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on 8 March 2014
I bought this book to raise awareness of feminism after a lengthy three night debate with my teenage children about whether or not Beyonce was a feminist icon. I wanted something up to date to share with them and this book is brilliant. I particularly liked the chapter by Jeanette Winterson about pornography, but there are several other great contributions. Read and feel empowered!
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on 24 March 2013
I'm not sure what I expected to read when I picked up the book, but let me assure you: this is a treat.

The book features short-form essays (the longest are only three or four pages long) from a variety of women across society, from novelists and journalists to comedians to politicians to barristers to doctors. All of them bring a fresh perspective and a fresh pair of eyes to the question of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be feminist: it really is the fifty shades of feminism promised by the front cover.

The topics covered range from domestic abuse, sexual violence and pay differences, down to women's football, the easy accessibility of violent pornography (which makes 50 Shades of Grey look tame) and the enduring power of motherhood.

The contributors are generous with their praise for others, elegantly angry when appropriate and relentless in their effort to establish the truth.

The essays are stunningly written (I suspect the hand of the editors in establishing a clear, elegant style that runs throughout the contributions) and the stories from women of today are generously interwoven with quotes from feminists and liberation activists from years gone by. Reading through, one is moved from tears to anger to laughter to deep reflection.

This book is well worth getting and reading through time and time again. Share it with friends and talk about the perspectives offered - then walk out from the book determined to do something about it.
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on 7 September 2015
Love this book. Full of wildly wonderful anecdotes from feminists. Some will shock you, some you will relate to built that's the beauty of it. It shows you all the shades of feminism. I've found it a great book for sharing with friends who don't want to identify as feminists because they have preconceived notions about what it means. This will open your eyes!
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on 9 July 2013
Of course I just had to buy Fifty Shades of Feminism although I have managed to resist the `allure' of it's ashy coloured namesake (definitely not appealing to me).

I'm glad I did. The book has been edited by Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes and Susie Orbach who put it together pretty quickly in a riposte to the `other' grey book. (Presumably the grey cover of this edition is a bit of tongue in cheek homage?) In a slightly anarchic way it has more than fifty contributions but as it doesn't number them when they pass fifty it doesn't really count...just think of it as added value.

I have been dipping in and out of it over the last few weeks; it's that kind of book. On the one occasion I did sit down and read several at a time I found it a tad jarring. Feminism is a very broad church and the contributions are varied; some don't feel as coherent when read in one sitting.

That said, I have been loving it and it has been reigniting my enthusiasm for all things feminist (OK, I didn't really need any reigniting, that's just a literary device...) My favourite to date purely for entertainment, is Sandi Toksvig's contribution:

"...I attended a degree ceremony at the University of Surrey. The academic folk there had kindly allowed me a doctorate without all the annoyance of having to study something first. Afterwards I stood on the steps of Guildford Cathedral, where the ceremony had taken place, and marvelled at the youthful beauty of the genuine graduates. A young woman dressed in her academic gown and mortarboard was being helped down the steps by her parents. In addition to being bedecked in educational success she was also wearing high heels; such high heels that she was unable to manage the stone steps on her own. Her mother and father supported her on either side. On the day in which her mind was being celebrated, her shoes infantilised her."

Brilliant, although these days even my quite short heels seem to set me off on a lurching gait... There are other references to feet binding in the book which also includes some neat drawings from Posy Simmonds. And just one more quote from Camilla Batmanghelidjh who ended her segment with:

"Women are often defined by what their boobs do, whether it's to titillate or to feed. But I reckon there's another kind of boob no one really talks about. It's when care is exchanged between two human beings. Concretely it's called attachment; symbolically it's about an exchange between the caregiver and care recipient, through which both are transformed and enhanced with kindness. Reciprocity is the limousine I sit in, and tangoing with compassion is the feminine principle I aspire to, while getting drunk on the thirst for excellence! So, in short, I'm a drunken whore with alternative boobs! Is that feminist enough for you?"

You won't agree with everything written; I didn't. The editors have given space to a variety of views. But I enjoyed it all; even when I was tutting slightly it felt good to be challenged in my complacency. Highly recommended. I shall be buying a few more copies for friends!

Post Script: The editors suggest that readers will use this book to go out and find their own fifty shades and I am inspired to do just that. I'm asking the question, what made you a feminist? Or, when did you realise you were a feminist? I think it will be interesting to know what age you were then realisation struck and what age you are now. Gender is irrelevant, my broad church of feminism allows that men can be feminists too, although not all the sisterhood agrees! Please send them to me marked `Fifty Shades' to jane@changingpeople.co.uk. I'm really looking forward to hearing from you and compiling our own Fifty Shades! I'll publish my 50 later on this year.
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on 4 May 2013
First truly feminist book I have chosen to read - at age 67! I really enjoyed the huge range of writers and view points. It has made me realise that 'feminist' writing doesn't have to be hard going. Now I must go back and read everything I ought to have read years ago.
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on 15 December 2016
A variety of views on feminism, reflecting different cultural perspectives and different age groups' understanding. I found it thought-provoking and perceptive. A good read with much to reflect on.
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on 3 May 2013
It's definitely time for a new survey of what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. This is a historical snapshot, an immediate classic, the 21st century "Female Eunuch" or "Feminine Mystique". Rather than a whole book from one voice, this compilation of short essays by fifty women, of a variety of cultures, orientations and roles, discusses a plethora of issues, making feminism relevant and palatable for everyone. If you aren't sure how feminism affects you, or if you still think feminists are angry women in dungarees, this book will convince you otherwise.

Camila Batmanghelidji reflects on the work she does through her children's charities, and idea of "excellence", achieved by a combination of 'feminine' care-giving and 'masculine' protectiveness which transcend gender.

Shami Chakrabarti talks about mothers who have changed the world.

Jeanette Winterson takes an amusing look at internet porn which "destroys love".

Sandi Toksvig points out the comedy of women wearing shoes so painful and heels to high that they can't walk in them.

The essays are interspersed with sketches, quotations and Laura Dockrill saying she wants to feel like Helena Bonham Carter's hair.

I've picked out a few chapters of particular interest to me.

Jane Czyzselska looks at her "transgression" of being a heterosexual-looking lesbian, and how this alienates her from other lesbians. Being straight-looking, people make assumptions that she is conservative, which is odd because straight people look straight and aren't therefore conservative. She feels lesbians are 'watched as if performing in public.' Her comments about how women who don't want children are often viewed with pity really resonated with me. These are the voices in our heads even if we don't want children. Czyzselska shows that we still have far to go. Though we are privileged in this country, there are still places where lesbians have to endure 'corrective rape' and where homosexuality is still outlawed because it considered sinful. As Helena Kennedy concludes her chapter, "What all women deserve is to be able to choose freely the lives they want to lead, free of oppression and exploitation, filled with the opportunity to be who they want to be. It is all about human rights."

Helena Kennedy's chapter is about gender bias in the legal system. The law is "a product of male experience ... because law was made by men." Like many of us, she had a decent father and strong-willed mother, and didn't initially see the need for feminism. "Spend a few days in the courts and reality will hit home." she tells us. Raised a Catholic, she recalls being angered by priests who refused mass to women who, having been abandoned by husbands, were living with another man. She raises significant questions about the church's role in misogyny. Like the law, it too has a system of rules based on men's experience and perspective. She mentions also that women are judged as good or bad depending on how well they conform to the wife/mother ideal.

My favourite chapter was probably Laurie Penny's 'Howl'-esque poem 'Saudade' which I'm sure every woman can relate to, and cannot fail to move you. If you only read one chapter in the book, read this one.

Another chapter is extracted from the closing statement of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova at the trial of Russian feminist punk-band Pussy Riot, who define their protests as "political action that engages art forms." The statement shows how women's power and the right to free-speech is being suppressed around the world right at this moment by governments and religions, but also how women are strong enough to sacrifice themselves to bring world-wide attention to autocratic oppression.

The final chapter is the winning entry from a competition asking young people to write about what feminism means to them. The winner, Alice Stride has written a funny and frank piece about her younger sister's compulsion to shave off her pubic hair. "I went to her room. I sat down and explained to her that it is not normal to remove your pubic hair. We're meant to have pubic hair. I told her that it is an unfortunate aspect of porn that has penetrated mainstream consciousness and beauty rituals."

The short chapters may look too short to say anything substantial, but there is plenty of food for thought in every one, covering a huge range of issues and experiences. It is potentially a hefty read, yet surprisingly easy and interspersed with comic chapters.

I did wonder that the only perspective on feminism not covered in this book is that of men. Perhaps there should be a separate book for that, but it would be interesting to read about what men think of feminism and misogyny in 2013.

Read it first in its bite-size chunks of chapters, having a think in between, then re-read in as few sittings as possible to understand what women are dealing with today.
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on 2 December 2016
Brilliant, thought provoking collection of essays by an amazing collection of writers. An excellent introduction to anyone wondering what contemporary feminist is.
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on 12 April 2015
This was bought as a gift for a friend. I had a quick peek inside and was full of great quotes for the would be/established Feminist!!!
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on 8 April 2013
I was a bit disappointed with the brevity of the chapters. They didn't give the writers time to get stuck into a subject. The result was unfortunately a very forgettable book, like a Greatest Hits album that you've already heard. Shame. Read The Equality Illusion if you haven't already, that's great!
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