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



Feminist February – Round Up

If you hadn’t already seen I’ve spent February reading a range of different feminist texts in order to learn more about the movement, diversify my reading and learn some intersectional feminist theory. Since the current political climate is looking dismal for women’s and minorities’ rights, educating myself is one of a number of things I can do to stand up for these rights, and hopefully by sharing what I’m doing I can encourage others to do the same.

So what did I read?

I haven’t read this much since I was studying literature! Over four weeks exactly I managed to make my way through:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Stay With Me
  • The Bloody Chamber
  • Ms Marvel
  • Bad Girls Throughout History
  • Bad Feminist
  • On Beauty
  • You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain
  • Feminism is for Everybody
I was so proud that I read so much – namely because I raced through a few which were just utterly brilliant. I was also glad I managed to get such a wide range – the books include fiction, essays, history, graphic novels and comedy.

I also had a wonderfully diverse range of authors, including women of colour and those who identify as LGBTQ+. The books explored feminism from these diverse perspectives, pushing me to see views outside of my own.

What did I learn?

I learnt so much this month. The issues covered were as diverse as motherhood, abortion, women’s representation, race, religion, class and sexuality.

Thanks to Phoebe Robinson I learnt how much politics is embedded in black women’s hair. Roxane Gay showed me the importance of language in both patriarchal oppression and feminism. Zadie Smith made me think about the beauty standards I still internalise, despite my intellectual position on these issues. Ann Shen gave me the women’s history lesson I never knew I needed.

I have a new feminist hero in Kamala Khan. I am inspired by how we can rethink women in fairytales and female sexuality thanks to The Bloody Chamber. Atwood and Adebayo both had me in tears with their explorations of female identity in relation to motherhood and the value society places on this.

All in all I have an awful lot to think about thanks to this challenge. I’m so glad I got to read these books and decided to do this challenge. I am keen to make this something I do regularly, and so I hope continue this challenge next Feb!

I also want to say thanks to those who got on board and also completed the challenge, it was great to see people so interested in what I’ve been doing!

Feminist February – Week 4

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

In my last week of this challenge I delved into the academics of feminism with Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and bell hooks Feminism is for Everybody. 

These books were a brilliant pair, looking at the different forms and perspectives on feminist thinking. Smith uses a number of black female characters in her book, all of which seem to be based on typical stereotypes but she complicates this, making making these women seem multi-dimensional, real and conflicted. She explores a number of issues around political and ideological extremes, but the novel centres around aesthetics itself, an issue central to the women and female identity in the novel. Kiki is overwieght, and while she seems happy in herself, doubts do seem to arise in relation to her marriage.

Her daughter Zora is fiercely intellectual but is unable to reconcile this with personal beliefs, obsessing over her appearance and aspiring to patriarchal beauty standards. She also illustrates how women themselves are capable of perpetuating misogyny, labelling Victoria, the 18 year old who subscribes to patriarchal ideas of sex, a ‘slut’.

By the end of the book Kiki and Zora both seem to have undergone a change, learning something about themselves in the climax of events, and it is clear that they come out empowered.

Feminism is for Everybody exemplified many of the issues Smith raised, with individual chapters on a range of different topics. Amongst the more interesting things that hooks explores are ideas such as global feminism, the insights that lesbian women offered to feminism, and the damage that women can do through exacerbating patriarchal structures, namely when it comes to violence against children.

I am so glad I read these books because they helped me to see things from different perspectives to my own. They also helped me to uncover some of the patriarchal values and standards which I have internalised, and by identifying these hardwired issues, I hope I can challenge them in the long run.

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’

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 – 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

Goodreads Review – Autumn by Ali Smith

AutumnAutumn by Ali Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t think any book has had me crying, then laughing again in such a short page span. It is beautifully written; a perfectly pitched political satire without risking cynicism. Smith has made this so current and relevant, capturing the atmosphere of political tensions after Brexit, reflecting the horrors of the refugee crisis so poignantly, and questioning how we look at and interpret the world using utterly beautiful explorations of art and literature.

The exploration of 1960’s pop art culture, as well as interwoven allusions to texts such as Brave New World, A Tale of Two Cities and The Tempest were seamless, incredibly clever and, on occasion thought-provoking, challenging the reader to reconsider their readings and interpretations – something which Daniel makes Elizabeth do throughout.

I particularly love that this book avoids being ‘doom and gloom’ or entirely apocalyptic despite the difficult political events it draws on for material. Despite it being ‘autumn’ and the awful state of increased racism and intolerance which pervade the novel, it maintains a sense of beauty and hope, rooted in the on-going theme of art.

It is a very ‘literary’ novel and so those hoping for strong plot or character may be disappointed, however it is a sad, beautiful, relevant and thought-provoking analysis of our society today. I am looking forward to Smith’s next instalment and only hope she can capture more recent political events, since Autumn was published, with the same touch.

View all my reviews

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.