(And yes, feminism is a lens through which we critique, not something that a ‘fave’ could necessarily ‘be’, but that’s not as snappy a title, is it?)
Rebecca Solnit’s ‘The Mother of All Questions’: On a particularly bad day, I sat down in a Waterstones, having picked this up from the gender studies section and read about 40 pages in one go. Solnit’s writing is immersive, flowing so steadily and yet always with a sharp wit. This comes through more in some essays than others; when talking about campus rape, Solnit remains persistently calm in her outrage, presenting the facts and the response, highlighting hypocrisy through mere juxtaposition. When talking about the ever-present white-maleness of the literary canon, she cracks jokes at the expense of writers and novels, knowing that this topic, however important representation in the media is, can also be picked apart for its sheer stupidity. ‘Men Explain Lolita to Me’ is one of my favourite essays I have read for the simple reason that Solnit writes about the Twitter users who tried to educate her on her opinion with the same kind of fascination that David Attenborough talks about polar bears in the Arctic.
The Guilty Feminist podcast: the first time I listened to this podcast, about a year or so ago, I remember thinking it reminded me so much of Radio 4’s comedy panel shows. The intro music, the rushed credits, the studio audience. I quickly realised what was wrong – there were several women speaking.
Deborah Francis-White, host of the show and co-founder along with Sophie Hagen, is a comedian who has worked tirelessly to advocate for diversity in comedy. That The Guilty Feminist sounds like The Now Show, only better, is not a mistake. She has carved out spaces through this podcast and Global Pillage where traditionally marginalised individuals can have a voice. I appreciate the podcast for making me feel okay when I think something that’s not perfectly feminist. Just as racism, homophobia and misogyny are learned behaviours, so is feminism.
From where the show began, talking about bras and periods, it has evolved to become more and more inclusive each week. One of the latest episodes entitled ‘Minefields’ began with the panellists making a formal agreement with the audience that the studio was, for the recording of this episode, a safe space in which stupid questions could be asked without judgement. Issues such as race, trans rights, religion and FGM were explored in the space of a singular episode in a sensitive way that allowed for naivete but asked that you instead listen to those who knew what they were talking about. Frances-White knows of her privileges and is conscious of using the platform she has worked for to lift up other voices.
It’s also really funny. Like really funny. I sometimes have to stop listening to it in public because I once cried laughing on a train and got asked if I was okay. The guest panellists range from talented comedians to passionate activists or both and everyone seems to have been born with the comedy gene.
(I’ll be honest, I’ve spent most of this month watching Peaky Blinders, which although it has its moments, is not the most obliquely feminist of shows. But so good.)
Early on in September I suggested to my sister that we start watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I’d already watched this show back-to-back over and over repeatedly but I’ll probably never get sick of it. Set in Australia in the 1920s and based on a series of crime novels by Kerry Greenwood, the show follows one of my favourite characters ever seen on TV, Miss Phryne Fisher, an amateur detective who returns to her home city of Melbourne and solves murders before the police get a chance in the most glamorous ways. What I love most about this show isn’t the murders – they can get a bit repetitive at times but that’s normal for a crime series. What makes me return to this show over and over are the relationships Phryne forms with the characters around her and the warmth she exudes. She uses her recently acquired wealth to help those around her, welcomes characters suffering from misfortune into her home and thinks nothing of fighting for what she feels is right.
She’s a feminist. Phryne lives alone, isn’t married, is approaching forty and has regular flings with men often younger than her. She talks openly about contraception, believes everyone should be able to marry who they want and refuses to back away when threatened by male violence. The show tackles issues like abortion, misogyny and race. Every character in the show feels well-rounded and all are linked by their love for one another. It’s a bit like if Leslie Knope was a bit cooler and wanted to solve murders rather than solve paperwork. Phryne finds her team and gets to work. And I’m a sucker for the found family trope.
Generally I’ve been a big fan of having rights to reproductive rights and control over my own body despite my uterus. That’s nice. Hope it stays that way. Unfortunately in Ireland that is not the case currently and many are forced to travel incredible distances across the Irish Sea in order to receive an operation that can be traumatic. Thousands marched yesterday in Dublin to protest the 8th amendment which bans abortion and a referendum will be called next year by the Irish government for Ireland to vote on the topic. Meanwhile Trump’s administration is cutting funding for Planned Parenthood in the US where the issue of abortion is particularly fraught.
But even in the UK, where abortion is legal, it can feel as though we are only ever a few steps away from a live performance of The Handmaid’s Tale. Jacob Rees-Mogg, a potential candidate at the time for the next Tory leader, said publicly on Good Morning Britain that he believed life began at the point of conception and that he was completely opposed to abortion, citing the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and their strong views against abortion were brought into a position of power by the Tories in order to cling on to election victory back in June. The unpredictable nature of politics at the moment puts reproductive health at risk with politicians playing with healthcare like it’s a game and not a matter of life and death. Abortion is and always will be a complex topic that provokes a divided response but when it comes down to it, my ‘feminist favourite’ this month is having a choice.
On that cheery topic, let me know if you have any recommendations for feminist media. I’m always looking out for more!