Thousands demand Oxford dictionaries ‘eliminate sexist definitions’


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Nearly 30,000 people have signed petition calling on the publisher to cut entries that ‘discriminate against and patronise women’

Almost 30,000 people have signed a petition calling for Oxford University Press to change the “sexist” definitions of the word “woman” in some of its dictionaries.

Launched this summer by Maria Beatrice Giovanardi, the petition points out that Oxford dictionaries contain words such as “bitch, besom, piece, bit, mare, baggage, wench, petticoat, frail, bird, bint, biddy, filly” as synonyms for woman. Sentences chosen to show usage of the word woman include: “Ms September will embody the professional, intelligent yet sexy career woman” and “I told you to be home when I get home, little woman”. Such sentences depict “women as sex objects, subordinate, and/or an irritation to men”, the petition says.

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The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – first look review


This post is by Alex Clark from Books | The Guardian


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Atwood’s return to the dystopia she created in The Handmaid’s Tale 35 years ago feels no less urgent, but this time hope shows signs of breaking in

In the almost 35 years since Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid’s Tale, its vision of a totalitarian theocracy underpinned by the rigid control of women and their reproductive systems has not receded; in many places – including the far-right consciousness – it may be said to have flourished. Could American women, for example, have imagined that laws would be introduced to criminalise them if they suffered miscarriages? Could Nigerians have foreseen that their schoolgirls would be abducted and forced into marriage and motherhood?

What can the novelist make of this? In the case of both Edna O’Brien, whose novel Girl depicts the lives of those girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, and Margaret Atwood, who has returned to Gilead to convey what happened after ...

Was Simone de Beauvoir as feminist as we thought?


This post is by Kate Kirkpatrick from Books | The Guardian


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Seventy years after The Second Sex reinvented women’s liberation, her legacy has its contradictions – but it should not be overlooked

Simone de Beauvoir is a feminist icon. She didn’t just write the feminist book, she wrote the movement’s bible, The Second Sex. She was an engaged intellectual who combined philosophical and literary productivity with real-world political action that led to lasting legislative change. Her life has inspired generations of women seeking independence, and this was largely attributed to her unconventional relationship with the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, which seemed like a love that didn’t come at the cost of her freedom or professional success.

But in the decades since Beauvoir’s death in 1986, several waves of previously unknown letters, diaries and manuscripts have shocked readers who thought they knew her. Her letters to her American lover, Nelson Algren, showed the depth of her passion for another man. Letters to Sartre ...

Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn review – broken bonds and dashed dreams


This post is by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff from Books | The Guardian


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A Jamaican woman leaves her daughter for a new life in the US in a topical, tender novel

You’ll come to know Nicole Dennis-Benn’s characters as intimately as you would a lover. They are refined in their humanity and depth. Patsy, her tender second novel, revolves around queerness and generational trauma. Like her 2016 debut, Here Comes the Sun, it centres on Jamaica – its culture, beauty, idiosyncrasies and socioeconomic struggles – but ranges more widely: all the way to America.

Patsy has a gnawing urge to escape the Caribbean and find love. Thanks to a mother who eschewed parental responsibility in favour of God, her life in Kingston contains too many cold, bloody secrets for it to be fulfilling. But when she gets her US visa, she passes on the harm she suffered by leaving behind her five-year-old daughter, Tru.

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Sally Rooney’s ‘sensuous lips’: why male book critics diminish female writers


This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian


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A critic’s praise of Sally Rooney’s looks has prompted a storm of mockery on Twitter. But she is far from the first woman to be undermined by a distracted male journalist

“A startled deer with sensuous lips”: what comes to mind? A hellish phantasm of a doe-human hybrid that will definitely stalk and kill you in a dream tonight? Or Sally Rooney’s face?

Writing in the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, Martin Ebel, a 64-year-old literary critic who could be described as “a slim walrus with an unfortunate hairline”, has provoked anger and internet fun for his review of Rooney’s novel, Conversations with Friends, which praised her “promising” physical appearance (like a terrifying chimera, apparently). Using the hashtag #dichterdran – a German pun on “male writer” and “that’s more like it” – readers took to judging male writers on the terms usually reserved for women. One tweet read: “Jean-Paul Sartre could ...

From Baba Yaga to Hermione Granger: why we’re spellbound by ‘witchatchure’


This post is by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett from Books | The Guardian


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Vengeful, seductive, feminist, misogynist ... witches have appeared in many forms in literature. Now a new generation of novelists are falling under their spell

A witch is a woman who has too much power. Or, to quote the novelist Madeline Miller, a woman with “more power than men have felt comfortable with”. History teaches us that witches are dangerous and must be brought down, punished and silenced. Their wisdom and their force must be neutralised through interrogation, torture and execution. Yet these attitudes aren’t merely historical; women continue to be persecuted for witchcraft in the world today. There has been a perennial literary fascination with witches; they are, as Marion Gibson, professor of Renaissance and magical literatures at Exeter University says, “a shorthand symbol for persecution and resistance – misogyny and feminism in particular”. In a #MeToo world, where Donald Trump – a fan of the term “witch-hunt” – is ...

Why are there so many new books about time-travelling lesbians?


This post is by Amal El-Mohtar from Books | The Guardian


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At a time when historical amnesia is making itself widely felt, these stories show how readily the past can be rewritten

Time-travel stories sit at a nexus of the literal and figurative. All of us are travelling through time – at the ambling pace of a human life, moving in a direction we think of as forward, with the future ahead and the past behind. But memory is a form of time travel, the study of history is an attempt at building time machines, and past and future are entangled.

In 2016, I sat down with my co-author Max Gladstone to write our novel This Is How You Lose the Time War, which follows two time-travelling female spies as they fall in love. That same year was also when I first heard people speaking earnestly and frequently about feeling as if they were in the wrong timeline, as the ...

Cat Person author Kristen Roupenian on the trouble with writing about sex


This post is by Kristen Roupenian from Books | The Guardian


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Mary Gaitskill’s collection Bad Behaviour has defined her career. Will a new generation of female writers be stereotyped in the same way?

In 2017, “Cat Person”, the first short story I’d ever published, went viral. In the story, a college student named Margot goes on a long, disastrous date with a man in his mid-30s named Robert. At the end of the night, Margot sleeps with Robert, despite realising, belatedly, that she has no desire to do so. Her reasons for making that choice remain opaque even to her, and she ghosts him the next day. To my surprise – and, I think, to my editor’s – the story became a catalyst for dozens of overlapping conversations about sex, consent, online dating and #MeToo.

Amid the waves of often contradictory praise, judgment and analysis of “Cat Person”, an occasional comparison surfaced, that I clung to like a lifeline: ...

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino review – on self-delusion


This post is by Lidija Haas from Books | The Guardian


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A bold and playful collection of essays from a hugely talented writer – its subjects include religion, drugs, feminism and the ‘cult of the difficult woman’

Ever since Montaigne promised that “my defects will here be read to the life, and also my natural form, as far as respect for the public has allowed”, the essay has seemed a uniquely risky and pleasurable proposition. Not everyone enjoys its online spread and glut and, especially now that it’s practised so often and with such popularity by young women, many have loathed and fetishised by turns the self-exploration that was always at its heart.

Yet what is strikingly new in contemporary essays is not so much subject matter or approach as the social and economic conditions in which they are produced. Since the essay is inherently an experiment, results will vary, depending on whether you undertake it up in the book-lined tower ...

Fangirls by Hannah Ewens review – beyond idolatry and lust


This post is by Fiona Sturges from Books | The Guardian


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From Beatlemanics to Beliebers … what drives female superfans? A welcome sympathetic portrait of fan culture

In 2013, a documentary, Crazy About One Direction, was broadcast on Channel 4; it chronicled the lives and obsessions of 1D superfans. They screamed and cried, monitored the band members’ every move on social media and viciously trolled their idols’ girlfriends. While some came over as passionate and excitable, others were depicted as wildly unhinged: 14-year-old Sandra cheerfully imagined dispatching Harry Styles’s then-partner, Taylor Swift: “I’d stamp on her head, I’d rip all her hair out, I’d squeeze her eyeballs out.”

From Beatlemaniacs and Brosettes to Directioners and Beliebers, female pop fans have long been gathered into amorphous groups and variously painted as sad, hysterical, sexually predatory and mentally ill. The message, both within and outside the music industry, is always the same: male musical appreciation has to do with a deep ...

From Clytemnestra to Villanelle: why are we fascinated by women who kill?


This post is by Sean O'Connor from Books | The Guardian


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In both pop culture and reality, women killers both seduce and repel us. The writer behind The Archers’ gaslighting storyline explores our enduring obsession

About 2,500 years ago, an audience took their places at a theatre in Athens for the premiere of a new murder drama. The protagonist, a returning war hero, was savagely stabbed to death, naked in his bath. The crime was thought particularly heinous as the killer was the victim’s wife, Clytemnestra. Her name has become notorious for a uniquely feminine sort of villainy, and the story of the murder of her husband, Agamemnon, seen in Aeschylus’s play of the same title in 458BC, has become an archetypal domestic murder plot.

Even though female murderers are much rarer than male murderers in reality, the image of the female killer continues to fascinate. Killing Eve is just the latest example of popular culture’s preoccupation with attractive young women ...

Adventuring while female: why the relationship women have with nature matters


This post is by Megan Mayhew Bergman from Books | The Guardian


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Going camping alone, I was reminded that the great works of environmentalist female writers are often overlooked – and it’s our loss

It’s Monday in the Adirondack state park. I’m driving through little towns, passing junk stores, lumber businesses, small cafes and adventure outfitters. I have heard people call this part of New York state “poverty with a view”. The Adirondacks are a collision of hardship and wealth, but mostly wilderness. Six million acres of it.

It’s almost LaBastille Day, and to celebrate, I’m going to camp alone for the first time in my life.

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Jilly Cooper tops inaugural Comedy women in print awards


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The Rutshire Chronicles author received the lifetime achievement honour, with prizes for rising stars Laura Steven and Kirsty Eyre

Reigning queen of the pun Jilly Cooper has been awarded the inaugural Comedy women in print (CWIP) lifetime achievement award “in recognition of her legacy and inspiration to comic women writers everywhere”.

The bestselling author, who at one point describes her hero Rupert Campbell-Black’s aggressive love-making as “like a power drill … her Campbell-Black-and-Decker”, was named winner on Wednesday night.

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What We’re Told Not to Talk About by Nimko Ali review – the body laid bare


This post is by Arifa Akbar from Books | The Guardian


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Women from around the world talk openly about sex, periods and childbirth in a rich, varied study

In a 20th anniversary edition of The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler reflected on how seldom the “v-word” was said aloud in 1996, when she staged her groundbreaking show. The play, based on more than 200 accounts, dramatised women speaking about – and sometimes to – their vaginas, and such was Ensler’s fear of backlash that she thought she might get shot.

The lexical evasion that Ensler spoke of, arising out of centuries of cultural shame, fear and secrecy, still takes place. The original title of Nimko Ali’s book was the bolder Rude: There Is No Such Thing as Oversharing (the proof copy had a strikingly suggestive cover design). But Ali was apparently worried that this might suggest the book’s contents were shocking or indecent. The book’s packaging now makes almost no mention ...

I can’t write about a world without rape – because I don’t live in one


This post is by Kaite Welsh from Books | The Guardian


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Women read and write crime fiction as a way to understand real experience. I was raped – and being told by the Staunch prize that books like mine are preventing justice is outrageous

That rape cases are hard to prosecute is no shocker, but the claim that crime writers are partly to blame shocked me. According to the Staunch prize for books with no violence against women, writers who include sexual violence and rape in their books are contributing to a wider culture in which jurors are “reluctant to convict ‘ordinary’ men” because “they don’t fit the idea of a rapist they’ve internalised through the stories and images they’ve received through popular culture”. In great thriller tradition, the call is coming from inside the house.

As someone who analyses culture for a living and often finds it wanting, I’m in the unaccustomed position of noting that what we’re talking about ...

Crime writers react with fury to claim their books hinder rape trials


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Novelists have condemned the Staunch prize – for thrillers without violence against women – as a ‘gagging order’, after organisers said the genre could bias jurors

Crime novelists have hit out at the claim that fictional depictions of sexual assault influence the outcomes of rape cases, after a prize for books with no violence against women asserted that stereotypical portrayals of attackers could “seriously affect justice”.

The Staunch prize, awarded to a thriller in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered, was launched last year to “offer an alternative narrative to stories based around violence to women”. When it was announced, it was widely criticised by major writers including Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah. McDermid said that “as long as men commit appalling acts of misogyny and violence against women, I will write about it so that it does not go unnoticed”, and Hannah told her ...

Crime writers react with fury to claim their books hinder rape trials


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Novelists have condemned the Staunch prize – for thrillers without violence against women – as a ‘gagging order’, after organisers said the genre could bias jurors

Crime novelists have hit out at the claim that fictional depictions of sexual assault influence the outcomes of rape cases, after a prize for books with no violence against women asserted that stereotypical portrayals of attackers could “seriously affect justice”.

The Staunch prize, awarded to a thriller in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered, was launched last year to “offer an alternative narrative to stories based around violence to women”. When it was announced, it was widely criticised by major writers including Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah. McDermid said that “as long as men commit appalling acts of misogyny and violence against women, I will write about it so that it does not go unnoticed”, and Hannah told her ...

Writing to resist the patriarchy: Olivia Laing on Darcey Steinke, Katherine Angel and Andrea Dworkin


This post is by Olivia Laing from Books | The Guardian


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Steinke’s Flash Count Diary, on the menopause; Angel’s Daddy Issues, on fathers in the #MeToo age; and Last Days at Hot Slit, a collection of Dworkin’s work, are all “books as actions”

Among the epigraphs in Flash Count Diary, Darcey Steinke’s incandescent account of the menopause, is a line from The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir: “The body is not a thing but a situation.” Steinke is being assailed, even menaced by hot flushes. They come with a warning: first an aura, a vertigo-inducing plunge into anxiety, then an explosion of heat. They hit her at work, in bed, bringing insomnia and depression in their wake. They can be generated by the smallest shift in temperature – a plate of scrambled eggs placed too close to her stomach, the door closing on a bus. Lying on her sofa in Brooklyn, “a slab of frozen ham balanced on ...

Bonkbusters are about so much more than sex and shopping


This post is by Sarah Hughes from Books | The Guardian


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Judith Krantz, who has died at 91, was a queen of the genre, putting confident women and their friendships to the fore

It was hard not to see the death of Judith Krantz at the age of 91 last week as the end of an era. Krantz was the “queen of the bonkbuster”, those glitzy novels with their gaudy covers and snappy often one-word titles – Scruples, Lace, Rivals – that dominated commercial fiction in the late 1970s and 1980s, spinning stories of fabulous lives lived at full tilt and stuffed full of sex, secrets and shopping.

As a teenager, I thrilled to those books: to Krantz’s Scruples, in which her formidable heroine, Billy Ikehorn (nee Winthrop), essentially anticipated the hipster shopping experience by about two decades, opening the shop that gave the book its title, a perfect pleasuredome with an on-site bar in which women tried ...

Over 40 and loving it: let’s celebrate fiction with positive older characters


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Too many books feature sterotypical older women who can’t use phones and don’t like sex. Gransnet and imprint HQ are looking for writers to change all that

There is a passage from Jilly Cooper’s Rivals which, despite first reading it in my early teens, has stayed with me, popping into my head with increasing frequency now I’ve stepped over the threshold into the over-40 bracket. Lizzie Vereker, the curvy, middle-aged wife whose rat of a husband is cheating on her, is contemplating her misery and “feeling rather old and dried-up”.

So she rubs “skin-food into her face, only to realise she’d forgotten her neck, which is supposed to betray your age most, so she rubbed the excess skin-food down into it. Then she remembered you were supposed never to rub skin-food downwards as it made your face droop. Would her life have been different, she wondered, if she’d always remembered ...