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The Unspeakable Things Have Been Spoken

Author:

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

unspeakable

Laurie Penny. If you’ve not heard the name before, it’s about time you paid attention. I’m a little biased perhaps, as Penny is nothing short of a hero to me. But honestly, she’s great. She’s recently released a book in the U.K., to be released in the U.S. in September. It’s called ‘Unspeakable Things’, and hell, she talks about exactly what girls are told not to. If you’re looking for an easy going, ‘yes you can be a feminist, love pink, wear false eyelashes and shave your legs’ book, this is not for you. Laurie Penny in general, is probably not for you. She is not interested in sugar-coating this movement, making it appealing to the masses. In her eyes, its appeal should just be a given. Frankly, she thinks this kind of lipstick feminism is rather silly. For her, it’s about the nitty-gritty, the things that nobody likes to talk about. But she’s talking about them, and she certainly won’t be silenced any time soon.

Penny interlinks serious analysis of a range of issues, with the ways in which she has personally been affected, making for a very interesting and thought-provoking read. However, the personal side is no sob story – it’s a cold, slightly bitter narrative, at times, relaying the harsh truths of eating disorders, rape culture, and more. There’s no sugar coating, it’s completely honest. And yet, she’s not claiming to speak for everyone, which is an irritatingly common mistake in discussion of these topics. In fact, she regularly stresses otherwise, pointing out that she is a white, middle-class woman; therefore privileged, and unable to tell every woman’s point of view. It is often assumed that feminist texts speak for all women, and often writers assume this ‘voice of the people’ stance. It is incredibly refreshing that Laurie Penny openly refutes this.

The book is in many ways a rant. It is an intense outlet of anger about the world; about neoliberal capitalism; about patriarchal constraints; about transphobia; about white/male/heterosexual/cis-gender/middle-class privileges – you name it, Penny is probably pissed off about it. But it’s still very eloquently written, aside from the regular effing and blinding. She covers ground such as mental illness, single motherhood and abortion. It’s true, these are all topics covered before, but here is the view of a young woman – a view from someone of this generation. However, more importantly, she attacks things barely touched upon before like issues with modern feminism, cybersexism, and uniquely, men’s issues. But it’s not what you think. The chapter on guys is actually the best part of the book. If you only read one part when you pick it up in the bookshop, make it the ‘Lost Boys’ chapter. It’s genuinely eye-opening, and you won’t regret it.

Her unrelenting wit and her ingenious prose style make this book brilliant. Though it was a moving and engrossing read, there were moments when I found myself laughing out loud, because, yes, Laurie Penny kicks patriarchal ass. It is full of dry humour – fitting for the mood of the book and the nature of the issues discussed. Highlights include; “those who are so eager for women and girls to go back to the kitchen might think again… you can plan a lot of damage from a kitchen. It’s also where the knives are kept” and “Having it all now means having a career, kids, a husband, a decent blow-dry – and that’s it.” And that’s only in the introduction.

I’m not saying I agree with every little detail in the book. In fact, there were several points made that I frowned at and found myself strongly disagreeing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t value what’s said – quite the opposite. It’s a reminder that we don’t all have to agree on everything. It’s a necessary aspect of this movement – differing opinions, challenging others and being challenged, that’s how the Suffragettes arose! What matters is that, at the very core, we are united in ideas and are willing to fight for social change. This is how we will make equality a reality.

The Unconventional Summer Reading List

Author:

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

book

School is out – well, almost, in the U.K – and that means one thing… SUMMER! Summer means a lot of different things for different people; be it swimming in the sea; festivals; camping in the middle of nowhere; road trips; backpacking – usually something pretty cool. Sometimes, it’s just chilling out at the park or in the garden with ice-cream, homemade smoothies, barbecues, spending times with friends and family – which is equally wonderful, of course.

For me, though, the biggest appeal of Summer (and yes, I realise this makes me a huge nerd) is that I have plenty of free time… to read. In the year, I don’t get to read nearly as much as I’d like to, what with work, work, work, oh, and more work! But for two months, I can read a book a day if I want to, no problem! There’s absolutely no better way to relax!

I’m not the only one who thinks Summer is a time for reading, as magazines and newspapers begin to publish their lists of essential Summer reading around early June. Unfortunately, it would seem that I have the wrong idea with my mixture of the Brontës, John Green, and feminist manifestos. Because, each year, magazines’ lists are nothing like mine. Typically titled ‘beach reads for women’, ‘books for your beach bag’, ‘hot summer reads’ and so on, the lists compiled are beyond frustrating to see. Not only are the titles blatantly sexist, but the content tends to be, too. The message sent is that all women are the same – we like shopping, we’re obsessed with our looks, and WE JUST WANT A BOYFRIEND! This plays right into the kyriarchy, this idea that ‘real’ women are white, heterosexual, cisgendered, and of course, one-dimensional, dependent creatures.

It honestly really upsets me, the whole thing. But I’m not letting it get me down too much anymore. There is a way to combat this norm. There are always alternatives; you’ve just got to look a little harder sometimes. Here I’ve compiled a list of suggestions to start you off – Some are a little obvious perhaps, some you may not have even heard of. There’s a wide range of fiction, some young adult, and some adult. But be warned – whilst some are easy to read, these books are not necessarily all light. I like these books for precisely this reason – I have personally found them empowering, liberating, moving, thought-provoking, stereotype smashing, as well as simply enjoyable. I really hope you’ll find something in them too.

  • Matched – Ally Condie. ‘In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die. Yet for Cassia, the rules have changed.’ This Young Adult trilogy is astonishingly poetic in the way it is written, as well as being an exciting, emotional, compelling read. It is difficult not to find the characters endearing, with incredible development throughout the books. Cassia, the protagonist, is particularly interesting, as she begins as a standard ‘good girl’, complacent to the rules, but as the story goes on, she begins to really challenge the ways of the world around her, in spite of the consequences. It provokes intense political thought, whilst being very funny in places as well.
  • If You Find Me – Emily Murdoch. ‘A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. Suddenly taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.’ This book is beautifully written, and provides a critical narrative on our society, whilst reminding the reader to be grateful for what they have. It deals with several very sensitive issues, including childhood neglect and abuse, mental illness, and addiction, but does so very sensitively, and provides a lot of hope too, through the perspective of Carey. It is easy to relate to this girl – despite most readers living rather different lives from her, on the surface – as we recognise the outsider that is in ourselves, both highly sceptical, yet desperate to belong. A stunning debut.
  • A Gathering Light – Jennifer Donnelly. ‘Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey has big dreams but little hope of seeing them come true.’ Exploring familial relationships, and friendships, as well as romantic love, to a backdrop of history and mystery, this book is incredible. The main character, Mattie, is intelligent and hard-working, but also rather cheeky, which makes her a very appealing character. She also adores of her teacher, who is pretty darn cool, and writes feminist poetry. A well-written story, which discusses the personal and universal together, A Gathering Light is a great read.
  • Chains – Laurie Halse Anderson. ‘As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight…for freedom.’ If you don’t cry a little whilst reading this, I will be surprised. It appears to be historically accurate, meticulously researched, doing justice to those affected by slavery. It is moving, empowering, and as a reader you find yourself feeling fiercely protective of Isabel. It is impossible to put down until the very end, as quickly you become thoroughly attached.
  • Since You’ve Been Gone – Morgan Matson. ‘Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—the one who yanks you out of your shell. But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just… disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list. Where can it lead?’ This is released just this Summer, and is a great, easy read for the beach. It’s fun, hilarious in places, and immensely enjoyable. The main character Emily is wonderful, she is so normal, it’s fantastic. Checking things off her list is an adventure, and the way it’s narrated makes it all seem very liberating, like she’s learning a lot about herself. It’s inspiring in the way that it’s made me want to go out and do things that I often feel too scared to do. But it also reminds you not to assume things about people, stop making judgements – you don’t know anyone like you may assume. Nobody is perfect, life isn’t perfect, and it’s a reminder that these are true, whilst reminding you that it’s still beautiful. It stresses the importance of friendship, and makes you really, really, really want to hug your best friend.
  • The Help – Kathryn Stockett. ‘Three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town.’ Poignant, at times hysterically funny, thought-provoking, inspiring and hopeful. You would not expect an affluent white woman to be able to write accurately or sensitively about issues in the lives of black women in 1960s America, but this book is a real surprise. Everyone will take a lot away from The Help, about class, race, friendship, and more.
  • The Colour Purple – Alice Walker. ‘Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate.’ This book requires a TRIGGER WARNING, as the description of abuse is very graphic. However, I do believe it is an incredible book. It is such a powerful narrative, and an extremely emotional story throughout. It is also a great example of how female empowerment benefits society as a whole. The characters are multi-dimensional, you learn about their thinking, their beliefs, their reasoning. You see all sides of these people, the good and the bad – nothing is sugar-coated. This is a rare kind of book, and a brilliant one.

Happy reading girls!

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