Kat Banyard: The Equality Illusion (2010)

Women apparently have never had it so good. In today’s supposedly post-feminist world, cosmetic surgery is seen as empowering, lap dancing as a sexually liberating career, and the lack of women from boardroom a result of women’s free choices. In The Equality Illusion, campaigner Kat Banyard argues passionately and articulately that feminism continues to be one of the most urgent and relevant social justice campaigns today.

Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion: The Truth about Men and Women Today takes an unflinching look at what it means to be a woman today and, due to the fact that Banyard is British, especially in the UK .

Still, whether you are an Afghan woman fighting for girl’s rights of literacy or an American doctor performing late stage abortions, you have one thing in common: you lead a dangerous life and might end up being killed. Both things happened.  The first happened in Afghanistan in 2006, the second in the US in 2009. They illustrate the illusion of equality and show what a global phenomenon it is.

Banyard structured the book like a day in a woman’s life and tied each part to a topic. Getting up – beauty myths, going to work – sexual harassment and the opposite of equal opportunity, coming home – domestic violence and unwanted pregnancies, evening out- lap dancing clubs, porn industry and prostitution… This structure works very well.

The key topics are beauty and looks, equal opportunity at work, poverty, literacy, the sex industry, domestic violence, abuse, relationships and children. Banyard looks at everyday life and how it is lived and not so much at the ideas beneath it all. There is an introdcutory chapter on false assumptions about gender but it is quite short.

To say the least, I was shocked about a lot of the data and statistics and saddened by most of the individual stories. Whoever said that feminism wasn’t needed anymore or that we were by now equal?

Women are to this day among the poorest of the world. In some African countries little girls do not go to school because they are raped on the way. In the UK some girls have bad grades because there is constant sexual harassment at school and all the teachers do is saying “boys will be boys”. In some countries girls are forbidden to learn to write and read.

Humiliating and degrading girls serves to highlight just how masculine boys really are. And so, sexist bullying and sexual harassment are an integral part of daily school life for many girls. (p.67)

What women have to face at work isn’t much better. Cases of all forms of sexual harassment are frequent. Women with children do not have a lot of chances to make a career, especially not, when, as seems to be the case, men do not help enough when it comes to child rearing. Payment is still not equal at all and this stems to a large part from the fact that many jobs performed by women are considered to be less valuable and are paid less.

Legislation can create the illusion that equality has been achieved. But just because it is officially illegal to pay women less than men for equal work, to sack them for being pregnant, or to sexually harass them, it doesn’t mean theses things don’t go on. There is a huge gulf between policy and practice, and much current legislation – particularly around equal pay – lacks real bite. In a society where women still do the majority of unpaid caring, rigid workplace structures and the long-hours culture mean they pay a huge penalty for doing so. (p.101)

There is a trend, especially in the UK to normalize the porn industry. According to the interviews in this book, there is no such thing as “elegant lap dancing clubs”. Sooner or later all the women are harassed and coerced into having sex. Prostitution may be a choice but only because the women have not much to lose. They have often been abused as children, are very poor, have no education or just had no idea what they were getting into. “At work” they face brutality and violence on top of the degrading activity of selling their bodies.

I think the way society has glorified prostitution is very sad. I believe young women all over the world are becoming more curious (about going into prostitution) due to the positive light that is shown on this horrid profession. (p.145)

Domestic violence is extremely wide-spread, rape is on the up and many perpetrators are never convicted and if they are the punishment is ludicrous.

What bothers me personally the most in my personal life are two things. One is something I’m facing at work- there is no such a thing as equal treatment and the other is something I see happen, namely the overwhelming presence of the influence of the porn industry. Porn practices, fashion and looks seem to become normalized to the extent where you can find “sexy” underwear and clothes for little girls at the supermarket.

Compared to all this it may seem futile to debate whether all the pink toys for girls are really an issue or not but when you dig deeper, you just see that it is one of the symptoms of gender inequality. And it’s everywhere.

What I truly liked about the book, is that Kat Banyard offers hope. Her last chapter and the appendix are entirely dedicated to grassroot activism which is extremely important work and she offers a list of resources. She clearly shows how important feminism still is, that you can achieve something if you want to, it doesn’t need to be anything big and that your dedication may inspire others to follow your example. Last but not least she underlines that feminism also needs the contribution of men and they will ultimately also benefit from equality.

l read about this book on Still Life with Books. I’m really glad I read it and would love to hear from anyone who has read this or any of the other new/old publications. My first thought when I saw these new books was “But that has been done before….” Yes, it has, but apparently most of it has been forgotten. And we need books that back up the topics with actual data or the books get dismissed as being outdated.

I hope I might finally get to Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender next.

The Company of Wolves, Bloodmantle and other Retellings of The Little Red Riding Hood

The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood: Versions of the Tale in Sociocultural Context

My first contribution to the Once Upon a Time Challenge V was the novel Red Riding Hood based on the movie. As you can read here I wasn’t too impressed with it.

Meanwhile I’ve seen the movie as well. It’s a visual treat, I enjoyed it but it isn’t as good as The Company of Wolves which is much more mysterious.

The Brother Grimm tale, The Little Red Riding Hood has fascinated people since forever. The dense forest, the wolf, the red cloak are such powerful images. It is certainly one o the  fairy tales with the most retellings.

There is a nice collection by Jack Zipes called The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood. It contains a huge range starting with the tale by Charles Perrault to more contemporary versions like the  Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves. Carters story can also be found in her collection of fairytale retellings The Bloody Chamber. There are actually two versions in it. A very short sketch and one that is a bit longer.

I read Zipes book a few years ago and was impressed by how many different versions there are but there was none that I really liked. The Company of Wolves as a story is less convincing than the movie based on it. And there are other retellings in The Bloody Chamber that I liked much more.

The one re-telling that really impressed me is Tanith Lee’s Bloodmantle from her collection Forests of the Night. It can also be found in Wild Women. Tanith Lee’s stories can serve as proof that there is more to fantasy than meets the eye. If there is one writer who is capable of writing literary fantasy it is certainly Tanith Lee. Her writing is poetical, imaginative and very original. Here is what she says about Bloodmantle.

The forests of the mind are benighted, dark and dazzling places. Things wander there that shine, and burn, and bite.

Much of my writing, long and short, begins with nothing more – or less – than a feeling. The nearest I can come to describing this is to relate it to those curious unremembered memories, triggered maybe by a scent, or a certain seasonal light. Bloodmantle started in just that way, a sensation. Then quickly followed the notion of Roman Lupercal as a werewolf-finding feast. Wolves are creatures that live most definitely in my mind forests. I meet them with the primitive and often irrational wolf-fear, but also in fascinated love.

The girl in th red cloak of course most of us know. Innocence can be cruel.

In Bloodmantle the woman or girl isn’t only a victim. The roles change and there is potential to do harm in both, the man and the woman. The story isn’t very long but rich and multilayered, with a story inside of the story, a tale transmitted from days long gone, and a part that takes place in our contemporary world. The wolf is as much perpetrator as prey, half man, half animal and also ghost.

A very artful picture book Little Red Riding Hood illustrated by Daniel Egnéus came out this year. I discovered it during the Once Upon a Time Challenge. Here is Chris’ review  that contains some of the truly wonderful pictures.

You can also find something about Daniel Egnéus here


Louise Welsh: Tamburlaine Must Die (2004)

It’s 1593 and London is a city on edge. Under threat from plague and war, it’s a desperate place where strangers are unwelcome and severed heads grin from spikes on Tower Bridge. Playwright, poet, spy, Christopher Marlowe has three days to live. Three days in which he confronts dangerous government factions, double agents, necromancy, betrayal and revenge in his search for the murderous Tamburlaine, a killer who has escaped from between the pages of Marlowe’s most violent play. The Final Testament of Christopher Marlowe is a swashbuckling adventure story of a man who dares to defy God and state and who discovers that there are worse fates than damnation.

I really enjoyed Tamburlaine Must Die. I liked Louise Welsh’s latest novel Naming the Bones (here’s the review) and wanted to read another one and I wasn’t disappointed. However I know the book got very mixed reviews and this mainly because of the language. Clearly Welsh tried to write 16th century English and might not have been 100% successful. I didn’t care or – because I’m not a native speaker – didn’t notice. I thought the language was beautiful.

In her novella Louise Welsh lets Christopher Marlowe, the famous playwright, tell his final ten days. Someone has written a libel in his name, imitating his writing, signing with the name of the main-protagonist of one of his plays, Tamburlaine. Welsh imgines how and why he must have been killed, how he spent his last days, sleeping with men and women, drinking too much, picking fights, putting himself in danger through his blasphemies.

I think Christopher Marlowe is one of the most fascinating figures of literature. An immensely gifted writer, a rake, a debauchee, a spy, a rough neck, a ruffian, an innovator and subversive man  and many other things. The book is atmospheric and evocative, you see the streets of London, the intrigue, the danger of a city afflicted by the plague, the violence of the times. Any sign of not following the Church, not being loyal to the Queen, being a homosexual were highly dangerous.

We know Marlowe escaped the dungeon but only to face death through an unknown enemy. His murder has never been solved and to this day there are many speculations.

I think I start to realize what type of historical novels I like. I like it when a writer manages to give a voice to historical figures, makes them come alive, imagines how they thought and felt.

One thing that has been criticized is that she didn’t depict a fear-ridden Marlowe although he knew he was going to be killed. I think from what I know of the man, he wasn’t too anxious, he threw himself into life until his last moment. He would have gladly gone on living, writing more plays but if this wasn’t to be, then it wasn’t. As simple as that.

The best about the book is that it sparked my imagination. I’m in the mood to read Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, The Great and Doctor Faustus which influenced Goethe and Thomas Mann and I would also be interested in reading about him.

Louise Welsh based her book to a large part on Charles Nicholl’s The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe but David Rigg’s The World of Christopher Marlowe sounds equally interesting.

Has anyone read any of these or other books about Tudor England?

Literature and War Readalong June 24 2011: If This is A Man aka Se questo è un uomo by Primo Levi

This month is moving very fast and the next readalong is on the 24th already. It might be good to get started if you want to join in.

Primo Levi is a writer that has been on my mind for years. I knew his story, had read about him. I have read other’s accounts of their incarceration in concentration camps. I have read excerpts of Levi’s work but never got around to read his most famous book, the autobiographical account of his incarceration in the extermination camp Auschwitz.

He was on my mind for this and because he committed suicide so late in life. Because he seems to be such a perfect example of survivor’s guilt.

I dreaded to read his account, I know it won’t be cheerful but I always wanted to read it, wanted to explore his life, to understand why he couldn’t live with the guilt of being one of a very few survivors.

Despite the sadness and the horrors he describes there is beauty in his books as he is not only a witness of dreadful times but also an accomplished writer.

Primo Levi’s book is the only nonfiction book in this readalong.

I’m reading the French translation Si c’est un homme.

Jenn Ashworth: Cold Light (2011) Crime and Social Realism

An unsettling, darkly humorous tale of teenage girls in a predatory adult world, and a cocktail of lies, jealousy and unworldliness that leads to tragedy.

I have been looking forward to Jenn Ashworth’s new novel since I read A Kind of Intimacy at the beginning of the year (here’s the review). I had a bit of a problem not comparing the two books but once I let go of that I really liked this novel, it’s disturbing and chilling and you only find out at the very end what really happened.

Cold Light is a very appropriate title for this novel, although – as will be explained towards the end – it refers to bioluminescence.  It is a cold world in which today’s girls move and a predatory one. But is this really all that new? There is a lot that reminded me of my own coming of age. Not for anything in the world would I want to be 14 again. The competitions, the jealousy, the insecurity and the constant fighting off of boys or hoping to be noticed by them – depending on where on the good-looking scale you were positioned – was by far too upsetting. It’s all very horrible and can damage you for life. But there are other things young girls have to cope with nowadays that were not even thinkable 10-20 years ago. And today’s Britain (I’m just finishing Kat Banyard’s book The Equality Illusion and it echoes Cold Light) seems to be even worse than many other places.

Chloe is dead. Chloe will be 14 forever, 14, pretty and romantic. Since her presumed suicide 10 years ago she has become something like a cult figure. A symbol for young love and innocence. Now, ten years later, her former best friend Laura sits in front of her TV in a shabby little apartment and watches the groundbreaking ceremony for her memorial. The ceremony comes to an abrupt and macabre end when human bones are found in the damp soil. Laura nows whose bones they are and from this very first scene in the novel we know that some things must have gone seriously wrong ten years ago and we also know that there is a lot to be found out about Chloe, her ex-boyfriend who died with her and everyone else who was involved.

Laura will be watching TV all night, later joined by Emma with whom she is still in contact. They will be smoking and drinking until the early morning. Through flash backs and parts of their discussion the truth is slowly revealed. It’s the story of three friends who are jealous of one another, an older boyfriend who seems weird, a town in a state of alarm as a flasher who is getting more and more violent is chasing young girls. The three girls are only 14 yet they smoke, drink and have sex. We also hear a lot about innocent Chloe, how she exploited the obsessive best friend feelings of the others, how narcissistic and bullying she was, her delinquency and how she always got away with everything just because she was so pretty. Reading the story from Laura’s point of view we discover a lot about her family, the sadness of her childhood, about her father who seems to suffer from some kind of mental illness, her controlling mother and her obsession with Chloe that turns her into a stalker.

It’s an excellent book, disturbing and accurate and reminded me a great deal of the movie Fish Tank. I also thought of Harry Brown. Both movies paint a bleak picture of British youth. The first one also focusing on young girls being as well prey, victims and perpetrators.

Thanks again to Hodder and Stoughton who send me a review copy.

Winners of the Giveaway of Jenn Ashworth’s Cold Light

As promised, I am announcing the winners of the giveaway today. I have used random. org’s list generator.

The two copies go to

Litlove from Tales from the Reading Room


Amy from The House of the Seven Tails


I will contact you per e-mail or you can send me your address via e-mail.

I have read my copy already and will be posting on it soon.

Georges Simenon: Maigret et les Vieillards aka Maigret in Society (1960)

Last year I felt the urge to read some Maigret and got four books. I reviewed the first Un Noël de Maigret aka Maigret’s Christmas. I liked quite a few things about it and since they are all short, under 200 pages, I thought I might try another one.

I’m not sufficiently familiar with Simenon’s Maigret novels to know which of the two that I have read is the more typical one. All I can say is that I liked the first but I’m completely underwhelmed by the second.

In Maigret et les Vieillard aka Maigret in Society Maigret has to solve the murder of an aristocratic ex-ambassador. He has been shot four times, in his own apartment, in the middle of the night. His old servant found him towards the morning and reports the murder at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Maigret has the pleasure to interview people belonging to the Parisian High Society. A breed he isn’t exactly fond of. Although – typical for Maigret – he never judges people, we still understand how much he disapproves of them and thinks they are all a bit odd.

The Count had a “lover”, a princess, who was married to someone else. For over fifty years he wrote a daily letter to the princess which she would promptly answer. They had intended to get married after the death of her husband which had just occurred before the murder.

Despite the strange habits and a few questionable things he discovers, Maigret doesn’t see a motif or find a suspect.

I’m not sure whether this is a trait of Simenon or the Maigret novels but 80% of the book consists of dialogue. The lack of description and scenes was not to my liking. I love good dialogue but it was a bit average. He got the different talking styles of the people very well but the exchange wasn’t very interesting.

All in all I cannot recommend this novel. I’m also not keen on a detective who smokes a pipe and whose homey wife stays at home waiting for him with the dinner and his slippers …

The thing that I found most interesting is the fact how the books are rooted in their time. The mentioning of the death penalty startled me at first and then I vaguely remembered that the Capital punishment existed in France until the 80s. Should you, for one reason or the other, feel nostalgic about the 60s in France, you might like this.

Since I still have two other books sitting here, my final verdict is outstanding… I already have a feeling that I will have to look somewhere else for a detective series that is really to my liking or stick to those I already know. I think I need to get back to Simenon’s romans durs. They are definitely worth reading.