Women and Power by Mary Beard



REVIEW: I’ve wanted to read this book since its release, and was really excited when a colleague lent it to me last week. I read it in one sitting and really enjoyed it; Beard dealt with a lot of interesting issues facing women today, linking these back to classical Greek and Roman examples as well as examples from later history. This is both fascinating and terrifying; it succeeds in making the reader feel we are not alone, as these attitudes have always been faced by women – but by the same premise, this then horrifies us that we are still facing prejudices that date back to the time of Homer and his Odyssey.

The book consists of two essay-style pieces, which Beard delivered as lectures. The first, ‘The Public Voice of Women’, looks at how women’s voices are suppressed daily in public life, from the culture of mansplaining to the booing and hollering over women MP’s who try to speak in Parliament. The second follows on from this theme, looking more closely at ‘Women in Power’ and how they are judged and treated, their images transformed into something irrefutably masculine in order to make them more acceptable to wider society. I really enjoyed reading this, as I have frequently noticed with anger the attitudes towards female politicians in the news and in headlines, which often tend to focus on their clothing or mock their speeches – I’m by no means the biggest fan of Teresa May, but I was upset on her behalf at how much she was mocked for the terrible cough she suffered from during her party conference speech.

This book is really interesting, and I agreed with all of Beard’s points made in both essays. I both loved and hated the link to Classical times, purely because of the fact that it upset me to realise how little progress in fundamental attitudes towards women has really been made, and therefore how far we still have to go. I would have liked more of an in-depth discussion on mainsplaining, as this is one of my absolute pet hates as a woman and also fits in well with both topics of discussion, yet it was only mentioned briefly. Overall, however, I would highly recommend these essays and am fully supportive of Beard’s point of view and arguments.


Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur



BLURB: “this is the journey of

surviving through poetry

this is the blood sweat tears

of twenty-one years

this is my heart

in your hands

this is

the hurting

the loving

the breaking

the healing”


REVIEW: I love poetry, and am always seeking out new poets with work I can enjoy. I had wanted to read this highly praised series of poems by Rupi Kaur for some time, and picked it up on a shopping trip last weekend. I flew through the whole thing in one sitting, and put it down having felt the strangest rush of emotions. Upon finishing it I felt restless, and instantly desperate to read it again. Kaur’s poems, based on four main themes – hurting, loving, breaking and healing – instantly connect to the reader, drawing out memories and emotions evoked by the incredible thought she puts in to every verse. The book is fantastic, and even when dealing with sensitive themes that the reader may not actually have experienced, makes us feel every inch of the pain that Kaur has poured into the words. It is also an incredibly feminist text, addressing the way men view women in terms of the male gaze, sexual objectvity and even rape and abuse. Kaur’s poems put the power in the woman’s hands, and address the many ways in which men view and exploit female sexuality. I absolutely loved this book, and am eagerly awaiting payday so I can purchase Kaur’s latest release, ‘the sun and her flowers’. I will end this review with one of my favourite poems from the book, one that really struck a chord with me based on an experience I went through in the summer of last year;

“neither of us is happy

but neither of us wants to leave

so we keep breaking one another

and calling it love”





The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood



BLURB: “The Republic of Gilead allows Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like all dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire – neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on whom her future hangs.”

REVIEW: I first read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ when I was maybe fifteen or sixteen and just starting out on the road to feminism. With the arrival of the new television adaptation, I decided it would be a good idea for me to read the novel again before I started watching, and I am so glad I did. I forgot how incredibly chilling, moving, frightening and enraging this book could be, how Atwood’s writing can light a fire that makes it very difficult to sleep after reading. The protagonist, Offred, is a designated Handmaid; women known to be fertile who are placed in the households of husband’s with barren wives, kept there for only one purpose: to give the husband and his barren wife a child. Offred’s past life is somewhat unclear, and offered to the reader in snippets, yet although we know very little overall about her husband Luke and her young daughter, and do not ever find out Offred’s real name, we can’t help but feel a strong sense of sorrow for what Offred has lost and the life she now holds. Forming a strange friendship with the Commander, the husband in her household, Offred begins to experience more of what life is like for women who are neither wives nor handmaids, including Moira, her oldest friend. She also discovers a secret network of those who resist the dictatorial state regime, and begins to rebel against the Commander by embarking on a sexual relationship with his driver, which is completely against the law for a handmaiden. Offred’s story is told in a way that often seems jagged, but is also incredibly personal; we feel like Offred is talking directly to us, as was Atwood’s intention, needing someone to hear her story and make her feel real again. It is not the sort of book where I wish to write too much of the plot, as I would rather not give away the finer details. The most chilling thing about this book, however, is that it doesn’t seem that impossible. This is the kind of repressive, totalitarian state I genuinely believe we could see at some point in the near future; the repression of women and minorities is a key component of the novel and is something that we see in daily life, though of course on a far, far smaller scale. Yet, that prejudice exists, and the fear that it could turn into something darker and stronger is one that certainly manifests itself in the reader’s mind after finishing ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. This is an excellent book and I would highly recommend it.


Men Explain Things To Me and Other Essays by Rebecca Solnit



BLURB: “In her iconic essay ‘Men Explain Things to me’, Rebecca Solnit investigates the conversations of men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t. This famous and influential essay is included here along with the best of Solnit’s feminist writings. From rape culture to grandmothers, from French sex scandals to marriage and the nuclear family, and from Virginia Woolf to colonialism, these essays are a fierce and incisive exploration of the issues that a patriarchal culture will not neccessarily acknowledge as ‘issues’ at all.”

REVIEW: I have considered myself a feminist from the moment I was old enough to understand what the term meant, and have recently decided to read more feminist texts in order to increase my understanding and awareness of the issues we face on the road to achieving equality between men and women. Solnit’s collection of essays is both fascinating and horrifying; it is also worrying how many of her examples I recognised through either witnessing similar scenarios or being involved on them. Her title essay, ‘Men Explain Things to Me’, describes an experience Solnit had in which a man decided to lecture her on the topic of a book she had recently read, using her own book as the basis of his knowledge without imagining that she could possibly have been the author. I am sure many women have also had an experience of ‘mainsplaining’ – it happened to me in a university seminar only a couple of months ago, where I was lectured by a tutor who possessed a very patriarchal view of Mary Shelley and her novel ‘Frankenstein’, without realising that I had not only studied both author and work in detail, but am also an avid fan. Her essay ‘The Longest War’, which talks about the statistical rates and experiences of rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse across the world, was particularly striking and terrifying, and one that hit close to home as I have a close friend who as a result of a rape that took place forty years ago has never been able to live a normal life. Solnit’s essay on marriage equality was another one that really stood out for me. This collection of essays is wonderfully written, engaging and definitely enough to light a fire even in those who may not yet identify with the idea of feminism. I would highly recommend it.


Wise Children by Angela Carter



BLURB: “A richly comic tale of the tangled fortunes of two theatrical families, the Hazards and the Chances, Angela Carter’s witty and bawdy novel is populated with as many sets of twins and mistaken identities as any Shakespeare comedy, and celebrates the magic of over a century of show business.”

REVIEW: I studied Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories’ during my English Literature A-level, and it has become a favourite book that I often return to. I was recommended ‘Wise Children’ very recently by my A-Level Literature teacher, and was looking forward to reading more of Carter’s work. ‘Wise Children’ tells the story of twin sisters Dora and Nora Chance through the eyes of Dora, as she looks back on their lives and the chaotic liasons that have shaped and changed their sprawling Shakespearean family. As the illegitimate daughters of famed thespian actor Melchoir Hazard, Dora and Nora were cared for by their grandmother upon the death of their mother and found themselves using their beauty, charm and hidden family connections to rise up the glittering social ladder and form careers for themselves as minor Hollywood starlets, and later on as a singing and dancing double act. As we learn more about their lives and the affairs that have made their family into a melodrama, we can’t help warming to Dora and Nora and cetting caught up in their glamorous and dramatic lives. The events culminate at Melchoir’s hundredth birthday party at the end of the novel, where revelations galore plunge events into mirth and chaos. This book is fast-paced and witty, often comical and somehow extraordinarily Shakespearean, and Carter’s style is easy to distinguish. Although it took a chapter or so to get into, once I did so I really enjoyed this book and found it both fun and easy to read, and would highly recommend it.


We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie



BLURB: “In this personal, eloquently argued essay – adapted from her much-admired TEDx talk of the same name – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness. Drawing extensively on her own experiences and her deep understanding of the often masked realities of sexual politics, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman now – an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists”

REVIEW: Everyone should read this book. It won’t take you any longer than ten or fifteen minutes and it truly amazes me that Adichie can so eloquently and movingly describe the state of modern feminism in such a short piece of writing. Addressing many of the misconceptions surrounding modern feminism, Adichie uses many of her own experiences growing up in Africa to address the problems that still face women – and men – today. What truly pleased me about this work is that it dispells the popular belief that feminists are men haters, by pointing out that, by definition, feminism aims to achieve equality for both sexes in terms of politics, society and culture. Adichie even addresses some of the problems that surround the cultural expectations that are put upon men, as well as the more frequently talked about problems faced by women. By interweaving the social problems faced by both sexes and discussing how these have been inbuilt into cultures across the world, Adichie makes the reader think and reflect about these issues and how we could address them – even if, like myself, the reader was already a feminist. I wish books like this were compulsory reading in schools across the world; perhaps then we could some day hope to achieve the goal of redefining our expectations of both men and women.


The Gentleman’s Daughter by Amanda Vickery



REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed my second venture into the historical research of Amanda Vickery, and found this book to be absolutely fascinating in terms of addressing the lives of middle- to upper-class women living in England in the Georgian era. Being a feminist I have a very keen interest in women’s history, but knew very little about the lives of Georgian women aside from what I had learnt from Jane Austen novels. In this book, Vickery tackles her subject with the use of personal items like diaries and letters, which give us a real flavour of what these women went through, and their thoughts and feelings regarding such events. Soon the reader finds themselves developing a personal attachment to women like Elizabeth Parker, whose first happy marriage was destroyed by the death of her husband and who then seems to have suffered a relationship of both mental and physical abuse with her second husband, John Shackleton. The stories of these women can be touching, heartwarming, amusing and even heartbreaking, but they provide a fascinating insight into the private lives of women whom I personally knew so little about. It is this personal element, I feel, that makes the book so easy to read and absorb; the information given about life for these women is accompanied by real primary evidence that adds a new depth to what we already knew about life in Georgian society. I was completely fascinated not only by the vast amount of information presented to me, but also by the way Vickery writes and incorporates such personal details into a vivid account of everyday life. I would very highly recommend this book to anyone studying the Georgian period and also to those with an interest in women’s history.