Review: Nasty Women

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Kara reviews Nasty Women: A collection of essays and accounts on what it is to be a woman in the 21st Century

I’m excited to write about this book. The collection of interviews, essays and accounts from a variety of contributors was formed at speed and the catalyst was Donald J. Trump becoming President-Elect of the United States of America on the 8th November 2016. Nasty Women was published within 17 weeks. It is testament to the passion and energy of all the women involved and it shows in the individual contributions.

Nasty Women covers a wide range of topics including everything from punk rock to racism, ‘fat’ and how to be a woman in today’s world. It is a spectacular feat and worth a read. The only small note is that it feels a little rough around the edges but maybe that’s the point.  

Review: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

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Kara reviews Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

I just finished this book and it’s tricky to write about it, as it says so much but here’s my best attempt – If you only read one book this year, please make it this one.

Reni Eddo-Lodge explores how key areas of our society are integrally racist. The stats and evidence are incredibly compelling. She argues thoughtfully, eloquently and with balance. I am planning to gift a copy of the book to all my white friends as we need to be aware and open our eyes to the reality of being black or a person of colour in our country. Wilful or complicit ignorance just won’t do. The book may make some people uncomfortable, but these are truths we really need to hear.

There is a whole chapter on ‘the feminism question’ and it was exciting to read. I saw the truth of what Reni was writing and it resonated with me. Many of the statements I hadn’t thought of before (my own complicity in the structural racism, I’m afraid), however, felt completely right having read them. At once both loving the feminist movement whilst also seeing its flaws, it has made me want to be more of an ally and has in effect changed my life.  

I couldn’t put this book down and read it in just a few days. Pick up a copy and I’m sure it’ll be the same for you.  

Suffragettes and #March4Women

Sally Heathcote Suffragette graphic novel

Interested in learning more about the Suffragette movement? So were we.

We’ve been listening to a brilliant radio documentary on the BBC World Service called ‘The Lost World of the Suffragettes’ which we would recommend listening to on iPlayer. With #March4Women this Sunday, it gives us access to the voices of the Suffragettes to whom we owe so much. Fascinating.

Feeling in the mood for all things Suffragette, we have also borrowed the graphic novel, Sally Heathcote Suffragette from the library. Have you read it? Review coming soon.

Interested in attending #March4Women on Sunday 4 March? Sign up on at careinternational.org.uk. We are starting at Millbank, SW1 at 12noon ending at Trafalgar Square. Hope to see you there! 

World Book Day: 34 Books for the Practical Woman

34 Great Books for Practical Women

To celebrate World Book Day we wanted to share some great reads from the Practical Woman bookcase. Thrilling reads, classic literature, essays, books for children, graphic novels and DIY manuals – it’s all here!

What’s on your shelf? Please share your recommendations in the comments below! 

Fiction

The Glass Menagerie, a play by Tennessee Williams

Looking for interesting stories about women and sisterhood? Look no further.

  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood 
  • The Glass Menagerie – Tennessee Williams 
  • Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson 
  • The Girls – Emma Cline 
  • The Power – Naomi Alderman
  • Daughters of Egalia – Gerd Brantenberg 
  • The Millstone – Margaret Drabble 
  • The Women’s Room – Marilyn French

Children’s non-fiction

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

Inspiring bedtime stories for little ones.

  • Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 1 & 2
  • Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World – Kate Pankhurst

Young Adult

Open: A Toolkit for How Magic and Messed Up Life Can Be - Gemma Cairney

Being a teenager is really hard. Luckily there are some great books about how to navigate the choppy waters of growing up in the modern world.

  • Girl Up – Laura Bates 
  • Open – Gemma Cairney

Graphic novels and comics

Bitch Planet graphic novel

Great writing isn’t limited to prose. Enjoy these graphic novels with strong female role models.

  • The Trouble With Women – Jacky Fleming 
  • The Complete Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi
  • Bitch Planet – Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – Ryan North and Erica Henderson
  • Ms Marvel – G Willow Wilson
  • Lumberjanes Vol. 1 – Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, and Shannon Watters

Non-fiction

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Want to read more about women’s history, feminism or a selection of personal essays? Here are some of our favourites:

DIY guides

Collins Complete DIY Manual

It can be useful to have a go-to handbook on your booksheld for those tricky home maintenance tasks. Here’s our tried and tested favourites.

  • The Complete Collins DIY Manual
  • Sarah Beeny’s 100 DIY Jobs

Review: Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Kara reviews Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist has been on my shelf for a quite a while but when I watched Roxane Gay’s TED talk, I thought I would finally pick it up and have a read. It’s a collection of essays with a variety of themes and topics. From Scrabble competitions to coming out, Gay is funny, honest and shares her personal experiences as well as responding with passion to topics such as Chris Brown and Tyler Perry.

What I found particularly interesting was her commentary on popular culture and the implications of films such as The Help or Django Unchained for our society and especially black people’s experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her perspective and criticism of the song Blurred Lines. Like others, I hate that song too and recently left a dancefloor when the DJ played it. Roxane Gay speaks for me too when she eloquently responds to others who tell her to lighten up about the song when she says:

“It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away. The problem is not that one of these things is happening; it’s that they are all happening, concurrently and constantly.”

It reminded me of Jo Brand’s recent comments on Have I Got News For You in response to all allegations of MPs indiscretions. Well done Jo and thank you.  

Possibly the most light-hearted essay in Bad Feminist is How to Be Friends with Another Woman 

 “Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses – pretty but designed to SLOW women down.”

This chapter resonated with me as this is a core belief at Practical Woman. We believe a huge barrier to progress is when we don’t support each other and buy into these myths that revolve around the idea that we are all in competition for men or success. This shows itself by not helping each other out, judging unfavourably each other’s clothes, weight, looks, hair etc and closing the glass ceiling behind us when one of us manage to break through it.  

At Practical Woman, however, we are hopeful. There are so many organisations aiming to inform and support the notion of sisterhood. Long may this continue. There are now organisations such as: 

Have a look there might be a group in the field you work in/play in that can support you to flourish. We are stronger together.  

I heart Stacey Dooley

Kara tells us why she loves Stacey Dooley

Recently, I have been binge-watching and thoroughly enjoying the BBC3 show Stacey Dooley Investigates in which Stacey looks at the people and issues in the new, predominantly but not exclusively issues related to the treatment of women around the world.

Stacey has a great style – she is serious, eloquent and warm and supportive of the women she meets. The episodes are informative and visit a host of places around the world including Canada, Russia and Japan.

She is incredibly strong and doesn’t back down in the face of anger and is also happy to show her human side on camera. The recent Stacey Dooley: Face to Face with ISIS is edge-of-your-seat watching.  

If you haven’t seen the show, I’d recommend catching it on iPlayer. It’s a real shame it is broadcast on BBC3 rather than BBC1 or 2 where it would be seen as more serious and by lots more people.

Review: All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister 

All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister

Kara reviews All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister

This is a vibrant, energising read. It reminded me how wonderful and freeing it can be to be single and not have to compromise or negotiate decisions. It is a homage and a wonderful loving tribute to the power of friendships and sisterhood.

This especially resonated with me as a key aspect of Practical Woman is sisters helping each other. We do this in a number of ways including reserving two -places on every course for vulnerable women. We also run a pay it forward scheme whereby people can donate money to help us to run workshop days for vulnerable women such as care-leavers and domestic violence survivors.  

Full of case stories, facts and stories All the Single Ladies is a must read for any woman regardless of their current situation, whether in relationships, dating or single.  

Review: The Mask You Live In documentary

The Mask You Live In documentary

What does it mean to be a man in the 21st Century? Being yourself is liberating but when you can’t find your own identity it can be damaging.

Last week, we reviewed Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s documentary Miss Representation. This week our Chair, John, discusses The Mask You Live In, also from Newsom.

Currently available on Netflix, The Mask You Live In investigates the concept of masculinity and the male gender in the 21st Century. The documentary focuses on young men, boys and adult men in the USA – what influences them, what it is to be a man and what stories boys are told from a young age by their parents and by society.

‘Man up’ and ‘Boys don’t cry’ (or show emotions) are common themes, and the documentary shows the damaging effects of such ideas and messages. These types of comments and attitudes prevent the male gender from being themselves and being able to show their true identity.

What are the repercussions of this for men and wider society? Depression, anger, violence and the ‘alpha male’ stereotype. Men trying to communicate but not fully knowing how or having the means to do so, so they revert to what is perceived as the ‘male’ thing to do. The documentary shows how being able to talk with trusted friends and in safe environments, where no-one is judging you, can have a massive impact and really change the course of someone’s life.

The Mask You Live In is thought-provoking, emotional and well worth a watch. The more people who see it and men, in particular, the wider its impact will be. Spread the message, as the old BT advert used to say, ‘It’s Good to Talk’.

Read more about The Mask You Live In

Review: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

The Glass Menagerie, a play by Tennessee Williams

Kara reviews The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

After getting the chance to see a performance of The Glass Menagerie last year, I finally made the time to sit down and read it.

The play encapsulates what it was to be a woman in those times, and possibly still holds true for some women even today. The priority for women who didn’t want to join the typing pool seemed to be to find a suitable husband which is something Amanda is intent on trying to arrange for her nervous, dreamy daughter, Laura.

The Glass Menagerie conveys the stress on the mother to engineer a match and alludes wonderfully to the mothers own ‘courtship’ period with gentleman callers. We are presented with a possible suitor for Laura and it seems perfect – he’s an old school acquaintance and seems ideal to help the nervous Laura. In the production I attended, this led to one of the most affecting and deeply romantic moments I’ve ever seen. Truly breathtaking. But is all as it seems?

If you get a chance to see Williams’ wonderfully poignant and beautiful play, please do, otherwise, we recommend reading the play.

Have you read The Glass Menagerie? What did you think?

Review: Miss Representation

Miss Representation documentary

Our founder, Kara, discusses Miss Representation directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. 

Miss Representation was released in 2011 and investigates the role of the media in representing women. Newsom shows how influential and powerful the media is and how the messages shape our worldview and more importantly our worth.

It is disturbing how we are manipulated by the TV we watch, the films we see in cinemas, the magazines we read and the posters we see. We are bombarded by messages that tell us our worth and how we contribute to the world. For women, these messages are predominately related to how we look and our ‘sexiness’ etc.

Miss Representation is a real eye-opener and contributed to a change in how I view myself, women’s bodies and the role of media in society.

Read more about Miss Representation

Review: Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach

Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach
Kara reviews Susie Orbach’s popular book from the 1970s, Fat is a Feminist Issue

I had mixed feelings before I started this book as the idea of ‘fat’ isn’t a big thing to me. Like most women, I have periods where I feel fatter than usual as well as those times when I feel skinny. My weight fluctuates and the last time I was ‘thin’ I was ill. I’m happy that I am no longer ill and whilst I often thought about my weight and diets when I was younger, it doesn’t seem to be something I think about a lot anymore.  

Reading Susie Orbach’s book has made me realise how applicable ‘fat’ is to feminism and female power and that it is incredibly significant and complicated.  

I loved Orbach’s approach in the book. She gained a lot of insight from running support groups and this comes through very clearly in the book. She peppers her thoughts and evidence with relatable case studies.

Orbach discusses the issue of compulsive eating and this really resonated with me. If I eat lots of crisps or biscuits it may be that this behaviour is to fill a space or hole. It can be to give me a treat or to comfort and console if I’ve had a tough day. Reading Orbach’s explanation of binge eating has really helped to raise my awareness.  

The book also talks about using fat as a kind of barrier between us, our feelings and the outside world. This was really illuminating and something I think I do. Orbach sees fat as acting as a kind of protection from sexual attention, being marketed and other external factors. Fat can make us feel bigger, sturdier and this can help with feeling bolder and confident.

There is also something about what fat says about us. So long as we have a little fat we are not ‘perfect’ so don’t suffer from the pressure or responsibility to be ‘perfect.’ I loved this part of the book and it definitely influenced how I think about ‘fat’.

Have you read Fat is a Feminist Issue? What did you think?

 

Book review: Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon

Welcome back to the Practical Woman Book Club!

As you might have realised by now, we love to read and share recommendations at Practical Woman. Have you read a book recently that you really enjoyed? Let us know.

Our latest review comes from Kara who has just finished reading Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon.

I know many people will have already read Romantic Outlaws as it comes highly recommended by many reviewers. But for those who haven’t yet found time to read the hefty 547 pages here are my thoughts…

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte GordonRomantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it intertwines both women’s lives and cuts across both eras ending one paragraph with Mary Shelley and then continuing with Mary Wollstonecraft. This was a bit discombobulating at the beginning but I soon got used to it! I found both women’s lives fascinating and engrossing.

They both led similar but very different lives and the portrayal is human and real. Showing both their ups and hideous downs. Both women had such tragedy in their lives and the fact that they were also able to give so much to their neighbours and friends but also to the literary world is astounding.  They worked in very different ways to rock the established order of things. Wollstonecraft in a political manner and Shelley subtly and defiantly.  They both loved and lost a lot. They both (Shelley inspired hugely by her mother) wanted the world to reflect on their assumptions and behaviour.   

Whilst writing about the women Gordon provides a lot of background about the era they lived in. Adding such facts that until 1891 a husband had a right to ‘detain his wife’ so could basically keep them trapped in a cupboard under the stairs! She also talks about the books they read writing of Wollstonecraft that ‘in her writing, her voice rings out, unpolished, inelegant, and filled with the force of truth.’ 

Romantic Outlaws is a very enjoyable, interesting and well thought out book. It must have taken years to research it, and you feel that in the text. I can’t recommend it enough. It makes me quite emotional about the impact both women had on the world and their courage to fight for equality against such hatred and condemnation.  

Thank you, Mary’s, we owe you both so much.

Book review: Open by Gemma Cairney

Open: A Toolkit for How Magic and Messed Up Life Can Be - Gemma Cairney

Fellow Practical Woman, Morgan-Jade (14) tells us what she thought of Gemma Cairney’s book, Open… 

I think that Open is a really great book. It has amazing advice that a young person would definitely benefit from. It covers so much content and says things that need to be said. It’s great for girls who may be struggling and girls that maybe just need some advice from time to time. This book is very detailed and talks about things there could be a ‘stigma’ about in a very mature way. This book includes so much support and deals with so many real issues. Being a teenager in our society, a society where social media is huge, people can find themselves constantly comparing themselves to other people. Self-esteem and body image is becoming a huge issue amongst young people.   

I have found that people I know are struggling with very real issues, for example, self-harm. This book gives advice and has really helped me give support to other people and would help people get support if they were in that situation. I think this book deals with things such as body image, loss, mental health and our world in a comforting way. This would be a help to most women from teenagers, up.  

Have you read a fantastic book recently that you’d like to tell us about?
Email us or let us know on our Facebook page

Review: Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

We are huge book lovers here at Practical Woman. We have shelves full of beauties. Matilda is our heroine:

“Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable…”

Our founder Kara has just finished a fantastic book that she wholeheartedly recommends – Dear Ijeawele or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We’ll let Kara explain why…

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Let me start by saying what an absolutely gorgeous little book it is with a stunning cover. You might recognise the author’s name as she also wrote Americanah and the brilliantly persuasive and eloquent We Should All Be Feminists.

I recommend that you read the whole book, however, I’d like to draw your attention to some key bits I found delicious and wonderfully powerful:

Firstly, a section from the book that relates so closely with the ideas behind Practical Woman: 

“Gender roles are so deeply conditioned in us that we will often follow them even when they chafe against out rue desires, our needs, our happiness…Instead of letting her internalize the idea of gender roles, teach her self-reliance. Tell her that it is important to be able to do for herself and fend for herself. Teach her to try to fix physical things when they break. We are quick to assume girls can’t do many things. Let her try.”

Chimamanda then speaks about beauty and sex so eloquently and passionately:

“I think of how a packet of Smarties was kept in front of me as a reward if I sat through having my hair done. And for what? Imagine if we had not spent so many Saturday’s of our childhood and teenagehood doing our hair. What might we have learned? In what ways might we have grown? What did boys do on Saturday’s?”

“Chizalum will notice very early on – because children are perceptive – what kind of beauty the mainstream world values. She will see it in magazines and films and television. She will see that whiteness is valued. She will notice that the hair texture that is valued is straight or swingy, and hair that is valued falls down rather than stands up. She will encounter these values whether you like it or not. So make sure that you create alternatives for her to see. Let her know that slim white women are beautiful, and non-slim, non-white women are beautiful. Let her know that there are many individiuals and many cultures that do not find the narrow mainstream definition of beauty attractive.”

“Talk to her about sex, and start early. It will probably be a bit awkward but it is necessary. Remember that seminar… we listened to vague semi-threats about how ‘talking to boys’ would end up with us being pregnant and disgraced? I remember that hall and that seminar as a place filled with shame. Ugly shame… don’t pretend that sex is merely a controlled act of reproduction… sex can be a beautiful thing.”

“Tell her that her body belongs to her and her alone, that she should never feel the need to say yes to something she feels pressured to do. Teach her that saying no when no feels right is something to be proud of.”

I strongly recommend you read Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions and buy it for all the mothers you know. It is an essential read. 

Have you read it? Let us know your thoughts.