Book Review – Nasty Women by 404 Ink

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Title: Nasty Women
Authors: Numerous
Publisher: 404 Ink
Genre: Non-fiction, essay, feminism, politics

*This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

I have been looking forward to reading Nasty Women, a collection of essays put together by 404 Ink, since I first heard about the Kickstarter campaign from Margaret Atwood’s Twitter feed earlier this year.

Most of the authors you may not have heard of, but together they represent what it is to be a woman today, and the compilation is strong on being intersectional. When I spotted Nasty Women on Netgalley last month, I jumped at the opportunity to review it.

Book Blurb

With intolerance and inequality increasingly normalised by the day, it’s more important than ever for women to share their experiences. We must hold the truth to account in the midst of sensationalism and international political turmoil. Nasty Women is a collection of essays, interviews and accounts on what it is to be a woman in the 21st century.

People, politics, pressure, punk – From working class experience to racial divides in Trump’s America, being a child of immigrants, to sexual assault, Brexit, pregnancy, contraception, identity, family, finding a voice online, role models and more, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, Zeba Talkhani, Chitra Ramaswamy are just a few of the incredible women who share their experience here.

Keep telling your stories, and tell them loud.

The stories encompass a wide variety of speakers: women of color, queer women, Muslim women, female immigrants, and female survivors of sexual assault, just to name a few. The group of authors are diverse and each story is unique.

The collection of stories are all raw and personal, deeply emotional, and powerful. It is women writing about their everyday experiences in today’s world. Many of the essays left me feeling enraged, angry…nasty. Angry at the amount of crap women that women continue to face. The increasing normalization – again – of misogyny and intolerance. The continuance of inequality.

It was a naive part of me that saw Trump do and say such horrible things, witnessed his complete lack of capability and worthiness to lead, and thought that even the most reprehensible people in my country would, at the last second, understand that allowing this would not ‘Make America Great Again’. It would merely reveal the masty, rotting heart of America that I daresay it has always had since it built a throne on stolen land and tried to crown itself king of the world.

~ “Independence Day” by Katie Muriel

The first essay, Independence Day by Katie Muriel, is one of my favorites. I believe many of us can identify with the guilt that Katie speaks to following the 2016 election.

I learned the hard way that I can’t take oestrogen. The pill and the patch made me crazy – not in the catatonic, depressive way that I’d dealt with all my life, but in a way that felt really dangerous. I was constantly angry, bordering on violent, and I began to fear that I would hurt someone…

~ “Lament: Living with the Consequences of Contraception” by Jen McGregor

Jen McGregor’s essay was another one I could relate to, as I have also struggled with some horrible side effects from birth control, which I have taken regularly since my teen years in an attempt to help relieve my endometriosis symptoms.

But the essays I appreciated the most as a reader were by authors who come from a different life experience from my own. Such as Sim Bajwa’s essay on the immigrant experience, or Joelle Owusu’s essay, The Dark Girl’s Enlightenment.

They want our things – our food, our labour, our money – but they don’t want us.

It’s infuriating and saddening. Underneath it all though, I’m weary. I’m tired of the dehumanization of immigrants and the erasure of their experiences. I’m tired of knowing that when people mean ‘immigrants’ in the West, they don’t mean white migrants from North America or Australia. I’m tired of feeling like I need to justify why my parents aer here.

~ Go Home by Sim Bajwa

This inspirational anthology is a must read for anyone who is looking to understand why intersectionality is vital to the advancement of women’s equality. As Owusu succintly states, “without all women being included in the wide and varied spectrum, the fight for equality is useless.” 

Rating: 4/5 stars.

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Book Review – Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

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Title: milk and honey
Author: Rupi Kaur
Publisher: Createspace
Genre: Poetry, Feminism

These days, I don’t read poetry very often. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I read a book of poems. It has been years, other than a handful of Emily Dickinson or Maya Angelou scattered throughout the last decade. Then, last month, I discovered my birth mother’s poetry. And it felt invigorating, soul-crushing, and uplifting…yes…all of that, all rolled in to one, when I read her words.

And it came back to me in a rush, how much I used to love poetry. Once upon a time, I wrote poetry. I wrote about being adopted, about boys and love, about sitting beneath a tree on a warm, sunny day. I waxed poetic, and my poems were never anything special….but I enjoyed the process. It was one of my college boyfriends, a guy who also wrote poetry, and who turned out to be a horrible person, that turned me off of the genre.

Well, I’m ready to reclaim it. So, when I got home from my trip to meet my biological mother’s family, with a basket of her letters, and a journal of her poems, I felt inspired. To take up a new genre, and explore it anew. One week after returning home from that trip in April, I went out and bought Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur.

And that is how I found myself reading it during Dewey’s 24 hour readathon.

it is your blood
in my veins
tell me how i’m
supposed to forget

Milk and Honey is about survival, and is split into 4 sections: the hurting, the loving, the breaking and the healing. The design of her poems are inspired by a Punjabi script called gurmukhi, in which words are written only using a period. There is no other punctuation; all letters are treated the same – no upper or lowercase. I loved this style, as it is often how I used to write my own poetry, only in my case, I was modeling e.e. cummings.

Rupi Kaur was born in Punjab, and moved to Canada with her parents at a young age, and through her poetry she provides a voice to other women of color who may be silenced in a patriarchal and/or colonizer culture. Before reading her poems, it helps to know where she is coming from, as she talks about in the preface:

my thoughts go to the sexual violence we endure as south asian women. we know it intimately. from thousands of years of shame and oppression. from the community and from colonizer after colonizer. by the time i am born i have already survived the first battle of my life. against female feticide. i am one of the lucky ones who has been allowed to live. we are taught our bodies are not our property. you will do with them as your parents wish until they pass the property onto your husband and his family. a good indian girl is quiet. does as she is told. sex does not belong to her. it is something that happens to her on her wedding night. our job is to lay obediently. not to enjoy. let him take.

our trauma escapes the confines of our own times. we’re not just healing from what’s been inflicted onto us as children. my experiences have happened to my mother and her mother and her mother before that. it is generations of pain embedded into our souls.

i read hundreds of books growing up. but none can explain this torment to me. i need access to words written by people who look like me writing about the things i am going through. at that moment i realize the importance of representation and know this must be different for my children. they must have access to their own literature.

Rupi Kaur’s writing is succinct; many of her poems are only a few lines. She is incredibly skilled in bringing her point across in a tiny amount of space.

our backs
tell stories
no books have
the spine to
carry
~ women of color

Some people describe her work as cliché, or simplistic. I disagree. Yes, there is a certain simplicity, a minimalism, but that does not make her words or message simple.

apparently it is ungraceful of me
to mention my period in public
cause the actual biology
of my body is too real

it is okay to sell what’s
between a woman’s legs
more than it is okay to
mention its inner workings

the recreational use of
this body is seen as
beautiful while
its nature is
seen as ugly

YES, YES, YES, YES, YES!!

I had that reaction quite a few times while reading her book. As a woman, as a feminist, as someone who has experienced trauma in my past, I could relate to many of her poems. And I found it a fascinating self-study to look back at all my post-it notes after finishing the book, and realize the poems I currently relate to the most were not in the sections about hurting or breaking, but in the chapter about healing.

This is a book about the human experience, and it is relatable on a wide variety of levels. It takes a lot of courage to write in such a personal manner, and I look forward to seeing what Rupi Kaur does next.

Rating: 4/5 stars.