Wednesday, November 29, 2006

So go to your quarters now and attend to your own work, the loom and the spindle, and tell the servants to get on with theirs. Talking must be the men's concern, and mine in particular; for I am master in this house.
The Odyssey. Telemachus replying to his mother Penelope. Translated by E.V. Rieu.
When I selected titles for the From the Stacks Challenge, my criteria were simply titles I'd had sitting there for ages, split into some which I really, really wanted to read and those which I felt I should read because they'd just been sitting there far too long. Quite by chance, my current selection is hammering home a message hard to ignore - the ordinary lives of women.

I've been blown away by Fettouma Touati's Desperate Spring (why did it take me so long to read this?!), following the interconnected lives of an ever-expanding Algerian extended family.

I'm not sure that I'll finish Zimbabwean Tsitsi Dangarembga's The Book of Not in time for Friday's meeting with her, but I'm giving it a stab. Picking up where Nervous Conditions left off, Tambu is exploring her place in the world from the confines of the Young Ladies' College of the Sacred Heart.

Serendipitously, our reading group is reading Namibian Neshani Andreas' The Purple Violet of Oshaantu, describing constraining village life for a group of rural women.

All of these books, to a greater or lesser extent, deal with women's lives, expectations, hopes, dreams, marriages and constraints. I'll blog more on each as I finish them, but this is just to say that you might think this would all be tedious, hectoring or boring and instead it is gripping stuff and I am enjoying myself thoroughly.

As a foil to these women in African countries, I have picked up at the library The Bitch in the House: 26 women tell the truth about sex, solitude, work, motherhood and marriage, edited by Cathi Hanauer. I'd seen this reviewed in the mainstream press last year, with mixed reactions, but it is serving as an interesting complement to the fiction titles.

On the train up to London last week, a mixed group of teenagers got on and I suddenly became aware of their conversation when a boy asked "Are you a feminist?" One after the other (peer pressure no doubt) every girl in the group strenuously denied any interest in feminism. I restrained myself from commenting, but all this current reading tied in perfectly with what I quietly thought - you don't want the right to equal job opportunities, equal pay, freedom of movement, freedom to dress as you wish, then? What would you say if I said you couldn't be out on a train with your male friends? Could not go to school? Could not wear that miniskirt? What do you think feminism is? I can recommend a book or two...

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Anonymous Danielle said...

I hate it when I let a book languish for a long time on on my shelves, finally pick it up to read and discover it is really wonderful! Why did I let it sit so long?? I will have to look up the books you are reading--all are new to me. As for the girls on the train--it is sad that even now feminism is a dirty word. I am not sure what people equate it with, but then that is peer pressure for you!

4:05 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

It seems to me there is a perceived association between feminism and militancy, among other things, which some people want to disassociate themselves from. But of course, this is only one small aspect. I think I may write more on the matter (without being strident!) as I finish up these books, because the way they are all relating to one another is quite striking.

As to finally reading these books - the lesson to me is I really must read the books I own, as I bought them all for a reason, and there are some real gems in there!

11:11 am  

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