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Companion Texts, or, How Good Books Saved My Life Thanks

14 Jul

Hey! I know it’s been a while, like literally years! Hi! I don’t know if you read this anymore but! I feel smarter now! Qualified to write! I am nineteen and off to university to do medicine and to pay a lot of money to stop thinking as much for myself and maybe also learn something about bones, but I feel prepared for it. Like my life is on track. Like I know who I am.

And why might that be?

It is my accumulated hoard of books, books.

(Also, like, life experience and better mental health. There are many things.)

They are my children (and somehow also my parents?). My paper sorority. My boxing gloves. My teachers. And, as Sara Ahmed puts it, my “companion texts”.

Companion texts guide you, wait to be referred to in times of trouble when none of your friends, maybe, know, but the living paper holds the answer.

They do not have to be feminist in an academic sense, a weighty sense, but when I think of these I think of writing that inspires me to be strong. Stronger. Enjoyable to read, a breeze, does not mean that it isn’t educational. Some of the best lessons are through humour.

Reading is so good for me because it feels like an active process. When I went through a phase of writing out endless lists of Pros and Cons about myself to Truly Understand Who I Am, No For Real This Time, I would always write “reader” on the good side. I take it in and churn it and the knowledge hardens like a fist.

I must thank my older sister for a large proportion of this list. Thanks! However, I can also thank myself for wanting to learn and making it my hobby to stretch out my mind and love myself when I could easily not. Thanks, me!

So – I recently had this conversation with a friend on a train. A male writer who is famous.  She loves him. I have tried three of his novels and am Uninspired. She is trying to convince me and I am talking out why I don’t want to be convinced.

I realised that – and this almost certainly makes me a Nasty Feminist™ (how dare I let my politics interfere with my appreciation of art?) – beyond any artistic concerns  what really Ground My Gears was the blandness and predictable perspective of the inevitably male protagonist. He dreams after women, projects his everything onto them, hopes that they will sort out his life and its beigeness without contributing anything himself.

I said, hey, maybe this is why I don’t really read books written by men any more!

It clicked into place.

Once I thought this, other thoughts followed as they are wont to do.

  • Is this why I haven’t been enjoying the Classics™ like I used to?
  • Is this why all the books I’ve read recently have been by women?

And then the meta of:

  • Is this why I am saying sorry less?
  • Is this why I am getting into more fights?
  • Is this why I am less craving of approval?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I have moved towards and am gravitating towards women and PoC and queer writing to help understand the world. The new views split apart what we know. What I know. As a white woman there are lots of worlds that I don’t know, and literature helps me to understand them and grow accordingly.

My list as follows consists of what I have read that I think falls into this category – of strength giving, teaching, world opening. If you have any others I would like to know. And I hope this lists keeps extending through my life, amen.

  • Living a feminist life, Sara Ahmed.

Because this book basically inspired me to start this list I have to put it first. So. So good. It made me get into my first argument with my dad about him speaking over the female members of my family. So make of that what you will. But! I resurfaced incandescent from reading it!

  • Anything by Octavia Butler. Especially Dawn and

As well as being compulsive reads, the science fiction is remarkable for its 1) brown woman characters 2) really smart explorations of the world we are falling into. Exactly what sci fi should be!!

  • The Earthsea Quartet, Ursula Le Guin.

Especially the last one! Amazing amazing fantasy but the last in the series just puts a Big Ol’ Dollop of all the women we needed in it, and IMO the best.

  • Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse™, Donna J. Haraway.

It’s technical and you might need to read it with a glass of water and a dictionary, but for me as a prospective doctor being introduced to the idea that science is not infallible (!!) and that it is constructed, like anything else, by history and culture, was really important to think about!

  • Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde.

I started reading this again after receiving it for Christmas and devouring it in one (1) sitting. Yes. Yes, yes.

  • A little life, Hanya Yanagihara.

TW: graphic descriptions of sexual abuse and child abuse. Fucking heartbreaking. I cried in work reading this, but delightfully my manager had read it too and understood the struggle.

  • Fun Home, Alison Bechdel.

A Classic. Subtle family and art and everything and

  • Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi.

One of the first books I read that changed how I thought about reading. So fun! Like a friend telling a good story and you gasp and cry! So good to read as a 12 year old and now as a 19 year old and hopefully again and again until I’m 80!

  • The mushroom at the end of the world, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing.

About mushrooms (matsutake to be precise) but also about everything that connects humans with nature and commodities and culture.

  • Are Prisons Obselete?, Angela Y. Davis.

Small but groundbreaking. Filled with restrained and measured anger at a system we cope with because we haven’t the bravery for anything else.

  • Staying with the trouble, Donna J. Haraway.

We cannot give up. We have to stay with it, and work with it, and hope. Whether it’s the environment or capitalism, the ways that we have destroyed the world can be not reversed but acknowledged, and to survive means finding radically new ways of doing it.

  • Beloved, Toni Morrison

Like a piece of poetry. Like a spell. Thank you. Can’t believe its my first Toni Morrison book but ya gotta start somewhere I guess.

 

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Hunger Games: COULD DEFFO BE BETTER

16 Dec

Hey guys, it’s Jelly here, and I wanted to talk about Catching Fire and the Hunger Games franchise.

To start with; Lilipop and I are pretty hard-core excited about The Hunger Games. Lilipop even took me out on a “date” (it wasn’t a date! we’re not going out! I’m poor and lilipop is the bestest! (why thank you)) and we discussed Catching Fire intently over Vietnamese. However, one of the problems with being a feminist (I’m lying, being a feminist is great all the time, i swear) is that it’s quite difficult to enjoy a lot of media. Being aware of social issues has made practically everything icky – and it should be icky – and so, even when you get something that seems pretty good at first glance, like the Hunger Games, you are honour-bound to pick it apart and talk about how it could be better.

So, to start with: what’s great about the Hunger Games?

Well, the entire a pretty blatant anti-capitalist missive. The bad guys are called the Capitol (hardly a huge step away from capitalism), and the story is about how life sucks if you’re not super rich. Collins tells us that the next logical progression for humans who exploit the lower classes is to have humans who battle the kids of lower classes together in a brutal humiliating game, for the pleasure of people who don’t even view these children as human. The Panem that we see in the books is America – America ruled by money and power, that is, where if you are poor there is no way to get to the top. Oh, except by killing people who used to be your friends, children like yourself, oppressed and subjugated and having to live a life they don’t particularly want or everyone they love will be destroyed. Kinda like that.

And Katniss, well, she shakes things up.

Katniss is the second thing that’s good about the Hunger Games. There are ‘strong female characters’ in the books and the movies, and Katniss is stereotypically strong – physically strong – in contrast to what feminists usually mean when they ask for ‘strong female characters’ and mean, simply, realistic women. In the first movie, she supports her family by being a physical badass in that she can shoot things. She doesn’t enjoy talking about her emotions, clothes are not her thing, being more occupied with feeding her family, and she proves herself to be brave, strong, practical, and most of all, ruthless. These are, surprisingly enough, rather rare qualities in a girl in modern media. Katniss has no time for kindness, or softness, or largely, empathy, and not being “soft” makes her sometimes irritating, but very unusual and worthy of our respect. In fact, she is rather like a man on modern media in this respect – her romantic relationships are definitely not her priority and in her main relationship she is the one who is being needed, not needing. Pretty great stuff.

What’s not great about the Hunger Games? Well, the above reasons are all good. Combined with a great plot, interesting characters and general kick-assery, its success is self explanatory. However, what I’m here today to talk about (at angry nitpicking feminists dot com!) is the stuff that really could have been done better in the books and the movies.

First! Very important! In the books, Katniss is described as olive-skinned – and here is a very compelling case for her being a woman of colour. For the auditions for her character, they only let white-skinned actresses in. This is not great. This is bad. This is called whitewashing, and it’s a form of racism, as it systematically removes traces of PoC from modern media. However much you thought Jennifer Lawrence was perfect for the role, this proves she actually really wasn’t the best choice. Whitewashing is really harmful and should stop. Also read this disgusting backlash from racist and apparently illiterate HG readers! Racism in HG is actually a big problem and this blog tries to tell everyone just how.

One fact of life in modern day America is that most of the people is power are old, rich, white men. This is true in the Catching Fire as well; President Snow, Plutarch Heavensbee, Cesar Flickerman. What I don’t like is that the new revolution is also controlled by white guys – who keep Katniss in the dark, use her as a symbol instead of considering her as a person in her own right with her own ideas and –try not to faint here- might even be able to contribute to the resistance herself. This is not great. This shows a revolution, through violence or through education, as controlled by many of the same people and processes (especially in the case of Heavensbee, the previous Gamesmaker who apparently was ruthless enough to fool even the president) as before. This isn’t true revolution, after all, the master’s tools will never dismantle the masters house. Alternatively, this could be a subtle and scathing commentary upon the rise of brocialism, (anti -capitalist movements which exclude everyone who isn’t a white, able-bodied cis man, bro) but this is seriously unlikely and instead just looks like someone managed to miss out one of the major points of HG; that a revolution should be for everyone.

Another point! Katniss, in the books, is extremely independent of her romantic interests. She even says something to the effect of ‘I could do just fine without either of them,’ referring to Gale and Peeta. Her relationship with Peeta, a physically attractive, physically stronger and richer man, is controlled by her. She save Peeta – fends for him – is the dominant one in their relationship. He falls in love with her far before she falls in love with him. This, is some small way, subvert the norm for heterosexual movie relationships (although Lilipop says that I’m being far too lenient here). IN the books, although this relationship is neither particularly typical or healthy, care has been taken to keep her separate from the men in her life. All this is different in the movies. The kick-ass message that poor, angry, women of colour can change the world has been toned down in favour of a slightly ridiculous and ridiculously prominent love triangle. Katniss needs to choose between one man and another (how will she live without these manly arms protecting and sanitizing her anger???) panning back to a shot of Gale listing ruggedly after Katniss while she heartlessly abandons him to honeymoon wither blond baker in the Capitol. Katniss, “””””independent””””” Katniss, needs Peeta to stay with her after she has a nightmare. There is nothing wrong with human comfort – it’s just not consistent with her character. Basically, Katniss becomes defined by her relationships with men (NOT AGAIN) and loses a lot of her strength. Uh huh.

OVERALL! HG is great – loads of stuff in it is great – but it could be better, in the books and especially in the movies. The representation of Katniss is not as great as it could be. I’m only truly angry because this has so much potential – as modern media to incite and enthuse kids with the feeling that they can do something – but it falls a teensy bit flat. Still 100% recommend seeing it in the cinema though.

Hey this is Lilipop, a massive thanks to Jelly for writing this on behalf of both of us. There are about 700 more issues I would like to raise but we don’t want to bore you to death! I usually don’t bother getting this angry over various media but we both loved this film so hard, after reading the books together when we were about 11, that we thought it was worth doing some critical thinking on. GO SEE THE FILM!

Inspiration: Teachers

24 Jul

Hi, this is Lilipop back. This post is probably going to sound really cheesy and asdfuhjkllkgrxrcv because who actually looks up to their teachers and thinks they’re inspirational? Its something I hear people on TV and grown ups say all the time but I don’t know many people my own age who truly think that of their teachers. Its not the teachers faults, in these times of cuts and total disregard for public sector workers, teachers are stretched to their limits with grown class sizes, diminishing pay and pitiful resources but that is the subject for a whole new blog post.

So this year I got a new English teacher, who is definitely the best English teacher I have ever has and certainly in the running for the best English teacher ever in the history of the world. I was never great at English and I have never particularly liked, let alone enjoyed, English until the last few years due to disinterest and mild dyslexia but this year English has been my favourite subject and I have gone up three grades. I even briefly considered an A level in English literature. I know you are meant to pick subjects because you are good/interested in them not because you like the teacher but honestly, a good teacher makes or breaks a subject.

My English teacher is and amazing teacher for many reasons. One of them is, she lets her pupils have their own opinions. So many teachers I have had just talk at you and just tell you what you need to know to pass whatever test or target. In my English class this year we discuss the topics we are learning and if we have differing opinions, as long as you can justify them, then its okay, even encouraged. We get treated as individuals with their own minds and ideas in English; we are allowed to make our own decisions as to how we approach subjects and allowed to work in our own ways. Although it can sound pretty basic when written like that but it is quite rare in my experience. Not only is my English teacher an amazing educator but she is also a brilliant person. Point in action: she was the one who got me into Buffy the Vampire Slayer- which you all should watch. My friends and I would talk to her of ages after lessons about Buffy or various other TV shows and she would always back me up when I said how damaging and generally shit the Twilight Saga is. She is funny and always tries to be honest.

I really couldn’t ask for a better teacher. This year has been an amazing experience, I have learned so much and I am devastated my teacher is leaving. I hope she has an amazing time at her new school but no other teacher will be able to replace her.

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