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Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys – A Review of Viv Albertine’s autobiography

Author:
Viv-Albertine

By Amy Callaghan

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys. According to Viv Albertine, guitarist of revolutionary all-girl punk band the Slits, this was a phrase expressed frequently to her by her mother during her childhood and adolescence, ‘Clothes, clothes, clothes, music, music, music, boys, boys, boys – that’s all you ever think about!’. On the surface, that’s what her autobiography appears to be about as well – Albertine’s memories and anecdotes are anchored in the clothes, music, and boys influencing her at the time. Yet her book is more than a whirlwind tale of the legendary punk scene, told through aesthetics only – it is an open and thought-provoking appraisal of Albertine’s entire life.

Albertine’s autobiography is, as punk fans would hope, an insight into what it was like on the inside of the punk scene in the 1960s and 70s, as well as what it was like to be a woman in such a world. However, this is not, in my opinion, the main reason why this book stands out as a radical piece of feminist literature. Rather, it is Albertine’s brutally honest assessment of her whole life, pieced together in an occasionally jarring order, which is the most striking and revelatory aspect of this book. From her childhood, raised by a single mother in North London, and her maintaining issues with her father until his death in 2009, to her battle with cancer, her desperation for a baby and her struggle to conceive, her time as a Hastings housewife, and how the deterioration of her marriage coincided with her increasing desperation to make music again, Albertine holds nothing back, and it is this (at times borderline alarming) determination to be completely truthful about her experiences as a woman throughout every stage of her life which makes this such an inspiring work.

Albertine’s completely frank writing is at times almost unnerving. She doesn’t care if the reader is made uncomfortable by what she has to say or how she says it – the entire book is like a declaration of ‘well, these are my experiences, I lived through this, and I’m certainly not going to sugar-coat it’. It doesn’t, however, read as intentionally playing on shock value. Above all, it is honest. It’s refreshing to hear directly from a woman on often taboo subjects such as menstruation, masturbation, crabs – Albertine refuses to fall into the cultural trap of preserving the modesty of a woman’s body, and writes about these experiences in the same reflective and honest way in which she confronts everything else. It is brilliant and defiant in its rationality.

She writes openly about an abortion she had in 1978 and about how she did not regret it until 20 years later, and has not stopped regretting it since. Still, however, she is emphatic in her support for the right for a woman to choose whether or not to have an abortion. This section of the book takes on a new significance when she writes, many chapters later, of her difficulties in conceiving, the babies she lost through miscarriages, the amount of money and effort poured into IVF, and her eventual success and joy in becoming a mother. Albertine’s writing here is emotive and powerful, and the reader cannot help but feel strongly for her life – for someone unfamiliar with Albertine’s personal life, one could almost begin to root for her as one does for a character in a fictional novel, were it not for her occasional italicised retrospective remarks from her current perspective.

Of course, Albertine’s experiences as a woman in the 1970s punk scene is a substantial section of the book, and incredibly revelatory in itself. The Slits were a defining band in post-punk, and a massive step forward for representation of women in punk as well as in the music industry as a whole. When she writes of the complete lack of representation of any women doing what she wanted to do in music – Albertine couldn’t see any female punk guitarists so firmly believed for a long time that her only access to that world was through the men she associated with – it hammers home the lack of representation women still face in the 21st century. The fact that a girl with no musical training was determined enough to pick up a guitar and play, particularly in such a trailblazing band as the Slits, is nothing short of inspiring.

In an interview with Paper magazine 6 months after the book’s UK release, Albertine expressed her surprise that anyone was inspired by the book. ‘I wanted to show the flipside of someone who looks like they’ve got their life together and what is really underneath it all, so I wrote all the downsides, and yet people found it very inspiring.’ she said. Yet it is difficult to see how Albertine’s book couldn’t be inspiring. Albertine’s experiences, while at points completely distinctive to her era and generation, will hold familiarity with women across every generation, and her publication of this honest confrontation and assessment of her life is an incredibly brave decision.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys was recommended to me as a feminist and music lover. But I would recommend it to anyone, regardless of their interest in music. Even if you’ve never heard of the Slits, never been into punk or any kind of subversive culture, there will be something in Albertine’s book that will resonate with you and your own experiences. And even if there isn’t – her life is bloody interesting enough to have you hooked regardless.

Powered By Girl’s Winter Feminist Gift Guide

Author:
5020935650_2ab6969092_z

By Anna Hill

As winter fast approaches and various celebrations come about you might be thinking about what you want to ask for, and what you want to get others!! So I made a handy list of suggestions for you to peruse and/or send to a parent/friend/add to that amazon wishlist!

Fiction

She of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya

This masterpiece of a book is so beautiful! It’s written by a bisexual trans woman of colour and is full of accurate depictions of what being bisexual and experiencing biphobia is like. Its an illustrated novel chronicling the life of one specific boy as he discovers himself and learns to define who he is himself, alongside a really lovely re-imagining/retelling of Hindu mythology.

Carol/ The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

Perfect for those wintery-Christmas-cold feels, Carol tells the story of Therese Belivet, a shy but artistic set designer and Carol, an older glamorous women on the brink of divorce. It’s a story set in the 1950s and is full of intricate and deep silences and omissions, portraying the lives of lesbian and queer women at that time. It is a great reminder of survival and love. This is also now a film which you could watch and discuss especially with the context that Patricia Highsmith, a lesbian herself, wrote it originally, but the director of the film was a straight man named Todd Haynes – how might that switch up perspectives?!

New Virginia Woolf Vintage Editions

Vintage has just released some beautiful new versions of Virginia Woolf’s work – my favourites are The Waves and Orlando. The Waves is an experimental modernist novel about five people and the way their lives wind together throughout their lives. The prose and imagery are amazing and inspiring. Orlando is very different – it’s a fun novel detailing the life of Orlando, a character that fluidly switches gender and time span, traveling from Istanbul to London to Russia.

Refugee Tales

This book is a double gift!! Refugee Tales is a collection of testimonies set out in a similar form as The Canterbury Tales and the entire profit of the book goes to Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group and Kent Refugee Help! Which means you get a shiny new book, and someone else gets funds that will help their wellbeing.

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

This is a Young Adult Novel about a young Bruja [Latinx witch!]!! Perfect for the aspiring witch in your life; this is a story about mistakes, growth, family and identity. The novel is also part of the #OwnVoices movement, which means that it was written by someone who identifies with the main characters the story is about!

Ragdoll House by Maranda Elizabeth

Maranda Elizabeth is currently my favourite author and I attempt to include their work in every conversation! Ragdoll House is a wonderful novel about queer girl friendship, survival and love. This was described as a “queer punk classic” by one goodreads review and I couldn’t agree more! The prose is great and its always great to support mad disabled self-published authors.

Non-Fiction

Where Am I Now by Mara Wilson

Yes!! This is by The Mara Wilson, of Matilda fame! This is a collection of personal essays Mara has written about what it has been like for her growing up as a young girl and a former child actress. Her twitter account never ceases to entertain me and neither does this. Her honesty and wit is enthralling and her perspective is really interesting.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This book is a current feminist classic! You might have seen the ted talk this small book is based on, or you might have heard the section that is played in the Beyonce track Flawless. Either way, you probably will have come into contact with this book! With a stunning cover this is the perfect gift to baby feminists to help them on their way to greatness!

The Feminist Utopia Project: Fifty-Seven Visions Of A Wildly Better Future

This looks like a really interesting and hopeful read – what does a feminist utopia look like? What exactly do we want from liberation? In this collection over 50 authors discuss their feelings!! Including but not limited to Melissa Harris-Perry, Janet Mock and Sheila Bapat, in various different formats including interviews, poetry and short stories.

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla

A collection of voices from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic British folks today exploring ideas about why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it feels like to be “othered” – in all its forms, from being an “ambassador” for your race to having to jump through hoops to be seen as a “good” immigrant. Get angry when you read this!! Get challenged by your own prejudices!! Get learning! Perfect feminist work to enjoy and digest over the winter so in 2017 you can reify your perceptions, refocus and really help to destroy inequality and racism wherever you see it.

Comics and Zines

Beyond the Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology edited by Sfe R. Monster and Taneka Stotts

A beautiful collection of diverse and exciting comics! Featuring, but not limited to, an agender ghost working at a tea shop, constructed gay robot aliens falling in love, Chinese-russian bi polyamorous astronauts and a monster queen falling in love (with no words!)! In other words, it’s everything you have been missing! More information on it here

Jem and the holograms!

Jem is one of my favourite comics because of how diverse it is, and not just sexual and romantic orientation wise, but also in terms of body type!! This comic tells the story of a band made up of sisters as they try to thrive, using technology that is so advanced it can create a holographic lead singer! Full of vibrancy and excitement, Jem and the holograms is especially good for pop punk fans!! (but I pretty much think everyone should read it because all the band members are so god damn CUTE.).3 volumes are out so far!

Hysterical femme – karina killjoy

This is one of my favourite zines of 2016. It’s about being a femme survivor, taking up space and working to love yourself and other femmes and other survivors too. It’s so affirming to read that there is no right way to heal and that there are others who feel how I feel! Its about still being angry and hysterical and mentally ill and still being treated with kindness and understanding rather than being deriding and frustrating. This zine is beautiful and validating and I hope everyone reads it one day!

Queer Indigenous Girl #2

This is a lovely submission based zine for black, indigenous people of colour who are queer, trans, 2-spirit, mentally/chronically/physically ill and neurodivergent. In prioritizing these folk’s voices it’s really great to support and read their work! It’s a colour PDF zine with art and illustrations. It also talks about what living with ADHD is like, depression and survival.

Poetry

milk and honey by rupi kaur

This is a firecracker of a collection of poetry. It’s split into four sections and each of them meticulously breaks your heart and sews it back together over and over.

the princess saves herself in this one by Amanda Lovelace

Another energetic feminist poetry collection, this one focuses on being the main character in your own story, recovering from abuse and inheriting the power that is inside of you! Plus it’s written by an asexual author who is outspoken about books and social justice on tumblr.

Radical Softness

This is the CUTEST feminist poetry pocketbook made by wonderful graphic designer and general cool person Soofiya. Perfect for the person who is SO busy kicking the kyriarchy to the ground that they only have short amounts of time to read poetry. You can read this anywhere and everywhere ingesting all the great vibes from it whenever you need to!

Heartless Girls

This is a poetry zine by Emma T and it has such brilliant poems! My favourite line is probably “I don’t know how to stay tender/ with this much blood in my mouth”. Emma’s poetry is raw and vulnerable and that’s why its so great!

That’s it for my suggestions, I hope you found something fun off this list!

Louise O’Neill Discusses “Asking For It”

Author:
louise

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

CN: Discussion of r*pe culture and victim blaming

In the summer, I was lucky enough to hear the Irish author Louise O’Neill talk about her ground-breaking novel, Asking For It, at my local bookshop. It was an incredible evening, and Louise made some very poignant points. I feel it would be selfish of me not to share some of them…

Louise on DARKNESS IN YA:

“There’s always a big debate on whether or not my books are YA. I’ve been told that they’re too dark and bleak for YA. I mean, have these people ever been teenagers? When I was 16, I genuinely thought that Sylvia Plath was the only person who understood me.”

Louise on TELLING THE TRUTH IN FICTION:

“I set out to write the truth, to be authentic, and if that makes people uncomfortable, maybe that’s a good thing. I can understand discomfort when reading about rape, you SHOULD be uncomfortable with it. It was especially important to me in writing Asking For It because there is such a culture of shame that silences victims. It’s ‘what were you doing?’, ‘what were you wearing?’, ‘how much did you have to drink?’, ‘why did you go back to his house?’. You just hear ‘your fault’, ‘your fault’, ‘your fault’, ‘your fault’. Victims are being made to feel ashamed, but that’s wrong. It’s the rapists, they’re the ones who should feel ashamed.”

Louise on THE RECEPTION OF CHARACTERS:

“It’s interesting to me that Emma (Asking For It protagonist) is described as ‘unlikable’, because who says she has to be likable? That was never my goal. Male characters are never treated in the same way – the male antihero is well established in literature, but with women it’s shocking. People are shocked by women who are not ‘nice’. But female characters need to be compelling, not necessarily ‘likable’.”

Louise on ENDINGS (*spoiler alert!*):

“I definitely resist neat endings, I don’t like them and I don’t write them because they don’t feel real, they are not true to life.

Of course I wanted Emma to take the case further, but it doesn’t matter what I wanted her to do. It’s about what she would do. Also, my research showed that conviction rates with these cases are very low, especially in Ireland. I wanted the book to reflect the reality in which she lived. That’s why it ends the way it does.”

(you can pick up Asking For It here)

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