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

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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

Feminist Fridays: Emily Dickinson

Today I’m going to talk about one of my favorite poets of all time: Emily Dickinson. Earlier this term I was assigned to read many, many poems by Dickinson for my Writing Feminisms tutorial, which felt more like reading for pleasure rather than reading to write an essay. After having done more research about her life and writing, I’m excited to discuss her important and remarkable contribution to establishing a tradition of women’s writing.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was an American poet born and raised in Puritan New England, specifically in Massachusetts. She was considered to be a kind of recluse during her lifetime and only about a dozen of her 1,775 poems were actually published while she was alive. Today she is written about and taught in classrooms alongside male poets such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson who are considered to be part of the (male-dominated) Western literary canon. However, she was treated much differently than these male poets and had to face many more obstacles in order to be taken even somewhat seriously as a poet.

From a distance, it can seem as though Dickinson was playing into a persona of being a naive, young, ignorant figure. She often called herself “Miss Dickinson” in letters to editors and other correspondents, whereas male poets would undoubtedly have been referred to by their last names. She would also feign ignorance of how to write poetry, even though she clearly knew that she was creating an innovative, unique, experimental form. She asked editors for advice and pretended shock at their criticism, claiming she didn’t know she had erred when she didn’t consistently use iambic pentameter or proper rhyme schemes in her poetry. But why would this poetic genius pretend to be anything but?

Answer: because it was the only way she would be taken remotely seriously (read: even taken into consideration) by men who controlled the poetic sphere at the time. Living in Puritan New England meant rigid enforcement of traditional gender roles; however, Dickinson was not married and didn’t seem to plan on getting married any time soon. If she could not play the role of the “good wife,” than she must find another role to play: the naive, youthful girl. This would allow her to get feedback on her poetry without making men like Thomas Wentworth Higginson, an editor, feel directly challenged or threatened by her skill, intellect, and promising potential as a poet.

Her subversion of established conventions of the male poetic tradition can be seen in her irregular rhyme schemes (often called slant rhyme), inconsistent meter, focus on topics like death from a woman’s perspective. In the following poem that I wrote about for class, we can see how she uses the juxtaposition of biblical language and imagery of crowns, monarchs, and individual sovereignty to push back against traditional values of Puritan New England:

I’m ceded – I’ve stopped being Theirs –
The name They dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church
Is finished using, now,
And They can put it with my Dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools,
I’ve finished threading – too –

Baptized, before, without the choice,
But this time, consciously, of Grace –
Unto supremest name –
Called to my Full – The Crescent dropped –
Existence’s whole Arc, filled up,
With one small Diadem.

My second Rank – too small the first –
Crowned – Crowing – on my Father’s breast –
A half unconscious Queen –
But this time – Adequate – Erect,
With Will to choose, or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown –

I love Emily Dickinson’s poetry for many reasons, but perhaps most of all because she was such a fascinating person in real life. She is a perfect example of quiet, subdued resistance– just because these men did not realize that they were being challenged does not mean that the resistance wasn’t there, contributing to a tradition of women’s writing that is still with us today. 

What are your thoughts on Emily Dickinson and her poetry? Do you have a favorite Dickinson poem? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: Have celebrities corrupted the feminist movement?

Earlier this term I attended a debate at the Oxford Union discussing the following motion:

“This House Believes Celebrity Icons Have Corrupted Feminist Movements”

Celebrities, such as Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, have defined a new brand of popular feminism in the eyes of millions, but does this strand of feminism distract from the everyday challenges many women face?

I thought this would be a really interesting topic to bring up in a Feminist Fridays post considering I have talked about celebrities and feminism in the past (throwback to my Taylor Swift post). Sometimes it’s tempting to denounce celebrities who don’t seem to “uphold” feminist values in everything that they do or who appear to take advantage of it for their own financial gain and fame. Taylor Swift was brought up in the Oxford Union debate many times as an example of a celebrity who jumped on the feminist bandwagon when it recently became a more mainstream, culturally valuable stance to take. But does she really display the kind of intersectionality we need in the feminist movement? Is she asking tough questions and fighting for women’s rights around the globe?

No, Taylor Swift is not doing those things; however, I would argue that that is not necessarily her job. While I believe celebrities should of course use their platforms to advocate important issues and create positive change, they are not politicians and have not been trained to organize any of these campaigns. Those who choose to do so, such as Emma Watson and the He for She campaign, are admirable and can be aspired to by others. Yet I think we should acknowledge that it’s unreasonable to expect this kind of work from all celebrities.

Ultimately, I feel as though celebrities complicate the feminist movement, but it would be inaccurate to say that they corrupt it. How much of an impact do we actually think these celebrities have? Will Beyoncé’s opinion stop people trying to help women around the globe get better opportunities for education, careers, healthcare, or help in domestic or sexual abuse? NO. Yet at the same time, Beyoncé’s opinion is nevertheless important because it could be the only way that a young teenager first interacts with the feminist movement. Isn’t some discussion about this important and vital endeavor better than no discussion whatsoever? I would also argue that the simple fact that this topic is still being debated in spaces such as the Oxford Union means that the feminist movement has not been corrupted— otherwise, how and why would we be able to have intelligent, thoughtful, insightful conversations about it?

The Oxford Union debated was decided by a landslide vote: the opposition won with hundreds of votes, meaning that we decided that celebrities have not corrupted the feminist movement. That is certainly not to say that their views on feminism are perfect (whose are?) or that they will singlehandedly create gender equality in the world; rather, they provide an important platform from which to spread the word about this movement and the changes that need to occur.

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What are your thoughts on this debate? Do you agree with the way we voted? Would you rather celebrities be more or less vocal about movements such as feminism? Do you have a favorite celebrity icon who is vocal about this issue? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: I wrote an entire essay about hair?

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly: I recently filled an entire eight pages with an essay about hair. Since it has a decidedly feminist perspective, I thought I would discuss it with you all in this week’s installment of Feminist Fridays.

For my English Literature 1910-Present tutorial I was asked to read Not So Quiet… by Helen Zenna Smith, a WWI novel published in 1930. Helen Zenna Smith is actually the name of the protagonist– the author, a journalist named Evadne Price, wrote under a pseudonym. The novel follows a group of ambulance drivers from England working on the front lines in France. These women are volunteers from mostly upper-class families whose parents want their children to be bestowed with the honorable “glory” of the war effort. As I read the novel I couldn’t help but notice the plethora of references to the women’s hair, from when bold Tosh cuts hers to get rid of disgusting lice infestations to when Helen ultimately decides to cut her hair after being kissed by a soldier, suggesting a connection between short hair and overt female sexuality. Why was the mention of hair such a repetitive occurrence? I decided to do some investigating.

My concluding argument ended up being that although the women are able to cut their hair short on the Front because it is a liminal space where women perform masculine acts (such as driving ambulances), the Victorian ideals of virtuous femininity lingering in British society prevent women from fully deconstructing these traditional gender roles. In the literature of the Victorian Era, there was a clear link between long hair and proper womanhood. In Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” that I discussed in a previous Feminist Friday post, a lock of golden hair is actually used as currency, rendering woman’s body a sort of commodity in the masculine economic sphere. As much as we would love to believe that the dawn of the twentieth century saw the immediate and pervasive rise of the “New Woman,” Smith’s novel shows that the transition was much more gradual.

Why is this important or relevant in the slightest? I think we’d be amiss to believe that these traditional Victorian ideals of what it means to “be a woman” have escaped modern society completely. In actuality, the stigma surrounding “unfeminine” things like short hair still exists today, albeit in less overt ways. If you perform masculine behavior as a young girl, you’re often labelled a “tomboy”…. but why can’t you still just be called a girl? Why must we distinguish between those who perform more masculine behavior rather than feminine actions? And who decides what is “masculine” and “feminine” anyways? This very discussion demonstrates that the lock of golden hair used in “Goblin Market” still hangs over our society’s head.

What are your thoughts on Helen Zenna Smith’s Not So Quiet…Have any recommendations for other works I should read? Do you feel as though hair is an important marker of gender? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: ANN VERONICA by H.G. Wells

Today’s Feminist Fridays feature focuses on another text I’ve read for a tutorial this term: H.G. Wells’ 1909 novel Ann Veronica. Set at the turn of the century, the novel tells the story of a young woman named Ann Veronica who yearns to achieve a sense of personal independence from her controlling father. What begins as mere trips to London and an aspiration to study science at a prestigious university ultimately leads to involvement in the woman’s suffrage movement, an unpleasant affair, and even eventual elopement. Although the beginning of this novel seemed to promise an empowering feminist read, it ultimately left me with a sour taste in my mouth and more conflicting feels than I know what to do with. 

On the surface, it seems as though this novel is about a young woman breaking away from traditional Victorian gender expectations and achieving independence as a New Woman. However, a closer look reveals that Ann Veronica doesn’t quite reach as far as one would hope or expect. Although she does get involved with the woman’s suffrage movement while in London and even spends time in jail after participating in a protest, she quickly abandons the endeavor when she realizes that she doesn’t fit in with the supposed “man-hating” suffragettes. Wells paints an overtly negative portrayal of the suffragettes, implying that they have no sexual desire and are destined to live their lives alone and unmarried. Ann Veronica may have left her controlling father behind when she moved to live by herself in London, but she is never without influence from an older man. She continually revolves circles around the men in her life, following their actions and taking on their beliefs. The most obvious example of this (spoiler ahead!) is when she gets married at the end of the novel and is no longer referred to as Ann Veronica but “Mrs. Capes” instead. In this way, Ann Veronica travels full circle from the hands of one man (her father) into the hands of another (her husband).

George Orwell by George Charles Beresford, black and white glossy print, 1920

The more I researched about this novel, the more I began to question it as a feminist text. Apparently it was written as a sort of autobiographical story about H.G. Wells’ own affair with a woman named Amber Pember Reeves. This brings up interesting questions about what his motivation was for writing this novel in the first place. Wells also has rather hypocritical views on woman’s role in society as well. Although he was a proponent of “free love,” he only did so under the stipulation that it should be for reproductive purposes. There was little room for complete equality between men and women in his ideology.

The novel is also complicated by the fact that it is a man writing from the perspective of a woman. How could Wells possibly know what it is like to be a woman living during this time? How are we to trust his opinions when he has not experienced gender inequality for himself? It’s all too easy to take this novel at a distance and categorize it as a feminist work, but the more I think about it the more I wonder whether this is an accurate label at all.

Ann Veronica may be frustrating and infuriating to read, but it is also a fascinating look at what a man thought a woman’s life should be like at the turn of the twentieth century. If you want a novel that will challenge how you think about gender roles and woman’s rights, definitely check this one out!

What are your thoughts on Ann Veronica? How do you feel about male authors writing from a female perspective? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: WHAT HAPPENED by Hilary Clinton

This week’s Feminist Fridays feature edges into a topic that has the potential to be very controversial and divisive: politics. As I mentioned in my nonfiction TBR list for 2018, it was a goal of mine to read Hillary Clinton’s recent memoir What Happened, published on September 12, 2017. Well, consider this goal officially accomplished! Today I’d like to explore some of the ideas Hillary discusses in her book as well as the role of women in politics and leadership positions in general. However, before going further I’d like to say that this post does not revolve around where you fall on the political spectrum. I’m tackling these tough questions from the perspective of a woman rather than the view of a Democrat, Republic, etc. Personally, I feel as though gender inequality is an issue we should all be talking about regardless of our political views.

For the first time, Hillary Rodham Clinton reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history. Now free from the constraints of running, Hillary takes you inside the intense personal experience of becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major party in an election marked by rage, sexism, exhilarating highs and infuriating lows, stranger-than-fiction twists, Russian interference, and an opponent who broke all the rules. This is her most personal memoir yet. {Goodreads}

For the purpose of this post, I’d like to focus on Hillary’s discussion of experiences she’s had as a woman in politics and leadership positions in general. She wasn’t taken series as a woman attorney in the courtroom. She’s treated differently from male politicians, interrogated with different questions and scrutinized much more harshly for her appearances and tone of voice. She’s been criticized for her age when male counterparts are viewed as wise, mature, and experienced at the same age or older. The list goes on and on and on.

The specific example that surprised me the most was how people blamed her for not taking her husband’s last name. Apparently when her husband and former president Bill Clinton failed to be reelected as governor of Arkansas, some people said that it was because Hillary went as “Hillary Rodham” instead of “Hillary Clinton,” suggesting that she was not dedicated to her husband nor his career. This fascinating Washington Post article titled “The complicated history behind Hillary Clinton’s evolving name” explains that even though there was likely no connection whatsoever between her name and the outcome of the election, it certainly impacted how people perceived her in relation to her husband.

This was a partial bow to tradition — but also, in this sense, it was a political play. It was an attempt to disrupt the idea that she was an excessively ambitious woman or disinterested in the traditional role of the state’s first lady. Bill Clinton became governor again.

There’s almost no way to say what role Hillary Rodham Clinton’s name change played in that outcome. She never left her law firm (note: The Rose Law firm wasn’t able to tell us by deadline if and when Rodham became Rodham Clinton in that office). But, at the very least, maybe a few more culturally conservative Arkansas voters viewed her as caring and emotionally connected to her husband.

Personally, I think this is absurd. Why does it matter what her last name is? What possible relation could her last name have to her love, loyalty, or devotion to her husband? (After what Bill Clinton put his wife through *cough* adultery *cough* I think he should have been the one to change his last name.) Women should have the freedom to keep their last name if they choose. This should not just be a legal freedom as it is now but a cultural freedom as well. We need to rid our society of the negative stigma attached to women who keep their last names, and this is a perfect example of why.

What do we do with all of this information about gender inequality in politics? I don’t have an exact answer, but it was comforting to learn that Hillary doesn’t know for sure, either:

“I’m not sure how to solve all this. My gender is my gender. My voice is my voice. To quote Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in the U.S. Cabinet, under FDR, “The accusation that I’m a woman is incontrovertible.” Other women will run for President, and they will be women, and they will have women’s voices. Maybe that will be less unusual by then.”

I immensely enjoyed listening to the audio book of What Happened, which is narrated by Hillary herself. Not only does this book feel honest, authentic, genuine, and real, but it also humanizes Hillary in a way that the media has refused to do in recent years. What Happened is well written, carefully crafted, meticulously researched, and has clearly been created from a heartfelt place of insightfulness and reflection. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in current political events in the United States, women in politics, feminism in general, or who simply what’s another perspective on what in the world happened in the 2016 presidential election.

What are your thoughts on What Happened? How do you think feminist does or should fit into politics? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: Augusta Webster

This week I’ll be discussing one of the Victorian poets I read for the first time last term: August Webster.

Born as Julia Augusta Davies, August Webster (1837-1894) was a writer of all sorts: poems, essays, plays, translations, and even a novel. Although she started out studying Greek at home, she eventually got the opportunity to study at the Cambridge School of Art. Like many women writers of the time period, Webster published her first poetry collection using a male pseudonym: Cecil Homes. Although she is most well-known for being a sort of successor to the popular poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, her work advocating for women’s rights is also remarkable. Not only did she work for the London branch of the National Committee for Women’s Suffrage, but she also was the first female writer to ever hold elective office because she was on the London School Board in 1879 and 1885.

Although her writing was quite popular during her lifetime, she unfortunately became less well-known after her death. The Webster poem I’m most familiar with is the “A Castaway,” which was first published in 1870. “A Castaway” is told from the perspective of a “fallen woman”; in other words, the poem is narrated by a prostitute who has been shunned by genteel society due to how she earns a living. However, the narrator offers a sharp and witty critique of the Victorian society in which she lives, pointing out that her work does not make her any less moral or honorable than those in other professions:

“I know of worse that are called honourable.
Our lawyers, who, with noble eloquence
and virtuous outbursts, lie to hang a man,
or lie to save him, which way goes the fee:
our preachers, gloating on your future hell
for not believing what they doubt themselves:
our doctors, who sort poisons out by chance,
and wonder how they’ll answer, and grow rich:
our journalists, whose business is to fib
and juggle truths and falsehoods to and fro:
our tradesmen, who must keep unspotted names
and cheat the least like stealing that they can:
our — all of them, the virtuous worthy men
who feed on the world’s follies, vices, wants,
and do their businesses of lies and shams
honestly, reputably, while the world
claps hands and cries “good luck,” which of their trades,
their honourable trades, barefaced like mine,
all secrets brazened out, would shew more white?”

The narrator also looks back on her past as a young girl, saying that she never expected to be living such a life at this age. She explains that she’s grateful that her mother died before she could see her daughter like this:

“Oh mother, mother, did you ever dream,
you good grave simple mother, you pure soul
no evil could come nigh, did you once dream
in all your dying cares for your lone girl
left to fight out her fortune all alone
that there would be this danger? — for your girl,
taught by you, lapped in a sweet ignorance,
scarcely more wise of what things sin could be
than some young child a summer six months old
where in the north the summer makes a day,
of what is darkness … darkness that will come
to-morrow suddenly. Thank God at least
for this much of my life, that when you died,
that when you kissed me dying, not a thought
of this made sorrow for you, that I too
was pure of even fear.”

Perhaps my favorite part of the poem is when the narrator exposes the hypocritical view of women that men hold. Fathers may send their daughters to school to be educated, but what is the point if they are just going to marry them off to do mindless housework for the rest of their lives? Why must men put women in a corner like this?

“Well, well, the silly rules this silly world
makes about women! This is one of them.
Why must there be pretence of teaching them
what no one ever cares that they should know,
what, grown out of the schoolroom, they cast off
like the schoolroom pinafore, no better fit
for any use of real grown-up life,
for any use to her who seeks or waits
the husband and the home, for any use,
for any shallowest pretence of use,
to her who has them? Do I not know this,
I like my betters, that a woman’s life,
her natural life, her good life, her one life,
is in her husband, God on earth to her,
and what she knows and what she can and is
is only good as it brings good to him?”

The stigmas, prejudices, and inequalities emphasized in this poem still linger in our society today. Women are often viewed as inferior to men, particularly in the workplace. Although we have undeniably made great strides towards gender equality, the writing of poets such as Augusta Webster remind us that we nevertheless have a long road ahead of us. 

Are you familiar with Augusta Webster? Do you have a favorite poem written by her? What other writers would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY