THE HANDMAID'S TALE
I read The Handmaid’s Tale aged about 14, on overhearing the recommendation of an older American cousin who read it as part of her undergraduate liberal arts degree. She had been deeply affected by it. I’m not sure if I ever told her I read it right away (my 14 year old self was immensely shy and reticent), so I should probably thank her for the tip. It’s a good age to have one’s inchoate feminist leanings jolted upright. The patriarchy in the novel seems fantastical yet utterly imaginable, plausible even. Faith in social progress is completely undone by the Prologue, in which an academic from the future, looks back on the society of The Handmaid’s Tale and explains it in apologist mode. More recently, I found myself on first meeting with a new 17 year old in my life noticing that it was what she was reading (hurrah for her dystopian novel A level module). I mentioned how I had loved it, and she looked witheringly at Dad and said ‘It’s feminist’. Solidarity of sorts established, I hope. I must re-read it. I’ve followed Atwood since, and give The Penelopiad to anyone feeling down in the dumps.
THE MYTH OF MARS AND VENUS
I have to thank my Worcester colleague Debbie Cameron for a laugh-out-loud complete debunking of The Myth of Mars and Venus. It’s chilling what passes as science these days when it comes to discussing the ‘male and female brain’. And the rank sexism, barely veiled in a strange confluence of psychobabble and brain ‘science’, that crops up in popular discussion on ‘men and women’. Sadly, too often, it seems to infiltrate discussions in heterosexual relationships too. Debbie’s book provides a short, sharp, properly funny refutation of the myth’s elements. It got me laughing again at a bad time. A subversive delight.