Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

They say that timing is everything, and reading is no exception. Sometimes you read a book and acknowledge that you probably would have enjoyed it more if you had read it when you were older or younger, in a different mood, or at a different time of year. However, sometimes you read a book at the precise moment you need its advice most. This ideal timing recently happened to me when I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s tiny book Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. I finished reading it in one sitting before going to bed one night and immediately wanted to start reading it all over again. It’s safe to say that this is the best feminist text I’ve read in a while.

Dear Ijeawele is a modified version of a letter Adichie sent to a friend after this new mother asked Adichie how to raise her daughter to be a feminist. What a question! It’s one that many people likely ask themselves but few endeavor to answer directly and comprehensively, especially through writing. How do you raise a feminist in a culture that is often at odds with gender equality, intersectionality, and acceptance? I do not have kids nor have I ever raised one; however, I would venture to say that Adichie does a pretty good job of answering this question.

What I love about Adichie’s writing is that it is direct, to the point, and unabashedly honest. Nothing is sugar-coated or brushed over. For instance, she blatantly describes the difference between how men often act after they get a divorce and how women often act after they get a divorce. She describes how women will support each other by saying things along the lines of “You’re going to be okay,” while men will say things like “You could do better than her anyways.” Notice the difference? The former focuses on individual progress and development, whereas the latter denounces the ex-wife as inferior or not good enough. This is a bold statement to make on Adichie’s part—it doesn’t exactly portray men in a favorable light—but she doesn’t shy away from incorporating it into her argument.

This book doesn’t just advise the reader on how to raise a feminist; rather, Adichie’s text also reminds the reader how to be a feminist. In a sea of books, films, and songs emphasizing romantic love as a heightened ideal, it’s nice to be reminded that marriage doesn’t have to be one’s first and foremost priority all the time. It’s also nice to be reminded that marriage isn’t the only path for women to walk on, despite what the media might otherwise proclaim. Adichie lauds women who are passionate about their careers and underscores the importance of normalizing women holding leadership positions and being successful in the workplace. I read this at a time when such a reminder was incredibly helpful and comforting, particularly as my final year of college begins.

If you’re searching for a powerful, quick, witty feminist read, then look no further than Dear Ijeawele. I would recommend this to anyone and everyone, regardless of whether you’re raising a feminist or just hoping to be one.

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What are your thoughts on Dear Ijeawele? Have any other feminist texts you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Feminist Fridays: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I was thrilled that part of my postcolonial literature tutorial during my last term at Oxford was reading and writing about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Fifteen years after the publication of her debut novel Purple Hibiscus in 2003, Adichie continues to make headlines today. Not only is she known as a renowned Nigerian novelist, but she has also made great viral strides with her TED talks “The Danger of a Single Story” (2009) and “We Should All Be Feminists” (2012). Adichie’s popular success in the public eye has thus had major implications for her most recent novel Americanah, published in 2013. Today I’d like to discuss Adichie’s role as a public feminist figure as opposed to how we would stereotypically categorize an academic.

Image from the Washington Post.

After the critical successes of her first two novels Purple Hibiscus (2003) and Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), alongside the publication of her short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck in 2009, Adichie began to step further and further into the popular spotlight through publicly giving TED talks. Part of her “We Should All Be Feminists” TED talk was also used in Beyonce’s 2013 single “***Flawless,” immediately thrusting Adichie into a wider, more varied audience than those who attend TEDx conferences or judge literary prizes. Adichie’s dual role as both novelist and public figure allows her the agency and opportunity to advocate for her own work and ideas without relying on the voices of literary critics for praise.

Perhaps Americanah has also achieved great popular success due to the close alignment between Adichie’s values as a public figure and those promulgated by the novel. In “The Danger of a Single Story,” Adichie explains how reading African literature helped her realize that “people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature” and therefore “I started to write about things I recognized” (Single Story). Years later, Americanah becomes a direct reflection of these words, even honing in on African women’s hair from the very beginning of the novel when Ifemelu wonders “why there was no place where she could braid her hair” in Princeton (Adichie 4). Ifemelu does not mirror the characters Adichie describes reading as a child, who were all “white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples”; instead, she has delivered her promise of branching beyond that single story promulgated by the Western literary canon (Single Story).

Likewise, in “We Should All Be Feminists,” Adichie laments that “because I’m female, I’m expected to aspire to marriage; I’m expected to make life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important” (Feminists). This disdain for women’s dependence on men for their personal identities and sense of self-worth is greatly emphasized in Americanah through Ifemelu’s increased agency. At the end of the novel, it is clear that Ifemelu has taken control of her own life on her own terms, remarking that “still, she was at peace: to be home, to be writing her blog, to have discovered Lagos again. She had, finally, spun herself fully into being” (Adichie 475). It is only after she creates this identity for herself that she finally allows Obinze, her past lover, to come into her house, thereby putting herself before the prospect of finding a partner. Adichie consistently values feminism and diverse representation both within and beyond her texts, becoming a reliable figure in the public eye. Her novel is therefore seen and read in this empowering context.

I highly recommend watching Adichie’s TEDtalks as well as reading her latest novel Americanah. Adichie is both a masterful novelist and public speaker, and the messages she delivers are certainly ones worth hearing.

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What are your thoughts on Adichie? Have you read any of her books? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: Postcolonial Literature & Tsitsi Dangarembga

First, I want to thank you all for being so receptive to my last Feminist Fridays post about postcolonial literature. I didn’t expect there to be such resounding interest in this topic, but I’m so happy that there is! Today I’ll be talking about a groundbreaking author who does not get nearly enough time in the spotlight as she deserves: Tsitsi Dangarembga. After reading her debut novel in my postcolonial literature tutorial, I can’t help but want to dedicate an entire post to her impressive work.

Born in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (what is now Zimbabwe) in 1959, Tsitsi Dangarembga made her mark in 1988 as the first Zimbabwean women to publish a novel in the English language. After studying medicine for some time at Cambridge University, she ultimately returned to Zimbabwe due to the intense racism she experienced in England. While studying psychology at the University of Zimbabwe she began writing plays and then finally wrote her landmark novel in 1988. The success of her debut text led her to study and pursue film as a career, and in 2002 she founded the International Images Film Festival in order to challenge the damaging stereotypes and beauty ideals promulgated by beauty pageants.

Her debut novel titled Nervous Conditions tells the story of several women struggling under the pressures of sexism, racism, and colonialism in 1960s Zimbabwe. Although narrated from the perspective of Tambudzai, a woman looking back on her life growing up in this tumultuous time, Dangarembga goes to great lengths to emphasize that Tambu is one of countless women whose experiences and perspectives are rarely considered, both in Zimbabwean society and in literature. Not only are there multiple women who feature prominently in this novel, but their lives are written with nuance and a meticulous attention to detail that defies homogeneity. By emphasizing multiplicity in Nervous Conditions, Dangarembga suggests the necessity and advantage of many voices being heard rather than a single perspective prevailing over all others. This cacophony of expression thus provides a space for African women writers to share their experiences and ideas in the predominantly male sphere of postcolonial literature.

Was Dangarembga successful in helping break down barriers of access and opportunity for a tradition of African women’s writing? When asked this question in an interview with Seal Press found in their 2004 edition of Nervous Conditions, Dangarembga responded: “I like to think the novel’s success might have encouraged other African women to go out there and do their thing […] because the shortage of role models is a critical issue for young black women in my part of the world.” Dangarembga’s emphasis on multiplicity in numerous aspects of the novel–from Tambu’s narration and focus on five women’s experiences to subverting Sartre’s notion of a singular “nervous condition” and portraying eating disorders with careful, meaningful nuance–defies the creation of a single homogenizing interpretation of women’s experiences of colonialism. In writing Nervous Conditions as a novel about African women and largely for African women, Dangarembga has indeed asserted the perspective of women into the otherwise male-dominated literary sphere of postcolonial writing. By engaging with the idea of multiplicity in the present, Dangarembga strives to ensure a multiplicity of African women’s voices being heard in the future.

I would highly recommend this novel to anyone and everyone, especially those who have studied postcolonial literature or have read novels like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Here Dangarembga asserts that there is no universal women’s experience, calling for increased intersectionality and nuance when discussing feminist issues around the globe.

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What are your thoughts on Nervous Conditions? Are you interested in hearing more about what I’ve been reading in this tutorial? Have you ever taken a course on postcolonial literature? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: Postcolonial Literature, Feminism, and Unexpected Enthusiasm

As of this week I am halfway through my third and final term at Oxford, meaning that by this point I’ve done enough work to form a solid opinion about my Trinity tutorials. Today I’d like to talk about my unexpected enthusiasm for postcolonial literature and how feminist perspectives play a role in reading and discussing this relatively recent field of study.

First, let’s talk about what I mean by postcolonial literature. This is actually a really difficult category to define, largely because it is commonly used to encompass a variety of different writers, texts, and ideas that don’t necessarily belong together. As Paul Brians explains in his article for Washington State University, “Taken literally, the term “postcolonial literature” would seem to label literature written by people living in countries formerly colonized by other nations.” However, he further argues that there are numerous problems with this definition because it can be homogenizing, generalizing, and therefore does not lead to productive and effective discussion of such texts or ideas:

“The more it is examined, the more the postcolonial sphere crumbles. Though Jamaican, Nigerian, and Indian writers have much to say to each other; it is not clear that they should be lumped together. We continue to use the term “postcolonial” as a pis aller, and to argue about it until something better comes along.”

As a relatively new field in academia (it only really started to develop in the US in the 1980s), postcolonial studies is a subject we are still grappling with today. Although it is much more commonly studied at universities now than in the past, it still isn’t as popular or frequently studied as other time periods or kinds of literature. Before coming to Oxford I had never studied this specific area of literature before and had little to no prior knowledge of the history of any of the nations I would be focusing on. When my tutor emailed me during spring break asking what texts I would like to read in the upcoming term, I remember worriedly replying: “I don’t even know where to begin.” Needless to say, I was intimidated, concerned, and convinced that I would be too stressed to even enjoy this tutorial.

As per usual with these kinds of situations, I needn’t have worried at all. 

First of all, I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to study something I have absolutely no experience with. Rather than feeling overwhelmed and bogged down with all of the new information I need to know, I can’t help feel excited and curious to learn even more. As a student who has mainly studied the same time periods and writers over and over and over again (I like modernism, what can I say?), it’s actually exhilarating to be tackling something completely new. There’s only so much T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf I can read before I start to ask: “Okay, but what else is out there?” {The answer? SO MUCH.}

Most importantly, the aspect of studying postcolonial literature that I’ve enjoyed the most is analyzing it from a feminist perspective. How does gender play a role in this genre of literature? How does taking gender into consideration change how we think about classic postcolonial texts like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart? Not only are these questions complicated by differences in languages and time periods, but they are also made more complex by differences in cultures. In her excellent book Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, Chandra Talpade Mohanty denounces Western feminism for characterizing women outside of the Western world as inherently inferior:

“This average Third World woman leads an essentially truncated life based on her feminine gender (read: sexually constrained) and her being ‘Third World’ (read ignorant, poor, uneducated, tradition-bound, domestic, family-orientated, victimized, etc.). This, I suggest, is in contrast to the (implicit) self-representation of Western women as educated, as modern, as having control over their own bodies and sexualities and the freedom to make their own decisions” (Mohanty 22).

These are the kinds of challenging, eye-opening, fascinating questions that studying gender in postcolonial literature forces you to think about in each and every text. The answers are never simple or easy to reach, yet the process of coming to some sort of conclusion in each essay is a mode of learning in itself. There is nothing quite as rewarding as peeling back yet another layer of ignorance or homogeneity in a text to reveal the nuance, specificity, and purpose with which women writers write texts about women, for women. There are so many more voices out there that need to be heard, but we’ll never make any progress if we don’t first start listening to the ones that are slowly but surely trying to break through the masculine cacophony of the literary sphere.

Deciding to take this tutorial on a whim when I first applied to study at Oxford for a year was one of the best decisions I’ve made regarding my tutorial schedule. I can’t wait to see what new ideas the last few weeks of tutorial bring!

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Is feminism in postcolonial literature a topic you would like me to write more about in the future? Are you interested in hearing more about what I’ve been reading in this tutorial? Have you ever taken a course on postcolonial literature? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: Book blogging as a feminist space?

When I think about why I love blogging and why I’ve stuck with it for over five years, a few things come to mind: a welcoming sense of community, bloggers that support one another through encouragement, thought-provoking discussion, etc. Lately I’ve been asking myself what makes this kind of positive, supportive community possible online, and I’ve come to one of countless possible conclusions: a sense of equality. More specifically, I’ve been asking myself: Is the book blogging community a feminist space? 

{Disclaimer: This discussion is based on my own personal experiences in one corner of a much larger book blogging community online. I am not saying that all bloggers are feminists, nor that these views are necessary in order to be a blogger. Any statements that sound generalizing are inadvertent and are not meant to imply that every book blogger shares these same beliefs.}

When I say that the book blogging community is a “feminist space,” I’m not trying to suggest that only people who identify as women are book bloggers; rather, that this community is a space for everyone and anyone–no matter you gender, sexuality, race, class, etc.–to share their thoughts on books and bookish topics. Are there flaws with this view? Of course. No community is ideal, no matter how hard we strive to make it so. There are barriers preventing some people from participating as much as others: access to internet, computers to post with, cameras to take photos with, purchasing books vs. buying them from libraries, etc. There has also been much debate and discussion about the entrenched hierarchy of popularity regarding statistics. When one blogger becomes hugely popular, it can feel as though the sense of equality has diminished. At times it can feel as though numbers are all that matters and that an impressive number of page views is necessary in order to make your voice worth listening to in the midst of all others.

One way to combat this inequality due to statistics is to emphasize discussion and commenting rather than the number of views a blog receives. For the past few summers I’ve participated in the Comment Challenge hosted by Lonna @ FLYLēF and Alicia @ A Kernel of Nonsense that runs from June to August. After filling out a short survey, the hosts match you up with a blogger that has similar interests as far as the kinds of books they write about. The goal is to comment on each other’s posts as much as possible over the course of the challenge (you can choose between the 5+ or 10+ posts categories) in order to help bloggers connect with each other and meet new people. Not only has this challenge introduced me to some fantastic new blogs in the past, but it also gets me into the habit of commenting more on other blogs. If this challenge sounds at all interesting to you then I’d highly recommend giving it a try! Click here to read more about the rules of the Comment Challenge.

With that said, my personal experience with blogging does lead me to view this platform as a feminist space. When I blog I feel comfortable sharing my opinions without being discriminated against or judged because of my gender. When I read other blogs I don’t care which gender they identify with. I’m able to make weekly features like Feminist Fridays and not be bombarded by angry, insulting comments; I’m lucky enough to be part of this supportive community that fosters thought-provoking discussion and challenges me to think more deeply about important topics such as this one. To me, these freedoms are priceless.

Whether or not this means that the blogging sphere is simply a feminist space from my perspective or that this sense is pervasive throughout the book blogging world, I’m not sure. Nevertheless, I am so grateful that a discussion like this is even made possible by this incredible platform. 

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Do you think book blogging is a feminist space? How can we improve it? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: Carrie Hope Fletcher

Today I’d like to talk about one my favorite people to watch on Youtube: singer, actress, blogger, and vlogger Carrie Hope Fletcher. I’ve been a fan of her videos for years (since I was in middle school?!) and it’s been amazing to watch her grow and develop her channel over such a long time. I want to highlight her in this Feminist Fridays feature in particular because I think she is such a positive, empowering figure for younger girls and women alike.

I love how Carrie is incredibly open and honest when discussing body image, mental health, self-esteem, being a woman, etc. on her channel. She’s not afraid to call people out when they reinforce sexist stereotypes or make comments that are objectifying, insulting, or harmful. While she clearly sees the importance of empowering women to be confident in their own skin, she also acknowledges the pressure this puts on her as a sort of public figure with an audience and talks about how it can be overwhelming and frustrating at times. This is why I love Carrie’s videos: she’s genuine and makes a point to tackle tough topics with nuance and an attention to detail that is to be admired. 

Her blog is another source of positivity and empowerment as she writes about kindness, self-love, and shares tidbits about her life as an actress. For the current month of April she decided to take part in the Blurt Foundation’s Self Care-athon, writing a post every day about a refreshingly thought-provoking, positive, inspirational topic. For instance, she begins a post all about kindness by writing:

One of the reasons I love coming to WaltDisneyWorld is because the kindness is rife. Left, right and centre there are women complimenting each other’s clothes and accessories. There are cast members creating magical moments for little ones simply because they can. Families from all over the world stand together in front of Cinderella’s castle, chatting before the fireworks begin and then sing together when they do. I always try to bring that mentality home to England with me but “real life” often bogs me down. When people aren’t as receptive to kindness, it’s often intimidating to be the one that takes that step. It suddenly takes a lot more courage to reach out and tell someone you love what they’re wearing on the London tube, the place where everyone’s far too British to chat. Often you’re met with looks of befuddlement, a scoff or even worse, silence. It can easily put you off making that extra effort to be kind but it mustn’t.

If this doesn’t show Carrie’s dedication to helping spread positivity, empowerment, and kindness, then I don’t know what does!

Recently I had the opportunity to see Carrie perform live in London at Cadogan Hall and it was such an incredible experience. How surreal it was to see her belting her heart out on stage after watching her videos and reading her books for so many years! (Also, would highly recommend her book On the Other Side, which you can read my review of here.) It felt great to be surrounded by people who are also inspired by this woman who exudes encouragement, compassion, and empathy in everything she does.

I hope this gushing post about Carrie has made you want to starting watching her videos or reading her books even just a teensy bit!

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Are you a fan of Carrie Hope Fletcher, watch her videos, or read her books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: Pride and Prejudice (circa 1995 BBC)

Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, along with many of her other novels, often receives criticism for depicting women as utterly dependent on men. While I wholeheartedly disagree with this criticism (look at Austen’s satire! her wit! her humor! making fun of those who depend on men!), today I’d like to discuss this perspective regarding a modern adaptation of the novel: BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini series starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. After watching this in a matter of days at the beginning of my spring break (and becoming remarkably invested in the story absurdly quickly), I’ve returned to the age-old question: is this beloved, classic story feminist, particularly in mini-series form?

Of course, it has to be recognized that the Georgian Era in which Pride and Prejudice was written and is set is highly problematic by modern standards. Not only did women have no right to property and had to rely on advantageous marriages in order to move up in the ranks of society, but they also did not have great opportunities in terms of education, occupations, and paths forward in life. The incredibly class-conscious society depicted by Jane Austen in this 1813 novel and reflected in the 1995 mini-series left no room for the freedom of expression and opinion that women now have as a right today. It is to be expected that in depicting such a sexist society, the story itself would not be a call to action for the rise of women’s rights.

However, I would argue that there is something decidedly feminist about this story, particularly in the character of Lizzie Bennet. Not only is Lizzie independent, witty, and intelligent, but she is also much more active than women were expected to be during this time period. For instance, this subversion of the passive, obedient standard for women is apparent in mini-series scene where she trudges all the way to see her sister, Jane, at the Bingley’s house and arrives covered in mud. While the other women in the house scoff at Lizzie’s disorderly appearance, Mr. Darcy admires her for her subversion of gender norms. These feminist moments may seem subtle, but I believe that they’re vital to understanding this story as a counter to sexist expectations of women during the Georgian Era.

Another admirable aspect of this novel and screen adaptation is the emphasis it places on bonds between women. While the romantic plot of this story is often highlighted as the most important element of the story, I think it can be argued that the relationships between women are equally as prevalent. The Bennet sisters rely on each other for comfort, support, and guidance in a society that stifles young women and fails to see their potential as independent citizens. The bond between Lizzie and Jane is particularly strong in the mini-series and demonstrates the importance of women lifting each other up in times of struggle, be that emotionally or physically. When it seems as though Mr. Bingley is no longer interested in Jane, Lizzie admires her emotional strength and encourages her to move on and not dwell on the past. Again, these moments may be subtle, but they nevertheless highlight the ways by which women in this society helped each other and found their own kinds of power in their lives.

Is Pride and Prejudice a flawless feminist text or television series? Of course not. However, I think it would be amiss to entirely discount this story as one that portrays women poorly without any meaningful underlying purpose. For all of its faults, I’m happy to admire this story for its feminist moments (and the binge-watching splendor of the mini-series!). If you haven’t yet watched this mini-series, I would highly recommend it!

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What are your thoughts on the novel Pride and Prejudice and any of its television or movie adaptations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: Why I Love Lady Bird

One night during term my friends and I decided to test out the new cinema in Oxford for the first time by seeing Lady Bird (2017). Set in Sacramento, California in 2002-3, this film tells the story of a senior in high school trying to find her way through classes, friendships, relationships, family issues, and dreaded college applications. I had heard fantastic reviews of this movie before seeing it, so it’s safe to say that my expectations were fairly high.

Folks, I was not disappointed. This movie is hilarious, witty, honest, emotional, heart-breaking, heart-warming, and nostalgic all rolled into one. I found myself sobbing for basically the last third of the movie because it reminded me so much of my own life (especially the ending when she moves away from home). What I love most about this movie is the attention to character development and representing things not as you ideally want them to be, but as they are. Nothing in this movie is perfect, just as nothing in life is entirely without flaws.

As far as feminism goes, Lady Bird itself is also imperfect. Some critics have denounced this film for promulgating “white” feminism, reminiscent of the whitewashed second wave feminism decades ago that focused on supporting white, middle-class, heterosexual women. Lena Potts discusses this problematic point at length in her article “Lady Bird and the problem with White feminism,” suggesting that while director Gerwig may not have felt as though she could accurately represent a more diverse cast of characters, representation still remains a gaping hole in the film:

Either way, watching Lady Bird feels deeply sincere to Christine (and by extension, Gerwig), and, for the same reasons, incredibly narrow. Did Gerwig just not know many people of color in the most diverse city in America in 2002? Did she just not feel comfortable writing those characters, or consulting other writers in a project so deeply personal? Films like these ask whether adding more opportunities to humanize Danny (as opposed to living as a name crossed out on Christine’s wall), or having more than a throwaway conversation about depression, or including people of color’s perspectives, detract from the pointedness of a tale about the genuine experience of this specific teenage White girl.

On the other hand, Lady Bird has often been lauded for how it deals with treatment of women in relationships, body image, self-worth, and sex. For instance, Lady Bird eagerly awaits losing her virginity, but is startled and disappointed to realize that the boy she has sex with was not also a virgin like he implied. As Lara Williams writes for the Guardian in her article “Youth in revolt: is Lady Bird the first truly feminist teen movie?”

Virginity is often a preoccupation in Hughes’s films, and notably for Ringwald’s characters – but unlike in The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles, Lady Bird’s virginity is not symbolic of her failure to engage with life, nor her apparent innocence; like her short-lived relationships with men, sex is not something she structures her identity around, rather a thing that happens.

I also think it’s important to highlight the emphasis Gerwig places on relationships among women in this film, particularly between Lady Bird and her mother. This mother-daughter dynamic is far from perfect, but it’s one that changes and tightens and stretches over time as real relationships do. While teenage Lady Bird may be seen as the center of this story, her mother is very much at the core as well.

So where do I stand on this topic? Should Lady Bird be considered a feminist film? Personally, I would say yes– to a certain degree. While it admirably emphasizes self-worth, independence, and expression, it also displays a very whitewashed version of feminism. However, I am a staunch believer that we can still enjoy things while simultaneously acknowledging their problematic aspects.

Like the character Lady Bird–and life itself–nothing is perfect.

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What are your thoughts on Lady Bird? Would you consider it a feminist film? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN by Virginia Woolf

A Room of One’s Own has been on my to-read list before I even really knew what it was about. Published in 1929, this book is an extended essay based on a lecture series Virginia Woolf delivered at Cambridge University in October 1928. Today it is well known for being an important feminist text in women’s and gender studies. After finally having read this book, I’d just like to ramble for a while about how fantastically feminist it is. Every text has its flaws, but Woolf has really hit the nail on the head here in so many ways.

There’s no doubt that this text was groundbreaking at the time of its publication. As the title hints, Woolf argues that women must be able to have money and a room of their own (preferably quiet and private) in order to write great literature and function as independent citizens of society in general. She methodically takes us through her process of realizing how little writing by women has been documented and preserved throughout history, as made clear by her time digging through records at the British Museum. It quickly becomes apparent that women are in desperate need of a tradition of women’s writing, one upon which they can build and grow.

“Literature is open to everybody. I refuse to allow you, Beadle though you are, to turn me off the grass. Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt, that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

At the end of the text, Woolf directly calls upon women–especially the younger generations–to make further progress in ensuring more opportunities for women. She does this by supposing that Shakespeare had a hypothetical sister–Judith Shakespeare–who never had the opportunity to live up to her potential due to the lack of opportunities for women during her time. Woolf implores readers to give Judith the chance to shine through them, to embrace the talent and power that lies within them and achieve what society never allowed this hypothetical brilliant woman to achieve.

“I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young—alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross–roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here to–night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her.”

I’m not going to lie: I teared up a bit when I read that passage. What’s more empowering and inspiring than Virginia Woolf telling you that you can be the next Shakespeare– or better? Personally, I think empowerment is a vital aspect of feminism and for that reason, among many others, this book is a remarkable feminist text.

Of course, no text is perfect. Are there elements of Woolf’s argument that I disagree with and even find problematic? Naturally. In particular, I disagree with Woolf’s line of thinking that sentences, writing, and language itself is gendered in the sense that women’s sentences are inherently different from men’s sentences… doesn’t this contradict her argument about androgyny in the first place? However, I believe that the positive aspects of A Room of One’s Own outweigh its problematic parts and that it nevertheless remains a text well worth reading.

Overall, I’m so happy that A Room of One’s Own was on my reading list for this semester so I finally got around to reading this brilliant book. Whether or not you’ve read Virginia Woolf’s writing before or if you generally read nonfiction, I would highly, highly recommend picking this book up and giving it a go!

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What are your thoughts on A Room of One’s Own or Virginia Woolf’s writing in general? Do you have a favorite book by Woolf? Any recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: Feminist Writing Tutorial

Now that Hilary term at Oxford has officially come and gone, I’m going to share my thoughts on the Feminist Writing tutorial I recently completed. This tutorial (basically what they call classes at Oxford) was an English course, but it also blended some feminist theory into the mix as well. It was nice to have a bit of a break from solely reading novels all the time. In this post I’ll be discussing some of the texts we read (although there were many more), the themes we focused on, and my thoughts on the course overall.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft || This was my second time reading this for a class (the first was for a social contract theory course my freshman year of college) but my first time reading it in a strictly gendered context. While much of what she says is very outdated now (it was written centuries ago) a surprising amount of it is still relevant today. Definitely worth a read!

Woman and Labor by Olive Schreiner || loved reading this book, especially alongside Wollstonecraft’s work. There are so many brilliant quotes that I copied down into my notebook as I was reading–not to help with future essays, but simply because I found them inspiring and empowering. Here’s one of my favorites:

“I would like to say to the men and women of the generations which will come after us: you will look back at us with astonishment. You will wonder at passionate struggles that accomplished so little, at the, to you, obvious paths to attain our ends which we did not take. At the intolerable evils before which it will seem to you we sat down passive. At the great truths staring us in the face which we failed to see, at the great truths we grasped at but could not get our fingers quite ’round. You will marvel at the labour that ended in so little. But what you will never know that it was how we were thinking of you and for you that we struggled as we did and accomplished the little that we have done. That it was in the thought of your larger realization and fuller life that we have found consolation for the futilities of our own. All I aspire to be and was not, comforts me.”

Olive Schreiner is an underrated, under-appreciated writer that deserves more time in the feminist spotlight. If you’re interested in more of my thoughts on her writing, check out the Feminist Friday feature I wrote about her. 

This Sex Which Is Not One by Luce Irigaray || Let me just say that this book is a wild ride. My professor asked us to focus on the essay “This Sex Which Is Not One,” which basically argues that we should use the image of “two lips” in order to challenge the phallic discourse that currently dominates our society. It was really interesting, but had a bit too much Freud in it for my taste.

Poems by Emily Dickinson || Emily Dickinson may just be my favorite poet. We read many, many of her poems for this class and all I wanted to do when I finished was go back and read them all over again. I love how her poetry is frustratingly ambiguous yet still brilliantly poignant. I can’t even keep track of all of my favorite poems by her!

Memorial: A Version of Homer’s Iliad by Alice Oswald || I’ve never actually read Homer’s Iliad before, but I think a basic understanding of the epic is enough to read this contemporary poem. Not only is Oswald’s language haunting and beautiful, but it also brings up important questions about revitalizing old works, the oral tradition, and women’s writing. If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on this poem, click here to check out my recent review. 

White Teeth by Zadie Smith || This was the first Zadie Smith book I ever read, but it most certainly won’t be my last! Now I want to read literally everything Smith has ever written. If this praise isn’t convincing enough, check out my review of the novel to make you want to read it even more. 

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison || Everything Toni Morrison writes is brilliant gold, and Playing in the Dark is no exception. I was so excited when I saw that this was on our reading list because I had read a certain section of the book many times for prior essays but had never actually read the entire collection. This work is so important for literary scholarship today as well as how we think about diversity in media and our lives in general. Would absolutely recommend to everyone! 

Education, marriage, and professions for women || I liked that we started off with this topic because it’s arguably the easiest category in which to see the vast improvement that women have made over the years. Of course, there’s always room for more improvement!

The body and sexuality || This is the week we drew on more abstract feminist theory to talk about how women’s bodies and sexuality are represented not only through language, but also through imagery and art. It raises some really interesting and important questions about how women portray themselves today and what that says about cultural gender norms.

Intertextuality, subverting/transforming genres, creating a tradition of women’s writing, the woman writer || This was definitely my favorite topic out of the ones we studied throughout the entire term. Thinking about writing traditions, reception studies, and genre formation really fascinates me, and coupling that with Emily Dickinson was a blast.

Differences among women; crossing boundaries, transitions, intersections; an “outsiders’ society” || Ending with this theme was great because it allowed us to look at feminist writings throughout the past few centuries from a modern standpoint and asses how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.

Overall, I am so glad that I decided to take this tutorial on a whim when I was signing up for classes months ago. Not only did it introduce me to some remarkable women writers, but it also provided me with new tools to use when analyzing other literature in terms of gender and intersectionality. If you ever get the opportunity to take some sort of feminist writing or theory course, definitely do!

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Have you ever taken a class on feminist theory or literature? What are some of your favorite feminist writers, books, poems, etc.? What are your thoughts on any of the writing that I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY