Archive for December, 2011

Things I’m Reading Thursday #31: The Whole Woman

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

germaine greer. the whole woman.
(Photo credit)

Funnily enough, the Flickr caption for the picture I decided to use for this post was, “so smart in some places, so stupid in others. a great, challenging book full of rage.” Had I been asked to summarize this in as few words, my response would have been pretty similar.

Confession of a bad feminist: though I practically inhale pop feminism books, and can get through four or five a month if the going’s good… I had never read any Germaine Greer until now. I bought a collection of her essays while on holiday over the summer, shipped it back from Canada (I bought about ten times my baggage weight in books and thus gave Canada Post a lot of very lucrative business), and then promptly forgot about it. I was, of course, aware of The Female Eunuch, as it’s cited — not always kindly — in just about every pop feminist book there is. In fact, annoyingly, no one seems able to say the dreaded f word without automatically getting Germaine on speed-dial. I think I’ve yet to see a TV panel debate or review of a new feminist book where she is not invoked, or at least mentioned. I’ve heard, seen and read a lot of the very silly things she’s said in the past (accusing JRR Tolkien of being a fascist sympathiser was, oddly enough, my least favourite piece of Germaine-snark, rather than any women’s issues comment), and I’ve heard, seen and read a lot of very uncharitable things said about her by other people — often people in the women’s movement who know what they’re on about. Needless to say, I did not have desperately high hopes for this book. I was expecting a hike in my blood pressure levels, at the very least.

So actually, I was pleasantly surprised. The Whole Woman is shockingly pleasant to read — well written, well structured, far far less academic and stuffy than say, Susan Faludi’s Backlash which, essential reading or not, sent me to sleep and got put back on the shelf after two chapters. And Germaine says a lot of very sensible stuff about a lot of things. Many times — at first in a kind of horrified way, then less so — I found myself nodding at her ‘this is the grim reality of what it’s like, sometimes, being a woman’ -type statements. The book is extremely well researched. For me, the most enlightening, shocking and educational sections were those on the state of women’s health, and the treatment of women by pharmaceutical companies and health providers; the sections that provided statistics and case-studies on “real” rape conviction rates, domestic violence, the ratio of caesarean sections to natural births, etc. Germaine isn’t messing around here. She knows her stuff and it shows. Since The Female Eunuch, which I hear is so polemical it practically spits on you as you read, she’s obviously learned well the old adage that the plural of anecdote is not data. This is a lesson a lot of pop feminist writers would do well to cotton on to.

However, Germaine does not always cite well. Although most things are meticulously backed up with facts and figures, there are a few points where she’s happy to let stereotype reign. Her mentions of the sexual activities and proclivities of gay men, which are only touched on, are horribly stereotyped (yep, you guessed it: all gay guys are horribly promiscuous and prefer public bathroom stalls to any other venue when it comes to romantic activity. SIGH.). When read alongside her well-articulated, skilfully-justified thoughts on heterosexual female sexuality (and, to some degree, lesbianism, although she spends less time on this), her reliance on tired stereotypes is really gobsmacking. A few times I found myself writing “cite?!” in the margins… on one or two occasions, my marginalia was less polite.

And there are other, major problems with this book. I disagree with big chunks of it, although weirdly, not whole chapters. The funny thing about Germaine is, she’ll start a train of thought and for about three quarters of the way, you’re totally with her: you’re nodding, you’re excited to see where this theory is going. And then all of a sudden she takes things into territory so alien that you’re running for cover. How did you ever agree with this woman?! you find yourself wondering by the time the paragraph is finished. It’s a bewildering experience. Just a few examples: she makes some very interesting points about FTM transsexuals and their treatment by cisgendered men, but she then goes on to be pretty damn hateful about MTF transsexuals, or ‘men in sheep’s clothing’, as she seems to see them, and their rapist-like desire to penetrate the few women-only spaces we have (yes really. What the hell, Germaine?!). Or her very sensible chat about women controlling their own reproductive systems from cradle to grave without any kind of help or suggestion from men: oh, except all women who use chemical contraception or have legal abortions or indeed campaign for legal abortions are all misguided schmucks (I’ve read the contraception bit several times and still fail to see how she can legitimately join the dots on that one). There are parts of the chapters on these issues where Germaine is just off in cloud cuckoo land, having a rant about something that no progressive in their right mind would be swayed by… but then, elsewhere in the same chapter, she’ll be saying something I’d never have thought of, something that actually opened my eyes to a brand new idea about the women’s movement (and let me tell you, with so many pop feminism books recycling and repackaging the same old soundbites, that is a big, big deal).

I think mainly, there are just times when Germaine forgets to check her privilege. She seems to think that the only privilege that exists (among white people at least), is male. Therefore, she fails to take into account that some women are just not capable of doing as she does and thinking as she thinks, simply as a result of their background or biology. She has never had to really think twice about her own gender identity, so she feels totally cool telling those whose gender identity renders them an outcast from the gender binary how they ought to behave. This is not OK, but Germaine seems to forget sometimes that being cisgender is also a privilege, even if you’re female; that being white is also a privilege, even if you’re female; so is being able, English-speaking, middle class, college educated, etc. I’m actually a big fan of this book, and a far bigger fan of Germaine than I was before. I even like some of her (less horrendous) runaway, borderline-offensive rants — it shows that just like the rest of us, she is capable of speaking, and writing, without thinking. This isn’t the goody-goody academic feminism I’ve read elsewhere. This is one woman having a good, long, reasonably well-informed, occasionally-privileged kvetch. I can relate to that.

What are you reading this week?

Christmas presents for poets: Keel’s Simple Diary

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Simple diary volume one
(Photo credit)

I have waxed lyrical about Keel’s Simple Diary before: indeed, I have recommended it as a Christmas gift before. Good news for those of you who took my advice last time and found the diary was a hit — Taschen have just brought out volume II, and it’s just as good as the first one. The diary’s cheery slogan is “Shrink Problems!”, and although you might take a first look at the inner pages and raise an eyebrow, these little books are actually pretty effective.

(Photo credit)

Journalling is something I wholeheartedly subscribe to, and encourage others (namely, my long-suffering students) to do, too. But even I will admit: it can be tiresome work. You feel a sense of duty to do it at least semi-regularly; I am always beset with feelings of narcissism if I go beyond a page a day. The Simple Diary removes the hassle from journalling. Given a tiny page each day and very little space within that page to actually write, you’re forced to concentrate your thoughts, feelings, anxieties and worries down into just a few words. I’ve found that doing this really does automatically make them feel smaller. You’re also given prompts — multiple choice questions, pick-a-word questions, etc — that often make you think “eh?”, but they force you to pause, think laterally, maybe see things a little differently. The Simple Diary is like a good therapist, only much cheaper; like a self-help book only nowhere near as irritating. This is journalling for busy people, for cynical people, for list-makers. Most of all, this is journalling for poets. Seeing each page as a writing prompt would be a damn fine experiment. Any takers…?

Find out more at or buy a copy of Vol 1 or Vol 2 at Taschen.

What do you want for Christmas?

Christmas gifts for poets: Read This Press

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Swallow earrings

A little more shameless self promotion — yesterday, you got to hear about my vintage store, Edinburgh Vintage. Today, it’s the turn of my other Etsy store, Read This Press, which is much more suitable for poetic gift-giving!

For over two years I was the founding editor of Read This Magazine, a grassroots arts and literature zine aimed at promoting the work of new, young and emerging writers. After our editors scattered to the four winds in 2010, I wanted to carry on the work of RT in some way that would allow me to manage the workload alone (I know, some folk edit magazines single-handedly. I genuinely have no idea how).

Read This Press was born. We (as my team has now expanded to include Stephen Welsh, aka Lovely Boyfriend) make small, limited edition runs of handmade poetry chapbooks, make them as pretty as we can and sell them for a teeny price in the hope that we can lure some non-poetry readers in our direction and trick them into seeing that poetry is actually awesome. Our most recent endeavour was an anthology of poems inspired by the great Allen Ginsberg, Starry Rhymes, which you can buy here. We also published Eric Hamilton’s Sharks Don’t Sleep, which is sadly sold out.

Skin Deep
Skin Deep, our first Read This Press title: an anthology of tattoo-related poems by talented folks like Kim Addonizio and Kevin Cadwallender.

To support the press, I also started making typewriter-related jewellery and accessories, in collaboration with Amanda of Reworkd Workshop. As a typewriter fanatic, though, I found it heart-wrenching to think of all the beautiful machines that had been ripped up in order to create our bracelets and necklaces (no, really). I gave up the jewellery-making a while ago, but the pieces I have leftover from my jewellery days are still for sale on the site — and there are others yet to be listed, so keep checking back!

Camel necklace
The Camel Necklace, currently for sale here.

As the Christmas shopping frenzy is upon us, I’ll be uploading new items as often as I can in the next little while. If you like what you see in the shop, stick around and check back regularly. Please note: I am totally open to handing out mates’ discounts, so drop me a line if you see something you fancy and I may well be willing to haggle! Enquiries to claire[at]onenightstanzas[dot]com.

Merry Christmas Shopping!

Christmas gifts for poets: Edinburgh Vintage

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Edinburgh Vintage shopfront

OK, I’ll admit: Edinburgh Vintage is not exactly the obvious choice when it comes to presents for writers. However, I am a writer and if you bought someone something from my shop this Christmas, it would be a lovely Christmas present for me! So you’ll have pleased at least one poet…

Edinburgh Vintage is my sometime online secondhand clothing business, which I’ve been running on and off for two years. It was born of a need to make some extra pennies as a temporary (read: impoverished) lecturer trying to juggle a whole load of unpaid creative projects (literary magazine, small press, community arts initiative, etc). Since, it’s become a handy way to keep my collection of second-hand clothing at a reasonably manageable size. I also find it loads of fun.

1960s mod print shift
The super gorgeous tattooed goddess Martyna, modelling one of my favourite pieces currently for sale.

Etsy’s vintage shops seem to be all too often populated by two types of item: one, things that look exactly like the kind of stock you get at Urban Outfitters and two, vastly expensive genuine 1950s bespoke ballgowns that were each made for a woman with the measurements of a particularly skinny whippet (example). Edinburgh Vintage attempts to buck that trend by stocking clothes that a) aren’t obnoxiously hipsterish, b) you might actually wear out of doors and c) come in real sizes. I like certain clothing eras and styles: Mod, Skinhead, Ska, punk and anything 1960s, primarily. Mostly, that’s what you’ll find in my store.

Vintage kimono
A very pretty embroidered kimono, also modelled by the lovely Martyna.

As the Christmas shopping frenzy is upon us, I’ll be uploading new items as often as I can in the next little while. If you like what you see in the shop or in my previously sold items, stick around and check back regularly. Please note: I am totally open to handing out mates’ discounts, so drop me a line if you see something you fancy and I may well be willing to haggle! Enquiries to claire[at]onenightstanzas[dot]com.
Merry Christmas Shopping!