gender differences

All posts tagged gender differences

Louis & Louise – Julie Cohen

Published January 24, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

If you could look at one life in two different ways, what would you see?

Louis and Louise are separated by a single moment in time, a strike of chance that decided their future. The day they were born is when their story began.

In one, Louis David Alder is born a male.
In the other, Louise Dawn Alder is born a female.

Louis and Louise are the same in many ways – they have the same best friends, the same parents, the same dream of being a writer and leaving their hometown in Maine as soon as they can. But because of their gender, everything looks different. Certain things will happen in their lives to shape them, hurt them, build them back up again. But what will bring them back home?

What did I think?:

This review comes with an enormous thank you to the wonderful Orion Books who just before Christmas, hosted a Books And Baubles event in London where they showcased some of the fiction they’re most excited about for 2019. I was fortunate enough to pick up a few proof copies that gave me a bit of a “book flutter,” but I think it was Louis & Louise that provoked the biggest reaction as I’m sure my blogging bestie, Janel from Keeper Of Pages can confirm as I was delighted to meet up with her again at the event. I’ve been a huge fan of Julie Cohen’s work after reading Dear Thing and more recently, her last novel Together and absolutely adoring them so it was a no-brainer that I was going to pick this one up too.

Cohen always chooses such thought-provoking subjects to write about and puts so much heart and soul into her writing that you can almost see her individual thoughts about the issue exuding from the pages. As I’ve come to expect from her novels, Louis & Louise was such a contemplative and touching reading experience that encompasses subjects which I will continue to mull over for days to come.

Julie Cohen, author of Louis & Louise.

As a rule, I tend to steer clear of stories that are generally sentimental, for example, romance novels, stories about Christmas etc – things along that vein. That’s not because I’m turning my nose up at them or the authors writing them because they’re doing a fantastic job and obviously have a huge market of readers. It just isn’t me. I like my stories to be a bit meatier, have a bit more substance, some dark and difficult moments and characters that you can really appreciate for their originality and development. That’s why I love Julie Cohen. Don’t let some of the cover art fool you, Julie is an absolute wonder at taking extraordinary people, following their lives, throwing in some despair and struggles whilst the reader remains breathless, desperate to know whether they’ll sink or swim. There aren’t always happy endings, not everyone gets that fairy-tale or handsome prince but I appreciate this even MORE – it’s a metaphorical smack to the face that screams of authenticity and gritty real-life.

Louis/Louise ?

In Louis & Louise, Cohen follows two different people that are actually the same person. Kind of. We learn about a couple, Irving and Peggy where in one thread they have a baby boy whom they call Louis and in the other thread they have a baby girl and call her Louise. The narrative than follows Louis and Louise in alternate chapters, almost like a Sliding Doors effect and explores how different their stories might be depending on what gender they are, even down to the relationships they have with their parents. I found this to be a tremendous way of investigating how much gender defines us as a person and how certain live events can shape the future trajectory of our future depending on how we are treated. As Cohen herself expresses in the very early moments of the novel, gender begins to press itself on us from the very moment we are born, from being one of the first things the doctor/midwife tells your mother i.e. “It’s a boy/girl!,” to the kinds of clothes and toys that are bought to eventually, the expectations put on you as a female or male.

Louis & Louise is a stimulating, intelligent piece of fiction that made me consider a lot of things including my own sub-conscious gender biases that I’m trying very hard to address and challenge. I connected with both Louis and Louise as people and found their individual journeys through life fascinating and at times, heart-breaking. The author has once again outdone herself with not only a beautiful character study but a story that digs deep into the relationships between families and friends, the nature of sexuality and gender and how the principles individuals are given according to this affects their lives. It was a moving, poignant novel that I thoroughly enjoyed, leaving me in eager anticipation for whatever Julie Cohen might write next!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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Girls Will Be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts and Daring to Act Differently – Emer O’Toole

Published March 10, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The fiercest new voice of feminism – Emer O’Toole is the perfect mix of Caitlin Moran, Germaine Greer and Lena Dunham.

Emer O’Toole once caused a media sensation by growing her body hair and singing ‘Get Your Pits Out For The Lads’ on national TV. You might think she’s crazy – but she has lessons for us all. Protesting against the ‘makey-uppy-bulls**t’ of gender conditioning, Emer takes us on a hilarious, honest and probing journey through her life – from cross-dressing and head shaving, to pube growing and full-body waxing – exploring the performance of femininity to which we are confined.

Funny, provocative and underpinned with rigorous academic intelligence, this book shows us why and how we should all begin gently to break out of gender stereotypes. Read this book, open up your mind and, hopefully, free your body. GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS is a must-read wake-up call for all young women (and men).

What did I think?:

Girls Will Be Girls was the third book on my Five Star TBR Predictions post and one I had high hopes for after reading some fantastic reviews and learning about some of the content. As an ardent feminist myself, I am always hungry for books that explore the topic in a new, fresh and exciting way and I’m delighted to announce that Emer O’Toole gave me everything I had been looking for. Using her personal experiences, brutal honesty and novel ways to look at gender equality, Girls Will Be Girls was a fascinating read that I found difficult to put down. Although it wasn’t quite five star, it was extremely close and I have no qualms about highly recommending this to everyone if you’re intrigued by the subject matter.

The book is divided into twelve chapters and a conclusion and explores a variety of topics surrounding gender interspersed with tid-bits from Emer’s own life to illustrate the points she is making. She starts off completely honestly, admitting that she hasn’t always been the best feminist in the world and often conformed to those pesky female stereotypes to fit in with a group of friends or her male friend/boyfriends points of view. She laughed at their sexist jokes, dampened down her own vibrant personality and ambitions in order to “be like a girl.” It wasn’t until a bit later on in her early adulthood that she started realising she didn’t have to do all that, she could be her own person and there was no need to bow to the whims of society. So started her journey of experimenting with her gender – dressing like a boy, refusing to shave her legs and underarms and even shaving her head to try and understand how deeply rooted gender stereotypes really are in our world and if there was a possibility she could bend things so other women wouldn’t feel so pressurised to act/be a certain way.

I absolutely loved that Emer used her real-life experience to approach the gender debate and this book was packed full of humour, heart and real honesty as she embarked upon her journey of discovery for the good of womankind. I had heard about her infamous interview on This Morning here on the UK where the presenters quizzed her about her refusal to shave and I was delighted to discover an genuine, intelligent woman who was just as funny and “real” as the writing in her book. She had some incredibly sound points to make about how society constrains young girls and puts unrealistic, sometimes very unnecessary pressures on them. I admire her bravery and resilience for standing up for what she believes in and think all women could take a leaf out of her book in their approach to being a woman. If we’re ever going to have anything close to gender equality, I really think we need to challenge things like the media, people’s expectations and how we raise our children if we’re ever going to teach the next generation that women are in fact, not second-class citizens to men.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Delusions Of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference – Cordelia Fine

Published October 3, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A vehement dismantling of the latest pseudo-scientific claims about the differences between the sexes.

Sex-based discrimination is supposedly a relic of the distant past. Yet popular books, magazines, and even scientific articles increasingly defend continuing inequalities between the sexes by calling on immutable biological differences between the male and the female brain. Why are there so few women in science and engineering, so few men in the laundry room? Well, they say, it’s our brains. Drawing on the latest research in developmental psychology, neuroscience, and education, Delusions of Gender rebuts these claims, showing how old myths, dressed up in new scientific finery, help perpetuate the status quo. This book reveals the brain’s remarkable plasticity, shows the substantial influence of culture on identity, and, ultimately, exposes just how much of what we consider “hardwired” is actually malleable, empowering us to break free of the supposed predestination of our sex chromosomes.

What did I think?:

In my other, non-blogging life, I work as a scientist and every so often you’ll see a review popping up on my blog about a non-fiction book I’ve read that has more than likely been science-y. I’m also a firm believer in gender equality and women’s rights so Delusions of Gender seemed like the perfect mix of science and feminism which encouraged me to pick it up. I found it to be a fascinating read which I learned a lot from and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the differences between our two genders. The book is divided into short chapters with intriguing titles such as “Why You Should Cover Your Head with a Paper Bag if You Have A Secret You Don’t Want Your Wife to Find Out,” “Sex and Premature Speculation,” and “Gender Detectives.” With titles like these you may want to read this book already but let me assure you that the author backs up the humour in her writing with clear facts, possible theories and very strong evidence that lends a note of seriousness into why exactly we still have gender inequality in a modern, 21st century society.

You’d think we’d have come a long way in achieving more rights for women since say, the nineteenth century yet consider this point that the author makes in the introduction. An English clergyman called Thomas Gisborne wrote a manual called “An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex,” and noted that things such as legislation, political economy and the conduct of government should be assigned to men as they have “the powers of close and comprehensive reasoning, and of intensive and continued application.” Whereas, females enjoy “powers adapted to unbend the brow of the learned, to refresh the over-laboured faculties of the wise, and to diffuse the enlivening and endearing smile of cheerfulness.” Ladies, I hope you are extremely insulted right now. But then Fine encourages us to move forward 200 years and look at The Essential Difference written by Simon Baron-Cohen, a Cambridge University psychologist who states “the female brain is pre-dominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.” Hmm… sounds pretty much the same thing as what Gisborne was trying to say in the nineteenth century?

Throughout the book, Cordelia Fine investigates how different males and females really are. Are we all so hard-wired into our gender that there is no wiggle room in terms of qualities we should possess? Is it really a man’s world? Is it absolutely pointless for a woman to even consider a top level management job as it requires stereotypically more aggressive characteristics that for a woman is considered unattractive? I did enjoy the way that the author discredits work carried out by Baron-Cohen, and theories from the author of A Female Brain, Louann Brizendine that seem to want to put males and females in their own little boxes. For example, the assumption that a woman can use more areas of the brain than a man i.e. multi-tasking, was an experiment based on only 14 brains and the conclusions weren’t even statistically significant? In this way, a lot of experiments dealing with differences between the sexes have used just a few subjects, or made scientific “guesses,” depending on what their own stereotypical views were.

This is a brilliant and fascinating book, injected with a little bit of wit and sarcasm which I always appreciate in a non-fiction book and which I think is needed when dealing with this subject which can sometimes be a little bit touchy. I don’t think Baron-Cohen or Brizendine will be amongst her fans if they ever read it but I really enjoyed the way she picked apart neurosexism and shone a light upon the shadier areas of gender research. Oh, and you don’t need to be a scientist to read or enjoy this, it’s very accessible without being patronising.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0