Am I Normal Yet? – Holly Bourne

“Why haven’t you told them?”
Because I’d lose them. They wouldn’t get it. They’d treat me differently. I wouldn’t be “normal” to them anymore, even if I never freaked out again. Once they knew, they’d always be watching… waiting… wondering if I was going to lose it.”

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Blurb: “All Evie wants is to be normal. And now that she’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the-girl-who-went-nuts, there’s only one thig left to tick off her list… But relationships can mess with anyone’s head – something Evie’s new friends Amber and Lottie know only too well. The trouble is, if Evie won’t tell them her secrets, how can they stop her making a huge mistake?”

Holly Bourne is an author I’ve been aware of for a while. I’ve seen her books everywhere and I follow her feminist discussions on twitter. However, I was yet to delve into her writing until I saw a recent video where she honked a horn every time she comes across sexism in the media (in spirit of her new book. You can watch that hilarious video here. After viewing that, I wondered exactly what was stopping me from picking up her books. So I started to read.

Am I Normal Yet? Is the first book in the normal/spinster trilogy and follows a girl called Evie who is recovering from being hospitalised for OCD and Anxiety Disorder. She is slowly working through her problems with the help of medication and her therapist Sarah. Evie starts college with one big goal in mind: to be normal. No one here, minus her flaky friend Jane, knows what happened to her and she plans to keep it that way. Evie meets Amber and Lottie and together they form the spinster club dedicated to reclaiming their womanhood.

While this is the first in a trilogy, Holly has said in the past that the books are stand alone in their own right and so can be read out of order.

Through the narrative, the reader gets an honest and raw insight into the mind of Evie by using prose, therapy techniques she’s given, outlines of bad thoughts and worry and recovery diaries. It reads just like that – a diary. Evie felt so human and so real that I found myself having to take a mini break every so often because of how deep things go.

Holly Bourne uses her platform to teach about feminism while expressing the importance of showing the sexism men face too. It feels like she set out to break down the stigmas around both feminist issues and mental illness which she certainly accomplished.

I often say that I “feel” for certain characters when I read certain books but this was a whole different experience. As someone who was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder in 2014, had therapy and medication, I found it so easy to sympathise with Evie. While I couldn’t relate to the OCD side of things, the thought processes she went through were so familiar to me. I started to understand how her mind worked and how things could so easily spiral having been in some of those positions myself; that you need to stay on the straight and narrow or everyone will see you as a failure. It was like reading about myself.

I want to thank Holly Bourne for doing a really good job of not writing this book but doing it in a way where things weren’t glossed over. Some of the events are harsh, raw, brutal and a lot of the time hard to read but it’s so important that it’s out there so society can slowly bring up a generation of people that will be helpful to those suffering mental illness, rather than trying to brush them under the carpet.

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Girls Will Be Girls – Emer O’Toole

“As feminists, we shouldn’t judge other women’s choices. But we should very certainly try to understand women’s choices.”

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Blurb: “Being a woman is, largely, about performance – how we dress and modify our bodies, what we say, the roles we play, and how we conform to expectations. Gender stereotypes are still deeply embedded in our society, but Emer O’Toole is on a mission to rewrite the old script and bend the rules of gender – and she shows how and why we should all be joining in.”

This year I started getting into feminism literature. I was a feminist before I really knew there was a word to assign to it. The main thing I’ve noticed on this adventure so far is that nothing is talked about theoretically: there is no “this is what sexism means now let’s move on” every point about inequality is backed up by the author’s own experiences. Girls Will Be Girls is no difference.

In this book, Emer tackles the idea of gender conformity being a performance. Women are expected to dress and act a certain way, take on certain roles in order to please the “audience.” She lays on the table how restrictive growing up as a woman in Ireland was and unfortunately, still remains to be this day as abortion is currently illegal. She goes into detail about a time when she was thirteen and she wore a particular outfit that everyone complimented her for, a year later and wearing the same outfit suddenly she was sexualised, having suggestions made to her that maybe she shouldn’t wear a mini skirt.

A large part of the book is taken up by her stories about the “performance.” She recalls tales of times she spent exploring her gender and sexuality in public and not conforming to what’s expected of her. Whether it be the clothes she wore, what bathroom she used or not shaving her armpits. It was staggering to see how different she was treated when in stereotypically male attire compared to “traditional” female attire and entering the more androgynous side altogether.

As with a lot of feminist literature this is a western woman telling her stories and experiences of sexism. This is obviously very important as we need people like Emer to use their platforms to express how far we still have to go as a society. However, it’s exclusionary only focusing on feminist issues in Ireland and the UK.

Another thing that actually offended me was when Emer goes into detail about sexuality and what it means to her, including relationships and flings in the past. She decided to drop the bombshell line “I don’t believe in bisexual.” As a bisexual woman who found so much solace in a term after years of confusion I was really hurt for Emer to essentially discredit a sexuality that is already prone to judgment and dismissal. She went on to talk about how she never saw herself as straight/lesbian/bisexual etc but she didn’t explain her reasons for attacking the idea of being bisexual. Something which given the quote I’ve used at the start of this post, contradicts the point she made here. It let me down a lot.

Putting that aside (while difficult to do) she does an important thing of talking about a time when she was incredibly sexist and even played on it to get laughs from people she worked with or other non-feminist folks. She addressed this to show that not everybody is perfect and there’s a time when we were younger where we bashed other girls or called them “sluts” for how many people they dated etc.

This book leaves a lot of food for thought.

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How To Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran

“Would Jane Austen’s Characters have spent pages and pages discussing all the relationships in their social circle if they’d been a bit more in control of their own destinies? Would women fret themselves half to death over how they look, and who fancies them, if this wasn’t the main thing they were still judged on? Would we give so much of a shit about our thighs if we, as a sex, owned the majority of the world’s wealth, instead of men?”

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“It’s a good time to be a woman: we have the vote and the pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain… Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should we use Botox? Do men secretly hate us? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby? Part memoir, part rant, Caitlin Moran answers the questions that every modern woman is asking.”
How To Be A Woman is a book that I have been eyeing up on various bookshelves for many years. I’ve physically picked it up a few times, declaring I would buy it, only to put it down again. The title alone exudes female empowerment and when Emma Watson announced the book as the April read for her feminist book club Our Shared Shelf it simply felt like the universe was telling me, at twenty-two years old, it is time to learn how to be a woman.

I didn’t know anything about Caitlin Moran except that her books tackle political issues and feminism. After research, I now know that Caitlin was a music journalist for Melody Music at the age of sixteen, hosted a Channel 4 music show and works for The Times. Also, she’s a novelist.

In this book, Caitlin puts across the fact that while the “traditional feminist issues” are important to talk about, the typical little things women go through day to day is just as important. At first I was taken aback by the comment as there are horrible things happening to woman around the world but as I continued reading, I started to understand the point she was making. The firsts, the things that see a girl turning into a woman are terrifying when they happen: first bra, first period, first time experiencing sexism and so on. This book is marketed as “part memoir, part rant” and it definitely lives up to that.

Throughout the book I tried relating my experiences to the things she was saying and I reached the sudden realisation that there are an alarming number of expectations and levels of judgement placed on girls becoming women and some of those continue in womanhood. For example, I was the first out of my friendship group to get her period, so I was plied with questions and the go-to person when my friends got theirs too. But when they found out I used sanitary towels and had no intention of using tampons, it was like I’d just told them I’d killed a man. Even now, there’s still judgement when people learn this about me. Another example is that I grew up being frequently asked if I had a boyfriend yet / when was I going to get a boyfriend. Secretly I was discovering my sexuality and seriously crushing on girls; later I would learn that I’m bisexual. Even when I skipped off to university, every time I came home or spoke to my dad on the phone he would ask if I had a boyfriend yet. When I would tell him I didn’t and pointed out that the reason I had gone to university was because I wanted to continue learning and become a better writer. He would then tell me most people find their “life-long partners” at University and suddenly I had a ticking relationship timer in front of me.

One big issue I had with this book is in the “I Am A Feminist” chapter, Caitlin helps the reader understand if they are a feminist by saying “do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge of it? If you answered yes to both then you’re a feminist.” While this book is very female orientated, I know a lot of male feminists and it just felt like an “us and them” divide was being created. Also it’s not inter-sectional feminism which is a big problem. This is white,middle-class feminism which caused me to leave the reading experience feeling quite disheartened.

This book gave me a lot of food for thought and Caitlin is harsh and honest in the way she attacks these topics and there’s some humour added in for an extra flair. She uses interesting but oddly fitting imagery such as referring to a woman’s reproductive system as a “hamster cage with tunnels going everywhere.”

What more could you possibly need in a book?

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I Call Myself A Feminist: The View From Twenty Five Women Under Thirty

 

“I call myself a feminist because for me, the word embodies strength, courage, loyalty and determination.”

 

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Blurb: “Is Feminism still a dirty word? We asked twenty five of the brightest, funniest, bravest young women what being feminist in 2015 means to them. Is the word feminist still to be shunned? Is feminism still thought of anti-men rather than pro-human? Is this generation of feminists – outspoken, funny and focused – the best we’ve had for a long while? Has the internet given them a voice and power previously unknown?”

Hello. My name is Charlotte. At the time this post is published, I am twenty two years old. I am a white, Cisgender Bisexual woman, a vegetarian, a book lover, and most importantly, I am a feminist.  Upon reading the last identifier, you have had one of two reactions: you have cheered me (and if feeling really good today, punched the air) or you have tutted, rolled your eyes and made comments I’ve heard a thousand times before. Personally, I hope you’ve fallen into the former.

I’ve wanted to get into Feminist Literature for a few months but since no bookshop has shelves dedicated to what is basically a sub-genre, and asking for suggestions led me in the direction of Jane Austen (a dark path I want to avoid),  I was left stumped. Then  Jeansbookishthoughts received negativity for talking about feminism and so she created a book club called The Feminist Orchestra and suddenly I had found my place. I call Myself A Feminist is the March read.

The book is a collection of essays from various advocates such as Louise O’Neill (author of Only Ever Yours and Asking For It) and each chapter is separated by quotes from feminists who haven’t contributed to the book and also provides a great list you can put together of other feminist books to read. The thing that makes this book so great is that it doesn’t just focus on one area of feminism. All bases are covered from growing up in a feminist household, to being raised in Nigeria and encountering women’s issues there, to how they differ from women’s issues in other parts of the world, to including transwomen in feminism, to the idea of consent. This list is just examples of what I can pick out from the top of my head. There’s so much more to this book. I learnt from these essays that everyone has some kind of story: each woman who contributed to this collection not only discussed an area of women’s issues but were able to provide their own account of something that had happened to them regarding that subject. It just made everything more real and highlighted even more just how important feminism is to making society more equal.

There are two chapters that stood out to me the most. The first was “Staring at the ceiling: It’s Not Always as simple as Yes or No” by Abigail Matson – Phippard. This chapter hit a little close to home but tackles the idea of consent; something that tends to be the focus of feminist discussions. Abigail challenges the idea of talking about rape being acceptable but mentioning street harassment is “getting upset over nothing” and how we should turn the idea of negative consent on its head. For example, we shouldn’t be asking “did this person say no?” We should be asking “did this person say yes, I want this?” The second chapter was “What Can Men Do To Support Feminism?” which as you can guess from the title, talks about what men can do to help this social movement and how ingrained some words and ideas are to society that men can identify as feminist but still say problematic things. But let’s be honest, as feminists we’re all trying to do that. It just shows how important it is to include men and not live up to the ridiculous stereotype that we hate men.

Overall, this book was fantastic and despite the very serious topics, it was easy to read and I learnt so much.

“We need feminism because women’s bodies remain politicised, scrutinised, fetishized. There are countless more reasons why we need feminism, infinitely more reasons; and this in itself is another reason that we need feminism.”

 

For The Feminist Orchestra Book Club click here

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