Tag Archives: feminist

Just finished reading…

9 Jul

…’The Edible Woman’ by Margaret Atwood

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I’ve just finished reading Margaret Atwood’s first published novel, ‘The Edible Woman’ which came out in 1969 and propelled Atwood into the literary world.  I’d only read ‘The  Handmaid’s Tale’ by her, which I felt (possibly, somewhat controversially) was overhyped and I was keen to see whether I felt this was the case with other Atwood novels.

At many points in this novel, I did.  I found the prose slow-going and dull in parts and was unable to empathise with the protagonist, Marian, or even care what would actually happen to her.   In the introduction, Atwood states that she wrote this novel at 23 and it was published at 24, which probably accounts for the prose laden with imagery and symbolism that is at times shoved down the reader’s throat.  A brief summary of the story is that Marian, a young, employed, educated woman,  finds herself unable to eat at first meat, then all sorts of other things from the moment she gets engaged, which represents a sort of subconscious rebellion to the patriarchal role of woman in society.  I thought the themes that Atwood explored in the novel were incredibly interesting – namely, the conflicting role of women, especially during the late 60’s.  Women then were becoming more and more educated but many of the careers they could go into offered few prospects for real progression.  At the same time, the idea of female in society was still very much that they should marry and fulfil their womanly duties as wife and mother – an idea which was becoming increasingly at odds with the rise in educated young women.

I really liked the representation of women as ‘edible’ , i.e. there to be consumed and devoured by men and I thought the idea was witty and insightful.  It was just that I felt the novel dragged on for too long and some of the characters felt a little two-dimensional and in my opinion, didn’t really add much to the story.

Atwood uses foils to great extent for the characters to demonstrate their opposing qualities: Marian is contrasted with her roommate Ainsley, who initially seems freer from restraints however interestingly ends up being the character with the more traditional setup (she ends up with a child and a husband).  The two predominant male characters seem to be diametrically opposed as well: there is Marian’s inconsiderate fiancée, Peter and the manipulative self-absorbed English graduate Duncan.

Stylistically, I liked the use of first person and third person to denote the emotions (or in the latter case, the lack of) and it is clear that Atwood is a talented writer; however, I was simply unable to fully immerse myself in her world which felt to me, rather flat and one-dimensional.  Having read such great things about Atwood’s writing ability, though, I’ll read a few more of her novels to see if she’s a ‘grower’ but at this moment in time, I’m not a huge fan.

Many of the themes I am attempting to explore in my own novel are prevalent in Atwood’s writing so it’s all useful research!

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An evening with Hadley Freeman

21 Jun

Yesterday I went to a talk at Foyle’s with the lovely journalist, Hadley Freeman, whose book ‘Be Awesome’ has recently come out.  It’s a sort of manual on ‘modern life for modern ladies’ but as Hadley said herself, many parts are relevant to men as well.  It’s witty, engaging, heartfelt and comforting.  I’ve only read select chapters at the moment – that’s the great thing about it, you can dip in and out as you please – and a particular favourite is ‘Sex tips for smart women’ where Freeman debunks the media-induced belief that sex, particularly whether or not you are getting it, defines whether your life is worth living.

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During her interview, I was struck by how shy and unassuming she was as I’d imagined this larger-than-life character, having only read a few of her columns in The Guardian prior to the talk.  Keen to learn more about the recent rise in strong women that are changing the face of feminism, I didn’t hesitate to book a ticket as soon as I found out about the event.  She’s very small in person with all these big opinions but what was most apparent was her warmth and genuine personality.  She admitted to being uncomfortable about talking about her own history which is why she decided to write ‘Be Awesome’ in the form of a manual, rather than an autobiography.  This was evident when she briefly mentioned suffering anorexia as a teenager, which led to a stint in hospital.  I found her to be a compelling combination of vulnerability and strength.

Much of the talk was actually really thought-provoking, namely when she started discussing the rampant sexism in the media.  The media often blames the fashion industry for creating a beauty ideal; but the media is bad, if not worse – just take a look at those awful misogynistic celebrity articles, often written by other women, on the Daily Mail website.  She also made shrewd observations about how cultural trends have changed, highlighting the trend that nowadays many famous actresses take their clothes off to pose in magazines once they are famous which is partly due to the rise of the lad-mags culture.  In the past, actresses would pose nude to try and get famous, so there is definitely a big change there – a sort of ‘got-to-keep-up-with-the-lads’ mentality.  I only have to quote the super-intelligent Lady Gaga to demonstrate this absurdity: ‘I’m not a feminist – I hail men, I love men.  I celebrate American male culture, beers, bars and muscle cars.’

There are so many contradictions about feminism in the media.  You get Beyonce talking about how she’s such a feminist when she’s posing half naked while jumping on a trampoline (a photoshoot shot by the notorious Perv, Terry Richardson).  Then, there’s all those shite sexpert columns – ‘How to please your man’.  Obviously if you enjoy jumping half naked on a trampoline, that’s your prerogative but there definitely does seem to be something slightly contradictory going on here – at least, there seems to be a big gap between what you say and what you do.  But the thing is, as Freeman said, the media isn’t going to change; the fashion industry isn’t going to change and we can’t wait for mags like Loaded and Nuts to grow up.  It just ain’t going to happen.  But what we can do is change how we react to these things and adopt a detached view.  Don’t get sucked into this crazy world, be informed and know the ridiculousness of these channels.

At the end of the talk, we were allowed to ask her questions.  I asked her how she feels her opinions and outlook on life have changed over the years.  She’s now 35 and she’s been doing this amazing job (which she constantly stated isn’t a ‘real’ job revealing how fortunate she feels) and she said that her 20s were up and down, a hodgepodge of memories living in London.  She said she looks back and didn’t know how she was allowed to work, to date, to have sex even!  Reassuring stuff for me indeed; I’ve always been very excited to reach my 30s which I have imagined, probably incorrectly, to be a calmer, more contented period in my life.  If I’m in any way like Hadley when I’m 35, I’ll be a very happy woman.