TV shows I watched in 2020 – an incomplete list

This list is vaguely in the order of when I watched things or when I started watching them. Almost half of them are on Netflix, others are on All 4 or NowTV. There’s a few I watched on a proper tv channel. I actually streamed The Good Fight on the RTE player and it wasn’t terrible.

1. Sex Education (Series 1 & 2)
2. Big Mouth (Series 1 – 3)
I started watching both of these on my tablet on the plane back from Spain at the start of the year. They’re both a bit saucy and maybe not completely suitable to watch in a public place, but it was a late flight and I was tucked in against the window. Unlike the time I watched the first episode of You’re The Worst on another flight. It was on Aer Lingus’s in-flight entertainment list and I wanted to have a look to see what they’d cut. The answer was nothing. They had cut nothing. I was sitting in the aisle and I had to turn if off during Jimmy and Gretchen’s first sex scene out of sheer embarrassment.
Sex Education is sweet and fun and Gillian Anderson is wonderful in it. Big Mouth is surreal and subversive and deeply weird. I loved them both.

3. This Life (Series 1)
This kicked off a year of rewatching tv from the 90s. I wrote a bit about what it was like watching something after a 15 year gap here. I enjoyed it immensely, for the nostalgia factor and because it’s great telly.

4. ER (Series 1 – 9)
Anther rewatch that I’m really enjoying, and I still have 6 more seasons to go. I saw lot of it the first time round and it’s really interesting to revisit a much loved show. It’s still very good, especially the first handful of series when I think they were really doing something new. We’re now up to series 9 and it’s getting a little bit ropey – Rocket had had his first run-in with the helicopter. I’ll say no more.

5. Unorthodox
I watched this around the beginning of the first lockdown. It’s ridiculously good, and a good distraction from unpleasant world events.

6. Collateral
There’s a bit too much going on in this BBC drama and not all of it added up. It wasn’t terrible.

7. Press
This confused me. The set-up is tabloid v’s broadsheet but everyone keeps switching sides, and the overall message seemed to be the press are terrible.

8. New Girl (Series 1 – 7)
I’d seen the first couple of series but it was lovely to revisit and to watch to the very end. It’s a very charming show, and it’s also really funny. The characters are ridiculous and I love them all.

9. Chernobyl
I watched this around Easter time when everything was pretty grim. It kinda helped. It reminded me that things could be worse. I learnt a lot about something that I thought I knew about but didn’t really. I didn’t know the level to which the government lied about what happened. I thought it was a great series.

10. Succession
I tried watching Succession a couple of years ago and gave up after two episodes. I hated all the characters and I just didn’t have time for them. (That baseball game in the first episode is so horrible.) In lockdown, I gave it a second chance and it was either the pandemic or the numerous awards and accolades it has collected since then, but it clicked for me the second time around and I enjoyed it immensely. I still think they’re all terrible people but now I enjoying watching them be terrible to each other. I also enjoy seeing the similarities between it and Peep Show. With Succession, you don’t need to hear the inner monologue, you just see it on their faces.

11. Run
This was a bit of a disappointment. It started rather beautifully with two college sweethearts abandoning their old lives and getting back together on a whim, after not seeing each other for 10+ years. They run away together by train and there’s some lovely scenes in the first couple of episodes where they’re working out where they stand with each and how much they want to disclose about their current life. Then they get off the train and the whole thing goes off the rails. There’s a big bag of cash and an accidental murder. Phoebe Waller-Bridge turns up as a taxidermist who sings karaoke, and there’s a mysterious man we never meet but who loves mac & cheese. It’s gets strange and confusing. It’s a shame. The other snag for me is that Domhnall Gleeson plays a motivational speaker, and an Irish man. Are there any Irish motivational speakers? I don’t think as a people we have the right temperament for it.

12. Normal People
This show made me miss everything. It made me miss college. It made me miss parties and pubs and wandering through Trinity on a sunny day. It even made me a little bit sentimental about the Leaving Cert. When I read the book, I read it in short bursts. It felt too intense and I needed to take frequent breaks from the characters because being inside their heads felt claustrophobic. For me, the tv show did a great job of capturing that same feeling.

13. I May Destroy You
In a throwback to the way we used to watch television, I missed the first episode of this series and instead of trying to find it online, I just watched from episode 2. This might be why the show always felt slightly off kilter to me, but I also think that might be what they were going for. I feel like it broke a lot of tv rules, especially for a half-hour show which are usually sitcoms, and instead this was pitch dark. It also jumped around time-lines and switched protagonists a lot. Some of the scenes had a dreamlike or fantasy quality even when they weren’t. It used social media really well, and it played with addressing the audience directly without breaking the fourth wall. It was sublime. I read a lot about the show when I finished because I wanted to know more. It left room for me to interpret things for myself and decide what I felt had happened and I loved that.

14. Schitt’s Creek (Series 6)
The final series of Schitt’s Creek was so nice. I loved being reunited with the Roses during lockdown, and it was such a happy reunion. Seeing them win all those Emmys later in the year was also very nice!

15. The Umbrella Academy (Series 2)
I love this ridiculous show about a dysfunctional family of superheroes. It just makes me happy. I also love a bit of time travel and setting the series in 1963 really worked for me.

16. What We Do In the Shadows (Series 2)
This vampire comedy was as wonderful as the first series. I really enjoyed Guillermo learning to value himself and his unique talents, and all the petty grudges between the vampires. It’s just really, really funny.

17. Mrs America
I loved this show about the feminist activists in America in the 1970s and their work to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. It was about a period of American history I didn’t know much about and I thought it was told really well, particularly as they covered big chunks of time. I liked the story and the characters. It also felt very relevant, especially in relation to politics in America this year.

18. Jane The Virgin (Series 4 & 5)
I finished this wonderful series this year and I miss the Villanueva women terribly. It took me about a year to finish the first series and then it clicked for me and I watched the second series in a matter of weeks. It is an unusual show; it takes a bit of getting used to. It’s part telenovela, part magic realism. There’s a narrator who drops clues about what’s going to happen next. There’s lots of fantasy sequences and a few song and dance numbers. There’s a lot to romance and love triangles. It has the most ridiculous soap plots – like the central premise of a woman who gets pregnant before she has sex – but it also has such heart and such wonderful characters that you really feel for them when they are entangled with criminal masterminds or evil twins.

19. Homeland (Series 8)
I have watched Homeland since the beginning. It has had its ups and downs. I’ve almost given up on it many times but I keep coming back because I love Clare Danes and Mandy Patinkin. And I am so glad I did because they did a really good final series and gave those characters a great ending and I was so glad.

20. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I’m only a couple of series in to this rewatch, which was prompted by Emily Nussbaum’s tweets about her own rewatch. I remember so much of this show so clearly, particularly the terrible monster costumes. I love it, though some episodes make me really wish I could go read a recap on Television Without Pity after watching. I feel that way about ER as well sometimes. Recaps made every show better, I miss the snark.

21. I Hate Suzie
One of my favourite things I watched this year. It had this really dark centre that showed all the shit women put up with, but then dressed it up with jokes and songs and dream-sequences and fabulous clothes. (Personally I was very taken by Suzie’s fringed dressing gown.) In a way, that’s what being a woman in a patriarchal society is like – pretty shit but we do our best to dress it up and get on with things. I loved the characters, I loved the writing, I loved the visual style of it. I want to watch it again.

22. The Deceived
This murder mystery is written by Lisa McGee and set in Cambridge and Donegal. It’s pretty good, though I didn’t really like the vague supernatural aspects of it. I did like that almost everyone in it was a bit of a baddie, or at least telling a few fibs.

23. Misfits (Series 1 & 2)
Another very enjoyable rewatch. It’s such a ridiculous premise – a bunch of teenagers suddenly get superpowers, while they’re doing community service – but it’s done so well. They have so much fun with it that it’s just really enjoyable. There are three more series but we stopped after two, before it starts taking itself a bit too seriously and is a lot less fun.

24. The Good Fight (Series 4)
I love this show so much. I started watching the new series the day after Joe Biden was officially declared the winner of the US Election, and I think that was the perfect time to see the weird and wonderful series opener. This series is slightly shorter than usual but includes eccentric bosses and a good old-fashioned conspiracy. It also has it’s usual episodes inspired by real-life events.

25. The Undoing
This was all a bit of a mess really. Far too many red herrings and too many scenes that were maybe memories or maybe imaginings. Some of the clothes were fun and I enjoy Donald Sutherland but if you haven’t seen it, I wouldn’t bother.

26. Stath Lets Flats (Series 1 & 2)
This is a very sweet show. There is something of Kimmy Schmidt about Stath, if Kimmy was a Greek estate agent. He and his sister Sophie are just too pure for this world. I’m delighted that there’s going to be a third series, I can’t wait.

27. Glow (Series 1 – 3)
I rewatched this after it was announced that the previously commissioned fourth series had been cancelled. So it was a bittersweet rewatch but I did get to watch it with my sister who hadn’t seen it before and that was nice. It’s a wonderful show and I love how it branches out and goes deeper with each series. I’m still so disappointed that we don’t get to see what happens next. Are the series four scripts anywhere on the internet?

28. His Dark Materials (Series 2)
This show feels Christmassy to me. Partly because it’s on at the tail-end of the year but mostly because it’s on Sunday evening, which is when I watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a tiny child which is another snowy series based on a book with a Christian allegory at its heart that also makes me think of Christmas. It’s also an enjoyable adaptation.

Soap, and other possible Christmas gifts

Does a bar of soap make a good Christmas present? I’m not talking about handmade soap. (Though the header image for this post is from a crafting blog called Gluestick and a post about making your own soap if you’d like to give it a try. Everything I know about making soap I learnt from Fight Club which is not a good guide to follow.) I’m talking about soap that you buy. Would you be glad to get it or does it feel like an obligation gift from someone who doesn’t know you very well? I think soap is an acceptable present – like socks it’s a good backup because everybody needs it. Particularly this year.

The soaps below are maybe more everyday soaps than gift-soaps, but this is a good thing because it means they’ll get used instead of being “saved for best”. I’ve written before about trying to cut down on plastic, and using solid soap is a really easy way to do that. And according to the Irish Times, “The production of liquid soap requires five times more energy for raw material and almost 20 times more energy for packaging production than a bar of soap.” All the more reason to buy a bar for yourself or to give one to someone you love!

These are all soaps that I have bought and used this year.

  1. The Handmade Soap Company

I bought this soap from Designist back in April. It’s handmade in Slane in Co. Meath and comes in a cardboard box so there’s no plastic involved at all. They have a nice selection of scents and it’s available all over the country, and the around world. You can find a full list of stockists here or order online directly from the company here. They also sell that other 2020 essential – hand sanitiser.

I haven’t been to the physical shop in almost a year but I always love a wander around the Designist shop on George’s Street because you never know what weird and wonderful things you might find there. In April, I was on their website looking for a bedside clock to help me stop using my phone at night. I also bought some Irish-made cards to send to friends and family during lockdown.

Designist sell lots of soap but they also have an interesting collection of books and lots of great kid’s toys. It’s a great place to buy a few Christmas presents. If you don’t know anyone who’d appreciate a bar of soap for Christmas, maybe they’d like a vegan cheese making kit or some gold iron-on patches. It’s also a great place to get really creative Christmas cards.

2. Bí Urban

For anyone living in Dublin 7, this is an extremely local soap. It’s handmade in Stoneybatter using over 50% locally foraged ingredients including discarded carrier oils from Lilliput Trading Company. It’s a really solid soap and holds its shape down to the last sliver!

As far as I know, it’s only available in Bí Urban on Manor Street in Stoneybatter. You can order the soap online but have to visit the shop to collect it, though they do say you can email to arrange getting items posted out. There are lots of other interesting things for sale from the shop including bamboo toothbrushes, local honey and the Bí & Sea Exfoliating Face Mask Kit, which is one of a number of Bí Therapy products.

Bí Urban is more than just a shop. They describe themselves as “a nature based social enterprise promoting health and well-being” and are working on a number of interesting projects, which aim to increase biodiversity in Dublin city and protest pollinators. It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area.

3. L’Occitane

This is the only non-Irish soap on the list but I’m a long-time fan of L’Occitane so I had to include them. We’re in more traditional Christmas present territory here. They do lots of lovely Christmas gift including a selection of guest soaps. But they also have lots of regular soaps. The soaps are really moisturising so they’re great for people who tend to get dry skin in cold weather or from a lot of hand-washing. I also recommend the Shea Butter hand-cream if your hands need an extra bit of TLC this winter.


All their products are palm oil free and they have recycling programming where you bring in your empty beauty and skin care products from any brand and they will give you 10% off your next purchase. I haven’t done this myself yet, but I do have a bag of plastic pots that I am planning to bring in at some stage.

4. Mr. Bloom’s Lemon Soap

Last the summer, on a stunningly sunny Saturday morning I visited the Museum of Literature (MoLI) on Stephen’s Green for the first time. I was keen to see the building and was particularly interested in their Nuala O’Faolain exhibition. I’d just finished reading her biography Are You Somebody? The book is wonderful, full of the inner life of the author but also really interesting about art and culture in Ireland in the 1960s and 70s. I enjoyed the insights into her working life, particularly her career in television.

I really enjoyed my visit to MoLI. I loved the beautiful building and the garden at the back, as well as the exhibitions. I also visiting the gift shop where I bought a bar of Mr. Bloom’s Lemon Soap.

This soap already had a blog-post written about it by it’s creators. It might be a bit gimmicky but it has a lovely fresh scent and does the job.

Now that museums are open again, I would recommend a visit to MoLI. The Nuala O’Faolin exhibition is still running and I also really enjoyed the poetry room where the poem you hear depends on where you’re standing in the room. The poetry is also running across the walls.

The gift-shop is also worth a visit while you’re there. But if you can’t get there, you can still buy Mr. Bloom’s Lemon Soap on their website. There’s also a wide selection of Irish books, including Are You Somebody? And other gift type things like a Poolbeg Towers ornament or some fancy stationery.

Five Favourite Newsletters

Newsletters, Tiny Letters, SubStacks, whatever you want to call them, I love getting these updates from people’s lives in my inbox. I’ve always loved email. I subscribed to so many mailing lists in the pre-social media days of the internet that email was how I first got to know people online. Email is still the first thing I open when I sit down at my computer.

A good newsletter can feel like a great secret and it feels a little bit odd to be talking about my favourites out in public like this. Maybe it’s because they are sent directly to me and that makes them seem private and personal, or maybe because they remind me of the early days of online journals when every newly discovered site felt like it belonged to me alone. But I like sharing the things I love, and I can console myself with the fact that very few people read this blog, so they will remain mostly secret!

These are five (plus one bonus one) of my favourite free newsletters.

Continue reading “Five Favourite Newsletters”

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas

All year we’ve been told that the current climate emergency means that we need to say goodbye to business as usual, that we cannot keep living as we currently do if we want the planet to still be habitable beyond the next 10-15 years. In a lot of ways, Christmas is the exact opposite of sustainable living. Christmas is about eating too much, giving presents, sparkly things, buying stuff, spending too much money and general rampant consumerism. It’s also about tradition. It’s a festival dedicated to doing things because that’s how we’ve always done them. This can mean everything from hanging the 20-year old Christmas decorations that your parents bought the first Christmas they were married to boiling up a big pot of Brussel sprouts even though nobody will eat them. Obviously some traditions are more ecologically sound than others. But this Christmas, for the sake of the planet, let’s embrace change and do things differently.

Continue reading “I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas”

11 Things I Learnt at the 2019 Dublin Fringe Festival

I really enjoyed this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival. It was two weeks of booking more shows than I could really afford and seeing wonderful performances all over the city. It’s one of my favourite times of year. I love coming out of a half six show while it’s still bright out and then heading off to see something else. I love bumping into friends in theatre foyers and hearing what they’ve seen or what they recommend. Here are some of the things I learnt over the course of the festival.

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Nine reasons why I haven’t posted anything in months

1. I’ve been writing off-line things.

2. I have big ideas for big things I want to write about but I get intimidated by the subject matter.

3. I’ve been watching television instead.

4. And reading books.

5. And going on holiday.

6. I have a full time job that involves sitting in front of a computer screen all day. Most days I don’t want to do that all evening as well.

7. It’s really easy to get out of the habit of writing, and really hard to get back into it.

8. Writing is hard.

9. I can’t remember how to write or why I even want to.

…but I think I’m slowly remembering again.

New Year Resolutions – it’s never too late!

It felt like January would never end but it’s finally drawing to a close and on Friday it will be February. Soon, there will be more light in the sky and green buds appearing everywhere. It’s a new beginning, and there is still time for new year’s resolutions. The resolutions you made in the final days of December might be cracked and broken but you can still make fresh, bright new ones! Resolutions that aren’t about punishing yourself for the excesses of Christmas. Resolutions that don’t involve giving things up.

Here are six resolutions that are designed to add something to your life and make it better. They are all a bit earnest and do-gooder-y but they are definitely better than a juice cleanse.

Continue reading “New Year Resolutions – it’s never too late!”

7 ways to start preparing for the next recession now

Based on nothing more than a hunch, I think there’s another recession coming. A hunch, and the fact that stock markets are plummeting, the US is becoming increasingly unstable and if the UK succeed in crashing out of the EU, they are going to take us down with them. At home, the soaring rents and house prices aren’t sustainable – can’t be sustainable – and in the boom and bust cycle which we seem cursed to repeat, that means a recession is on it’s way.

Nearly €2.5bn wiped off Irish stocks amid global slump
From the Irish Times on Dec 6th 2018

After seeing this terrifying headline early this month, I started thinking about what I could do to prepare for this inevitable recession. I always feel better when I have a plan.

My plan does make some big assumptions. It buys into the narrative that there’s more money sloshing around right now than there was 5-10 years ago. I know this isn’t true for everyone. There are over 10,000 homeless people in Ireland. There are children growing up in hotel rooms. Over 15% of the population is living under the poverty line and the income gap is growing all the time. People are working good jobs and still broke because their salary is being eaten up by rent.

This silly listicle will not be relevant to a lot of people and I’m sorry about that. A better way to prepare for a recession would be for the government to take the Apple tax (and the Google tax, and the Facebook tax) and invest it in social housing and other public services. I can’t make that happen so here are some things to do instead.

1. Get out of debt.
Obvious one first. Pay off your loans, clear your credit card, get out of your overdraft. If you find yourself penniless and out of work, you don’t want to owe the bank anything. You’ll miss repayments and the interest will just keep clocking up. Clearing debt is a very boring use of money but if you are lucky enough to have a bit of extra cash now, invest it in becoming debt-free as soon as possible.

This also means that if you have a future financial emergency, those lines of credit will be available to you and might help you ride out the recession.

2. Save.
Another boring, practical piece of advice – start saving. Preferably with a credit union because it’s easier to borrow from them. Set up a savings account and a weekly (or monthly) direct debit into it. Even if it’s only for a small amount, some savings are better than none and being a regular saver looks good when you go looking for a loan. I also like the credit union because it’s hard to get at the money. There’s no cards or electronic transfers, you have to physically go into the building. That helps my savings grow!

3. Learn to cook
The cheapest way to eat well is to cook for yourself. It doesn’t have to be fancy just learn how to make the thing you like. The BBC Good Food website has lots of easy recipes with clear instructions. (Personally I really like this two-step recipe for chicken, sweet potato and coconut curry.) Cooking well isn’t hard but it takes a bit of practice. Better to make your mistakes when you can afford to, so if the meal is completely inedible there’s a pizza in the freezer you can have instead.

Inviting friends over for dinner is also a good way to enhance your social life during a recession when nobody can afford to go out. Finally, as well as being able to feed yourself and others, being able to spend time preparing good grub is a great when you have too much time on your hands, because of unemployment or under-employment.

4. Invest in clothes that last, especially shoes/boots/coats.
If you can afford it, spend money on good quality shoes and coats that will see you through a few winters. This is good advice from a budgetary and environmental point of view but also because you find yourself walking more in a recession and it’s good to have things that keep you warm and dry.

5. Join the library! All those books!
Libraries are great. Not only are they full of books that you can take away for free, they are also warm places you can go and use the internet without spending any money. You’ll also be grateful for their weird collection of DVDs when you have to cancel your Netflix subscription and can’t afford to go to the cinema. You could argue that you don’t need to join a library now, but having lots of members help libraries stay open and (I imagine) help them argue for budget increases, so by joining today you can help make sure they’re still there when you need them. Also did I mention the free books?

Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times, part of Patrick Freyne's article on the Dublin Central Library in the Ilac Centre.
Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times, part of Patrick Freyne’s article on the Dublin Central Library in the Ilac Centre.

6. Vote for anti-capitalists.
I don’t know if the general election is going to happen before or after the recession hits but when it does, you should vote with the recession in mind. We need a government who doesn’t always take the side of the property developers or the landlords or the banks. We need more tenants and less landlords in the Dáil. We need more socialists who will increase investment in public services. We need people who will put an end to the boom and bust cycles.

Leo Varankar described himself as “the CEO of the organisation” on the Late Late Show recently. CEOs tend to be selfish, power-mad psychopaths and we shouldn’t let them be in charge anymore. We need a leader who is less like a CEO and more like a caretaker. Someone who looks after the country and has it’s best interests at heart, someone who identifies where cuts can be made and also where we need to invest. Someone who understands that they don’t own the country, they’re just looking after the place for bit. Please vote for someone like that, when the time comes!

7. Look on the bright side…
…a recession might be the only thing that will bring down our carbon emissions. The last recession really helped with that but they started climbing again as soon as the economy started to recover. Yes, this is clutching at straws and it is a fairly bleak bright side but we were identified as the worst offender in the EU for carbon emission last week, which is another super bleak and depressing headline, so I’ll take any bright side I can find. We need a few more politicians who give a shit about global warming in the next Dáil as well.

Why I give blood

Last week I went to the blood donor clinic. You have to wait three months between each blood donation, but it’s probably been about 12 months since I’d last donated. Last time I went it was really busy and I left without even signing in. The time before that my iron was too low and I was told to go see my doctor and wait six months before donating again. I’m not great at giving blood regularly and I definitely haven’t given as much as I could. I’ve been doing it for about 15 years and last week was my 19th donation. (I think I get a prize for my 20th which is exciting!) But despite my patchy record, one of the nurses we looked at my chart asked me why I’d donated so much and why I kept coming back. I didn’t really want to tell him that I just did it for the free biscuits – though that is a big part of it – so I told him I did it because I know lots of people who can’t donate and it’s easy for me, so I do it.

That’s just one of the reasons. There are lots of others:

  1. Free biscuits. I can’t lie, they are part of why I go there. When I started there used to be free mini-rolls. Now it’s custard creams and blue ribbon wafer bars, but they’re still free!
  2. There’s a great view from the canteen in the Blood Donor Clinic on D’Olier Street. It looks down over O’Connell Bridge and you have to hang out there after you donate and enjoy the view.
  3. It’s a really easy way to do something good. There are so many reasons why people can’t give blood, varying from where they’d lived or the medication they’re on, to whether they’ve just had a baby or a tattoo. I feel like if I’m able to give blood, I should. I have no problems with needles and generally don’t have any problems after donating. I can’t say never because I nearly fainted in the canteen once. Thankfully the nurse behind the counter spotted me losing conciseness and had me lying on the ground with my legs raised before I actually fell out of the chair! They even have a pillow in the canteen for just this reason, which makes it seem almost normal and helped me feel less of a tit!
  4. The lovely staff. Everyone is really nice to you in the blood donor clinic. They thank you so many times for coming in, even when your blood is rejected! And my blood has been rejected many times. Mostly for low iron and once because I’d just had the mumps vaccine and it’s one of the few live vaccines that you can’t donate after.
  5. Giving blood is a sneaky way to get my iron checked. You are not supposed to give blood for this reason and it’s probably not even a particularly accurate way to test it because I think it only gives a tiny snapshot. I’m prone to low iron so I do find it useful to get a quickie look at my iron levels every now and again.

I give blood because it makes me feel good. It’s easy, it doesn’t hurt and it costs me nothing. I just hang out in the clinic for an hour, where everyone is really nice to me and gives me free biscuits. I do it because someone else needs that blood more than I do. While I’m munching on my free biscuits and enjoying the view, someone else is fighting for their life. Why wouldn’t I give blood if it can help? It’s so easy to make more that I don’t even feel like I’ve lost anything afterwards.

There’s a lot of scary things happening in the world at the moment – Trump, terrorism, Brexit – and it’s easy to feel helpless. Giving blood makes me feel less helpless.

If you’re interested in donating, for the first or fifth or fourteenth time – visit giveblood.ie to find out if you are able to give blood and where your nearest clinic is.

Currently reading: feminist literature

Over the last year and a bit I’ve been reading a lot of books about feminism. Partly as research for a thing I’m writing but mostly just because I’m interested. (This is also why I’m writing about it!)

Here is a short round-up of my feminist reading list.

The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer

FemaleEunchGermaine Greer’s feminist manifesto seems to me to be the grandmother of all feminist texts, the one that started the second wave of feminism. First published in 1970, it attempts to cover all aspects of being a woman under the headings Body, Soul and Love. This edition was published in 2006 and includes a new foreword by Greer about what the world is like for women at the beginning of the 21st century.

I didn’t find the book as informative or as an inspiring as I’d hoped. The second wave of feminism is a movement that I’m very familiar with which meant it felt more dated than revolutionary. It’s very much one-woman’s view of the world and how women should think and behave, it’s a bit too academic and a bit too bossy for my tastes.

The added extras at the back include a essay by Elizabeth Wurtzel called The New C-Word, which I did find interesting. It condemns the notion that feminism is all about choice; that anything a woman chooses to do is a feminist action. She writes “To say anything goes, feminism is whatever you believe it is, not only renders the movement meaningless but also amounts to a demand for rights without responsibility…We don’t have to respect everyone’s choices and we do have to say to certain women that they are behaving like idiots, that their choices are not good enough for a feminist world.”

The Guardian recently listed The Female Eunuch as one of it’s 100 best nonfiction books, they obviously liked it more than I did!

The Feminine Mystic, Betty Friedan

FeminineMystiqueThe Feminine Mystic was first published in the 1963 but to me, it felt more relevant and contemporary than The Female Eunuch. I liked the fact that there was so much research behind it. Fifteen years after they graduated, Friedan sent an intensive questionnaire to her college classmates. She got responses from 200 women. She also interviewed 80 women and analysed popular media, namely women’s magazines. She looked at how women are described in these magazines, in articles and in fiction, and what that says about how women are perceived by society. Similar studies done today look at female roles in tv and film, such as the fascinating Largest Ever Analysis of Film Dialogue by Gender.

Frieden coined the phrase “the problem that has no name” for the yearning and dissatisfaction that American housewives felt in the 1950s and 1960s. This problem often manifested itself in physical as well as psychological symptoms. These women got married in their early twenties and were constantly told, particularly by advertisers, that being a wife and mother was the most worthwhile thing they could possibly aspire to. Friedan’s descriptions of how home-making was marketed to women in the 1950s reminded me of the early Noughties when domesticity was very much back in fashion. Women were sold an idealised cupcakes-and-crafts version of femininity and the Domestic Goddess was (re)born. The battle for equality seems to be circular. American women found a place outside the home during WW II but afterwards they were aggressively encouraged to go back to being a housewife. The cult of domestic goddess was a reaction to the 80s Career Women and the Ladette of the 90s. Even in the early Irish State, after women played key roles in the trade union movement, the Easter Rising and the War of Independence, once freedom was achieved De Valera’s government sent them swiftly back into the home, literally writing it into Article 41.2 of the constitution. A lot of work has gone into keeping women in the home over the years.

Girls Will Be Girls, Emer O’Toole

GirlsWillBeGirlsAt last, a book that’s about my own country written during the present century! After reading books about feminism in different countries and different times in the past, it was wonderful to read about an Irish woman’s experience, particularly someone around the same age as me, who has had similar experiences. This really is unusual and revelatory. Women are uniquely skilled at putting them into the place of the person they are reading about – even if they are very different. We’re good at it because books are mostly written about people who aren’t like us. It’s a much more satisfying experience to see your own experiences reflected back at you through someone else’s eyes. For any Irish woman, this book is work reading for that alone.

There are lots of other great reasons to read this book. It’s written in a more populist way than the more academic texts on this list. In a way it’s a beginners guide because it charts someone coming out as a feminist and realising the need for feminism, which the other books don’t really do.

It’s also very very funny. There aren’t a lot of laughs in the two previous books but O’Toole will have you snorting with laughter and at the most inappropriate things. For a little taster, read her piece about not shaving. But between the laughs there’s also some excellent information, such as also this mind-blowing bit of info about the clitoris.

ClitIgnorance

“Shockingly, the clitoris remains either misrepresented or omitted in much contemporary medical literature, including many of the anatomy textbooks used to train doctors. In spite of the pioneering work of the urologist Helen O’Connell in the nineties and early noughties, the first 3D model of the clitoris wasn’t made until 2009. So, to put that in some kind of perspective: modern science authoritatively mapped and made models of the human genome before it adequately described or modelled the clitoris.”

It angers me that science and medicine plays so little attention to the female body. To the extent that car test-dummies are always male so they only examine what happens to the male body in a collision (and extrapolate that the same would happen to a woman. It wouldn’t. Our bodies are different.). I think it is shameful that women’s bodies are treated like this. Doctors still don’t really know what causes endometriosis even though 1 in 10 women suffer from it and there is still a lot unknown about the menopause, which all women will go through.

Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay
BadFeministThis is not really a book about feminism. It’s a book of personal essays with a provocative title but it certainly delivers on that title. Elizabeth Wurtzel’s essay on The New C-Word was about calling out women who’s “choices are not good enough for a feminist world”. Gay’s book gives you permission to be that person. Nobody is perfect and everyone makes bad choices now and again.

Roxane Gay is a great writer and here she writes persuasively and engagingly about a host of different topics including gender, race, rape culture, women in popular culture and competitive scrabble tournaments. I found her writing about race and popular culture particularly enlightening. This book should be required reading for Gerry Adams and his ilk. It’s book that made me see the world differently, and while Gay writes critically about popular culture, she is also very enthusiastic about the things she loves. I find her very likeable from her writing. She’s also good fun on twitter. It is one woman’s view of the world, but instead of attempting to say that this is the way it should be for all women, these are personal essays that only aim to show one person’s experience of the world. It’s a more inclusive way of writing.

That’s some of the books I’ve been reading in the last year. Some upcoming feminist books that I am looking forward to include Lindy West’s Shrill and Laura Bates’ Girl Up. Both women are in Dublin this month to talk about their books and I’m looking forward to seeing them live as well. I’m always interested in recommendations of good nerdy, feminist books so if you have suggestions, please let me know!