Posts Tagged ‘gender’


Bad Feminist is a collection of essays by American writer Roxanne Gay, all of which are more or less related to feminism. It is split into sections and I would say my favourite section was where she discusses various films from the point of view of a black woman. I love it when someone makes me look at something from an entirely different angle. An example is her anger about the film The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s book. I also enjoyed the part about crime and racial stereotypes.

I read it over a period of more than two years because I would read an essay or two between other books. However, I read the last quarter of the book in a couple of days and I actually found it more enjoyable than just dipping in or out.

The last essay, where she talks about being a bad feminist – essentially she, like pretty much all of us, is a mass of contradictions – resonated the most, because it’s a struggle that a lot of us can identify with, to a greater or lesser degree.

Overall, this was an interesting and enjoyable read. I would like to try more works by Roxanne Gay.

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In this short book, renowned psychologist Susie Orbach discusses how our bodies have become a commodity, something to be altered by surgery, weight loss, make up, etc. Social media has reinforced ideas of the perfect body, and anyone who doesn’t have one (i.e., most of us) is made to feel that it is our fault and that we need to change it to be accepted. Our body is no longer somewhere to live from, but a commodity to prove our worth in the world. In Scandinavia, women who think they are too tall are having their femur broken and reset to make them shorter; in China, people who think they are too short can have a metal rod inserted to make them taller; women are having plastic surgery to shrink their waist and enlarge their breasts, while men are having surgery to increase the length and girth of their penis. Something has gone very askew in the way we view our own bodies.

Orbach also examines extreme cases such as Andrew, a physically healthy man who felt that he could only be happy if he had his legs amputated, and she looks at the psychology behind such stories.

It’s a short book at 145 pages and is something of an introduction to the ideas contained within, rather than a full scale investigation, but it makes for fascinating reading, talking about how the dieting industry is based on failure and plays on people’s insecurities. This is a book to make you think, it’s a book to make you angry, and it’s a book that everyone should read. Fascinating and highly recommended.

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In an attempt to tap into the male psyche, and discover how groups of men act together, Norah Vincent disguised herself as a male, who she named Ned, and went into various situations – a male bowling league, a monastery, a men’s self-help group, to name a few – to find out how men interact with each other, and how the world treats men.  She makes it clear that she has no desire to actually BE a man – Vincent is not a transsexual – and the effort that she went to in order to make herself convincing as a male, was extraordinary.

In many ways, this book was interesting, and certainly the writing flowed well and didn’t seem stilted.  However, I have a number of problems with this book.  The first is a question of ethics – surely it isn’t okay to pretend to be a man in order to infiltrate a monastery, just for an experiment?  In doing this, Vincent actually unwittingly makes the point that sometimes the balance is skewed in favour of women.  The monks were surprisingly forgiving when Norah eventually told them that she was a woman, after having deceived them for quite some time (okay, their religion teaches forgiveness, but still – I would have expected more anger) – but can you imagine the uproar if a man had disguised himself as a woman, in order to infiltrate a nunnery?  Also, Norah, as Ned, attended a men’s therapy group – a place where men were supposed to be able to be completely honest and open about their problems and feelings, in a way that they could not be in their real lives – yet as one of the group, she was blatantly lying to them.  (I should point out that the author does express guilt at her deceptions, and remorse about the people she lied to.)  She also dates women, as Ned.  Admittedly, she told all of the women – eventually – that she was also a woman, but this still sat uneasily with me.  We warn youngsters constantly that people who you meet online (where Norah/Ned) met most of these women, may not be who they say they are.  While Norah/Ned did not place any of the women in any danger whatsoever, I still felt uncomfortable with her deception.

The other problem I had with the book was that none of the conclusions which Vincent drew were actually anything other than what I would have expected.  For instance, she went to a strip club (which was a depressing chapter to read) and concluded that women are objectified in such places.  What else would you expect?

However, there were brief moments of illumination – in one chapter, Ned joins a male bowling league.  When he eventually reveals that Ned is in fact Norah, the other members of the team took the news extremely well.  

It might have been interesting if Norah/Ned had conducted the experiment in places that didn’t encourage such extremes of behaviour (for example, perhaps an evening class, or a book group); although this might defeat the object of the exercise in the first place.

Overall, this book might have some value if it just encourages people to think about gender, the expectations of people based on gender, and issues of identity – but I would question the methods used.

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