Lollygagger’s #CBR5 Review #49: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

So, you know what’s creepy? Treating women as empty vessels. Vessels whose sole purpose is to become pregnant to continue on a specific race or religious group’s existence. You know what else is creepy? When the ritual surrounding getting those women pregnant involves a handmaid laying on a wives torso while the husband ejaculates inside of her.

Spoiler alert: this isn’t a happy book. It’s not full of hope, it’s not one woman fighting against a horrific, patriarchal society that only values her if she can produce a child. It’s not the Hunger Games, and Offred (the name, so disturbing) is not Katniss. This is a book that details the dullness of the life of the handmaid, that special class of women who were schooled together to become wombs for the elite. These women are not being allowed to read. They must accept being penetrated by the head of the house monthly. They go on daily chores covered head to toe, with literal side blinders on. They eat their meals in their rooms, alone.

When particularly draconian reproductive rights cuts are put into law, you’ll sometimes hear this book mentioned, and with good reason. The book may outline an extreme society, but disturbingly enough, it’s not so extreme as to be unimaginable. I don’t see the U.S. becoming Gilead as it does in the book, but I see the thinking that permeates that fictional society underlying so many of the anti-choice laws being proposed and passed these days. As I type this, the city of Albuquerque is voting on whether some reproductive rights should be taken away from the women who live there.

The writing in this book is heavy, but it didn’t take long to read. I think it’s a good book to read, although I can’t say I enjoyed it. It’s one of those books that is important, and I think should be added to the reading list of anyone who cares about our rights being slowly chipped away.

Lollygagger’s #CBR5 Review #47: Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards

As I close in on the full Cannonball, I’m trying to wrap up a lot of books that I’ve put down over the course of the year. There’s a science book, one of the Song of Ice and Fire series, another etiquette book, and one on goddesses (seriously). And then there’s this one, which I started way back in January. Why the ten month break between starting and finishing it? Well … I just did not like it.

Manifesta is on a lot of ‘must read’ feminism book lists, but I found it to be mediocre. The writing isn’t bad – it’s not like Cinderella’s Lost Diary or whatever that unfortunate book was that Cannonballers were offered for free earlier this year. My problem is that it’s not actually what it claims to be – a feminism manifesto. It’s more like a thrown-together anthology of white feminism, with some ‘picture this’ writing thrown in. The chapters feel disjointed, and I’m not entirely clear what the authors sought to do with this book. Were they trying to say what the ‘third wave’ feminists are contributing to feminism as a whole? Were they trying to explore what previous feminists did (and how that was and was not successful)? Trying to outline what we should be doing going forward? I think a book could be successful in doing all three, but that’s not this book.

In addition to the book feeling disjointed and unfocused, there were so many areas where they missed opportunities to really explore feminism – warts and all. There was even one point where I wanted to just throw the book out the window, but was nearly 200 pages in so I just stuck it out. That moment was during a discussion of toys for young girls, and the issues with Barbie, and the attempts to push Mattel to sell Barbies that look more like all girls – so not just blond, white Barbies. The authors passed that off as “PC,” and they meant that as an insult. Any book that uses the concept of “Politically Correct” as though it is derogatory just isn’t a good book in my opinion. Saying something is ‘politically correct’ means that it’s showing some empathy to people, and recognizing that straight, white, cis people aren’t all who matter.

That very specific issue is one example of the larger problem with this book – it’s so, very, very white. Yes, the authors mention contributions from women of color (usually in passing), but they don’t acknowledge any of the larger issues with mainstream white feminism. They buy into the “women fought to join the workforce and stay there after the war” story, for example, but don’t acknowledge that many women of color had already been working for decades. They don’t recognize the complexity of race, gender and sexuality – it’s a lot of Gloria Steinem and one reference to bell hooks.

Going forward, I’ll be avoiding these generic overviews of feminism, whether targeting and young women or not. I’m more interested in learning about the full history of feminism, and womanism, and reading books that look at the bigger issues of intersectionality that mainstream feminism keeps ignoring.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #44: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean InI think when I first heard about Lean In (2013) by Sheryl Sandberg, all I knew was that it had something to do with feminism, and that it might be controversial. I learned that Sandberg was high up in the business world. Now that I’ve just changed careers and turned my back on the business world, I wondered what Sandberg could say that would relate to me. Discussions of corporations bore me to death, and I have no interest in working in an office environment. But I’m a sucker for well-known, controversial books because I like to make up my own mind about things and the only way to do that is to read it myself.

So, I read it, enjoyed it, and didn’t see much of anything to be upset about. Sandberg discusses where women stand in the world in terms of leadership positions and financial compensation. She discusses factors that have kept women from real equality. She also includes a lot of anecdotes from her own experience, which were interesting because she’s held so many high-power positions. I thought Sandberg gave practical, inclusive advice that was much more useful to me than I would have imagined. She came across as honest and straight forward. I especially liked the many studies she cites to illustrate some of the challenges women face that we might not even think about.
For instance:
-Studies have shown that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, while men judge their own performance as better than it actually is. (29)

…for more, click here.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #40: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood was one of those books that I’ve heard a lot about: one that’s often banned, feminist, a classic, but one that I never got around to reading until now. I knew that it was about a world where women were forced to be “breeders” of children, but that’s about it. I was a little unsure before I started. I figured it could be one of those classics that might be well written but was a slog to read, or if it would be one I would really appreciate. I was not disappointed.

Click here to see why.


sonk’s #CBR5 Review #19: Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

Isadora Wing is bored. She’s on her second husband, a rather stuffy psychiatrist, and she’s looking for someone to shake things up in her now-predictable life. When she accompanies her husband to Austria for a conference, she meets Adrian Goodlove, and begins to explore and understand what it is she really wants, both emotionally and sexually.

Read the rest of my review here.

narfna’s #CBR5 Reviews #41-44: Protector of the Small by Tamora Pierce

153823First Test, 1999

It’s been ten years since Alanna the Lioness disguised herself as a boy in order to became the first lady knight in the realm of Tortall, ten years since the king decreed it lawful for women to train to be knights without having to resort to trickery. And Keladry of Mindelan wants to be the first to do so. Ten year old Kel was raised abroad, the child of a diplomat, and has a very different way of looking at the world as a result. Trained in the ways of the Yamani warriors since the age of 6, to her it seems only a natural leap upon returning home to Tortall with her family, that the next step for her is to train as a knight. Unfortunately, since she is the first girl to want to train as a knight since Alanna, the path to knighthood proves to be more stressful than she had imagined. On top of dealing with the rigorous training young pages all must go through, she also has to deal with the scorn that comes with being ‘a woman out of her place,’ as one character so deftly puts it.

This is the third series by Tamora Pierce that I’ve read, after Song of the Lioness and The Immortals. So far, I like this better than Immortals, and it is a more polished text than Alanna as Pierce had been writing for years at this point in her career. The hook in Song of the Lioness was that Alanna was pretending to be a boy and doing something no girl had ever done. Here, everyone knows Kel is a girl, and her biggest challenges come from dealing with the expectations placed upon her by the men in her chosen field: her fellow pages, the older boys (including some bullies), and her training master, just to name a few. I enjoyed Kel as a character, even if she is a bit humorless. She overcomes all the obstacles thrown at her with stubborn integrity, and manages to piece together a loyal group of friends in the process. Continue reading

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #22: The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls by Joan Jacobs Brumberg

The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (1997) by Cornell University Professor Joan The Body ProjectJacobs Brumberg is one of the books that popped up as recommended for me on Amazon one day. It looked pretty interesting, so I put it on my wish list, thinking I’d get around to it eventually. I finally did, and it was not what I expected. In fact, I found it to be a fairly tedious and frustrating reading experience–although the last couple of chapters picked up a bit. To be fair, this book was published in 1997, over fifteen years ago. Even giving allowance for the passage of time, however, most of Brumberg’s conclusions were not supported. Her argument was hard to follow because she wrote vaguely about sexual ethics and identity without specificity or definition. Instead of finding and writing about information that could make a practical difference, it felt like Brumberg took her various topics of research and shoehorned them into a book.

I was intrigued by Brumberg’s introduction. She used young women’s diaries throughout history to explain that back in the 1890’s women didn’t write in their diaries about how they wanted to improve their bodies, but instead how they wanted to improve their character: “In 1892, the personal agenda of an adolescent diarist read: ‘Resolved, not to talk about myself or feelings. To think before speaking. To work seriously. To be self restrained in conversation and actions. Not to let my thoughts wander. To be dignified. Interest myself more in others.'” While today girls are worried about their looks, their clothes, their weight, etc. Adolescent girls deal with a significant drop in self esteem as they try to figure out who they are with numerous pressures from peers and advertising. Brumberg argued that this is made worse because girls get their periods earlier, are sexualized earlier, and have less protections than in the past.

Click here for the rest of my review.