Looking for Something?

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock book review

Author:
mermaid mrs hancock

By Anna Hill

Content Note: sex work, sexual violence (in the novel, not in this review), racism

(just a note that I’m white and not a sex worker)

I first came across The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock when I watched a video with the author, Imogen Hermes Gowar, giving a tour and talking about sex work and Georgian London with booktuber ReadingBukowski [content warning for sexual violence and sex work in the video]. I was immediately really interested in checking out the novel on top of the personal buzzword in the name for me – mermaids! When the novel was longlisted for the Women’s Prize For Fiction I decided to listen to the audio book, because it is one of the longest books on the list!

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is a historical fiction novel set in the 1780s about a merchant called Jonah Hancock and a courtesan named Angelica Neal and how their lives intermix when the body of a mermaid is swapped for one of Mr Hancock’s ships.

Brimming with detail and interesting descriptions, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is also as far as I can tell a nuanced exploration of sex work. Rather than the many other representations of sex work (which are generally very negative), Gowar has created a novel that depicts the positives and negatives of the profession.

Angelica Neal talks of her love of her job – how “it appeals to her character in a great host of ways: she likes to live closely with other women and share her secrets with them; she likes to sing and drink and dance; she likes to be cosseted; she likes to be looked at […] she likes to be pursued, but she does not feel she is ever captured, for it is only by her own decision that they lay hands on her”.

Whilst I was expecting more focus on the mermaid, that’s not my only criticism of the novel, I also had some issues with the way the plot moved, the first volume was, overall, too thick and too heavy with description and then the second volume felt untethered to any surprising turns – I guessed all of the major plot points throughout, and the third picked up the pace in a way that was so at odds with the rest of the novel it really didn’t work, jarring us further out of the story. As such if I wasn’t listening to the audiobook I wouldn’t have finished the novel.

Although the writing and the complicated character development and exploration was thorough and in some parts beautiful, I find myself frustrated and somewhat confused with the representation of specific characters – namely the two black characters in the novel, Simeon and Polly Campbell. Other reviews have noted the lack of time these characters and their subplot get, as well as their lesser amount of development.

I would also say that the language that Gowar, a white author, used in describing these characters was uncomfortable; and although in The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, Gowar is clearly critiquing a sexist and tokenising approach to women and their bodies – paralleling them with the figure of the mermaid – she ends up treating Polly Campbell like a mermaid herself. Described as “a woman entirely out of the common water”, she slips in and out of the story only when needed, trapped in her own subplot that only extends as far as the second volume, quickly dropped when she isn’t deemed interesting anymore.

Sections of the novel showcase a nebulous sea-voice, meant to be a mermaid, and these are the parts of the novel that worked the best for me. They were lyrical and softer, more interesting and dynamic than the rest of the work which was so clearly researched that it made the authorship shine through. Unlike the mermaid’s perspective sections, the rest of the novel suffers rather than enlivens because of the research – the intensity of the detail and the facts shatter the fiction of the book – the specific language and contexts are almost too specific tripping the reader up, forcing us to think about the act of researching the book rather than simply allowing us to enjoy the world ourselves.

I went into this book really wanting to like it, from the beautiful cover to the potential for mermaids; but it ultimately disappointed me, with too many characters, too obvious plot points, it’s spurious representation of a side character and its hyper-detailed set up. Even the beautiful language couldn’t save it.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Artists to Check Out

Author:
glades

By Stephanie Wang

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a designation to celebrate the culture, traditions, and history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. As a child of immigrants from China, my Asian American identity has been a core part of my identity, allowing me to experience both the cultures of China and the United States. In celebration of this month and recognizing that there’s not a ton of representation of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in music (and frankly, in the media in general), I’m highlighting some of my favorite Asian American and Pacific Islanders artists that definitely deserve a listen.

glades

1) GLADES –

A trio from Sydney, Australia, GLADES create dreamy, electro-pop. Meeting in high school, the three formed GLADES in 2015. They first gained attention after Troye Sivan tweeted out a video of their cover of his song “Fools”. In 2016, GLADES released their first EP, “This is What I Like.” Coming off tours with LANY and Clean Bandit and a new catchy single called “Do Right,” GLADES is definitely on the rise up. Currently, they’re selling out venues for their May headline tour around Australia.

Listen To: Do Right, Drive, Skylines

run river north

2) Run River North –

Previously known as Monsters Calling Home, Run River North is an indie rock band from Los Angeles, California. You may recognize them from a Jimmy Kimmel performance they landed after their self-produced music video for “Fight To Keep” featured their Hondas and gained the attention of the carmaker itself. Vocalist Alex Hwang, in an interview with Sound of Boston, speaking on being an Asian American band in the music industry, “On one hand, since there aren’t many (if any) widely popular all Asian American bands, we’re able stand out amongst a predominantly bearded white majority. This feeling is always affirmed whenever we’re done with a show and a handful of people will make it a point to come up to one of us to tell us that they did not expect our sound coming from our group. But the flip side is that we could be easily labeled as a gimmick or just seen as the ‘Asian’ version of that white folk, alt-rock, indie band that people love.” They’ve released two albums, Run River North (2014) and Drinking from a Salt Pond (2016). In addition, Run River North just released a new single earlier this year, “Funhouse,” and will be on tour early May around the mid-west.

Listen to: 29, Run or Hide, Superstition

mitski

3) Mitski –

A Japanese American indie singer-songwriter, Mitski Miyawaki graduated from SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music, releasing two albums while she was in school (Lush in 2012 and Retired From Sad, New Career in Business). Since graduating, she’s released two critically-acclaimed albums, Bury Me At Makeout Creek (2014) and Puberty 2 (2016). Her music reflects her cross-cultural identity as “half Japanese, half American, but not fully either,” and many of her songs explore themes of not belonging and vulnerability. Currently, you can find Mitski opening for Lorde on her Melodrama Tour.

Listen to: Your Best American Girl, First Love / Late Spring, I Bet On Losing Dogs

zhu

4) ZHU –

Born an only child, per the Chinese national mandate, Steven Zhu, known as ZHU professionally, immigrated to San Francisco with his parents when he was five. At first, ZHU released his electronic music anonymously, determined to let his music speak for itself. It paid off as ZHU would later land a deal with Columbia records and win a Grammy Award nomination for Best Dance Recording in 2015 for his song “Faded,” all without showing his face. Since then, he’s released his first album, GENERATIONWHY in 2016, which featured a collaboration with Skrillex and included a short film he wrote. More recently, he released the single “My Life,” a collaboration with Tame Impala. About his music, Zhu has said, “This project is all about art, and we try to make it all about the songs and the response. Being able to have everyone focus back on music is the first step. But the second is to have influence and have people care.”

Listen to: Hometown Girl, Generationwhy, Faded

hayley kiyoko

5) Hayley Kiyoko –

Hayley Kiyoko is having a great year – earlier this year, she released her first album, Expectations, she’s gained mainstream media attention and a cult following, and she’s going on a headlining tour before touring with Panic! At the Disco and A R I Z O N A later this summer. You may recognize her from the Disney movie “Lemonade Mouth” (where she played Stella) or as Velma from the Scooby-Doo movies. Kiyoko is an openly gay, half-Japanese pop artist who sings about her experiences loving girls and directs her own music videos.. She spoke about the importance of LGBT representation in music in a Billboard interview, saying, “I think [queer artists are] what’s giving people encouragement to really be more comfortable with themselves.”

Listen to: What I Need (ft. Kehlani), Cliff’s Edge, Gravel to Tempo

Other recommendations: TRACE (Listen to: Honey, Low, and Away), SALES (Listen to: Chinese New Year, Ivy, and Jamz) , No Vacation (Listen to: Yam Yam, Dream Girl, and August), The Naked and Famous (Listen to: Punching in a Dream, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, Hearts Like Ours), EDEN (Listen to: Float, Nocturne, Rock + Roll), Superorganism (Listen to: Everybody Wants To Be Famous, Something For You M.I.N.D, The Prawn Song), Thao and the Get Down Stay Down (Listen to: Nobody Dies, Holy Roller, and Meticulous Bird), Son Lux (Listen to: Lost It To Trying, Dream State, Easy), Japanese Breakfast (Listen to: Boyish, Road Head, Diving Woman), San Fermin (Listen to: Emily, Jackrabbit, Asleep on the Train)

When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy – a review

Author:
when i hit you

By Anna Hill

Content warnings: domestic and sexual violence

When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy is the first book I’ve read from the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year (you can see the whole longlist and the newly released shortlist here), and it has certainly set a high standard.

I’ve never read anything from Kandasamy before but after reading this I will be picking up her other works. I originally heard about When I Hit You when it was being talked about last year with its full title When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife. I was really drawn to it because women, writing, and survival all interest me. The book has a pretty simple plot; it’s about a young wife leaving her marriage with an abusive leftist man. As a survivor of sexual violence I always struggle to figure out if I want to read things that I know will contain some traumatic experiences similar to my own because I’m searching for other ways to explore, survive, and escape from my own life, or out of a place of self destruction – out of an impulse to consume media that I know will be triggering for me. But the way this novel sets itself up – saying from the beginning that the unnamed main character gets out of her marriage – allowed me to read, and even enjoy, the narrative, and to find a kind of sisterhood within the pages, despite our very different experiences.

The reading experience, far from triggering me, was actually surprising, at points funny, and ultimately hopeful. The tone of the novel was something I was absolutely not expecting: it’s this clear-sighted voice, which at times is poetic and at others has a kind of astute dry humour. In part it was the tone of this novel that allowed me to read it, and to read it as fast as I did. There are these accurate, painfully funny moments scattered throughout the entire novel. The opening can provide some kind of glimpse into the irreverence of the narrator and the way she creates in-jokes between her and the reader; when talking about how her mother retells her escape she notes that, “this is how my story of Young Woman as a Runaway Daughter became, in effect, the great battle of My Mother versus the Head Lice”.

As the subtitle would suggest, this book is not just one about domestic violence, it’s also about the act of writing itself and the way that fiction and stories can help you escape. The narrator thinks during an episode of violence from her husband that “I just have to wait for this to end and I can write again”. The instruments of fiction allow an escape from the abuse which is such a relatable impulse, and a really interesting one. Kandasamy is so eloquent about the way that writing your own story and crafting a narrative is an empowering and sometimes life-saving tool, with the young wife talking about her impulse to survive as her “restless urge to tell a story”. This desperate wish propels her out of the pain, and offers her a balm. When she is writing a poem about the situation she says “the poem is the healing, I tell him. It’s by writing this that I can get over it.”

Another aspect of the book that I wasn’t expecting was the way it ruthlessly presents men on the left’s deep misogyny and “distilled hypocrisy”. The abusive husband at one point writes a poem which articulates the horrendous and almost laughable approach to violence against women that they have:

When I hit you,

Comrade Lenin weeps.”

Like so many Leftist men he uses left ideologies as “a cover for his own sadism” – always presuming his own integrity is superior, his own violence is called for – “in this marriage in which I’m beaten, he is the poet”. Later on, the novel covers the difficulty in calling out abusive political men and how consistently people ask you to find kind things to say about abusers. When I Hit You exposes some of the ways that the left wing specifically (but also people in general) facilitate and allow domestic and sexual violence against women – and how it refuses to genuinely listen to women alongside feminist critique.

The novel intensely and clearly debunks myths about victim blaming throughout; why and how women stay in abusive relationships, who is vulnerable to abuse, and even how abuse is underplayed and how the outside world (and language itself) refuses to intervene. In my paperback copy of When I Hit You, one of the reviews of the novel is included at the back, and I’d like to end my review by sharing some of it. The review is formatted as a list of people who should read the book and this is part of number three:

Women who have escaped or those who need to know they have a right to”

This is such a kind book to us. Kandasamy’s affectionate concern for her fellow survivors triumphs over any editorial demands of explicit sensationalism. Trigger warnings are folded in gently at the beginning; I was married to a rapist, he beat me, I left and am living still. This is not the kind of binary story that says the only acceptable survival is escape or death – every tiny rebellion, every pragmatic compromise is documented, meticulously, as the victory it is. Kandasamy understands that winning sometimes looks like just coping.

(emphasis mine)                          

In case you do want to read this and you’re a survivor, as this review and the quoted one covers there’s obviously a general warning for the whole book of domestic violence. More specifically (in the paperback version) there is a mention of sexual violence against the narrator as a child on page 60 and intense description of rape from page 163 in depth for about 20 pages. Please do take care and remember that you don’t have to finish the book if you can’t!

“Probably Just” – a poem by Jane Atoms

Author:
selflove

Content note: Domestic violence, partner violence

My mother says, “I know you can do better”
But she probably just doesn’t like the way you look.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My sister says, “He wouldn’t be a responsible father”
But she probably just thinks you party too hard.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My grandma says, “Are you sure he’s the one?”
But she probably just thinks you’re too poor.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My best friend says, “You need to choose yourself first”
But she’s probably just jealous, and wishes you were hers.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

Your sister says, “Be careful with him”
But she probably just thinks her brother can do better.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

Your ex says, “Don’t believe him, he’ll cheat on you too”.
But she probably just hasn’t gotten over you leaving her for me.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My neighbor says, “Are you sure you’re safe?”
But she probably just doesn’t like to hear our kinky sex.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My therapist says, “It’s your childhood abandonment issues”
But she’s probably just projecting her own trauma.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My gynecologist says, “Reproductive choice is your right”
But she probably just thinks I’m too young to have children.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My boss says, “Is everything okay at home?”
But she probably just doesn’t want me to be late for work.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My doctor says, “It’s not love, it’s just oxytocin”
But she probably just doesn’t understand feelings.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My teacher says, “That doesn’t sound healthy”
But she’s probably just being overprotective as her job.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My landlord says, “Are you sure you want him here?”
But she’s probably just worried about the utility bill.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

The triage nurse says, “He’ll die of alcoholism soon”
But she’s probably just fear-mongering to make more money.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

The woman on the street says, “Is this guy bothering you?”
But she probably just doesn’t get that I said something wrong.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My old journals say, “Don’t fall into this again”
But I was probably just young and angry then.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My brain tells me, “This is harmful, it has to end”
But it’s probably more important to listen to my heart.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My heart asks me, “Are you sure?”
And I realised that I haven’t asked myself…
Because I think I love you, but do you really love me too?

I thought, “I know what love looks like”
But it probably doesn’t look like this.
Because I love you, but I don’t think you do.

You say to me, “Fine, I’m leaving right now”
But it’s probably not going to work this time.
Because I’m onto you, and I think you know it too.

I used to say, “Please don’t go, I’m sorry”
Because it was probably just my fault
Because I loved you, and I thought you loved me too.

So today I say, “See ya later”
But it’s probably just “goodbye”.
Because I love me.

Head over to our Facebook and Twitter to get involved in a discussion about “Probably just”.

If you have been affected by domestic or sexual violence you can contact these organisations:

UK –

National domestic violence helpline

Women’s Aid

Refuge

Solace Women’s Aid

Rape Crisis

NHS

My Body Back

US –

The national domestic violence hotline

NCADV

Domestic Violence Resource Centre

H.E.L.P

Women Against Abuse

Government website

Domestic shelters

It’s either lunch or a tampon

Author:
download (1)

By Kaylen Forsyth

What could easily be mistaken as the dismal opening to some generic dystopian fiction is actually a common reality for over 1.2 billion women across the globe. Yes, you read that figure correctly. You can put down your cup of coffee and rub your eyes as much as you want – the figure won’t change. At least a billion women on this planet do not have access to basic sanitation, which means when they menstruate every month, they endure with little to no period products. And it isn’t just an issue exclusive to women; many trans men and non-binary people are also living with the brutal reality of period poverty as well.

Whether you’re somebody who has periods or not – just imagine being in such a wretched position that you have to suffer circa six to seven days of bleeding without the necessary products to ensure not only hygiene and dignity, but also basic health and safety.

More and more people are unable to afford sanitary items like pads and tampons during their period. This puts them in an unimaginable position each month and it’s not like they get a month off where they don’t have to worry about this problem. It’s a constant source of distress and anxiety. Ceaseless.

Nobody should have to make the decision between buying some tampons or buying lunch- but so many people are forced with that choice. In Kenya as high as 50% of school-age girls cannot afford period products. What’s even more harrowing is that 1 in 10 Kenyan teenage girls (aged 15 years) have had to engage in sexual acts in order to receive the money to buy sanitary products. A similar situation is happening in India with 12% of over 350 million menstruating people unable to afford products.

However, this isn’t an issue exclusive to developing nations. It’s prevalent in British society as well. And of course, it isn’t just an issue exclusive to women. As many as 1 in 10 young people in the United Kingdom can’t afford either pads or tampons at some point in their lives.

Those of us who can afford such necessary items when the time comes take that for granted. I’ve complained about the cost of period products at times because it’s a degrading outrage, but I’ve rarely stopped to question the wider ramifications and how other people in a less fortunate position than myself might be affected.

A regular packet of tampons costs between £2 to £3. During a monthly period the average person will use around two packets meaning the ridiculous cost of around £6. That’s six pounds just to go through a natural (unstoppable) bodily function with at least some element of cleanliness and dignity. This doesn’t even factor in the cost of painkillers for those who might suffer from severe pains and cramps.

Given the soaring levels of poverty in this country, it’s obvious that mass amounts of people just cannot afford this, which is why so many women, particularly those living on the streets, go without food during their period. It’s either lunch or a tampon.

Period poverty has always been a major issue. For as long as there’s been poverty, there have been menstruating women desperately trying to get through their time of the month as best they can. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the 2016 Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake that the gravity of period poverty really hit home. The film showed a harrowing scene in which a poor single mother reaches her wit’s end and shoplifts sanitary pads because they’re priced way higher than she can afford. According to RightsInfo, following the release of I, Daniel Blake at least 15 food banks reported a significant increase in the donation of period-related items. This highlights a remarkable sense of both compassion and empathy sparked within the public consciousness, with the potential to grow bigger.

With the Tories in government since 10BC, there has been a substantial surge in the use of food banks. Austerity has meant that in the year of 2016/17 charities handed out up to 1.2 million emergency food parcels. Intense poverty such as this leaves younger people fighting the brunt end. Whether it’s the children of poor families or young people attempting independence away from their parents or carers, poverty hits them with a force. Because of decreasing levels of benefit income, families that include children are more likely to live in harsh poverty. Inevitably this means young girls and women are economising on the number of tampons they use during a period. This runs the risk of infection and the sometimes-fatal toxic shock syndrome.

This risk is enormous for homeless women. Those who do manage to purchase or get a hold of pads and tampons do so at the expense of their own nutritional health, sometimes not eating for days on end. To make the products last, they rip up sanitary pads to create makeshift tampons. On the other hand, women who haven’t been able to get access to any products at all must use alternative methods. For example – toilet paper, cotton balls, paper bags, plastic bags, newspaper and magazines, make-up pads, socks, ripped pieces of clothing. Basically, whatever is available in bins or on the street or what they already own.

The fact that there is a myriad of women in this kind of rock and a hard place position in our country is simply unacceptable. The truth of period poverty serves as a disturbing symptom of wider social issues brought about by a callous government of austerity and apathy. We need to display our anger at a government content to let women suffer in this way, without hygiene and dignity. We need to voice our outrage and empathy, to combat cool indifference.

There is an unjustified stigma attached to menstruation. Surely society will benefit from dismantling the taboo surrounding periods. Isn’t it time we stop shying away? We should keep an ongoing dialogue about it with the hope of making more people aware of period poverty – to work towards making sanitary items available for everyone. After all, it’s not a privilege but a basic human right to feel clean and dignified.

Ways to help:

You can donate or get more information from-

http://thehomelessperiod.com/

https://www.bloodygoodperiod.com/#intro

https://www.change.org/p/theresa-may-mp-free-menstrual-products-for-all-children-on-free-school-meals-freeperiods

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-hampshire-43148080/period-poverty-helping-homeless-and-vulnerable-women

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/19/british-girls-period-poverty-menstruation-sanitary-products

https://www.studyinternational.com/news/period-poverty-hinders-childrens-education-globally/

And donating sanitary products to your local foodbanks and homeless shelters helps too!

Hey there!

We are Powered By Girl. We're young women who write for young women. We do it because we believe there's more to 13-25 year old women than clothes, boys and celebrities. So please have a look at our stuff, and join us!

Sign up to get our blogs in your inbox!