Trigger warning: references to violence (including sexual violence) against women

I am sufficiently enraged/inspired enough to post.

I don’t have anything particularly new to say, just a couple of observations to make.

First: why, in this article at the Gruaniad, which is a list of the columnist’s top 10 books about missing persons, are the majority of the missing persons women?

Second: why, on the DVD covers for the Forsyte Saga, does series 1 have the warning “adult themes”, and series 2 have the warning “low level sex scene”, when series 1 includes a scene where a character is raped? (The sex scene – very low level indeed – in series 2 is consensual.)

Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.

Last year, at a wedding I attended, one of the conversations I participated in involved a straight woman asking a gay woman how much money it would take for her to sleep with a man.

Now, I’m not saying nobody should ever have such a conversation – as woman B said to me after woman A had left for a bit, she has had that conversation with her good friends, possibly more than once. But to ask that question completely out of the blue pretty much immediately finding out that a person does not want to make sexy times with any person of a particular gender? Really?

The conversation was not made any better by woman A’s exposition on prostitution (her word) sex work, and linking it to desperation and solely that, which came about when I pointed out that the question wasn’t really a test of sexuality, per se, as some people are quite happy to have sex with people they might not be particularly sexually attracted to, sometimes for money, and for others – assuming they are generally happy with their present material wealth, which woman B is, and that’s who she was asking – no sum would be sufficient. Funnily enough, different people feel differently about this, and it’s not necessarily about their sexuality (if sexuality is defined as what gender of persons one is attracted to).

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I’m a little bit excited by the results of the elections in the USA yesterday.

The reason for my excitement is fairly nicely summarised in this post at Shakesville.

My excitement is not so much because Obama won, or because Romney lost. While I think that Obama is a significantly better choice, politics in the USA is largely to the right of where I sit, so Obama winning gives me a sense of relief but probably not enough excitement to lead to me writing an actual blog post.

On the other hand, the long list of wins that Melissa has set out in her post says to me that there might just be something progressive in the air in the USA: apparent rejection of candidates who said horrible things related to rape, election of the first openly gay Senator, marriage equality initiatives passing – generally, the election of people who are not necessarily male, white, cis and wealthy. Of course, I’m not saying all of the people who have those descriptors are bad, and it’s not like they’re not still the majority of elected representatives in the USA anyway – my point is more about the increasing diversity of representation, the apparent value of that diversity to the voters in the USA, and the apparent rejection of certain things (like the people who said horrible things related to rape).

That’s what is getting me excited.

(And wondering whether we might see something similar here in next year’s federal election.)

Black-on-white silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat, with the words in white: 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge (and the url australianwomenwriters.com at the bottom)
The Sisters Antipodes by Jane Alison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads

A gorgeous and deeply intimate memoir about families breaking apart When Jane Alison was a child, her family met another that seemed like its mirror: a father in the Foreign Service, a beautiful mother, and two little girls, the younger two (one of them Jane) sharing a birthday. The families became inseparable almost instantly. Within months, however, affairs ignited between the adults, and before long the parents exchanged partners, then divorced, remarried, and moved on. Two pairs of girls were left in shock, a “silent, numb shock, like a crack inside stone, not enough to split it but inside, silently fissuring” that would prove tragic.

My review

I loved this book.

To put this in context, neither non-fiction generally, nor memoir specifically, are among my favourite genres. But this book is so well-crafted, so compelling, I was drawn in from the start.

Alison describes the trauma of her childhood, caused by her parents switching marriages with another couple, combined with both families travelling for diplomatic purposes, with incredible clarity and emotional truth. She goes on to discuss the fall-out for herself and one of her step-sisters – both developed substance abuse problems – and the later relationships with her parents and step-parents.

At several points in the book, she questions whether her parents should have dealt with the situation differently, and what it might have meant to her life had they done so. Every time the question arises, she asserts that she is, ultimately, glad it was done the way it was done. I’m not sure I believe her.

And yet, the honesty – both the emotional honesty, and her attempt to tell the true story (and her acknowledgement that she does not know the whole story, and can only tell the truth from her own perspective) – is, again, compelling. That this was combined with the excellent writing meant I was drawn in, utterly reluctant to put the book down.

In addition, I had clear pictures of most scenes. Alison is also an artist and illustrator, and I suspect this is behind her ability to create such vivid images in her writing.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

This is an extra review for the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can see my full list of books here. You can find a full list of my reviews, and other posts relevant to the challenge, here.


A conversation

Just now, I ran into a woman who works for the same organisation I do. I don’t know her well, but she’s one of those people who, because of her job, knows just about everyone by name. We had a conversation that included the following:

Her (in a positive tone): You’ve lost weight!

Me (in a rebuffing tone): I don’t think so.

Her: No, you have!

Me (sounding slightly upset): I’m sorry, I don’t like to have that sort of thing commented on.

Her (surprised, slightly offended): Oh …

Then someone else came by, and I headed off to do what I was on my way to do anyway.

I’m lucky – privileged, even. Even before coming across HAES and related philosophies online, I somehow managed to avoid internalising a lot of the hot mess that is the way we approach body image, eating, weight and dieting, and consider myself lucky for it. It’s kept me (mostly) from feeling that there is anything wrong with my body when I have observed it does not fit the images I’m told I should fit in with. (If you’re wondering, it’s not entirely upbringing: every single member of my immediate family, and most members of my extended family with whom I have significant contact, have, or had when I was growing up, at least a partly disordered approach to eating and weight loss.)

So yes, I’m lucky, privileged, that that kind of comment, whether made about me or someone else, merely disgusts me, and does not trigger me in some way. But the person who made these comments to me didn’t know that!

It wasn’t an appropriate situation to explain why I don’t like those kinds of comments, or why others might have more severe reactions (but might say nothing). All I can do is hope that my reaction was, of itself, enough to make her think a little about the problems with what she said to me.

Black-on-white silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat, with the words in white: 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge (and the url australianwomenwriters.com at the bottom)
Monkey Grip by Helen Garner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads

In “Monkey Grip”, Helen Garner charts the lives of a generation. Her characters are exploring new ways of loving and living – and nothing is harder than learning to love lightly. Nora and Javo are trapped in a desperate relationship. Nora’s addiction is romantic love; Javo’s is hard drugs. The harder they pull away, the tighter the monkey grip. A lyrical, gritty, rough-edged novel that deserves its place as a classic of Australian fiction.

My review

I got a lot out of this book – and there’s a lot to get, for a patient reader. It’s a book about Melbourne in the mid-1970s, about community, about love, about addiction, about love as addiction, and about how you can only live your own life.

This is not a gentle or easy book. It is narrated in first person by the main character, Nora, and the reader is thrown in the deep end, only ever given as much about Nora’s external life and circumstances as is absolutely necessary (and this is usually divulged with great subtlety). Nora is (in no particular order) an actor, a woman in love, a mother, a some-time drug taker, a part of a hippie community/commune, a feminist, a writer for a feminist magazine. We are taken through the year or so of Nora’s relationship with Javo, a junkie, during 1975 (and a bit on either side).

What one learns from this book is up to the reader. If you trust to Ms Garner, you will be lifted by the current and brought safely to the end of the book.

This is an extra review for the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can see my full list of books here. You can find a full list of my reviews, and other posts relevant to the challenge, here.


Black-on-white silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat, with the words in white: 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge (and the url australianwomenwriters.com at the bottom)

I have completed the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge!

This post is to record how I went compared to my challenge criteria, and to give a very short overview of each book.

First, the books. They were:

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