Review of ‘Invisible Women: exposing data bias in a world designed for men’ (2019) by Caroline Criado-Perez

In this post, I will:

  • Show off my new-found knowledge of the gender data gap
  • Rail against the injustices in society
  • Recommend you read this excellent book

Why I’m interested in this

One of the things I am interested in is gender equality.

This book is incredibly insightful about the ways in which one gender has been promoted at the expense of others.

Some of these things are obvious, if you give them some thought, and others are things I never would have considered, which makes me exactly the kind of person this book was designed for.

What the book’s about

Invisible Women is about the gender data gap.

Essentially (and I’m not an expert, even after reading this book), we now live in a world of data.  And that data incorporates a hidden bias.  It generally leaves women out.  That means most of the data we have about ‘humanity’ is actually data on men.

Medicine which is developed and made available has been tested on men, not women. 

Technology like mobile phones and voice recognition software has been designed for men, not women. 

To give you an example of these: the modern smartphone is designed to fit an average male’s hand, which means that the average man can hold his phone in one hand.  However, the phone is too big for the average woman’s hand and so she has to hold it in two.  Your voice recognition software has been programmed to respond to your voice.  Well, actually it’s been programmed to respond to the male voice.  Women with higher-pitched voices won’t be able to get that same software to work.  I won’t even mention the problems with what queries that software can respond to – I’ll leave you to discover that when you read the book.

What’s scary is that Criado-Perez demonstrates that, as more and more data is being gathered, we are handing over control of the analysis of the data to computers and algorithms which have been programmed with an invisible bias.  That means that the things being designed, produced, funded and promoted from now on will already incorporate a gender bias, even without meaning to.

Why I liked it

This is an incredibly interesting topic, for many reasons:

1. It shows how the data gap has a real-life impact

It gives an insight into the way in which third-world countries still have overt gender inequality.  It describes some of the ineffective ways that people or companies have tried to overcome this and analyses why they failed.  Spoiler: it’s because they didn’t gather the right data before starting work.

2. It contrasts the gender roles of modern western countries

It shows how invisible bias still affects a large portion of first-world countries which claim to have gender equality.  It contrasts the gender roles that men and women are still expected to fulfil.

3. It explores what future impact the data gap will have

It begins an analysis of the way in which society is progressing now that we have the means and opportunity of collecting so much data.  Even if you’re not specifically interested in feminism or gender equality, this aspect of Invisible Women is fascinating because it considers what our future will look like when data analysis is done solely by computers.

4. It shows the range of gender inequality

It shows that gender inequality isn’t just about physical things (like whether there are adequate childcare facilities so mothers can go back to work) but the social and psychological things as well (why women are still the primary care-givers, why salary and childcare cost hinders women from getting back into full-time work and why men don’t generally take paternity leave).

Some problems with it

            1. There are lots of statistics.

This might sound obvious, since the entire book is about data (or, rather, the lack of it), but for a casual reader, it was rather statistic-heavy.

I managed to read it by focusing on the story elements rather than the numbers.  Criado-Perez is excellent at explaining what the numbers mean in terms of how the data affects women (and men, and society as a whole) and the numbers are there for reference if you want them.

I’m not sure that my approach was the best, but I glossed over the numbers and absorbed the meaning.

            2. The anecdotes, examples and data come from all over the place.

The other issue I had with this book was that it chopped and changed between countries.  One moment it was talking about a study from the UK, then a statistic from the USA and then a phenomenon in another country.

I understand why it does this: Criado-Perez is using the data that is available and, if the data comes from those countries, of course she will analyse it.  However, it does then jump around a lot and I never really got a sense of place, and couldn’t quite position the UK (where I live) in relative terms to the rest of the countries.

Of course, this criticism only goes to support Criada-Perez’s entire argument, which is that there is a lack of data on women.  There simply isn’t enough data in any one country for her to analyse.  She has to use what data she can gather from around the world.

Who I recommend reads Invisible Women

This is a book for both men and women.

With the statistics there in front of you, it’s difficult to shrug off the idea of gender inequality.  I’d recommend this to women because it’s likely you weren’t aware of how prevalent the data bias is, and I’d recommend it to men because you should understand how women are disadvantaged every day in small ways.

I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in social development and change.  It gives a very clear picture of how our modern society has ended up in this particular state.  Although the agenda is clear, it does also talk about how this lack of data (or lack of awareness) affects various elements of society, including city planning, social mobility and medicine.

I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in feminism or gender equality.  It demonstrates how simple things that we (as a society) take for granted are actually biased in favour of men, and particularly the men in power. 

It’s an incredibly important piece of work for the people who want to instigate successful change – men and women alike.  I say ‘instigate successful change’ because Criado-Perez proves, time and time again, that even the most well-meaning initiatives have failed to have a positive impact because they have not been properly thought through with reference to women and the data.

A warning

This is not an easy book to read.

It is a catalogue of inequality and bias against women, from every aspect of our lives.

Whilst these inequalities and injustices won’t surprise most women, seeing them listed in this way is difficult.

Women living in modern, western countries will find it sobering and upsetting to read about women living in poorer countries who have far fewer rights than we do.

However, I think it’s important that people are aware of these differences, rather than ignoring them because they are difficult to confront.

Let me know what you think

If you’ve read Invisible Women or are reading it now, let me know what you think!  I’d love to chat about it – it’s an incredibly dense piece of work and I’m still unpacking it.

Recommend similar books ad documentaries, please!  I’d love to learn more about this so if you have any good recommendations, pass them my way.

Either drop me a line in the comments section below or say hello on Twitter.  You can find me at @AlisonJanetBro1.

See you next week

I hope you’ll come back next week to read my latest blog post.

Women’s self-belief and beauty films: positives and negatives of ‘I Feel Pretty’ (2018) and ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ (2019)

This week, I give my thoughts on:

  • How great it is to have films about women finding the confidence to succeed
  • How addicted I am to these films
  • Why ‘loving yourself no matter what you look like’ is not the straight-forward message that it’s often presented as

Firstly, I want to make it clear that I love these films.

I am a total sucker for romance and comedy and films about empowered women, so these basically tick all my boxes.

What I want to do here is draw attention to a worrying trend.

This article contains spoilers for these films, so don’t read on until you’ve seen them (if, indeed, you plan on watching them).

What I mean by women’s self-belief and beauty films

There is a very particular type of film I am talking about here.  Later on, I will talk about other similar films and how they fall into different genres, but for the moment I want to talk about these.

They are often referred to as self-confidence films but I want to narrow that category down to something specific.

Firstly, I mean films aimed at women.  That immediately categorises them as Romance or RomCom.

Secondly, I mean films about women where the female protagonist gets more than 50% of the screen time.

Thirdly, I mean films in which the protagonist learns to believe in herself and love the way she looks, and thereby achieves everything she wanted to.  Particularly, those stories in which confidence was the key to her success all along.

There are definitely men’s self-belief films, too.  Yes Man (2008) starring Jim Carrey springs to mind but what was holding him back was not related to his looks.  Roxanne (1987) starring Steve Martin fulfils the brief but that is even older.  There is a trend of women’s self-belief and beauty films at the moment and I want to explore what that means.

If these are films that are meant for women, starring women, then I think it’s important to dig into exactly what we are going to get from them.  We are supposed to get an hour and a half of entertainment, a happy ending and a woman who learns that she can do anything she wants to if she has the confidence and determination to do it.  What we actually get is that hour and a half of entertainment, a happy ending (and this has changed from the getting-her-man of yesteryear to being successful in her career and getting her man), and an over-simplified take on the complexities of self-esteem, confidence, standards of beauty, gender roles and women in business.

The stories

Essentially, these stories are about a woman who is living a life of drudgery and cripplingly low self-esteem, feeling ugly and under-appreciated.  What happens in the film is that she goes through a major transformation and lives a ‘fairytale’ life in which she’s the woman who has it all.  Then, when she is bumped back to reality, she realises that she had the power all along to make her life a fairytale.  She takes all her newly-found confidence and applies it to real life, and ends up living her dream.

It’s a happy ending.  It’s a lovely thought.  I adore films that show women becoming confident and successful and living their best life.

These two films are the best example of this.

I Feel Pretty (2018) starring Amy Schumer

I was not at all convinced I would like this film, mostly because the trailer made it look like the joke of the film was that a chubby girl had the audacity to think she was pretty and we all get to laugh at her for it.  Happily, that was not the case.

The story is about a woman (Amy Schumer) who loves fashion and beauty but doesn’t feel confident enough to pursue her dream of working in that industry.  She ends up working in some kind of administrative role, in a tiny office away from the main building where all the models and executives work.  She feels ugly and has extremely low self-esteem.

Then she gets hit on the head.  It’s a classic movie transformation.  She wakes up believing that she is the most beautiful woman in the world and struts through life completely confident.  You can see why I was wary of it to begin with but, actually, I thought it was well done.  It is obviously over-the-top and a lot of the laughs come from the disproportional confidence that she shows compared to what the world thinks she should show.

She gets the job of her dreams, the man of her dreams and all the confidence she could wish for.  However, she changes with this new confidence and drops her loyal friends, stops being so fastidious in work and gets caught up in her own importance.

What this film does well is it shows how obsessed the main character was with beauty, and her friends call her on that obsession, saying there are more important things for her to focus on and she shouldn’t have let that one area dominate her whole self-perception.

Isn’t It Romantic (2019) starring Rebel Wilson

One of the reasons I enjoyed this film so much is that it was a chance for Rebel Wilson to really act!  And she can, despite the caricatures she usually plays.

In this film, the protagonist is under-appreciated at work and doesn’t think the man she has a secret crush on is interested in her.  She hates all things romantic, particularly Romance films, because she believes they perpetuate an unrealistic ideal.

Then – that old chestnut – she is hit on the head and wakes in an idealised version of her own world.  Her apartment is better, her clothes are better, even her pet is better.  And she finds herself that coveted being: the protagonist in a RomCom.

As such, she stumbles upon a  ‘perfect’ man who is handsome and rich and charming, she is wooed, she is appreciated at work, and she is basically living the fairytale life.  Of course, the film likes to be a bit meta and, whilst all of this is happening, she has the sense that it isn’t right, that it’s too ideal.  And she’s right.  After trying to get back to her own reality by following the script of a RomCom (in the hopes of completing it and waking up at the end), she realises that she didn’t need to fall in love with a man to achieve her happily-ever-after, she needed to fall in love with herself.

With that knowledge, she wakes up again – this time in her own reality – and applies all that self-love to her real job and real relationships.  It is a charming film.

The problem

Both of these films are enjoyable and I applaud what they are doing: creating narratives in which women take responsibility for their own lives and build their confidence until they believe that they are worthy of the love and success they desire.

However, there is a cruel irony.

I believe it’s clear that both these films are designed to show that women who are insecure are holding themselves back by those very insecurities, when they don’t need to feel that way.  The irony is that, for a story which is supposed to empower women to feel confident just the way they are, by blaming the women’s lack of confidence for their less-than-perfect lives, they reinforce the idea that women are keeping themselves down and it’s our fault that we aren’t happier and more successful.

Both of these films also centre on the woman’s ideas of her own beauty.  They show a protagonist who doesn’t conform to the modern standard of beauty and it is that particularly which makes her feel so unloved and unworthy.  By giving the message that all these women needed to do in order to be successful was to believe in themselves and view themselves as beautiful, such films at once overlook the huge social pressure to look a certain way (and the very real repercussions if you don’t) and lay the blame of that lack of confidence firmly with the woman in question.  I am worried that the overall message women are going to take away from such films is that, if the woman had only believed in herself, she wouldn’t have been unhappy in the first place.  Shame on her.

Other similar, recent films

I want to point out some similar films in order to clarify just what type of film exactly I am talking about.  These films have a lot of cross-over with the women’s self-belief films but fall into a slightly different category.

On the surface, they might appear to be similar to the films I am talking about, where a woman needs to find her confidence to live her best life, but they are actually a different genre.

I have also included modern films rather than anything more than a couple of years old, otherwise The Princess Diaries would definitely be in there (mostly because I love it).

Tall Girl (2019) starring Ava Michelle and Dumplin’ (2018) starring Danielle Macdonald

I love both of these films.

They are coming-of-age stories.

With coming-of-age narratives, the protagonist is an incomplete person because they don’t quite know who they are and they must learn that over the course of the story.  Any changes that these protagonists go through is part of them finding their place in the world, working out who they are and having the confidence to live the way they choose.

Even though lack of confidence might be a factor in their story, it is not the main drive and so they can’t be classed as women’s self-belief films.

They’re worth watching, though.

Life of the Party (2018) starring Melissa McCarthy and Book Club (2018) starring Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen

These are more easily classed as women’s self-belief films but I hesitate to put them in the same category because, in these, it’s not only confidence that the women lack, it’s something else they need to find.

In Life of the Party, the protagonist is a middle-aged woman who didn’t complete her college degree because she married and got pregnant, so she gave it up to raise her child.  When her husband leaves her, she decides to go back to college and get her degree.  The main drive of the story is a woman going after what she wants.

I don’t class it as a woman’s self-belief film because it wasn’t lack of confidence that was holding her back (or not only that), it was life events and apathy.  However, there are huge cross-overs and it’s a surprisingly entertaining film with a good heart.

Book Club is different again.  It follows four women in a book club as they read Fifty Shades of Grey and begin to explore their sexuality and sex-drive, as well as re-defining their relationships and pursuing romantic fulfilment.

What makes this different is that the women aren’t necessarily held back by a lack of confidence, it’s perhaps an assumption that older women can’t do certain things and should behave in a certain way, and we get to watch these four women break those expectations.

It’s almost a coming-of-age story again.  It’s about people finding their place in the world, exploring who they are and what makes them happy, and deciding what they want to do going forward.

Both of these films have similar themes to self-belief films but their lack of confidence isn’t specifically related to their looks.

Conclusion

Women’s self-belief films are great.  The fact that our media is finally representing women and encouraging them to pursue their goals is positive.

Also, I like these films.  They are feel-good and I am here for them.

Women’s self-confidence and beauty films are more problematic.  When the thing holding the woman back is specifically her confidence in the way she looks, there are a huge number of social, cultural and personal factors at work.  Blithely skipping over these to claim that ‘just having confidence in the way she looks is enough to get her what she wants’ is verging on insulting.

Let me know any recommendations for self-belief (and beauty) films

I would love to watch more of these, so let me know any that you can think of.  I am particularly interested in modern ones as they reflect what our society is doing at the moment and what we are striving for.

Let me know what you think!  Do you think these films do more good than harm?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @AlisonJanetBro1

See you next week

I hope you’ll come back and read next week’s post.

‘Woman warrior’ does not mean ‘strong female character’

This week, discover:

  • Why ‘strong female characters’ compete with men
  • Why women warriors can’t display emotion
  • Some of the best women warriors in fiction

I like reading fiction with powerful female characters.

There is a lot of confusion over what makes a ‘strong female character’ because the question actually has many strands.

  • Are female characters in a binary system?
  • Does ‘strong’ refer to physical strength or inner strength?
  • If the character is strong but the writing is weak, are they still a strong character?

In this article, I’m going to discuss the representation of ‘women warriors’ or ‘female fighters’.  That means I’m looking at physically strong characters and evaluating whether they are well-rounded or flat portrayals of women.

The typical ‘woman warrior’

Times are changing.  More female characters are being written (just… written at all) and, as female characters appear on the page and the screens, they are depicting a range of qualities, personalities and skills.

However, there is a long way to go.

A huge number of ‘strong female characters’ are badly-drawn caricatures.  An author has tried to demonstrate their character’s strength by making her a warrior, making her tough, making her manly…

In order to be ‘strong’ they mimic men.  But, because they are female, they must be more manly than the men in order to compete.

That means they exhibit all the clichéd macho characteristics such as practicality, physical strength, aggression, ambition, fighting skill and distance from their emotions.  And they have to display these things all the time and to a high degree otherwise people might forget that she’s really a warrior at all.

After all, a large, physically strong man instantly looks like a warrior, even without saying or doing anything.  A woman doesn’t look like a warrior and so she must demonstrate that in every action (movement, decision and speech) or people (other characters and readers) might forget it.

If you want to write a female character who exhibits these masculine traits, go ahead, that’s not a problem.  I’m just pointing out some of the pitfalls that you need to consider in order to avoid flat female characters.

A lack of depth

Often, male characters (particularly in action stories, thrillers, Fantasy and Sci-Fi) will be immersed in a culture of hyper-masculinity.  They will be soldiers or spies or knights or space-pilots.  They will present hyper-masculine traits.  However, it’s rare to find a (well-written) male character like this which doesn’t have some depth.  The author will have created a well-rounded character with a past and an ambition that goes beyond their job, and they will allow that other aspect of the character to break through into the story.  It humanises the character.

With a comparable female character who displays the same hyper-masculine traits, there is often no depth.  If she has a back-story, it is almost guaranteed to be driven by a man.  How many of the soldier women in fiction eventually reveal that they became soldiers (or pilots, or whatever) because of their father and/or brother?  How many of the women characters who throw themselves into their careers are doing it because they were spurned in love?  A chilling number.

The problem is that, if one of these hyper-masculine female characters reveals any softness in exactly the same way the male characters do (like caring for their parents or looking after a child or rescuing a puppy – all the usual things), they aren’t humanised, they are feminised.  Instantly, any softness in their nature isn’t because they are human, it is because they are female.

In a male character – especially one in a typically masculine role – any compassion, empathy or humility is something to be admired, something that adds depth to his character.  In a female character in the same masculine role, any compassion, empathy or humility she displays is expected.  It’s not seen as adding a layer of emotion and experience to her character, it’s seen as the woman finally reverting to type.

That’s why so many authors have fallen into the trap of not allowing their ‘female warriors’ to display these emotions, because they want to maintain her status as a warrior and not as a woman.  It’s still often the case that ‘woman’ and ‘warrior’ are considered distinct things.

Great female fighters in fiction

These are some of the best female fighters I can think of off the top of my head.  Like I said, there are more and more great female characters being written and even great women warriors.

These three female fighters are iconic:

Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV)

Buffy is interesting because she remains extremely feminine.  She didn’t have to spend a lifetime building up her strength and learning to be macho; her physical strength is simply part of her and therefore only one aspect of her personality.

Ellen Ripley from Alien (film)

I read somewhere that Ripley was written as a male character.  That might explain why she is a believable, well-rounded character who doesn’t constantly have to prove herself an equal to men.  She is capable and decisive and authoritative in the face of danger.

Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games (book and film)

Katniss was a hero for a generation of young adults.  She was clever and prickly and determined and ruthless, but she also did most of what she did out of love.  In the book particularly (I suppose the film had to cut some things out), Katniss walks the line between fitting a more feminine role to get sponsorship from the Capitol audience and using the survival skills she’s developed to make it through the Games.

Recommended reads

Try reading these three Fantasy novels for a female fighter who is a well-rounded character, too:

Celaena Sardothien in Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Rin in The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Bloody Rose in Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

Let me know who your favourite women warriors in fiction are

I’m always looking for new books to read, especially Fantasy books and especially books with great female characters in, so let me know what you’ve been reading.

You can follow me on Twitter @AlisonJanetBro1.  Say hello and give me your recommendations.

See you next week

I hope you’ll come back and read next week’s post.

Is this a film for women? Review of the film Like A Boss (2020)

I give my thoughts on:

  • Films in which women actually speak to other women
  • Films in which women aren’t just chasing men
  • How apparently feminist films can undermine their own message

This review contains spoilers.

A woman’s film?

Yes, I am going to be looking at this as a film aimed at women.  I want to evaluate the sort of films that are supposed to interest women and be made for women.

I say made for women because this film was not made by women.

It stars three women: Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne and Salma Hayek.

However, the screenplay was written by Sam Pitman and Adam Cole-Kelly.  It was directed by Miguel Arteta.

Women on screen

I have just discovered that, even in rom-coms (which are aimed at women) where the lead character is a woman, an average of 58% of the dialogue is spoken by men.  It was therefore a pleasant surprise to watch a film where that is definitely not the case.  In Like A Boss, most of the named characters are women and they talk largely to each other.  Yay.

This is one of the few films I have seen in which the leading characters are women and they’re not spending their time worrying about whether they do or don’t have a boyfriend.  It was refreshing.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect film.  It’s not.  By a long way.

The premise of the film

To give a quick overview:

Mia and Mel have been best friends all their lives and even live together.  They run a cosmetics company together but Mia is the creative force behind it and Mel is trying to run the business side without stepping on Mia’s toes.  The company is in debt and Mel persuades Mia to go into partnership with ruthless cosmetics mogul, Claire Luna.  Despite the warnings signs, both women sign the contract and then have to fight to keep hold of both their principles, their business and their friendship when Luna sets out to swindle them.  You can imagine how it ends.

Review of Like A Boss

I’ve given it a lot of thought and I’ve come up with some of the best qualities of the film and some of the things that I felt didn’t work.

Things I liked about Like A Boss:

At no point did any of the women dwell on the fact that they did or didn’t have a partner.  If they had one, he was only mentioned in passing, and if they didn’t have one, it wasn’t important.

Working women were shown to have a home life and a circle of friends without showing that they were close to the edge because they couldn’t handle a family and a career.

Both female leads were sexually confident women and the film shows them engaging in liaisons without angsting over them.  It was simply a part of their lives and not something they obsessed about.

It had a positive message that it was trying to spread, both about changing the way marketing campaigns constantly tell women to cover their ‘flaws’ and about appreciating those who are there for you when you need them. 

It had some funny moments, usually when the two leads were talking to each other.

The villain – though very much a pantomime villain – was clever and driven, and made her choices consciously.  She was living the life she wanted and was doing it unapologetically.

Things I didn’t like about Like A Boss:

Even by the end, I wasn’t sure how the title reflects the film.  Is it because they want to be their own boss?  Is it because they take the evil Barbie-doll and her cosmetics company down like bosses?

The tone of the whole thing was incredibly uneven.  It could have been a really interesting character drama about friendship, the beauty industry and what it means to be an unmarried woman in your thirties.  It wasn’t, though, because it quite fancied being a pantomime but didn’t properly commit to it.

Despite its good intentions – trying to spread the message that make-up should accentuate women’s features and not just cover them up – it didn’t dig deep enough into that issue to really make much of a comment on it.  The scene in which the two women are directly contrasted to the two men, each putting make-up on a model, was telling.  It wasn’t funny.  It felt like it was trying to make a point about the male gaze and sexualising women, but women already know this, they live it.  And the plot didn’t challenge that as directly as it could have.  Those men were allowed to carry on doing what they were doing, supported by a population of women who bought into that patriarchal ideal.  That was very clear, too: it is women who are buying these things, so women are the problem.  I understand that it’s a complex issue about social values and ingrained sexism, but the film does rather undermine its own message by not really choosing a side.

I didn’t like the obligatory weed-smoking scene that seems to be in all modern American comedies.  It’s there to show that these two women haven’t ‘grown up’ like the rest of their friends, who are married with children.  However, by doing that, it undermines one of the film’s greatest assets.  It should have been a film which promoted the idea of unmarried women living happy, adult lives and being successful in various ways.  The childish hiding-out-in-the-bedroom-to-smoke-weed scene didn’t fit with the rest of the plot.

One of my biggest problems was the fact that I didn’t believe either of the leads were stupid enough to sign a contract without reading it.  Seriously.  They didn’t have any idea how this business venture was going to go.  They had no idea of what their role was or what their rights were.  You’d think they’d ask a lawyer or something, if they weren’t sure, before signing over their business.  Or, you know, ask any questions…

Apparently a substantial period of time passed during the course of the film.  There were no indicators of that.  As far as I’m concerned, this all happened in about a week and a half.

Let me know what you thought of Like A Boss

If you’ve seen Like A Boss, let me know what you think.  I’d be interested on your views, particularly about whether it was a positive film for women or not.

Contact me on Twitter @AlisonJanetBro1 and tell me your thoughts.

See you next week

Hope you’ll come back and read next week’s post.

Three Things I Did This Week

This week, I will:

  • Reveal my deep and abiding love of P.G. Wodehouse
  • Give you insight into my reading habits
  • Drive you wild with jealousy over the wool I bought
Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

Since I’m still new to this whole blogging thing, I thought I’d share more about myself so you know what you’re getting into.

Three things I did this week that I don’t always do

I thought I’d tell you about what I don’t normally do, rather than what I do normally do, because I assume you don’t really want to read about me putting the washing on or driving to work.

I went for dinner with the girls and saw a local show

I would love to say this was very glamorous but it wasn’t.  It was incredibly fun, though. 

A couple of friends and I went for dinner in town and caught up on each other’s news.  Then we went to see Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense at the local theatre. 

Poster for the Barn Theatre’s Jeeves and Wooster

It was a dramatization of a few of P.G. Wodehouse’s stories with the premise that Bertie Wooster is staging a one-man show and, typically, it isn’t working out quite the way he wanted.  Luckily, Jeeves is on hand to save the day. 

It was incredibly funny.  Bertie plays himself and narrates the show, often getting carried away with the fun of it all and forgetting to act.  Jeeves and his fellow valet (who Jeeves has conscripted to help his hapless employer) play every other role.  They take their parts much more seriously, making quick costume changes and being everywhere at once.

One of the best things was the set.  Honestly.  One backdrop was brilliantly constructed to represent all the settings and the doorframe was wheeled around to represent every doorway they needed. Sound effects were provided with (almost) perfect timing.

If you want to see it, you can find where they’re touring here.

I actually read my bookclub book

It’s a running joke in my bookclub that I don’t read the books. 

That’s unfair some of the time and completely true at other times.  When I was a teacher, particularly, it was common for me to turn up to bookclub, and ask, “What is it we were reading this month?”  When asked whether I’d read it, I would be forced to say, “No, I read Matilda.”  I would like to point out that I wasn’t reading Matilda for fun, it was for work – you can’t teach it unless you’ve read it.  Of course, I had read Matilda before but 1) it wasn’t always Matilda that I read and 2) who doesn’t love a bit of Roald Dahl?

This month, however, I have read my bookclub book!  It’s Invisible Women: exposing data bias in a world designed for men by Caroline Criado-Perez and you’ll probably hear my thoughts on that soon.

To give you an idea, we ended up with a group of women angry and outraged at the (almost) invisible bias we struggle against day in and day out.  Every one of us had an anecdote to support almost every bias that had been talked about in the book.

I hate to perpetuate gender stereotypes but we did all have to have some chocolate to calm down.

I bought some new wool (exciting)

I had to nip into town this weekend to buy some more wool so I could finish my ongoing crochet project because I severely underestimated how much wool you get through when making what is essentially a very small blanket. 

I may now have the opposite problem but I’m assured there is no such thing as too much wool.

My new sparkly wool and lovingly crocheted squares

You can’t see it properly in this picture but I assure you the wool is sparkly!

Let me know what you’ve been up to

I love hearing from you so let me know what you’ve been doing this week.  If you’ve been buying wool and reading your bookclub book, share that great news in the comments section below (or share the other, possibly more interesting things you’ve been doing).

You can follow me on Twitter @AlisonJanetBro1.  Say hello and brag about your week.

See you next week

I hope you’ll come back and read next week’s post.

Stop Book-Shaming Children

This week:

  • I define book-shaming and why adults do it
  • Book-shamed children stop reading
  • Top ways to get children to move on with reading
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

I have encountered book-shaming as a child, I have encountered it as an adult reader and as a teacher.

It makes me angry to see it, and this is the reason why:

What is book-shaming?

Book-shaming is when someone mocks, belittles or discourages another person from reading a particular book.

There are several reasons why people do this and not all of them are vindictive.

It largely depends on the type of relationship the two people have and why that person is book-shaming.

These are the situations in which I have encountered book-shaming:

  • As a child, when I wanted to read an old favourite but was told I was ‘too old’ for it
  • As a teen when I wanted to read a Children’s book and was told I was ‘too old’ for it
  • As an adult when I wanted to read a Children’s or Young Adult’s book and was told I was ‘too old’ for it
  • Any time I wanted to read genre fiction

Already you are sensing a theme.

There are other times when I have seen book-shaming.

I will discuss book-shaming adults based on their choice of book in another post.  This one is focusing on why people do it to children and what effect that has.

I’m also going to focus on adults book-shaming children, rather than other children doing it to their peers as this is very similar to the above.

Why people book-shame children

Most adults who book-shame are doing it because they care.

Certainly, I have never seen an adult book-shame a child because they want to be mean.

Most of the people I have seen doing this have been teachers, parents, aunts and uncles, etc.

What they have wanted to do is stop the child reading something ‘too young’ or ‘too easy’ because they wanted them to read something harder or older.

They want the child to get better at reading and better at English.  Reading is the single most effective way of doing that, but book-shaming isn’t the way to go about it.

What effect does book-shaming have?

I have seen this have several effects on children:

They stop reading.  If they can’t read what they want to read, they’re not interested and then you, as the adult, have to battle to get them to read something else.

They come to associate reading with shame and inadequacy and, unsurprisingly, they stop reading.  Why would they keep doing something that makes them feel that way?

In order to please you, they try reading a much harder book which they don’t properly understand and then they think they’re stupid because they can’t read ‘proper’ books and they stop reading.

Just to be clear: making someone feel that their choice of book is wrong doesn’t make them read something else, it just makes them stop reading that thing.

A little story for you

I was at a Year 7 Parents’ Evening, talking to the mother of a Year 7 boy, who was sat next to her.  When I’d finished talking about his work and asked if there was anything else she wanted to discuss, this mother leaned forward and said, “Yes.  I’m worried about his reading.  I just can’t get him to read.”

I was incredibly surprised and automatically turned to the pupil.  “But you read all the time!  I always see you with a book in your hand.”

The boy looked sheepish and said, “Yes Miss, but I only like books about dragons.”

My response, obviously, was to say, “I love books about dragons!  What’s your favourite?”

The point is, that his mother – who only had his best interests at heart – was worried that the books he was reading weren’t good enough.  Not only that, she was so convinced that they didn’t count, that she told me she ‘couldn’t get him to read’.

This boy was being told – whether directly or not – that the things he liked were wrong.  That’s uncomfortably close to him being told that his personality is wrong.  It’s also a classic prejudice about Fantasy but more on that another time.

I spent the rest of the year talking to him about dragons because I liked the way his face lit up when I did that.

Better ways to get a child to read more advanced things

Don’t tell a child that what they’re reading isn’t good enough or is the wrong choice.  You aren’t going to change their personality just by saying ‘don’t read that, read this’.

If you want a child to read something else, there are ways you can make that happen.

Give them options in addition to their own books

Instead of telling them not to read one thing, persuade them to read the next thing.  Let them keep the books they like, just give them something else as well.

Give them books you know they’ll like

The best way to get a child to read something else is to find out what it is they like and go from there.

Ask them what they like and try to find out what exactly it is that they like about it.  Is it an adventure, is it a mystery, do they like long books or short books, are they drawn to female protagonists, what kind of humour are they into?  Once you know what they like, you can start to find other books that have that thing in them.

Find something similar to what they’re reading and give them that.

If they like it, they’ll trust your judgement.  That’s important.  If they trust you’ll give them good books, they might be willing to try something they otherwise wouldn’t when you promise them (truthfully) that it’s good.

Let them see you enjoying that book

If they know you enjoy it, they know it’s a good book.

If you’re giving them a book you hate but think is going to be good for them, don’t.  You’re not giving them a dose of medicine.

There are so many good Middle Grade (MG) and Young Adult (YA) books out there – quality books with excellent writing, intriguing plots, big themes and inspiring characters – that you will be able to find something that pleases both of you.

Don’t force them to read it, inspire them to read it.

Talk to children about books

Actually talking to them about what they’re reading is a great way to encourage them to think about books in more detail and to find out what it is they like about the books they are reading.

One tip I talk about in my World Book Day post is asking them about books they used to read.

What was your favourite book?

Who was your favourite character?

This distances the question a little and gives them room to talk about the books they like without worrying that you don’t think it’s appropriate for them now. They can’t be told the book was too childish if they actually were a child when they read it.

Let me know what you do

If you’ve seen or experienced this, let me know.  What do you do to stop it?

If you have recommendations for quality MG or YA books, let me know in the comments section below or contact me on Twitter @AlisonJanetBro1.  I want to know your go-to recs.

See you next week when I’ll tell you a little bit more about me and 3 things I’m up to during the week.

World Book Day 2020

In this blog, I will:

  • Tell you why I love World Book Day
  • Give you an inspired lesson idea (if I do say so myself)
  • Start a radical movement to get World Book Day introduced to every working office environment

As you may know, on Thursday 5th March, it’s World Book Day.

I know that because I was a teacher, and an English teacher at that.  It’s one of the highlights of the year in schools.  I’m going to tell you why I love it and then I’m going to ask: why is it only a thing in schools?

Why I love World Book Day

It was great when the pupils would come into school dressed as their favourite character and I got to guess who they were.  Then they’d tell me all about the character and the book (whether I already knew or not).  I loved it.

And the fun activities I could do with my classes on World Book Day?  I made it my personal mission to make sure my pupils enjoyed World Book Day lessons, no matter what was on the curriculum (but don’t tell my head of department that).

For me, the point of the day was to enthuse pupils about reading.  That doesn’t mean force them to read, and it certainly doesn’t mean changing what they read.  It means reminding them why they love books.

A great classroom activity for World Book Day

Teachers, please steal this idea if you like it.

It’s an incredibly easy, planning-light lesson.

One of the most effective activities I did on World Book Day was to split the class into groups and send them round the classroom on a carousel.  At each station there was a sheet of sugar paper and pens, and each one had a different question on it:

  • Who is your favourite hero from a book?
  • Who is your favourite villain from a book?
  • Which book would you most like to live in?
  • What’s the first book you remember reading?
  • What’s your favourite children’s book?

It was so interesting to see the pupils consider these questions.

Firstly, I wasn’t asking them to do any ‘real work’ so they thought they were having a skive lesson.  It’s amazing how much work they got done!

Secondly, it got them talking about books.  It got them arguing about books.  New groups would reach the next sugar paper and shout, “That’s such a good choice, I’d forgotten about that one,” or, “That’s not the best one, this is the best one.”

Thirdly, it reminded them that books were there to enjoy.  None of the questions were ‘teacher’ questions.  I wasn’t asking them to analyse the books, I didn’t want them to write PEE paragraphs, I wasn’t asking them to justify themselves and I wasn’t judging their choices.  I was simply asking their opinion.

It’s important to note that I was also asking what they used to like as opposed to what they do like now.  By putting it in the past, I took away some of the social pressure – from me and other pupils – to choose appropriate books.

My favourite station to eavesdrop at was ‘what’s your favourite children’s book?’ because they began to reminisce about all the books they’d read as children.  I found it both fascinating and hilarious.  I feel I need to point out that these were Year 8s (so they were 12-13 years old) and they were talking about ‘when they were children’ and books they loved ‘back in the day’.

These questions seemed to them to be just fun questions to ask but they are the basis for a lot of English Literature analysis and certainly for good writing.  What qualities make a good hero?  How can you write a convincing villain?  What are the important elements of world-building?  All questions that authors ask throughout their career.

It was a fun lesson, it enthused the pupils about reading again, and it formed the basis for discussion later in the term.  It was a win.

Where did World Book Day go?

When I left teaching and ended up in an office, suddenly it was ‘weird’ to dress up for World Book Day.  Why are adults so boring?  What’s wrong with coming in to work to find a Winnie the Witch or a Hagrid sat at the desk?  Seems like a good way to start the day to me, saying, “Morning, Alex, great costume.  Don’t tell me, let me guess…”

I can see why it wouldn’t be appropriate for every office (“Morning, Doctor- I mean Katniss?”) and, if you work outside doing construction or gardening or in a zoo, then it might not be the best idea.

But a bit of book-talk at work would make my day.  I think we should bring World Book Day back for adults.

Let me know what you think

If you’re thinking, “Yeah, why can’t I dress up as Dracula to go to work?  It’s literary,” then let me know in the comments section below.

You can follow me on Twitter @AlisonJanetBro1.  Say hello and let me know who you’d dress up as if you were given the opportunity.

See you next week

I hope you enjoyed this post.  Please come back and read next week’s post about how to get children to read ‘more advanced’ books aka. Stop Book-Shaming Children.

Welcome to my blog

In this blog, I will:

  • Introduce myself
  • Give you my entire life history
  • Let you know what you can expect to read on here
What I would look like if I were eight years old and owned a cat

Welcome to my first blog!

I’m going to give you a little background information about me before we start.

Reading

My first love is fiction.  When I was younger, my passion was solely for novels but, as I have grown older, I have discovered the joys of non-fiction. 

I suspect that both of these things will make an appearance in this blog.  I will be talking about books I have read and loved.  I will not be talking about books I haven’t liked, so don’t be surprised that all my reviews are positive.  If I read it and didn’t like it, it goes to the charity shop and I don’t mention it again.

Fantasy

Although I have quite an eclectic taste in fiction, I always come back to Fantasy. 

There are lots of reasons I love it.  Mostly, Fantasy books are just cool, aren’t they?

I am particularly interested in world-building.  I’ll discuss that at more length later but, to me, world-building is about the connection between the environment, the social systems and the characters, and how they affect each other.

I will definitely be mentioning Fantasy fiction here and analysing some of my favourite books, films and TV shows.

Writing

My professional career has revolved around reading and writing.

I currently work as a Copy Writer for a local company.  Anything they want written, I write.  It sounds simple.  Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

Teaching

Before I worked as a Copy Writer, I was an English Teacher in a Secondary School.  It was a job I enjoyed in many ways and I’m certainly glad I did it.

One of the reasons I became a teacher – and, ironically, one of the reasons I left teaching – is that I care about children’s education.  That might pop up on this blog a few times, too.  I will try to keep my anger to a minimum.

My history of teaching means that I have an interest in Children’s Fiction (both Middle Grade and Young Adult).  I used to get to call it ‘work’ but now I just have to confess I love it.

Hobbies

It’s difficult to say what a hobby is.  Is talking to friends a hobby?  Is going to the cinema a hobby?  I will talk about these things as they arise and as I try new hobbies.

I love trying new things, particularly creative things and crafts.  I have recently learned how to crochet and am still making my first blanket.  I suspect I will be stuck at the first stage (making lots of little squares) for a long time but, no matter, I am enjoying it.  If ever you want a square crocheted very, very slowly, let me know.

Things I am interested in (which therefore might end up on this blog):

  • Fantasy fiction (books, films and television)
  • Gender equality
  • How to write well (and to audience)
  • Representation in fiction (including classism, ageism, racism and ableism)
  • World-building for fiction
  • Weird stuff you learn about in history
  • Education
  • Any new hobby I pick up along the way

Let me know what you think

If any of this sounds up your street, let me know!

I’d love to get in touch with more people who want to read fiction, write Fantasy and put the world to rights.

You can follow me on Twitter @AlisonJanetBro1.  Say hi and let me know what you’re up to.

See you on Wednesday

I hope you’ll come back and read my next post, where I’ll be talking about World Book Day and why it’s fabulous.  I’ll also give you a really easy lesson to get your class talking about books.