Books to read about Ireland

Recent news in the UK has brought Irish and Northern Irish politics to the forefront of British politics and front pages of our newspapers. For many people, the recent history of Irish politics will still be lived experience, but for those of us too young to recall, it may be something that school history hadn’t yet caught up with.

If, like me, you know little about the Troubles, IRA terrorism and how this has influenced the current political situations in Ireland and Northern Ireland then now is the perfect time to be reading up on this, in light of the Conservatives striking a deal with the DUP to establish their majority.

Here are a few fiction books that I will be looking at to get a better understanding of the history which is influencing the present:

Cal by Bernard Maclaverty

Cal is a young Irish Catholic, involved with the IRA, living in a Protestant area. He must come to terms with the acts he has committed in the political violence of the Troubles and his guilt, but he must also make decisions about how to, or whether to, move forwards with his life.

A Star Called Henry (The Last Round up Series) by Roddy Doyle

Set between the 1916 Easter Rising and the Truce of 1921, this story features Henry, as a member of the Irish Citizen Army, who meets several historical characters, and engages in the fight against the British. The full series spans most of the 20th Century, covering the reach of Irish politics in the Western world.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

A view into modern day Ireland and its underworld, this book dramatises the legacies of Ireland’s attitudes to sex and family and the effects they have. A Bailey’s Prize winner this book has been described both as darkly moving and funny.

Troubles by J G Farrell

Beginning at the end of the First World War this book is set against the context in which the violence of the Troubles begins, and the political upheaval of the Irish War of Independence. The book is focalised through a confused observer – a position many modern readers are likely to relate to as we see events unfold.

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

This novel from the ‘modernist’ period treats the changing situation as a signalling of ‘the end’ as British rule in southern Ireland and the end of an aristocratic era comes to a demise. In the midst of this Lois Farquar is attempting to break free from this very way of life, which her relatives are fiercely defending.


These books span the 20th Century, right up to the present day. They cover a range of perspectives, Catholic and Protestant, Unionist and Nationalist, and those on the outside and in between. They capture the complexity of Ireland’s politics and are a great starting point for those who love to explore history through fiction.

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GE17: A victory for progressive politics

A lot has happened in 24 hours but, in all practicality, not that much will actually change. Theresa May has refuted calls to resign and it is likely that by the end of the day she will have made a deal with the DUP – whether as a minority government, or part of a coalition, we don’t know.

However, last night was an achievement for millions across the UK. An ‘unelectable’ leader did what no-one else has managed to do and has achieved what was considered impossible two moths ago. He delivered the Youth Vote, which turned out to be decisive in undermining the Conservatives. May called the election to increase her majority, with many commentators predicting a Tory landslide. To have run a campaign which engaged young voters, won back seats and ultimately broken the Tory majority is nothing to scoff at – Corbyn has achieved some momentous strides for progressive politics.

There will be dark days ahead. A Tory-DUP pact will likely deliver a hard Brexit, and will likely continue policies of austerity and cuts. Hopefully, a small majority will be blocked on bills such as Fox Hunting and a repeal of Human Rights. The important thing is that with an increased number of progressive seats, the MPs we have elected can challenge the Conservatives and better represent us. But we cannot grow apathetic again. We must stay engaged, keep campaigning and promoting a more positive, inclusive and hopeful politics. And whether the next vote comes in 5 months or 5 years, we have to make sure that we build on Corbyn’s success, making the Youth Vote a powerful force in politics.

This article was originally posted on Voice Mag

 

Books For Change – Part 1

Virago Press is doing a social media campaign #BooksForChange designed to share inspirational books by women everyday throughout March. Here is my list for the first 15 days – check out my picks:

1 The book that made me a feminist: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall 

Anne Bronte’s tale of a woman who asserts her right to independence at a time when women were little more than property was the first thing that ever made me realise that the women were not treated equally, and it inspires me to be like Helen every day.

2 Hidden from History: Hidden Figures

I recently saw the chart topping film at the cinema and was blown away. I’m now keen to read up on these incredible women in more detail in the book that inspired the movie.

Image result for anne of green gables rachel mcadams3 Stories of Girlhood: Anne of Green Gables

A childhood favourite – Anne epitomises the struggles many girls go through, learning to become comfortable in her own skin. The recent Rachel McAdams narrated audiobook is a great way to revisit it!

Image result for We Should All Be Feminists4 Read in one sitting: We Should All Be Feminists

Adichie’s call to arms is a powerful demonstration of why we all need feminism and a must read.

Image result for bad girls throughout history5 #ShePersisted: Bad Girls Throughout History

This beautiful compilation of 100 remarkable women shows the tenacity and perseverance of women who fought to achieve success and change the world.


Image result for jane eyre6 Favourite first line: There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

This classic and unforgettable intro is from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, if you haven’t read it, stop what you are doing now.


7 Short Stories: The Garden Party

Mansfield was a pioneer of the short story and her isolated and frustrated characters give us a unique insight into human psychology.

8 The book that changed my life: The Bell Jar

This book broke my heart and when I finished it, I cried for days. But any book that has that much affect on you has to change your life and in hindsight it has a profound affect on how I view my body, my mental health and my hopes and dreams.


9 In Her Words: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I have never read Angelou but this is at the top of my TBR and a must read in any feminist book list.

10 Stories of Friendship: The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants

This series is probably fairly problematic for any number of reasons but it does prioritise female friendships which is not a common thing to see in children’s or YA literature.

Image result for gone with the wind11 Nasty Women: Scarlett O’Hara

Women do not have to be nice or likeable and Scarlett O’Hara couldn’t care less what you think of her. She is entitled, manipulative and spoilt, but she is real, relatable and damn well successful too.

12 Must Read Classics: Shirley

Charlotte’ Bronte’s Shirley is an uber-feminist version of Jane Eyre – she knows what she wants and no man will get in her way.

13 Ladies of Letters: Plath – Letters Home

Sylvia Plath struggled with depression all her life and this can be seen throughout her writing. I really want to gain more insight into the writer who has affected me personally, and what better way than through her letters.

14 Women who changed music: Lady Sings the Blues

A pioneering Jazz musician and singer-songwriter, Billie Holiday is nothing short of legendary and has been hugely influential in modern American music.


15 To open your eyes: The Second Sex

The inequalities outlined in this book will horrify you, but it also made me aware of the amount of misogyny I internalise, in a way I can’t now forget or brush aside.

Feminist February – Week 2

In case you missed it, I have decided to spend February reading exclusively on feminism! Check out the books I aim to read and the reasons behind my Feminist February Challenge

The second week of the challenge was a lot slower than the first. I should have rocketed through the next few books on the list as they were so short but unfortunately life got the better of me this week. On the plus side I finished two books which made another great pair, as well as starting two seemingly different books without realising that they actually had a similar theme.

Genre Bending

My first book of the week was The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, a series of short stories which rework well known fairytales. These stories are often pinpointed as feminist due to advocating female agency, and dealing frankly with, and embracing, female sexuality. The stories presented show a range of women from heroines to victims, including women who openly undergo sexual awakenings and come to terms with their bodies. Many stories, for example those based around Beauty and the Beast or Red Riding Hood, use transitional states to explore the significance of the body in female sexual identities.

I decided to read a graphic novel alongside The Bloody Chamber for the way it deals with genre; Ms Marvel reworks conventions of superhero genre. Kamala Khan is the first female Muslim lead of her own comic. Her origin story follows the typical trajectory of feeling at odds with the world and so assuming a superhero identity and larger purpose. She discovers the ability to shapeshift and initially starts to save people in the guise of her hero Captain Marvel. However, rather than hiding behind a blonde Captain Marvel – which she could do if she desired, she chooses to embrace her Muslim identity, with a costume based upon the traditional ‘salwar kameez’ . As in Carter’s stories, transitional states become a symbol of Kamala’s struggles as unlike her hero, her super-power is to shape-shift. This also breaks typical conventions of idealised and sexualised female bodies in the genre, as she is often depicted disproportionately and she can manipulate and use her body the way she wants to.


Reclaiming ‘Bad’
week2pt2

The next two books I have started Bad Girls Throughout History and Bad Feminist are both non-fiction. The first is an illustrated compendium of the stories of 100 remarkable women who changed the world, while the latter is a series of essays by Roxane Gay. Both reclaim the word ‘bad’: Ann Shen looks at how all of these women broke rules and pushed boundaries to make change, while Roxane Gay uses it in acceptance of the fact that there is no one perfect form of feminism. Either way these books make being ‘bad’ not so bad after all.

I’ll be ploughing on with these books over the next week and hopefully also starting On Beauty to complete my original list. Stay tuned!

Feminist February – Week 1

In case you missed it, I have decided to spend February reading exclusively on feminism! Check out the books I aim to read and the reasons behind my Feminist February Challenge


The first seven days of this challenge have been incredibly productive! A work trip away gave me long train journeys with plenty of uninterrupted reading time so I ploughed through The Handmaid’s Tale in just two days – obviously the fact that it was an incredible book spurred me on!

After this I had to insert another book into my original list as I was coincidentally approved for an ARC from NetGalley. The book was Stay With Me by Ayobame Adebayo, and I am so glad I got this because it was perfect for my challenge and such a wonderful read. The novel deals with a Nigerian couple who have not yet had children, and they have to deal with a culture which values children and motherhood so highly that it endorses polygamy as a means for producing more children, as well as their own issues around this.

The exploration of motherhood and pregnancy was wonderful to compare to the themes of The Handmaid’s Tale and in some respects it illustrated show these dystopian themes operate in real societies. You can’t help but wonder if Yejide’s life and marriage may have been a lot happier if she did not feel so pressured to become pregnant. In Atwood’s novel, abortion is forbidden as bearing children is the prime goal of the handmaids, however in Yejide’s culture abortion is never even mentioned – pregnancy and motherhood is valued so highly that it never even comes in to play.

I found both of these books absolutely heartbreaking – I did actually cry at both. The way they deal with questions of purpose and identity around motherhood, and parenthood, is incredibly interesting and it is something that women all have to deal with on a personal level. It is also something which is becoming more and more fraught in the push for gender equality, just look at conversations about shared parental leave and maternity as an issue in the gender pay gap, never mind age-old debates over custody and traditional roles.

I really loved the fact that the two books so coincidentally complimented each other; it definitely made me think about the subjects they dealt with in a lot more depth. I think I may continue to pair up interesting combinations for this very reason.

My next book, which I am already halfway through, is The Bloody Chamber, and since I knew I would never just stick to my original list I think I may add in the graphic novel Ms Marvel, which is currently sat on my shelf. Ms Marvel the first Muslim superhero to headline her own book, and the team behind her consists of two women, so like The Bloody Chamber, this graphic novel is redefining a traditionally male and patriarchal genre, meaning they could be another interesting pair!

Dystopian Fiction for 2017

Sales of dystopian fiction have skyrocketed since President Trump’s inauguration. This may be in response to his extreme Executive Orders or as backlash against ‘alternative facts’. The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 have been flying off the shelves, but there are some less obvious novels which can also offer some commentary on or insight into the current political situation.

Here are the best for you to check out:

The Plot Against America

The rise of the authoritarian President in this book could almost be based on Trump’s success,  and nigh on predicted it almost a decade beforehand. It is also a good example of how Trump’s policies could begin to spiral out of control and end up being much more than supposed ‘security measures’. The way this book shows potential for institutionalised racism and racial segregation to become the new norm makes it seem less like dystopian fiction than a possible historical narrative. On that note it will also make you question all the history you know – talk about alternative facts.

The Parable of the Talents 

Not unlike Roth, Octavia Butler pretty much predicted Trump through her violent autocrat Senator Andrew Steele Jarret. Jarret has a lot of parallels with our current president, as do his supporters, for example through religious intolerance and mob-like behaviour. He is described as “a demagogue, a rabble-rouser, and a hypocrite,” and it becomes obvious that his right-wing politics is pushing his party and supporters towards fascism. The part that will really send shivers down your spine will be his rallying call to “make America great again.” You can’t make this up.

Inherent Vice

Pynchon’s penchant for real estate moguls is fascinating in his critique of American capitalism and Mickey Wolfmann from Inherent Vice is the most relevant – as well as being the face of American capitalism, his dubious business ties indicate illegal dealings, and his actual property includes a strip mall who’s only business is a brothel, not to mention the ‘gentrification’ which verges on ethnic cleansing in order to drive property prices up. Oh and his body guard is a neo-nazi. It would be incredibly easy to see this as a telling satire of a Trump-like figure, but the novel does more than this – despite being rooted in the 70s it is rooted in the issues that concern us today – suggesting we haven’t moved all that far.

The Road

The apocalyptic event that has resulted in the world of McCarthy’s The Road is unspecified, however it isn’t hard to imagine it being the result on the environmental destruction caused by the current administration. Equally it could very well have been due to a nuclear blast, courtesy of a trigger happy president thanks to a twitter war gone wrong. In all seriousness though, this novel shows us what we could be in for and there are now a myriad of ways we could get there.

Catch-22

Catch-22 is rooted in a very specific historical period, however the sheer ridiculousness of bureaucracy and incompetence in it is perfect. Moreover the business rhetoric of Milo Minderbinder is reminiscent of another American businessman, and despite Milo’s failings in his syndicate, and lack of any leadership experience, he finds himself thrust into positions of power in towns and countries across Africa and Asia. Sounding familiar? The novel also encompasses and reflects a big problem for those of use who would love to see Trump impeached but are terrified of Pence in power, giving us a second reason to look at where the phrase Catch-22 came from.

Bonus – one for younger readers:

220px-yertle_the_turtle_and_other_stories_cover

Yertle the Turtle 

If you didn’t already know Dr Suess is the pinnacle of political commentary then don’t knock it because there is so much more than just a children’s book here. This book was actually an allegory of Hilter’s rule and a warning against authoritarian leadership. A warning we clearly didn’t listen to, because you will definitely recognise something in Yertle’s behaviour. Trump’s need to prove he is the best, regardless of things like truth and fact can be seen in Yertle’s desperate need to be higher than anyone else.

Feminist February – a reading challenge

The past week has undone decades worth of progress for women and minorities’ rights. It is devastating to watch this happen in the name of democracy, but on a more positive note there has been unity across the world as people have come together to protest these injustices. First, we saw the record-breaking Women’s March protest, beginning in DC with sister marches across the globe. And just this weekend we have seen people unite in protest against orders to ban those from seven Muslim majority countries, preventing not only refugees, but those with the legal right to live in the US, including some high-profile figures, such as the Oscar nominated director Asghar Farhadi and Olympian Mo Farah, from entering the country. Many are viewing this as the first step towards a Muslim Ban which seems likely with the actions taken by the new President.

I fully support these protests and am disgusted by the actions that the President has taken.  As a UK citizen, there is sadly not much I can do politically (if I was a US citizen I would be penning letters to my representatives rather than writing this blog post). However, I can do what I do best: reading.

This is why I have decided to do a Feminist February reading challenge. The idea came around when I realised that most of the books on my immediate TBR and planned reading for February were must-read feminist books. This realisation came around the Women’s March and so I decided to cultivate this into a list which could be made into a more substantial challenge.

The point is to read a range of books which are not only feminist, but intersectional, to catch up on some of the classics I’ve never read, and learn more about the issues that are affecting women and minorities.

Without further ado here is the list of books I have picked:

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale

I’m actually ashamed that I’ve never read this and now is a more important time than ever: one of the best signs from the women’s march read ‘Make Margaret Atwood fiction again’ and was based on the dystopian vision offered in this book

  1. The Bloody Chamber

Again one that I never read but should have. I love fairy-tales but they are inherently patriarchal, and here Carter turns tradition on its head to bring us a better representation.

  1. On Beauty

Another author I haven’t read but should have* and I think the US/UK setting of this one as well as the explorations of race and politics will be very interesting in today’s political climate.

  1. Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Women Who Changed the World

Just released last year I feel like this is just the book I need right now. Much like my literary education, my history was all about Western, white men. This wonderfully illustrated non-fiction work features a range of women who deserve to be in the history books.

  1. Bad Feminist

I started reading this for my dissertation research last year and, as the deadline crept closer, never finished. I loved Roxane Gay’s exploration of feminist issues and am keen to return to this.

* this challenge is sadly illustrating that throughout two literature degrees I read books largely by straight, white men.

I have tried to cover a range of voices, ensuring that the list is not simply white, heterosexual women. This list is also just the starting point – I have a backup list to tackle if I finish these early and will post updates as I go on.

I hope that the very least this challenge achieves is for me to learn something new. I would love it far more if other people wanted to get on board too. If you fancy joining in let me know your lists, you can comment here or tweet them to me @ellenorange and I look forward to seeing your lists!


Update: You can check out my progress week by week:

Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 , Week 4

You can also see my final thoughts in Feminist February – Round Up

Confronting Mental Health Stereotypes

Recently I have been seeing and reading a fair amount on mental illnesses (specifically watching the film Side Effects, reading American Salvage for university and The Millenium series for pleasure, as well as researching mental health for work). Then I saw this video by The Guardian where Eleanor Longden talks about her experience with mental illness. This has lead to some reflection on the way we as a society still treat the issue. Namely that fine line between the stereotypes in our society and real people needing help.

The boom in prescribing anti-depressants and  issue of people becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their lives has lead to an abuse of prescription medication, in the same way that others abuse alcohol or illegal drugs to cope. As a result of these issues, for some people, and in many portrayals, being depressed has also become ‘fashionable’ and the stereotype is often white middle-class teenagers or twenty-somethings who don’t know what to do with their emotions. Except this stereotype is very dangerous.

This is the image that was implanted in my own head as a teenager, during which time I had real emotional problems. I was told that my life was ‘good’, I was well-off and had no reason to feel or behave the way I did. I couldn’t even rationalise to myself why I felt that way. Adults around me swung from one extreme to another in their diagnose; one moment there would be nothing ‘wrong’ with me and the next I would be told I had borderline personality disorder or bi-polar. No-one stopped to talk about it with me though. Terms for mental illnesses were thrown at me as though there was something ‘wrong’ with me. Another dangerous stereotype. This was my choice: I was either just acting out or I was ‘crazy’.

The dangerous stereotypes around mental illness only serve to negate what people are feeling when, as a society, we should instead be giving them validation.

It’s only six or seven years later that I’m realising, with hindsight what was really going on. It wasn’t just hormones or puberty. I wasn’t being a drama queen. But there wasn’t anything ‘wrong’ with me either. I was suffering from mental health issues, as the NHS estimates that one in four of us will at some point in our lives. With adult experience to look back on what happened, I can recognise it and understand why; something that 14 year old me couldn’t. But the adults in my life should have. That’s why these stereotypes are so damaging, because only now do I feel I can talk about it. Even now though I still feel nervous that I might be judged, but I shouldn’t.

Just because I was a teenage girl, from a nice area, at a good school, it doesn’t mean my feelings and my problems were any less valid than someone else’s. If anyone had bothered to talk to me they might have learnt about the trauma I went through in my teens and they might have linked that to the issues I was having. Equally I’m not ‘crazy’, I have good days and bad days like everyone else; I work, study and live my life without anyone questioning my mental health, as I should.

From this comes my main point that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. The dangerous stereotypes around mental illness only serve to negate what people are feeling when, as a society, we should instead be giving them validation. Even if there is no apparent reason, diagnosis or trigger for someone’s mental illness, everyone can have their internal, mental struggles. I have friends whose lives I have truly believed were perfect. I have also seen these friends struggle emotionally, struggle to come to terms with things in their lives. We all have our demons, you probably just don’t know what they are.

So rather than making jokes and snide remarks about ‘attention-seeking teenagers who cut themselves’ or ‘housewives who are only depressed because they are bored’ we need to actually start helping these people. Rather than films like Side Effects which, though a brilliant film, reinforces ideas that these problems are just an act, we need more shows and films that tell real stories, more videos like Eleanor’s. In a society where mental health services are over-burdened, but funding is being cut, this is easier said than done. But asking someone how they feel, listening to them and most of all accepting what they say is the first step to the support they need.

The Gentleman’s Version of Manspreading

I am used to men dominating physical space. As a very petite woman who has worked in fast-food and in a bar, which are very dynamic environments, I am used to being pushed around, moved to the side and having my space being dominated by men. This has never bothered me too much because I have always pushed back, stood on toes and even got in a few elbow jabs to assert my control of my space and also my own body. In these environments this can be done in a reasonably friendly way and a lot of the men I have worked with have eventually figured out that I will not be messed with because eventually they will back away. 

It’s a simple way of dealing with it by being confident and assertive and without having to shout sexism (which would obviously immediately confuse and annoy them). It is also quite difficult to get into a conversation on the ideas of third wave feminism while serving customers, so I think I will stick to my usual aporoach.
 
My issue now is how to deal with this in a different working environment. Working in an office the atmosphere is obviously very different and, in theory, there shouldn’t be the opportunity to have my personal space dominated in the same way. However my male co-worker insists on coming round to my side of the desk and leaning over me every time I want to show him something. I suggest so many times that I can just share my screen with him, thinking technology can be my saviour. However, he will say ‘no I can just come round’ and proceed to do it anyway leading to uncomfortable situtions where I am focusing more on trying to get rid of him than discussing the issue at hand.

This may seem innocent enough to some people, while others will hopepufully understand ans may share my discomfort at being sat at a desk with someone leaning over them from behind. I find it unnerving, I feel trapped and it is awkward because you can’t turn to look at the person.

The biggest thing for me though is that I don’t do it, and neither do the women I work with. If we physically move to see something on the other persons screen we will always pull a chair around. Or in the rare occasion that we stand we will usually stand back, or to the side and let the other person have room to pull their chair out, however even this is very rare. Whereas my male colleague will very much lean over, often resting his hand on my desk. 

This feels to me very much like a gentleman’s version of manspreading. Even if there is no conscious thought in his head about his actions, he obviously feels that he is entitled to do it. I am also sure that if I did the same thing he would actually feel just as uncomfortable. So in a more professional environment what am I supposed to do? I can no longer stand on toes or elbow him out of my space. Being sat in a chair while he is moving puts me in a very passive position.

Or do I confront him? Explain to him what he is doing. Since I get the feeling that he is a pretty conservative individual who doesn’t like some of the ‘nice, fluffy, wishy-washy’ ideas in our work, as they have been called, I can only imagine that this will get a sigh and an eye roll – maybe even a verbalised thought about feminism going too far.

What I am going to try to do is be more firm. Stop him from coming round, share my screen before I even ask him to look at something for example. This is not the way I would like to approach it and I don’t think it will work as well as my previous techniques which is a shame, but I am accepting that I can’t win every battle. 

For my male friends and any male readers however, please just have a think about how you control the space around you and consider whether your manspreading, your leaning over or any of your physical actions are 

a) necessary 
b) dominating.

Then think about what you can do to stop it please, because I really want my space back.

Empowering Women: Is Violence the Answer?

After winning Video of the Year at this years VMA’s Taylor Swift claimed that she is happy to live in a world where ‘boys can play princesses and girls can play soldiers.’ This stab at an inspiring feminist sound-bite however is quite problematic. One issue is ignoring the real life women who are literally battling in a masculine world to BE and not just PLAY soldiers.

But on a wider-scale this feeds into a difficult issue for feminism about women and violence in popular culture. Until now the debate has largely been around women as victims, however feminism has caused women to embrace roles traditionally portrayed by men. Often this is through asserting power, control and sometimes violence, raising the question of what impact this is having on feminism and culture in general.

This point is made through the increasing number of ‘badass’ women are popping up everywhere now, with Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood and Rhianna’s BBHMM showing women in empowering roles. We are also seeing a (perhaps too small) rise in the number of female action or superheroes on our screens, think Scarlett Johanssen as Black Window and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, amongst a few others who can be seen as women embracing their femininity and sexuality while ‘kicking butt’. While I accept that even the Black Widow has been slut shamed, the out-roar this caused surely shows us we are moving in the right direction; the next step is her own movie if anyone at Marvel is reading.

This badass image is great. It is empowering right? We are seeing tough women, in roles that, until now, men have monopolised. Except recently I’ve begun to wonder whether this is such a good thing.

I’d always wanted to be that girl, the one who could shoot a gun, take down a bad guy and protect herself. But upon finally reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series, I’ve reconsidered this at great length. While I have great admiration for Lisbeth Salander, I am perpetually frustrated at her refusal to trust anyone and to achieve justice through law and order. While I wouldn’t deny that her the abusive men in her life got what they deserved, and more, I do think that the way to deal with such people is in a socially open way, where knowledge of their crimes would help start campaigns and charities, influence policies and legislation and, hopefully reform society. Think about it: the increasing measures to protect people against various crimes have only occurred because the crime set a precedent in the first place.

Now I appreciate that many will say I am reading too deeply into this (sorry, I am an English Student, it’s what I do) but here we should work off the premise that what we see in literature, art, Hollywood and the music industry will begin to influence our cultural attitudes. As much as I love to see empowered women I don’t want to tell anyone that going to the police and reporting crimes is not being strong enough, or not fighting back. It is fighting back, in the best way possible. As well as the influence it may have on society it gives women a voice.

In fighting for gender quality having a voice and a platform to express themselves on is of crucial importance for women. This is why I am going to push ‘Bad Blood’ aside for a second to talk about Rhianna’s incredible video for Bitch Better Have My Money. While it has been slated for perpetuating gang violence this video uses the Tarantino-esque neo-noir genre to depict a woman asserting power and control through violence. As such the stylised nature of the video and deliberate fictionalising cinematography cements this as artistic female expression of violence in a genre and in a culture of gang violence which is typically male-dominated.

On the other hand Swift’s Bad Blood is worrying; while there is no doubt BBHMM is targeted at an adult or mature teen audience, Swift’s music is popular with far younger viewers and listeners. It glamourises guns, violence and playing soldiers. While this may have a part to play in the fight to empower women, I fear that lines like ‘band-aids don’t fix bullet holes’ romanticizes and most significantly normalises this kind of violence.

Looking at these three different examples of women and their relationships to violence in an attempt to empower poses a complex question. How do we find the very fine balance between empowering women and allowing them to take up roles usually reserved for men, and still promoting a culture of law and order which doesn’t condone violence. Some may say that I am taking the idea of the latter too far in applying it to literature, films and music videos but I believe this is important in a society where the few women who report attacks may not even be believed, where the legal system has a long way to go to become what we need.

Thinking through such issues and talking about them is also an important way of understanding them, and that is something we should be doing more of in society. After doing so with this issue I have drawn my own conclusion that depictions of violent women should always be taken with a pinch of salt and we shouldn’t embrace this as the norm of empowered women. Although I will say that if we are going to depict empowered women then it is Rhianna who is leading the way.