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Review: 50 Shades of Feminism

This collection of essays proves elegantly that feminism has its own narrative, language and collective shades of understanding, although fails to take advantage of an empathetic male perspective. Laura Hughes reviews.

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Feminists: a little too stridulous, militant and man-hatey? 50 Shades of Feminism elegantly proves feminism has its own narrative, language and collective shades of understanding. Formed of a series of short-form essays from a variety of women across society, including novelists, barristers and doctors, the novel asks "are women still regarded as the lesser sex? Tinted with the same old miserable submissive shades of grey?"

As a collection, these essays comparatively capture the varying shades of feminism and femininity; a woman's capacity for empathy, humour, brilliance and change. This is feminism rooted in experience, not academia. Each essay moves from subjects such as the evolution of the pill, sexual harassment in the work place, and saving the 'Bush.' The novel questions the Facebook facade and the girls encouraged to upload pictures of their supposedly thrilling lives, looking hot, fashionable and fuckable.

Tahmima Amam writes of the things your mother never told you, for fear you would demand a sex change, and yet writes fondly of the powerful gorgeous men with whom you will crave partnership throughout your life. The idea that both sexes feign away from self identifying as feminists, and that we live in a post feminism era, is made tragically risible.

The collection moves from personal experiences of oppression to the experiences of other women, breathing fresh life into old analysis. Marilyn Waring asks the reader to question the films we consume. Are there two or more women in the film? Do they talk to each other? Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

The reader is reminded that unconscious patterns of perception can be made conscious. Sayantani DasGupta, cleverly reminds a Western feminist to avoid voyeuristic recuse narratives, which teach 'us' about an oppressed 'them.' Referring to female genital cutting as FGM renders real resistance ineffective, as the activism then appears part of an imperial Western project.

Throughout the collection the contributors have woven factual support into their prose. Only 5 per cent of work in permanent British and American exhibitions is by women. Fifteen women, since 1969, have won the (Man) Booker Prize. In England and Wales women make up under ten per cent of the Queens Counsel and 25 per cent of judges. The lowest percentage in the Council of Europe besides Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In 2001 the World Health Organization report on 'Women's Lives and family relationships' reported that 60 per cent of women had experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Women perform two thirds of the world's work while owning just 1 per cent of the assets. Helena Kennedy QC talks with blunt brutality of the recurring cases of female sexploitation she bears witness to in the courts.

This isn't an agressive autobiography, and the humorous human shade of feminism radiates between the pages. If a man tells a sexist joke fight back, or perhaps enquire if he's heard about the miracle baby? Born with a penis and a brain.

Then there is the shade of feminism that connects politics to sex. Natalie Haynes draws on the parallels of Aristophanes' Lysistrata, and Marleen Temmerman's suggestion during Belgium's 2011 political standstill, that the issues as stake might be resolved if the sexual partners of those negotiating a deal went on a sex strike.

Whilst the novel undoubtably propagates the idea that a woman should learn to stand independently, my only issue with the collection is the absence of male contributors. If misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted by men on women, how can women reach an arm earnestly across the abyss without empathetic perspective? Surely men must hold up their current shape against the ideas that formed them, as must women. This novel succeeds in achieving the latter, but misses a vital trick with the former.

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