Books that have inspired me- International Women’s Day.

It’s International Women’s Day!

I didn’t take part in the Women’s March last year, nor have I ever really taken part in a protest, which isn’t out of choice. I don’t purposely avoid doing so, but I’ve always found myself to be the last to know about these things, and to be totally honest, unable to afford to take the time off last minute to actually go. However, I don’t consider myself to be a bad feminist for this.

I think this year will be a particularly important International Women’s Day. I feel it in the air- a lot of ‘stuff’ (for want of a better word) has come out this year, and the times they are a changin’. Not quickly enough, if you ask me, because there are a lot of people with some seriously messed up ideas out there, and when I occasionally encounter one I feel rather lost as to what to say or do. It’s the ideology and attitudes of our whole society that need to shift, which is I suppose why an International Women’s Day is so very important; a worldwide acknowledgement that something is wrong, and we need to change it.

In light of international Women’s day, I wanted to share with you some texts- plays, novels, and non-fiction. Some of them I read or saw years ago, others more recently, but I think that all of these books in some way have shaped my view of myself as a young woman, and of feminism. They also all feature strong, inspirational women. I’d love to hear any suggestions to further my reading and expand my knowledge, as I am by no means an expert in feminism and definitely am still learning about myself as a woman! I won’t write too much detail about the plots so as not to spoil those works that are fictional!

  • The Colour Purple (Novel) by Alice Walker. This book explores the lives of African-American women in the South of America during the 1930’s and the variety of challenges that they faced. It took me far longer than it should have done to pick this rather famous one up, but I immediately saw what all the fuss was about!
  • Blue Stockings (Play) by Jessica Swale. A play about a group of female students at Girton College, Cambridge, in the 1890’s, who campaign for the right to graduate (with a degree) like the men, whilst also fighting battles of the heart.
  • Hot Feminist (Non-Fiction) by Polly Vernon. The author, a fashion writer who declares that she has always aspired to be ‘hot’, describes this book as a memoir, and openly admits to its being ideologically flawed- but I thought that it was very interesting, and it certainly gave me food for thought.
  • Anna Karenina (Novel) by Leo Tolstoy. This is a mission of a read, which means that I have only read it once, about 5 years ago, but I remember the impact that it had on me. It led me to writing about society’s impact on Anna’s self- worth for my A Level Literature coursework. Clearly even at 17 years old I saw the struggle of a woman in Early 19th Century Russia and recognised feminist sympathies within myself. Whether Tolstoy is sympathetic to his heroine’s plight is questionable, especially considering how the novel ends, but I’ll leave you to make your own minds up!
  • Only Ever Yours (Novel) by Louise O’Neill. This is a YA book set in a world where baby girls are no longer born naturally (does this reference The Handmaid’s Tale?). The girls are bred and raised in a school where they are essentially trained for life as pleasing wives and mothers, competing with each other to be top of the class, as they know that not everyone will be chosen as a ‘companion’- those who are not worthy will become ‘teachers’ or ‘concubines’.
  • The Handmaids Tale (Novel) by Margaret Atwood. Everyone’s harping on about this book, and with good reason. Go read it, and then marvel at Elisabeth Moss for 10 hours in the series.
  • Boudica (Play) by Tristan Bernays. I saw this at The Globe last Autumn. Written in modern verse, this tells the story of an ancient British warrior queen called Boudica, who battled the Romans after the death of her husband, and her two daughters. They fight, they shout, they stand up to their oppressors and I just thought it was great to see so many female stories being told in one play, and it’s one of the few times I’ve seen something and really wanted to stage-fight!
  • Yerma (Play) by Lorca/ Simon Stone. Yerma, originally written in Spanish and set in 1930’s Spain, tells the story of a young woman who wants to have a baby but cannot. I studied it at college, and remember discussing the themes: social convention, honour, duty, fertility and motherhood, amongst others. I remember it being one of the first times I’d thought about the pressures placed on women when it came to child- bearing and self-worth. At the time, I think I saw it as being specific to the past and the religious society in which the original is set, but the modern version, staring Billie Piper and written by Simon Stone, debunks this. Also, Billie Piper is a tour-de-force, so if you can see her version or catch it on NT Live Encore screenings then do!

That’s it for now. I hope that everyone out there is celebrating the women in their lives today!

El x

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