I’m a twenty-five-year-old woman, and I consider being a feminist a large part of my identity. Ten years ago, that wasn’t the case. Hell, five years that wasn’t the case.
Growing up, I fell victim to the narrative that many people do—feminism was an ugly word used to describe man-hating, overly sensitive, “politically-correct” (as if this were a bad thing), crazy people.
I believed that feminism sought to destroy the nuclear family, force women from the home, and spread anger and bitterness. I was ignorant to the real meaning of feminism and what it sought to do.
Privileged and sheltered, I grew up mostly ignorant to the fact that women are treated differently and that this is a problem. Was sexism was even a thing anymore? Surely that was over. It’s the twenty-first century after all. Oh, little me.
I have always been a huge book nerd. Since I was small, I have rarely been found without a book. I have always seen the value in women’s writing and narratives, and I was naïve and self-centered enough to think that other people saw things the way I did.
Later, while selecting the subject of my undergrad thesis, I realized something. When left to my own devices, I read almost exclusively female authors. I seemed mostly interested in women’s stories and struggles. Overtime, I also found myself vicariously experiencing the oppression of women through those stories.
As I chose my topic and began my research, these thoughts became more concrete. I decided to write about Edith Wharton and her novel The House of Mirth. The goal of my thesis was to highlight parts of the novel that coincided with the feminine literary tradition of American Sentimentalism. This tradition describes fiction written by women and for women, with female relationships and domestic life at the forefront.
During Wharton’s time, the Sentimental tradition was viewed as “trashy” by the great American writers (i.e. some white dudes). Instead, those writers were part of the school of Realism. Wharton, too, was part of this school. However, I argued that she also made use of feminine tradition, and that feminine did not mean lesser.
As I researched Wharton and her work, I became increasingly interested in the plight of women. For one, it was—and is—much harder to be taken seriously in your field when it is dominated by men.
Furthermore, as I dug deeper into the novel, I found many parts of the main character’s story standing out. One of the novel’s main themes is the woman as a beautiful ornament to be consumed. The importance this theme held for Wharton was made clear as I learned the book’s original title: A Moment’s Ornament.
The journey of reading Wharton and writing my thesis solidified many feminists beliefs in me—but I still didn’t know what to call them.
I, like many young people (I assume), learned that feminism was actually an okay thing when Emma Watson made her speech about gender equality at the UN. That same year Beyoncé performed at the VMAs in front of a large sign reading “FEMINIST.” Feminism was becoming “cool” and more accessible (and consumable, but that’s another story for another day).
As I had already been forming these beliefs and contemplating these issues, I was particularly receptive to Watson’s message. I eagerly and proudly began labeling myself a feminist. After a while, however, I was not content to leave it at that.
My feminism became especially real to me when I learned the term rape culture. I first read about it when prominent universities in my city were in local and national newspapers for the horrendous behaviour of some of their students. I was shocked and appalled. The more I looked into rape culture, the more I realized that while yes, I should most definitely be appalled, I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s a huge, widespread problem.
This is how author Emilie Buckwold defines rape culture (emphasis mine):
[Rape culture is] a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm . . . In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable . . . However . . . much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.
The idea of rape culture enraged me, and rightly so. That anger became a driving force behind much my reading. I continue to educate myself on these issues daily. I write things like this and sometimes post them on my blog.
Reading has expanded my mind, grown my empathy and compassion, and given me a peek into experiences I may not have otherwise seen. With an open mind and a critical eye, I think reading has made me a better person.
And a feminist.
This is really hard when those people disagree on things that are so close to your core. But that doesn’t make those people stupid. It means they value different things. Sometimes this is because they are just that–different from you. Sometimes it’s because they have internalized prejudices that they may not even be aware of (and no one is immune to this). But either way, the only chance you have of them listening to you is to treat them with a modicum of respect.
What are you going to do?
With fall comes the cold, the return of responsibility. Even now that I’ve been done with school for a few years, I still feel victim to the same clock. Whether or not I actually took vacation in the summer, it feels like vacation is over.
While there are plenty of things I love about fall (tonnes, really), I hate to see summer go. I hate to think of my parents’ cottage cold and uninhabited. I hate to think that I have to wait a whole year to lay on the beach with the warm sea breeze. I hate that fall signals the inevitable decline into winter. I don’t know about where you’re from, but here, fall is short and winter is long. Not only that, but winter is pretty terrible.
So really, I have no problem with fall. I might enjoy it, even. But it means winter is coming soon, and that I dread.
In an effort to keep my mind in the present and not look ahead to the dreary, blustery days of winter, I’ve compiled some of the best quotes about fall to put me in an autumnal mood.
“But when fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.” ― Stephen King, Salem’s Lot
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” ― LM Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” ― Albert Camus
“Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn–that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness–that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.” ― Jane Austen, Persuasion
“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.”― John Donne
“It was a beautiful bright autumn day, with air like cider and a sky so blue you could drown in it.” ― Diana Gabaldon, Outlander
“Days decrease, / And autumn grows, autumn in everything.” ― Robert Browning
“For as long as she could remember, she had thought that autumn air went well with books, that the two both somehow belonged with blankets, comfortable armchairs, and big cups of coffee or tea.” ― Katarina Bivald, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird, I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” ― George Eliot
“Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting, and autumn a mosaic of them all.”― Stanley Horowitz
“I loved autumn, the one season of the year that God seemed to have put there just for the beauty of it.”― Lee Maynard
“Every leaf speaks bliss to me / Fluttering from the autumn tree.”― Emily Brontë
Eight months or so ago, I discovered the work of prominent feminist writer and activist, Jessica Valenti. She’s been doing great work for several years (which, apparently, I’ve been oblivious to), including writing and co-writing six books and founding the website Feministing. After reading some of her stuff, I began eagerly anticipating the spring release of her memoir, Sex Object.
When Sex Object first came on my radar, I began frequently checking the library listings until I was able to put a hold on it. When it came in for me, it was crisp, shiny, and new in its protective plastic sleeve. I wanted to eat it.
The moment I got home, book in hand, I cracked it open and began to read. I devoured it.
Valenti’s writing is raw and unflinching. She draws you in and forces you to see the realities she presents. You can’t look away.
In Sex Object, Valenti presents essay after essay detailing her, often horrific, experiences. From a young age, there was a piece of her identity that was thrust upon her: sex object. She did nothing to garner this attention, but it was given nonetheless.
A high school teacher once told me that identity is half what we tell ourselves and half what we tell other people about ourselves. But the missing piece he didn’t mention—the piece that holds so much weight, especially in the minds of young women and girls—is the stories that other people tell us about ourselves.
Valenti explores this with grueling honesty as she brings us back and forth in her timeline, detailing the ways this has affected her life and continues to do so—in countless and different forms.
When I reached around the halfway point, I knew this wasn’t a book I could just finish and forget about. It wasn’t a book that I could return to the library and never really look at again. So, naturally, mid-read, I went out and bought myself a copy.
Don’t get me wrong—this isn’t a perfect book. However, it is an honest and important read. Stories like Valenti’s are key pieces in the broader conversation that we all need to be having about sexism, objectification, and harassment. I may have read some fair critiques of Sex Obect, but none of them take away from its value.
One such critique is the seemingly haphazard array of stories throughout Sex Object. The transitions between chapters and sections are often quite jarring. You go from one horrific tale to the beginning of a seemingly innocuous anecdote several years later, and so on and so forth.
I don’t find this a detracting factor. I think this pattern of storytelling embodies what Sex Object is all about. It is jarring and uncomfortable to suddenly find yourself the center of unwanted, sometimes aggressive, sexual behaviour and attention.
While reading Sex Object, I found that I don’t share much of Valenti’s personal experience. I didn’t grow up in a large city. I didn’t use public transit (and still don’t). I grew up in an upper-middle class family, in a small, insular community. I wasn’t exposed to the same things Valenti was as she grew up and matured as a woman. If I experienced such objectification, it was always rare, and almost always treated with a laugh. It was never to such an extreme that I felt more than a little uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, however, things have changed. I’m still not in anywhere near the same circumstances as Valenti, but I now find myself relating to her stories more than ever.
Over the last nine months, I’ve dropped four dress sizes. For the most part, I am proud of myself and feel good and healthy. However, when summer came, I was awash with attention I’d previously rarely received.
When I changed to a summery wardrobe, I wore dresses that exposed (gasp!) my legs, and tops that exposed (gasp!) my shoulders, and things with waistlines that were (gasp!) fitted. And men have noticed. And they have been vocal about it. This is insulting and uncomfortable on so many levels.
I first noticed it at work. Customers gawking at me as I walk by. Male customers repeatedly seeking my help with things they don’t actually need help with. Older men calling me “sweetheart” and plying me with “harmless” flirtatious conversation where they hadn’t before.
This doesn’t just happen at work.
I’ve recently moved into the city and have taken to going for walks regularly. It never occurred to me that an afternoon stroll alone (or even with another girl) might be an occasionally uncomfortable experience. But it is.
I’m a library assistant. Before that, I worked in retail. Smiling at strangers is second nature to me. I do it without even thinking. However, on my walks, I’ve now started to think about it. And stop myself. Just look straight ahead, I tell myself when I pass people on the street.
I know that not everyone is a creep, but at this point I’ve had too many men leer at me in response. I don’t want to see it. I try not to. I try not hear the honks or shouts or whistles as cars drive by.
These incidents may not all happen in rapid succession, but they happen at least once a day. I had been so proud of my weight loss. But now, some days, I feel worse than ever. Outfits that had previously made me feel pretty give me pause. What kind of attention do I want to receive today? I have to scold myself.
If I let thoughts of these men decide what I’m going to wear or do, I’m just giving them more power. And honestly, that’s what they’re after. They seem to think that their thoughts and desires—and the expression of such—are more important than my comfort or safety. They don’t see me as a person.
But I am a person. I am a person with thoughts, feelings, and my own identity. We all are. I wish there was a magic wand I could wave to change this about the world. But, sadly, there isn’t. All we can do is keep our heads up, not accept this as “normal,” and keep talking about it. This kind of attention is not a compliment. It’s harassment.
Valenti’s purpose in Sex Object is an important one. She will not brush off these things. She will not pretend that they don’t happen. She will not for one moment accept that they are in any way okay. Instead, she details her experiences and shows how not okaythey are, how horrible they are. She shows us that these are not one-offs. They are not harmless. These comments and actions are expressions of the deep-seated beliefs that society holds about women. They are a symptom of a greater problem. These attitudes lead to real violence against women.
While my daughter lives in a world that knows what happens to women is wrong, it has also accepted this wrongness as inevitable.
Although I am not a re-reader, I can see myself reading Sex Object again. It made me think about and reflect upon issues that I had previously not personally experienced. Its raw, unflinching, brutal honesty made me shudder at the realities women and girls face, every day. We, like Valenti, need to keep talking about this and stop brushing it aside. We need to stand up, reject this dehumanization, and not consider it “normal” or “inevitable.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to take my cue from Valenti. Society may try to make us out to be sex objects, but let us refuse to accept it.
My dear friends of the blogosphere,
There has been something I have been struggling with for a while: blogging. If you’ve stuck around this far, thank you. But I’m sure you’ve noticed the distinct lack of posts over the last few months. When I have posted, there has been little to no discussion or reviews of books.
I’ve been in a perpetual reading slump for months, and, instead of forcing anything, I’ve decided to embrace it. There are so many new and exciting things going on in my life right now that it hasn’t been difficult to fill the time.
During this time, I’ve been trying new things (both out of necessity and choice), and these have led to many new interests.
Because of this, I’ve come to a somewhat difficult, but fun (for me, anyway), decision: Fuelled by Fiction is going to get a makeover.
While the book-blogging world has been a blast, I’ve decided to diverge from that route. That’s not to say that I will be leaving the book blogging world altogether, but that Fuelled by Fiction will begin inhabiting other worlds as well.
In order to encompass all my passions, interests, and experiences, I’ve decided to shift to from being exclusively a book blog to a lifestyle blog. This way I can comfortably discuss my newbie kitchen adventures, the pressures of working part time and on a budget, how losing weight has effected my life and my budget, my love for my city, and myriad other topics. Right now, these are the things that I want to talk about. These are things that make me want to write. These are things that are taking up the majority of my time and my brain space. But, again, fear not: books will certainly not be leaving my radar.
I hope that you will join me as I make this change and chronicle my adventures in this new stage of life.
The nitty gritty
I will be slowly rolling out this change across the blog over the next month or so. Furthermore, for now I have no plans to change the name of the blog, but should that change, I’ll certainly keep you updated. Again, I hope you stick around and join me for the ride!
I don’t know if you’re a blogger, but I feel like many of you are. Personally, I’ve been a blogger for three years—but I really only count two of them. And yet, a lot of the time, I don’t feel like a “proper” book blogger. I don’t even really know what that looks like half the time, but I never really feel like that’s me.
When I started my blog, I did zero research. It started as a tumblog when I was in university. A friend of mine was obsessed with tumblr, and got me into it. When I wasn’t reblogging Doctor Who GIFs, I was posting my Goodreads reviews.
Soon enough, I came across Book Riot. I don’t really remember how I did that. But… It happened. It was a revelation for me. Look at this website! It’s all about books! From there I bounced around the internet and realized that there was a whole community of these book blogger people and I could be a part of it if I wanted.
I started cleaning up my blog and trying to make it presentable. I made a Twitter account, a Facebook page, got Bloglovin, and started following other blogs. Throughout this process, I started reading blogging tips and how-tos. There are a lot of really great tips out there, many of which I wish I had read before I started blogging.
However, there is one of these tips that has stuck with me and is often a niggling thought in the back of my mind. Whether the tip was coming from book bloggers or other kinds of bloggers, I’d seen it a few times in different iterations. And here it is: make sure you have a blog niche.
Now, before I had read these how-tos, I would have considered books my niche being a book blogger and all. But according to these tips, that’s just not specific enough. I should have some sort of gimmick, or draw. Focus on a certain genre. Be an expert in one narrow field.
This always threw me. How could I possibly focus on something more narrow than books? I’m a wide reader. I don’t have a favourite genre. I can’t stick to one! The thought of trying freaks me out. I would be so bored! Who wants to read the posts of a bored person? And as far as gimmicks go, I’m so not a gimmick person!
These thoughts, in some form or another, still make the rounds in my head from time to time. But you know what? I’ve come to a conclusion.
Fuelled by Fiction is my blog. What’s my niche, you ask? Me. My niche is me. I’m going to talk about what I love, what I’m interested in, and what makes me tick. And you know what? It’s not being an expert. At anything. If other people share my interests—whether that’s all of them or just one of them—then great! Let’s talk! But if not? Whatever.
I’ve learned that being a “successful” book blogger is a joke and should never be your goal. Maybe having a niche would help achieve that “success.” But why force it?
So you get sent the ARCs of the most anticipated releases? Good for you. I’m happy for you. Honestly, if I was sent that, it would probably just sit on my shelf gathering dust, despite my best intentions. So, good. It’s better that you have it anyway. You actually make money off your affiliate links? Cool. I’m glad for you. I was never in this for the money anyway (because, seriously, there’s none). You have thousands of followers on Bloglovin, Twitter, Instagram, etc? Cool. I’m probably one of them. If I get one thoughtful comment on a post, I consider it a win and good enough for me.
So, Fuelled by Fiction. It’s my corner of the internet. And I’m going to have fun with it. On here you will find my thoughts on life, books, entertainment, and anything in between. Primarily it’s a book blog. But it’s my blog, and my niche is me.
I’ve always been one to resist authority and obligation. I hate being told I have to do something, or feeling like I have to. Immediately all the fun is sucked out of it. This is even true of self-imposed obligations.
For example, I seriously doubt my ability to be a productive member of a book club. Even if it was a book I really wanted to read, just knowing that there was a certain date I’d have to read it by would ruin everything and get my rebellious juices going. If I did manage to get it read, I can guarantee you it was reluctantly—no matter how good the book was.
Personally, I have hundreds, if not thousands, of books on my TBR. Am I going to read all these? No. But I like having them there. It makes me happy to look at them. Granted, not all of them are physically on a TBR pile. However, I do have at least a couple hundred that are.
I know that there are many people who are intent on getting there TBR pile down and #readingtheirowndamnbooks, and good for them, but that has never been my way. I need to feel a certain connection in that moment to a book if I’m going to hunker down and read it.
This is usually an effort of trial and error in which I scan my shelves/the shelves in a bookstore/the shelves at the library, and read the first page of several different books that attract my attention. Sometimes this process goes rather quickly, and sometimes it takes quite a while. Generally, it ends when I come to a book and don’t want to put it down just yet. I want to read the next page. And the next. And then that’s the book that I’m reading.
I was telling this to a woman I work with the other day. She gave me a bit of a guffaw and didn’t understand how I could possibly operate that way. She said that she always has a stack of books that she is waiting to get to and always reads the one that’s next in line. I’m sure that works for her, and probably others. But I know that if I tried to read that way, I would be in a major reading slump half the time. I really need to connect to a book and be really interested in it in that moment. I know that might sound a little hokey, but I’ll admit it: I’m a fickle reader.
This is something that, especially when it comes to the library, does not always work in my favor. My funds are not endless (obviously), and in an effort to save space and those dolla dolla bills y’all, I try to make use of my library when I can (which is always, because I work there). But this doesn’t always go according to plan. If the book I want to read has a holds list, chances are by the time it comes in for me, I won’t be in the mood for it any more.
Honestly, I’m basically the worst library book reader. Not only is it the holds list issue, it’s the also the due date issue. Remember my dislike of obligation? I hate having that time limit. Do I take into consideration that it rarely takes me the allotted three weeks to read a book? No. Do I consider the possibility of renewing the title? No. Do I consider the fact that because I work there, there is really no repercussions if I return it a bit late? No. Just knowing that there is some kind of restriction placed on me ruffles my feathers.
And even considering all of these things and knowing this about myself, does that stop me from borrowing all the books? No! I’m a huge book gluten and can’t resist taking home those beautiful, shiny books. They just happen to come home, sit there for a while, and then go back to the library unread. Shrugs. I guess I just like to go where the wind takes me or whatever.
Life has been super weird lately. Things had been going pretty well, everything seeming to fall into place. Then I felt a familiar, unwelcome twinge. I could sense a shadow lurking around the corner, waiting to cover me in its darkness: a reading slump. It all started going downhill from there.
It came upon me slowly at first. Then all at once. While dipping my toes in a few good, interesting books, I found myself losing focus. I was gravitating to the television. To the mall. To friends. These things are not bad in themselves. They are pretty great, actually. But I was setting aside these great books, and pretty consistently.
In a vain effort to stave off the slump, I put those books down and cracked open some comics. I had hoped that a change of pace might revamp my momentum. And for a little while, it did. I caught up on the Amulet series, read a couple volumes of Sweet Tooth, and I powered through the first book of Y: The Last Man. But then… I got stuck halfway through the second book, even though it was awesome. I thought, maybe if I switch to a different series? But that didn’t help. I was officially in slump territory.
As a reader, I’m no stranger to the occasional reading slump—they happen to the best of us. But for me, this one has been different. This one has been lingering, and causing stagnation, not only in my reading life, but in other areas as well.
As of right now, I haven’t finished a book in two months—not since April. I read those comics in May, but since then, I’ve read basically nothing.
If you’re a reader, you may know the feelings that accompany a reading slump. The frustration, the listlessness, the discouragement, the lack of sense of accomplishment. And these feelings have been snowballing the longer my slump has been going on. Not only so, but, like I mentioned, they have been seeping into other aspects of my life as well.
Before my slump began, I had slowed down my reading to allow for more time to focus on other things. I found that to be a good thing, something that was enriching my life. But as my reading shrank to nothing, those feelings of enrichment ceased. When I am unable go out or be with friends, I long to fill my time with books—but I haven’t seemed to be able to do it. Nothing can keep my attention.
I haven’t been able to engage in conversations with colleagues about the latest books I’ve read because I haven’t been reading. I haven’t been able to join the discourse online because I haven’t been reading. I haven’t had anything to say on my blog because, again, I haven’t been reading.
Books are such an important part of my life, not only for personal enjoyment and growth, but as a means to connect to a broader community. These last few months without that sense of connection has led to a deep feeling of loss, disconnect, and disillusionment. It has led to questions of identity and belonging. And the timing of these things has led, essentially, to a full blown quarter life crisis.
I’m turning 25 in a month, and I am feeling incredibly disillusioned about life. Not only that, but I’m struggling to define my identity. I’ve always identified as a reader, but what am I outside of that? Who am I when I’m not reading or talking about books? What do I think? What do I believe? I’ve been questioning everything lately. There is nothing wrong with questioning—really it’s something we should all do more of. But I’ve been questioning things that have always been at my core. And it’s kind of scary.
I want this time of my life to be a fun and exciting adventure of self-discovery. But lately, none of it has been very fun at all. I think in general I’m a pretty positive person, but I’ve been having trouble feeling positive lately.
I’m moving out in a little under a month. I’m hoping that this new responsibility and independence will be the turning point for me and bring back the fun and excitement. And hopefully my reading will get back on track.