Saturday, 7 September 2013

Non-Fiction Review: Fifty Shades of Feminism

Fifty Shades of Feminism
eds. Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes and Susie Orbach

'The greatest prize I got in the lottery of life was freedom to make my own errors and my own sadnesses instead of the ones enforced upon me.'

It's really hard to know where to even start with this. Really hard. I first came across Fifty Shades of Feminism when Virago were running a competition to find out what feminism meant to under twenty-fives and I was immediately interested. Feminism? A title that rips off a horrendously popular and potentially anti-feminist book? I was all over it. I ordered it when it was first released, devoured about half and then decided to take my time with the rest. You know, stew over the ideas, consider my own position and all that. Well, I've finished taking my time and I am in awe.

The first half of the anthology I read in the company of my (female) pooch. Unfortunately (for her) she was the only female in the vicinity so we spent many a minute sharing deep looks and she had to listen to many an hour filled with my giggles, fist-pumps, shouts in agreement and, occasionally, my tears. I am convinced she was looking at me with nothing but a proud sense of female solidarity in her eyes. 

Fifty Shades of Feminism is an anthology of new writing from women who 'think, who act, who inspire - in technicolour'. It is a book full of reflections about what being a woman means to each writer and what feminism means (it varies quite considerably). 

Each essay is interesting, powerful, persuasive and wildly different. Some changed my opinions, for example the distinctions Naomi Alderman makes between sexism in the gaming world and the publishing world were very surprising and really made me consider the difference between obvious in-your-face sexism and the sexism that goes on behind the scenes in the most underhand fashions. I thought I knew which one was more destructive but have since changed my mind. 

Some pieces are angry, some comical, some emotive and some intellectual. I loved every one. I also loved the quotes interspersed throughout from biggie feminists/amazing women like Virginia Woolf, Kate Millet, Simone de Beauvoir, Angela Carter and bell hooks. 

My favourite out of the entire collection is, in fact, Alice Stride's 'Saving the Bush'. Alice was the winner of Virago's competition and her essay is the most down-to-earth, relatable (and funny for it), and eye-opening of the lot. Stride writes from her position as Big Sister and remarks on the changes between her generation and her sister's. I think why I found it so powerful is that I have noticed the same changes in the way society moulds teenage girls. When I was 15 I wore my brother's tatty and ripped Blink 182 hoodie non-stop, I didn't know how to apply make-up and had a mass of unbrushed, frizzy, brown hair atop my head. I didn't care. And neither did my friends. I think things are very different now, as Stride argues. 

'That's what feminism means to me...It means, put simply, saving the bush.'

Fifty Shades of Feminism is readable and re-readable. I have no doubt that my interpretation and reaction to each essay will change with every reading and I hope it does. For now, I'll go back to my pooch, embrace her, perhaps shed a tear or two, and consider what feminism means to me.

'This [multi-tasking] is a biological cop-out; I doubt that any man would have trouble multi-tasking at, say, an orgy.'



  1. Ah, you finished it! Wonderful review - should I feel like digging into the theme, I will definitely consider this one. I'm especially interested in sexism in the gaming world (nerd alert! nerd alert! :D)

  2. For some reason I thought this book was a satire of 50 shades of grey, how wrong I was! It sounds amazing, I'm definitely going to be buying a copy.

    And I hate how 25 is like the cut off age for being young. I'm 27 and when I fill in forms I have to tick the 26-35 box, it's awful...

  3. Amazing review! You persuaded me... I love nothing more than a night curled up hissing 'yessss!' at the cat and giving her tiny high fives because a book is Just That Good. (Note: I do not actually do this. It might be taking my 'weird cat lady' status a bit far.) I actually think I've seen a copy of this SOMEWHERE in the shop, but where? I'll have to go stalk the office, see if I can find it!

  4. I don't tend to seek out feminist books, but I tend to enjoy them when I do read them, this sounds interesting.

  5. Yay, you finished it! I've been waiting for your thoughts on this for a while.

    This will probably be my next attempt at reading a feminism book - maybe the anthology format and different perspectives of different women will work a lot better for me than the ones I've been trying (one woman ranting about a lot of various things and relating them to feminism kinds of books).

    Great review!

  6. I just visited your blog for the first time because Beth (Bookworm Meets Bookworm) mentioned your readalong and this post has me hooked! Love your style and the book sounds great!


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