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.

Click here to see other Feminist Friday posts!

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

Penguin Modern Classics: “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer” by Wendell Berry

Although I had seen photos of the Penguin Modern Classics all over bookstagram (have you seen them? They’re gorgeous!), I first heard about Wendell Berry’s “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer” specifically when Ariel Bissett recommended it in a video about social media. The two essays contained in this volume (“Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer” {1987} and his response to critics titled “Feminism, The Body, and The Machine” {2003}) discuss America’s obsession with technological advancement, particularly the use of computers to write rather than typewriters. Given our present day dependence on phones, social media, and the internet in general for many of our daily tasks and interactions, I decided to give this tiny book a try.

While I may not agree with all of Berry’s arguments, I found them absolutely fascinating to read about. In an age where technology is highly praised for the advantages it brings to society, it’s rare that you see people standing up against it with a more complex argument than “kids these days spend too much time on their phones,” or something to that effect. When asked why we shouldn’t be as dependent on technology today, many people will reply “because we lived for decades without it, and we survived.” However, Berry’s arguments are much more nuanced and thought-provoking than many contemporary ones, albeit problematic at times.

There are three main themes and arguments that remain prevalent throughout the essays:

+ Environmental concerns. Berry is a farmer, making it no surprise that one of his major talking points is the environment. How will nature continue to handle all of these rapid technological advancements that require more and more resources from the earth? Of course, his point here is sort of undermined by the fact that his wife often uses a typewriter to type up his work. How does he think that typewriter was created? I suppose his argument applies more to people who would continually throw out perfectly fine typewriters in order to purchase the latest computer, thereby wasting a fine machine.

+ The value (or lack thereof) of “progress.” Throughout the essays, Berry emphasizes his preference for writing by hand rather than typing. He asserts that while computers may allow you to write more, in no way does that mean what you’re writing is necessarily better. This gets to the crux of Berry’s main arguments: rather than strive for constant “progress” and “advancement” that merely increases efficiency, America should concentrate on improving what they are obsessively trying to make more efficient. If I had to choose one argument to agree with the most from Berry’s essays, I would say this one is the one that really resonates with me. At some point we’re going to have to face the fact that what we’re trying to improve is not actually being improved at all; rather, technology has been used to cover up what should have been changed all along.

+ Feminism. In a nutshell, Berry argues that women should not strive for the same industrial working lives as men because this work is not beneficial to men, either. Rather than condemn marriage as a trap for women, Berry lauds the household as a sphere with its own economy and dynamics wherein partners can help and work for each other out of mutual respect and love. This argument seems so convoluted to me and completely disregards the initial need for feminism in the first place. The problem is not that men are unhappy in work, and therefore women should not aspire to the same work–the issue is that women do not have the same opportunity to be unhappy with that work in the first place. Saying “us men have tried it, you wouldn’t like it, take our word for it” is basically saying “we don’t trust you enough to make your own judgments, so we’ve already decided for you.” Oh, Berry.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading these essays and wading through Berry’s fascinating arguments. This is the first Penguin Modern Classic I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last! They’re perfect for reading in one sitting when you want something different from what you normally read. I wouldn’t definitely check out some of Wendell Berry’s other writing in the future!

What are your thoughts on this book or the themes it discusses? Have you read any of the Penguin Modern Classics? 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.

Click here to see other Feminist Friday posts!

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!

Click here to see other Feminist Friday posts!

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

A Year of Oxford Reading Lists | Holly Goes Abroad

What do we have here? A Holly Goes Abroad post on a Wednesday?! Indeed. A few weeks ago someone commented asking if I could share all of my required reading lists from my year studying at Oxford, so that’s what I’m going to do today. I’m posting this in the middle of the week because it’s more about books than the traveling aspect itself… besides, I have so many of these abroad posts that I want to write and not enough Sundays to post them on!

Here’s how my required reading works: about a month before each term begins I get reading lists for the primary and secondary tutorials I’ll be taking next (primary meets every week, secondary meets every other). I usually try to read all of those books during my five-week breaks between term because once term begins I’m inundated with mountains of secondary sources (mostly literary criticism articles from JSTOR) which I use to write my weekly essays. Doing so much prep reading is arduous to say the least, but it definitely pays off in the long run because it eases some of the pressure of term-time. To be honest, I don’t know how people survive without doing any prep work at all– especially English lit students!

The following lists are all of the primary texts (mostly novels, but also some essays and poems) I’ve had to read for my tutorials–and yes, I’ve read every. single. one. of. them. (If you’ve wondering how I’ve managed to double my Goodreads reading goal already, this is why.)

Primary: Victorian Literature

  1. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  2. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  3. Alfred Tennyson, Ulysses’
  4. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point’
  5. Robert Browning ‘Porphyria’s Lover’; ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’
  6. Matthew Arnold, ‘Dover Beach’
  7. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  8. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  9. Christina Rossetti, ‘Goblin Market’
  10. DG Rossetti, ‘Jenny’
  11. Augusta Webster ‘A Castaway’
  12. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
  13. Henry James, The Turn of the Screw
  14. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
  15. Bram Stoker, Dracula
  16. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
  17. E.M. Forster, Where Angels Fear to Tread

Secondary: William Faulkner

  1. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  2. Light in August by William Faulkner
  3. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
  4. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  5. Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner

Primary: English Literature 1910-Present

  1. Ann Veronica by H.G. Wells
  2. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  3. Not So Quiet: Stepdaughters of War by Helen Zenna Smith
  4. “Peace” by Rupert Brooke
  5. “Glory to Women” by Siegfried Sassoon
  6. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen
  7. “Dulce et decorum est” by Wilfred Owen
  8. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
  9. Night by Eli Wiesel
  10. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
  11. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
  12. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Secondary: Writing Feminisms

  1. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
  2. Woman and Labour by Olive Schreiner
  3. “This Sex Which Is Not One” by Luce Irigaray
  4. “Fin de Siecle, Fin de Sexe: transsexuality and the death of history” in Doing Time by Rita Felski
  5. Many, many, many poems by Emily Dickinson
  6. Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad by Alice Oswald
  7. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  8. Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison

Primary: Postcolonial Literature

  1. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  2. The Bacchae of Euripides by Wole Soyinka
  3. Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka
  4. Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera
  5. Changes by Ama Ata Aidoo
  6. The Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid
  7. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid
  8. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  9. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  10. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundati Roy

Secondary: Virginia Woolf in Modernist Contexts

  1. The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
  2. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  3. Ulysses by James Joyce (only the first few sections)
  4. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  5. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  6. How to be Both by Ali Smith
  7. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
  8. Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into what I’ve been reading for the past year… it’s a lot! I don’t know how I managed to read all of these AND sneak in some books for fun along the way… SO. MUCH. READING.

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

Have you read any of these books before. What did you think of them? Have you taken courses like this before? 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. 

Click here to see other Feminist Friday posts!

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!

Click here to see other Feminist Friday posts!

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