Review: Fifty Shades of Feminism, Edited by Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes and Susie Orbach
Women of the world! First get mad, then get even
Reading this book on public transport, I kept getting funny looks from other commuters. They would catch sight of the title and then surreptitiously look up, as if to check whether I looked like a feminist. That was pleasing, because the book is a fascinating illustration of how the many faces of modern feminism can look. If Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman softened readers up to the idea that feminists can be funny, then this collection says: "Yes, but we are still bloody angry – and here's why."
Tahmima Anam's chapter, "Things Your Mama Never Told You (for fear you would demand a sex change)", opens the book on a sort of anger high, at the same time as explaining why women are not allowed to get angry. ("You will be called … An Angry Feminist. You will be called a bitch.") And then she points out that: "If these are your problems [that is, British women's problems], you are unaccountably fortunate." Sayantani DasGupta's essay "Can Sisterhood be Global?" calls for a sisterhood of solidarity rather than Western women "saving" the "oppressed".
Joan Bakewell addresses those who believe feminism has already won: "Certainly the high hopes with which we greeted Barbara Castle's 1970s legislation have been deeply disappointed." 1970s! And yet, women in Britain are still paid about 85 per cent of men's wages for doing the same work. Bidisha describes, and provokes, "an inspiring outrage and energy". Lindsey Hilsum's tribute to Marie Colvin is positive, encouraging, celebratory, and very sad. "It [the bomb that killed her] didn't discriminate by gender."
There is the odd bum note in this rousing chorus. I'm not sure that it's very respectful to either gender to have Kathy Lette rehash lame old jokes about men's and women's roles: "Now that women are economically independent and can impregnate ourselves, if only our vibrators could light the barbie and kill the spider in the bathtub, would we need men at all?"
That said, nothing is quite as ludicrous as the odd quote from the anti-feminists. "Feminism is a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practise witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians," according to the US broadcaster Pat Robertson. If that's the alternative so-called argument, then surely even the most unengaged young woman would rather sign up with the feminists. And if so, Sandi Toksvig's piece comparing high heels to foot binding should give them pause for thought. "I'm not suggesting some sort of 'brogue-only' movement, but if we are strong let us not be afraid to look it .…"
Alice Stride, the winner of Virago's competition "asking people aged 25 and under what feminism means to them", writes with confidence and humour about her younger sister's rather worrying, err, intimate grooming regime – and more power to her.
In a month in which a peer was accused of sexual harassment, a woman was killed by gang rapists and a survey showed how much less women are paid than men, this feels like an important and timely book.
What is a feminist, but someone who is pissed off about the above and wants to change it? Next time you see one on public transport, give her a smile and join "the most potentially transforming force on the planet".
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