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Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

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This book introduces The Honourable Phryne Fisher, Lady Detective – except to those of us who discovered Phryne through the television series adapted from the books. Having loved the show, I decided to start reading the books and see how they compared.

In this first Miss Fisher novel, Phryne catches a thief at a dinner party and a couple there are so taken with her quick thinking and detection that they ask her to travel from her home in London to her native Australia; they believe that their daughter Lydia is being poisoned by her husband and wish Phryne to investigate. However, when Phryne arrives she discovers that things are far more complicated than they first seem, and also gets involved with tracking down an illegal abortionist. Busy she may be, but our indefatigable detective also manages to find time for a fling with a Russian dancer!

This book was highly enjoyable in many ways – Kerry Greenwood has an amusing turn of phrase and is very good at picking the humour out of any situation and relaying it to the reader. Given the subjects covered in the book, this is no mean feat! In all honesty the plot is a little bit clunky and gets a bit tied up in itself – it felt like there was maybe a bit too much going on, and the poisoning case was actually less interesting than the search for the illegal abortionist. However, it is the first book in the series and does a good job of introducing us to several characters who (as viewers of the show will know) become regulars in the storylines; Phryne’s maid Dot; the two cab drivers Bert and Cec; and of course Detective Inspector Jack Robinson – although for those viewers liked me who adored the chemistry between Phryne and Jack, well sorry to disappoint but there is absolutely no romance between the two in the book series, and Jack is actually very different to his on-screen incarnation.

Phryne Fisher is a delightfully almost-but-not-quite over the top creation, with charm and more than a touch of impish sauciness. Based on the first book, I can only say that despite it’s flaws, I’m really looking forward to reading more in the series.

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In this non-fiction book, sports journalist Anna Kessel investigates the role and treatment of women in (mainly) competitive sport. I’m going to be honest and say that this was not entirely what I expected; the sub-title ‘How Sport Can Change Our Lives’ led me to think that this would be a study of how sport or exercise can make us feel good, give us confidence and improve our health and fitness. As someone who partakes in a lot of high intensity, but non-competitive exercise, this really appealed to me.

However, the book is actually a feminist study of how women have been treated in the world of competitive and professional sport throughout history and right up until the present day. Despite being not what I thought it was going to be, for the most part this was an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. I liked that it talked about how exercise in general for women is generally only promoted in popular media in terms of how it can improve our looks and our sex lives. (I was looking at the cover of a so-called health magazine aimed at women recently, and almost every headline was talking about how to get sexy legs, or washboard abs, how to have better sex etc – instead of focussing on the health benefits. This is something that I feel particularly strongly about.) It also talked about the issues that girls suffer in PE at school – if you are not naturally athletic for instance, you are generally written off from day one. At least this is how it has been for many young girls, although I am certain it is the same for boys too.

The book is very clearly well researched, with interviews with several sporting personalities or women working in sport, and Kessel underlines some of the discrimination that women are subject to in sport – it amazes me that in 2007, there was such a huge furore about a woman commentating on Match of the Day! What century are we living in for goodness sake?!

However, a lot of the book focussed on aspects that didn’t interest me so much – obviously this is a very subjective opinion, but I have zero interest in football, whether it is played by men or women, and so I did struggle to keep my attention for the parts of the book dedicated to the passion of football fans.

I also would have liked more about exercise in general, not necessarily competitive or professional sport, and an exploration about how we should be exercising for health and well-being, rather than to get the perfect beach body, would have been very interesting.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in sport and/or feminism. I liked Kessel’s engaging and conversational writing style and will keep an eye open for more work by her in the future.

 

 

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In the first part of this funny, moving and frank memoir, Alexandra Heminsley discusses how and why she started running, and – more importantly – how and why she continued to run, despite occasional setbacks and bouts of self-doubt.  She talks about how it brought her closer to family members, and made her feel better about herself, and along the way describes some of the races she has participated in.

The second part of the book is given over to hints and advice to other runners, or people who are thinking of taking up running, whether as a casual hobby, or a serious enthusiast.  The book also talks about the history of women’s running (and boy, did that chapter open my eyes; after reading about the journey that Joan Benoit Samuelson took to become the first female Olympic marathon winner, I watched some of the footage on YouTube, and was filled with admiration and tears).

While Heminsley’s own story is very entertaining and inspiring, the second section of the book is very useful to new runners, offering tips on buying running trainers and equipment, and what you will need if you take part in a big race.  It also highlights injuries that can be caused or aggravated by running, and the best ways to deal with them, and debunks many myths surrounding running.

As a fellow runner, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and identified with many of the feelings that the author described.  Heminsley is very engaging and relatable, and also very funny.  I don’t think you would have to be a runner to appreciate this book, but I am pretty sure that after reading it you would want to pull on your trainers and go for a trot around the block.

I would recommend this book for everyone, but particularly people with even just a passing interest in running.

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Caitlin Moran describes how she grew from an unconfident, awkward teenager into a happy and successful woman, using her own experiences as starting points for expounding her views about a variety of subjects – all to do with being a woman (obviously), what it’s like to be a woman, and how the world treats women.  She describes herself early on as a “strident feminist” and reminds the reader of this throughout the book.

I had high hopes for this book, having heard so many good things about it, but within about three chapters, I was ready to throw it up against the nearest wall.  However, by the time I reached the end of it – once I start a book, I have to finish it, no matter how much it’s annoying or boring me – I realised that I did enjoy certain parts.  The book is a collection of Moran’s own personal opinions, some of which I agreed with and some of which I didn’t.  That didn’t bother me; after all, it’s good to hear different opinions to your own.  What did bother me though was the way that Moran seems utterly dismissive or scornful of anyone who doesn’t hold the same views.  It seems at times as though her opinions are outright facts, and if you don’t agree with them, you’re wrong.

I didn’t like the way she was apt to say things such as there were no funny women at all between Dorothy Parker and French & Saunders, or that women have “done f— all” for the last hundred years.  Really?  REALLY?? And there are contradictions too – in one chapter, Moran explains why she hates strip clubs, why they’re the scourge of the earth, and bad for women in general.  But a few chapters down the line, she is happily off to a sex club with Lady Gaga, where Gaga ends up wearing just a bra, knickers and fishnets.  Moran also dislikes music videos where women prance about wearing next to nothing.  I agreed with all her points, until she explained why when Gaga does it, it’s okay, because it’s not provocative or sexual, rather it’s part of some feminist agenda.

I’m not overseen on the overly jokey, make-a-witty-comment-about-everything type of narration, but when Moran becomes more serious, I enjoyed reading what she had to say.  The chapter on overeating made some serious points, and was clearly told from personal experience.  There is a chapter on abortion where the author describes her own decision to have one, and gives her reasons behind not just her personal choices, but her beliefs about the subject in general.  I agreed with her points, but whether you agree with her or not, she was eloquent and sincere.

The penultimate chapter was also very enjoyable, and made some pointed comments about why women feel the need to go under the knife or the needle to look eternally youthful.  If Moran had maintained this more balanced and reasonable tone throughout the rest of the book, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more.  I liked her sentiment that people should be proud of being feminists, and that equality is good for everyone, but I think maybe style is just not for me.

Generally I’d have to say that this was a very mixed bag for me.  Some parts I liked a lot, some unfortunately really annoyed me.

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This book examines whether there really are – as is so often claimed – innate and immutable differences between males and females, in the way that they feel, think and empathise with others.  The author is of the belief that sex differences (which is the term generally used throughout the book) are learned, not innate (or as my old psychology tutor would say, nurtured not natural), and discusses the evidence to support her belief, as well as examining in detail experiments which would suggest the contrary.  The book also takes a special interest in how the belief that men and women brains work differently, leads to sexism in the home, workplace and society in general.

The book is divided into three parts – (1) measured differences between the sexes and how best to explain them (2) an ascorbic take-down of many experiments which suggest that sex differences are formed within the brain and are not learned, and (3) how sex/gender differences are learned in early childhood, despite some parents’ best efforts to give ‘gender neutral’ parenting.

I enjoyed the book a lot – it is quite science-y, but Fine does a great job of breaking everything down so that it is understandable and relatable in real terms (which is just as well for me, as I – perhaps unwittingly reinforcing the stereotypes which she talks about! – sometimes find very technical scientific terms hard to wrap my head around).

Fine is also a witty, wry and sarcastic writer, and her strong opinions certainly come through in her writing.  My favourite section was where she pointed out the flaws in some studies which concluded that sex differences are innate, and (basically) we should all just accept them, and not worry about it.  Some of the methodology was very shoddy – for example, it is hardly fair to draw a comparison between males and females in one test, when only females were examined for it!  I also thought it fascinating how, although by and large, people try not to push males and females into one bracket or another, we still end up unconsciously doing it.  (Example: if you go onto any maternity ward, you will instantly know from the colours of the cards and presents, whether that mother has had a boy or a girl.  Girls will almost certainly be exposed to more pink colours during childhood, and boys more blue.  Is it therefore that much of a shock when at a slightly older age, girls gravitate towards pink and boys towards blue?)

This was definitely a book which required concentration, and for the first part I could not read more than about 20 pages a day, to make sure I was taking it in.  But by the end, I was racing through it, because it was just such a fascinating read.  I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the differences between male and female brains, in sexism in today’s society, and/or the issue of feminism.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Set in 1953/54, this film stars Julia Roberts as Katherine Watson, a graduate student from California, who takes a position teaching Art History at Wellesley College, Massachusetts.  The females under her tutorage are surprised by her subversive attitude (by their standards), and her progressive beliefs, as they all think that they are destined to be wives, mothers and nothing more.  The faculty are unhappy about her teaching methods, with the exception of Italian tutor Bill Dunbar (Dominic West), a charismatic but irresponsible man who has a reputation for sleeping with his students, especially Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is clearly still stuck on him.  The main characters apart from Katherine and Bill are four students, namely Giselle; Joan (Julia Stiles), an intelligent young woman with a yearning to study Law, but who believes that a woman cannot have a career and marriage; Betty (Kirsten Dunst), a particularly spiteful young lady, who is a product of her overbearing mother; and Connie (Ginnifer Goodwin), a sweet-natured girl, who despairs of ever finding a man who loves her.

This film caught my eye purely because Dominic West is in it; as one of my favourite actors, he never disappoints, and as expected, was great here – as indeed was the whole cast.  All four of the main student characters were perfectly played, and I particularly liked Goodwin’s Connie.  Dunst was also outstanding as Betty, even if I could not stand her character for most of the film (nonetheless, her actions are understandable, if not excusable).  I’ve seen some reviews which suggested that Julia Roberts was not well-cast as Katherine Watson, but I beg to differ.  I enjoyed her in this more rounded and human role than some that she played earlier in her career, and enjoyed her chemistry with Dominic West.  Marcia Gay Harden and Juliet Stevenson were wonderful in supporting roles, as Katherine’s housemates, respectively another tutor, and the school nurse (who is fired for providing the students with contraception).

The film was inspiring too – there were some funny moments, and a surprising amount of tear-inducing scenes (I had to watch the last few scenes through my tears).  It was thought-provoking and emotionally satisfying, and I thoroughly enjoyed it from the first scene to the last.  Very highly recommended.

Year of release: 2003

Director: Mike Newell

Producers: Joe Roth, Richard Baratta, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Paul Schiff, Deborah Schindler

Writers: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal

Main cast: Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ginnifer Goodwin, Dominic West, Juliet Stevenson, Marcia Gay Harden

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This is a BBC adaptation of Winifred Holtby’s novel of the same name, set in the 1930s.  I haven’t read the novel (although I would now like to), but that did mean that I had the advantage of enjoying the tv adaptation on it’s own merits, rather than comparing; and of course I didn’t know how it was going to end.

Anna Maxwell Martin is Sarah Burton, originally from the Yorkshire town of South Riding, who returns there to become headmistress of a girls’ school, after 20 years teaching in London and South Africa.  Sarah’s feminist beliefs raise a few eyebrows, especially when she announces that she wants the girls she teaches to realise that they can have a career and be whoever they want to be, rather than becoming a wife and mother as would expected.  Councillor Robert Carne (David Morrissey) is opposed to Sarah’s views, and initially the two don’t get on at all.  Relations between them do thaw, but there is tragedy in Robert’s past, which threatens to obstruct their budding relationship.

We also see the stories of Robert’s daughter Midge, who blames herself for her mother’s tragic fate; and Lydia, a young girl from a poor family, who is very intelligent, but her family need her to work rather than go to school.

John Henshaw is Councillor Huggins, an outwardly very religious and pious man, but his dalliance with a pert young girl from the village will have repercussions…

I really liked this period drama – it is darker than a lot of dramas from the same period, showing the difficulties of life for many of the villagers.  The central story between Sarah Burton and Robert Carne has shadows of Jane Eyre, but this does not necessarily mean that the characters in this story will have the same happy ending as Jane and Edward did.

The cast were terrific, with Penelope Wilton as reliable as ever as the kind and intelligent Mrs Beddowes, the district’s first female Alderman.  David Morrissey is also great as the dour and tortured Carne.  However, this is really Anna Maxwell Martin’s show, and she really is terrific in the role of Sarah.  This actress has such a fabulous range, and it was a pleasure to watch the character display such turns of emotion and deal with the problems which she met in her life and job.

This is an entirely different sort of period drama to shows such as Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs (both fantastic), which concentrate on the upper classes and their households.  This show centres on the working classes, the everyday villagers, and the youth of the village.

I’m reluctant to give away any more of the storyline, but I would certainly recommend this drama.  I’m off now to hunt out my copy of the book…

Year of release: 2011

Director: Diarmuid Lawrence

Writers: Winifred Holtby (book), Andrew Davies

Main cast: Anna Maxwell Martin, David Morrissey, John Henshall, Penelope Wilton, Charlie Clark, Douglass Henshall, Katherine McGolphin

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