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The Unconventional Summer Reading List

Author:

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

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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!

So… This is progress??

Author:

By Gemma Garner

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‘The Miss England contest is not JUST a beauty contest . You have to be far more than just a pretty face to win the crown. It’s not just about looking good in a swimsuit anymore.’ – Miss England 2014
Pageantry has always been a backwards concept to me. Now that it’s 2014, our society insists that women are valued for far more than they used to be ‘back in the day'; and I agree. It’s undeniable that we’ve come far. However, the fact that beauty pageants are still acceptable tells me women are still seen as objects to be judged. Don’t get me wrong; I am in no way criticizing those who, in some sense, enjoy pageantry, or those who even take part in beauty pageants (however, I AM criticizing the many men who gain profit from the exploitation of women within pageantry. Boo to them.). Heck, I’m widely known for being a (guilty) sucker for Toddlers & Tiaras. But, regardless of where you stand, it’s important that we educate ourselves about the flaws and negative effects that come from the acceptance of Beauty Pageants, in order to (maybe one day) bring about change. Whenever I’ve expressed my heartbreak regarding beauty pageants, these are questions I’ve often been asked that I think are important to address.
‘If you disagree with beauty pageants, why partake in them?!’
Firstly, that’s just not how the world works. If we all turned a blind eye to blatantly problematic and oppressive traditions that actually, though not directly, affect us negatively in the grand scheme of things, how are things going to change? If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. But don’t tell me I shouldn’t.
‘Miss England is clearly not just about beauty! There are many rounds that allow women to be more than just a pretty face.’
Whilst I applaud Miss England for offering more than ‘Beauty, Swimsuit & Talent’, it still puts women in a box. Their box just has more labels. These include: charitable, loving, kind, warm, gentle, accepting, beautiful, feminine- which are all wonderful traits. But what about the women that aren’t charitable? That have trouble showing emotion? That have social anxiety? Mental illness? Physical deformities? What about trans women? What about the girls that aren’t gentle? Or accepting? What about the girls that aren’t ‘textbook’ beautiful? By picking out (undeniably stunning and talented) women and labeling them as the ultimate ‘Miss England’, they’re only representing a very small minority of women across England. Which means most of England’s ladies are left feeling small and not enough.
‘But that’s not directly Miss England’s fault; why are you attacking them? Many women haven’t heard of Miss England and still feel small!’
You’re exactly right. Miss England didn’t cause this. This is already a part of our culture. Women are generally made to feel this way. Every day is a battle for perfection. Miss England just do a perfect job at representing this. We gain acceptance. They gain crowns.
Pageantry actively supports the idea that women are objects and re-enforces an unattainable idea of perfection. If you disagree with me, I’ll direct you to an article I just read congratulating the gorgeous fifth-year undergraduate Cambridge student Carina Tyrell for winning Miss England 2014. The comment section is filled with hateful comments from men picking at her appearance, (‘Disgusting’, ‘skeleton needs a burger’, ‘Is this the best our country has to offer?’) telling her even THAT isn’t enough. We’re teaching people to view women as nothing more than an object to critique; especially within pageantry… And if that isn’t terribly damaging for both women, and men’s perception of them, I don’t know what is.
According to Miss England, in order to be the ultimate British woman you have to tick all the boxes on a long… long list. But… What if the ultimate, perfect, British woman is… you? What if YOU are perfection? How you are right now? What if pageants offered us acceptance? And self-love?
But, hey, Miss England are right. It’s not just about looking good in a swimsuit anymore. Apparently, it’s about being perfect wife material too. Charitable, sporty, kind and talented. It’s about being a role model. The ideal woman. An object. And to me, that sounds a lot like women ‘back in the day’. We need to let women know that, you know what? Being a human being is perfect enough. I don’t need a judge to tell me who Miss England is. Miss England is you and I.

Let’s Ban Revenge Porn (UK)

Author:

By Chloe Hutchinson

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Recently a lot of progress has been made in the campaign to ban revenge porn. It has been debated in parliament, appeared on 2 front pages and been covered by the BBC as well as getting loads of support from MPs, members of the House of Lords and more than 4,500 of you!

Revenge porn is when explicit images are published online by an ex without consent. This causes a humongous amount of damage to the victim’s personal and professional life.

Whilst this is an issue that affects both genders, women are disproportionately more likely to suffer from this kind of abuse than men. The abuse is often accompanied by a lot of victim-blaming and slut-shaming.

In the UK revenge porn is currently still legal when the images are of consenting adults, but things are changing.  You can help by signing the petition and by asking your MP to support the campaign in parliament. If you have been a victim and would like to help click here. With your support we can make this illegal!

 

Bikini Body Folly

Author:

By Olivia Murphy

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It’s summertime again. That’s code for ‘buff beach bod’ time. A time where muffin tops are a sweet, sugary no-no, and barely-there bikini’s become the necessary garment for your ‘designer vagina’; a place that must be transformed from ‘muff madness’ into ‘pornstar pussy perfection’. Should I St. Tropez or Fake Bake to banish my plain, pasty paleness (God forbid an English Rose should de-robe au naturale on the beach amidst bronzed Brazilian babes)? In fact, should my regular wicked waxing sessions bypass the Brazilian and go head on for Hollywood? Perhaps if I deny every natural bodily process and biological function I might achieve the unachievable? Is that what it takes to be perfect? Will I be happy?

My mind filters these thoughts instinctively as I prepare for my holiday to Brazil. The line between ‘banging babe’ and ‘beauty blooper’ is unfeasibly thin, and my fate lies in the lap of the media-gods. Rule one: colour your skin a dark shade of fake tan, but tangoed hands, mud-like build up and streaky bacon legs are a school girl error. Rule two: the more expensive, exclusive designer sunglasses the better (in fact, the more ‘bug-eyed’ the better; covering up your face is probably a blessing to the public), but remember ‘panda eyes from sunbathing’ is a serious epic fail. Rule three: never over-pluck your eyebrows, but if you infringe on the ‘Scouse-brow’, ‘tatoo-brow’ and ‘monobrow’, then forget leaving the house altogether. How can one keep up with such inconsistent trends? What is permitted and what is forbidden? Brazilian booty? Ha, my skinny ass couldn’t do enough squats in a lifetime to achieve the perfect ‘belfie’. The closest I’m ever going to get to J-Lo is Livvy from the block.

So why is the anxiety of bikini body perfection so infectious; a vicious cycle of relentless bitching, glorifying, then more bitching? Do we hate or hanker for the unhealthy size-zero fad? Why do we fervently invest in the trashy body-obsession produced by the media? Are we not educated; knowing full well that adverts are airbrushed, models malnourished, and ‘cutting-edge’ cosmetics are a con? You know as well as I do that these facts are true, yet we persist to invest in such a culture despite our opinions and awareness. If I take up Pilates, will I really get ‘Brazilian legs’ like Gisele Bundchen? If I take up boxing will I get ‘Brazilian arms’ like Adriana Lima? If I do a yoga class twice a day will I achieve the ‘Brazilian composure’ of Raquel Zimmerman? If I refuse to consume anything but stewed spinach and kale smoothies will I achieve glossy, ‘Brazilian locks’ like Ana Carolina Reston?

We praise curvier figures for being ‘real’ women role models, yet this is just a front to disguise our true desire to be perfect; our need to be anything but ‘real’. We attack ourselves physically, verbally, psychologically and emotionally. Chicken wings, thunder thighs, sausage fingers – the cruel glossary of image-obsessive terms is endless. Stomachs and breasts that have carried and nourished babies are rewarded with ‘repulsive’ stretch marks and saggy skin. Cover up that skin damaged décolletage! Cover up that flat, deflated chest and bum! Cover up that crepey knee skin! Are you really entertaining legs of cellulite? Is your vagina too loose? Such terminology is so extreme I find it comical, but the fact it is so dehumanising makes the matter anything but funny.

Imagine that the beauty and body ideologies are goalposts. I fear the rate at which these goalposts constantly change; getting narrower and narrower at a faster rate than our shrinking waistlines. If we don’t stay firm, what will become of reality? My culture encourages lighter-skinned girls to tan their skin and darker-skinned women to lighten their skin. Why does our image-obsessed world wish us to deny our true selves? I fear living in a world where expectations are so skewed and perverse that body hair on women is considered monstrous and eyelashes, nails, breasts, hair, bottoms and lips are either fake, implanted or lifted to deny the laws of physics, biology and chemistry. Shopping, dressing up and make-up should be fun, shouldn’t it? Fact of the matter is, what used to be a source of enjoyment and self-confidence is quickly becoming the stimulus of intense female angst and insecurity. Is it really realistic to live your life caked in expensive tanning agents and cosmetics, tottering on skyscraper stripper-stilettos with that itsy-bitzy Agent Provocateur thong that is so far up your bum god forbid you should take a trip to the restroom (it’s ok though, girls don’t poo right?)? What happened to the time when clothes reflected our personalities, identities and unique body shapes? Are we trying to convey our characters and individuality? Are we trying to celebrate or exploit our womanly assets? Or are we simply trying to conceal our imperfections and conform to an unrealistic ideal?

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Come on girls. You know we have more important things to worry about. You know we can make a serious contribution to science, politics and the arts. This will never transpire if we continue to use our time and money consuming, investing and propelling our image-crazy world. I know that we are serious about our lives and our careers. I know we are.

As my suitcase lays open and I debate whether I include my F+F Sundress or my Kaftan from Accessorise, I know that neither will transform me into Victoria’s Secret model, Alessandra Ambrosia. My nail colour will not be a bright yellow to reflect my ‘inner Brazilian radiance’, nor will I invest in a red lipstick to boost my chances of seducing Mr. Brazilian-Fifa-World-Cup-knob cheese -Charming. My image is an expression of my personal taste, and no one else’s. I love a floral dress. I love my Mac eye shadows. I curl my hair. My new, fluorescent court heels are so gorgeous they stop traffic (quite literally). And why should I deny myself? They make me feel great. Feminism is not the rejection of femininity, but having the strength to express the real, unique you. Perfection is undefinable and beauty is subjective therefore there is certainly no such thing as the ‘perfect body’ or the ‘perfect female face’. I don’t believe that anyone has ‘problem areas’, ‘fat armpits’ or ‘mosquito-bite nipples’ – these terms are cruel inventions. For heaven’s sake, have your cake and eat it! Fight back against covering and concealing your true self; for I fear we are at risk of disappearing altogether.

In a nutshell, I beg you to listen to your own voice, your own soul, your own heart. No one has the right to dictate what you should or shouldn’t do, or how you should or shouldn’t look. Confidence is strength, strength is empowerment, and empowerment is peace. You can succeed in anything if you put your mind to it; the real challenge is to permit yourself to reach those goals. We must stop the bitching, the loathing, the envy and the competition. We must listen to our sisters and be supportive, not fault-finding. If Kate Moss gained a few stone, would we praise her for rejecting her previous mantra: ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny’? Or, would we invest in headlines such as ‘Miserable Moss Mirrors a Mountain’? More importantly, why do we care? Someone else should not make us feel threatened or inadequate. We must stop manifesting in our own insecurities and criticising other women for their supposed ‘flaws’. What does criticism achieve? Does this really make you feel better about yourself long-term?

Of course it is not simple, but I have faith in our generation. Only we can choose to change the way we think and talk about ourselves and others. Only we have the power to regain control over those ever-adjusting goalposts. So what are you waiting for? It is time to find something more fulfilling and worthwhile – and for god’s sake more exciting – than achieving the ‘perfect’ bikini bod. I’m coming for you, Rio de Janeiro, skinny ass and all.

We Are More Than Just a Distraction

Author:

By Lily Scott

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The sun is getting hotter and the days are getting longer, summer is finally here! That means bare legs in the grass, floaty tops and warm sunshine on our tummies right? Nope, not quite if you’re still in school or college. Across the country, school administrators are trying their hardest to cover up any parts of the female body that are deemed ‘inappropriate’. In many schools, this includes: legs, shoulders, cleavage and midriff. Exactly the parts of the body that suit the summer weather.

Last week, I walked into the front gate of my school and was pulled aside by a male teacher. He told me that the bit of skin showing between my high-waisted jeans and baggy crop top was not acceptable and I must go home to change immediately. Walking home, my frustration grew at the dress code that humiliates and shames girls in school when they should be in a lesson, getting the same education as the male half of the school. At most schools, dress code violators are either sent home or made to change into any item of clothing thrown at them from the lost property cupboard. It’s embarrassing being targeted like this, leaving many girls with loss of self-esteem. Although there are rules for boys, they are not as frequently enforced and only state that t-shirts can’t reference drugs or anything sexual. It is unequal that boys can walk around freely showing their underwear beneath saggy jeans, yet the slightest glimpse of a bra strap and teachers practically faint with shock. Everyone is aware that most girls do in fact wear a bra underneath their clothing, so why are bras treated as such a mysterious taboo that must not be seen or mentioned? Bras have become the Voldemort of the clothing world.

The rules for women will never, ever be simple. We are expected to conform to both the media and school’s expectations and tread a very fine line of being pretty and appealing but not revealing. We are told that we must be pleasing to the eye but not too suggestive or sexy. These guidelines tell men that it is okay to slut shame and eventually leads to the idea that when a women is sexually assaulted, it is the clothes that she was wearing that are to blame. In other words, ‘she was asking for it’. Girls as young as 13 are being told to change when simply showing their legs in shorts, or bare shoulders in vest tops. These students are too young to be sexualised in any way and are taught from such an early age that their bodies tempt men and it is their responsibility to stop leering or harassment.

It is unlikely that school uniform policies will be relaxed as authorities are intent on their belief that they are doing what is best for the students. It is clear that what they are doing only benefits males as the distraction of female bodies are taken away, making it easier to concentrate on learning. However, we could argue that young men are very capable of exercising self-control and will not always go wild at the sight of a girl’s bare shoulders. If it is absolutely necessary to apply dress codes, it should be equal for boys and girls, so that the system doesn’t favour one gender over another. It should not be the concern of a female to change the way she looks or dresses so that a man won’t view her in a certain way. What needs to change is the attitudes that girls are simply sexual objects to be hassled or catcalled. We should be taught to be confident and proud of our bodies, not policing ourselves for the male gaze.

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