Review: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman – Mary Wollstonecraft

08 - A Vindication of the RIghts of Women

Rating – 4*

Published in 1792 this book is worryingly still relevant. Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of the also incredible Mary Shelley, was very much before her time. This is considered to be the classic feminist text and I am so, so glad I finally got around to it.

At it’s core this is a criticism of discussion which was happening in the late 18th century (for much before and after, in all honesty) about what a woman’s place was in the world. Wollstonecraf is clear, concise, and passionate about the equality of the sexes in this book. Her main criticism is that sexism, the division between the sexes at least, begins from a very young age. At the point this was written it was still not common practice to send a daughter to school, instead teach her home crafts so she will make a good marriage material so, in the latter part of the book she puts forward the absolutely scandalous notion of both male and female children being schooled together to a certain level.

One of the biggest arguments put forward by her was that women are groomed to appeal to men; they aren’t allowed their freedom of choice, from a young age all they are expected to do is to become a wife, a good marriage is after all good for her and the best she can hope for in life. Women are expected to be mindless creatures who have the sole purpose of satisfying men, catering to their every need and whim. If a woman does not have looks or money she is not worthy. It’s disturbing that a lot of it is still highly relevant today. Popular culture still perpetrates the idea what women need to be ‘beautiful’ above all else, that being well dressed and sexually appealing to men is the biggest success a woman can hope for. It’s just heartbreaking that, ultimately, this is still an issue nearly 225 years later!

I downloaded this from Audible, narrated by the wonderful Fiona Shaw and it was fantastic; I’d highly recommend the audiobook to anyone who maybe finds a physical non-fiction book a bit too heavy going! Fiona has a great tone and it was actually a really soothing read, however passionate she got!

I happily gave this 4* and it is definitely one I’d like to read again!

Review: A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf

a room of ones ownSo, after reading The Count of Monte Cristo I felt bereft. No book I picked up called to me whatsoever so I decided to pick up A Room of One’s Own because if all else fails, Virginia Woolf, right? It was a good choice and, honestly, I wish I had started my love affair with Virginia here. I had actually started this previously, I had almost finished it too, as I was reading this on the bus for several days but I chose to pick it up and read it properly and that was a much better decision. Woolf is an author who needs a lot of attention to pick up the nuances of her work and it is hard to put any of her books down; at least in my experience!

A Room of One’s Own is a non-fiction text, it’s a slim 112 pages and is based on a series of lectures that Virginia delivered in Cambridge. It is pegged as a feminist classic and I have to agree with that term. While it’s a classic and is 86 years old, so much of it still felt relevant today. She covers female writers in history, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot and also, Shakespeare’s fictional sister. She tells us how it is only with a fixed income (500 pounds a year) for independence and ‘a room of one’s own’ that a woman will be free to create whatever they please. She makes sure that as a reader we know how brief and limited their histories are. It seems she wrote this to be enduring as she encourages the reader to to acknowledge how their female ancestors fought for just five minutes peace and a few pieces of paper to pen their thoughts.

Trying to put my thoughts in to words for this book is, again, difficult. I just don’t know how because she has left me with so many thoughts and feelings I don’t even know how to put in to words. Virginia Woolf is just one of the finest writers that has ever lived. This only emboldens that statement, for me. If you haven’t read any Woolf, I would really suggest starting here because it is so readable – it is much easier than Orlando to get through! I ultimately think I give this 4/5 but it is one I know I will revisit and KNOW I will possibly love more on doing that.

Review: We Should All be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

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This is a very short essay that was written after Chimamanda’ s hugely successful TED talk on feminism. I haven’t seen the talk, but I have recently heard a number of good things about it, so it went on my to-read pile. It is only about 50 pages long and it seriously took me about half an hour to read before bed – it was very good food for thought!

Picking it up as an eBook for 99p for my kindle I couldn’t really complain. It was what I felt in the mood for and it is very rare I read on my kindle now but I wanted to read it, and I wanted to read it now! I’m really glad I succumbed to the desire because I really enjoyed this.

This is by no means an extensive text on the theory of feminism, it barely scrapes the surface but it is a very good introductory text on the subject. It covers pretty much all bases of gender equality from a personal perspective of Chimamanda herself, growing up in Nigeria and her experiences as a woman returning back to her roots.

It is, under no circumstances, perfect. There is casual cissexism, which may turn a fair few readers away but it is so well written. She is eloquent, she is unapologetic and I definitely liked this more than Americanah! As I said, it would be a really good introductory text to someone who is wanting to understand more about feminism and why, in 2015, we still need it. It was a solid 4/5.

Blog: Girls Do Science Too!

Recently I’ve been rather overwhelmed by the lack of female role models I have as a science student. In the chemistry department there are 5 female members of faculty, only one of which is a professor. There are more men with the initial J than there are women; these women are amazing, there just isn’t enough of them! It does seem that as a woman who is a scientist we have to work harder in what is considered a “man’s world” to get the equal recognition, we have to fight harder to be even seen, sexist jokes are common in the labs and, eventually, it comes down to a point that we have to choose – do we want a family or a PhD?

To do both as a female is hard; especially as a chemist. Working with chemicals can impact on fertility before you even try for kids, when you’re pregnant being in the lab is generally a no, then you take some time out to be a mother to a newborn and by the time you come back you’ve been out of the loop so long it’s hard to catch up. Recently in Chemistry World there was an article about women who have done this, but that’s only with a supportive institute and family behind you. This is generally a rarity as when it comes down to it, research is what brings institutions money whether they’re universities or companies like GSK or AstraZeneca.

From a young age girls are often told that science is for boys. They’re told that they should focus their energies on subjects like English and more ‘creative pursuits’ – this doesn’t come from schools generally, but sometimes from (somewhat antiquated in my opinion) parents or grandparents who think that girls should just ‘stick to the ‘soft’ subjects’. Recently LEGO announced that their Ideas Research Institute range, which was female characters in scientific settings, was limited edition. In saying that it was limited edition with female characters and continuing the range with male characters, they’re saying that females in science are a rarity. Kids notice these things and having female figures in something as simple as a LEGO set is a big thing, it gives a girl who likes science the chance to reach out and engage. Kids love paying pretend, they love playing houses and “mummies and daddies” – they enact their idea of a future through make believe and society is constantly putting pressure on young girls, giving the impression that being a scientist isn’t normal, it isn’t something they should even try to consider. It doesn’t stop them, but it does discourage them, simply because no-one – male, female or anywhere on the spectrum – want’s to be considered as an outcast at any time, never mind when they’re that young.

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Review: How To Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran

how-to-be-a-womanI’ve debated for a while whether to give this a 4 or 5 star rating on Goodreads. It was a hard decision, but ultimately, while it’s not the greatest literary work ever – it’s hit me in all the places that matter. My personal enjoyment, what I’m taking away from reading this book, far outweigh the little things that I didn’t like so much about it (it’s a bit shouty, and I’m not really a fan of lots of swearing). Let’s be honest it is not going to become a academic tome of feminist philosophy but underneath all the jokes is a ‘short, sharp feminist agenda’. It’s mainly for the humour with a healthy whack of feminism that I ultimately decided on 5 stars – I can overlook bad language and a stuck caps-lock key.

I had been wanting to read this for ages but it wasn’t until I found solace in reading through the universities Feminist Society page after a particularly awful incident on a bus that I thought “right, that’s it, enough is enough. I am reclaiming myself” or somesuch – the details are sketchy at best – that I actively went in pursuit of it.

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