Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body bySara Pascoe
Pascoe argues that we women are merely animals with very large 40,000 year old brains. The fat on our bottoms has evolved for pleasing males so why, she asks, do we hate it so?
This is a book that Irish Examiner columnist Louise O’Neill will probably love. Both she and Pascoe are in their thirties. Both are largely defined by their feminism. Both are funny. Louise is from Clonakilty in West Cork and Sara from Dagenham in Essex; neither of which locations shout London! or Dublin! or even Cork!
Intelligent women who are lovely to look at have a real dilemma. How do they reconcile their rational ideas with their longing to look pretty? How can they justify an interest in fashion with the need to be judged for their work? What if they actually like being loved and cuddled, by a man, at the same time as being entirely independent financially? It’s tricky.
This is how Pascoe begins. She challenges the way she is introduced in comedy venues. I imagine that she might ask why Dara Ó’Briain is not announced as male? Her name is Sara Pascoe and audiences might expect a woman. But no, they must be told that she is female. Sometimes she is described as a comedienne. And, that’s a strange word, isn’t it? Why not just call Pascoe a stand-up comedian? What is the difference? How does her gender come into focus?
Pascoe addresses these problems, and more serious ones, in her particular way. First she read loads (more than two anyway – her joke) of scientific books about evolution, genetics, environment and chemistry. Then she filters what she learns through her humour.
Pascoe explores, and then communicates in her indomitable way, what most of us sort of know. We have big brains. Our heads are so big that we must be born before they are fully formed. We must be nurtured very carefully for many years. We need a mother to feed us and, what Pascoe describes as a boy-mother, otherwise known as a father, to provide for and protect us. The other women and the other men in the tribe, who are also pair bonded, can help out too and we can support them. It all works well on the Savannah, she says.
It’s not like that anymore. Women can work and bring up children without men. They do not even have to have sex.
The modern woman, however, is tied to her ancestors who lived and bred millennia ago. When we lifted ourselves from four to two feet we survived better, and thus passed on our genes, if we bonded by having sex face to face. Women with fat on their chests (aka as breasts) emulating buttock fat, were preferred. The Page 3 girls were on their way.
Pascoe’s style is very attractive. There are jokes on every page. Laughing out loud is frequent, if dangerous, like incontinence. At the same time there are almost unbearable revelations about aspects of her life. I suppose her experience has been no more full of suffering than anyone else’s. Maybe she is just more honest. Or maybe, because of her vocation, she is prepared to share with everyone.
Pascoe’s publisher was shocked when she referred to an incident when she cut her thigh with a razor blade. She riposted: this is normal for girls. The incident remains in the book. There are also detailed descriptions of her early life which might be heart breaking were it not that they are laced with humour. Pascoe tells us about her failed love affairs and her struggles with eating disorders. Some things are harrowing but we have all been through similar times and we, like her, have survived. And she is self-deprecating in such a funny way.
Now that this review is written I am going to send the volume, disguised in a wrapping of brown paper, into the Examiner office, marked ‘Louise O’Neill, woman columnist’. No, cut the word woman. She is a columnist. The book should reach her, whether she is gendered or not, and I think she will like it.
Pascoe, Sara. Animal: the Autobiography of the Female Body. Faber. 2016
A version of this review was first published in the Irish Examiner on page 37 of the Weekend section, 15 Apr. 2017.
I wanted to call this final blog ‘the blog of blogs’ but I think someone else has done that already.
And, as I was reading Seamus Heaney’s bog poems in North for an upcoming seminar with Dr Adam Hanna, I thought I would open my final blog with a class that hasn’t yet happened. This illustrates, once again, my rebellious and unnecessarily maverick approach. So my blog journey, instead of going forward from the first blog, goes backwards from 20th March 2017 to 8th October 2016.
There are quite a lot of blogs but it’s cheating really as 50% of them (those in orange) are book reviews that I wrote for the Irish Examiner. I included them because Donna encouraged me to display my published work. There are another five review blogs in my drafts box, waiting for publication dates in the paper, and another three actual books, to be reviewed, on my kitchen table. So that’s at least another eight blogs to go, after this one.
Today! March 20th: Glob-bog-blog
March 18th: Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep
March 13th: Horrorshow
March 13th: To seem a white king’s gem
March 12th: Breakdown: the crisis of shell shock
March 17th: #textualities17
March 6th : Paddling with Pecha Kucha
February 11th: The novel of the century
February 10th: Jonathan Swift: the reluctant rebel
February 8th: Walsh and Wiki
January 26th: My Literature Review
December 19th 2016: Goldfinch in the Snow
November 26th 2016: Not Waiting for Godot
November 20th 2016: Not normally angry in Ireland
November 10th 2016: It’s the Economy Stupid!
November 4th 2016: A Shared History: Dadland
November 3rd 2016: Darkness Visible
October 30th 2016: They Dreamed and are Dead
October 29th 2016: Perils of Popery
October 8th 2016: Not all Plans are Idiot Proof
The book reviews are rarely viewed which is a shame as I think they’re quite interesting. I never know what the book editor will send me and I sometimes wonder if he is a bit of a sadist. Why would anyone send an ‘oh so English’ woman Blanketmen? It’s ‘an untold story’ written by one of the hunger strikers. I chose every word that I wrote very carefully. Proofreading had to reach the highest level possible.
When I look at my categories and tags I know that it’s the book reviews ‘what done it’. Catholicism and Protestantism rule the tag cloud although I see that Enda Walsh has now overtaken them.
The Jonathan Swift review , in particular, would be interesting to the student of Irish Literature. It’s a brilliant literary biography and if anyone wants the book just ask and I will give it to you. Or if you fancy any of the other texts let me know and I will bring them in. Not the Meryl Streep book though. Donna’s got that. And Blanketmen has gone to the head of maths at the Camden school in which I taught from September 2002 to July 2015.
Donna’s list for the Glob-Bog-Blog:
I think Donna means that we should have everything well organised or in good order rather than ordered numerically. And she hasn’t mentioned citing. I checked on Ellan’s and Emilio’s blogs-of-blogs from last year. It looks as if you just cite your own blogs. Other works mentioned, perhaps, are merely found within the blog. Here is Emilio’s:
Bonome Ares, Emilio José. ‘About‘. Irishness and Beyond: An Irish Writing and Film Student’s Blog. WordPress. 16 Sept. 2015.Web. 24 Mar.2016.
Horrorshow! was posted on March 13th and gives my reflections on the mini-conference. It picks up on #textualitiesandPaddling with Pecha Kuchawhich charter my journey towards Textualities 2017. Extracts from Horrowshow! suggest that by 13th March I am not feeling too bad. Extracts from my previous blogs are given in pink.
When the day came I was no longer nervous. Either I was numb as my nerves could support no more effort or I was as well prepared as I could be and I could do no more. And I knew that my mate Emilio would be coming to support me.
Donna was in the room and when she is there I always feel calm.
Annie and Rebecca had my back on technicalities. They were both so kind and so competent. It would all be cool.
Then it was me doing my talk on Enda Walsh’s use of ‘living room’ in his plays. I like the images as they are all simple – just photographs of stage sets. But they looked good I think.
Annie was there to press the buttons so that everything worked. I launched into my carefully timed narrative. Questions, when they came, from Graham Allen, Adam Hannah, Anne Etienne and others were supportive and not hostile as I had feared. I am looking forward to engagement with all three named faculty before I get much deeper into my research.
#textualities is the live blog that I did on March 10th. It was the final panel of the day and I was quite tired by this time. I would probably give that blog a fairly low grade (like 3/10), although Siobhán, whose presentation I blogged, was very generous. She sent me a comment:
Wow! You really kept on top of that, Josephine. Much impressed by your powers of endurance and attention. Well done!
It was really hard to listen and type – as I had no idea what they would say or in what order. I did not know what the key points might be. But I tightened my narrative up a bit during Q&As and was able to publish immediately. I felt that it was important to have it published and entered as a link on Twitter before we broke up for the day. So this shows you how far I have gone in technical terms. This is mainly down to Donna, of course, and Emilio, who was on the MA in Irish Writing and Film last year with me. He gave me one-to-one tutorials.
I have just had to leave this blog for a few minutes to Tweet about my best ever acting student, Daniel Kaluuya, who opens in Cork tomorrow (it is not tomorrow now but was St Patrick’s Day) in the comedy horror Get Out. There are serious issues for him (and for me, although that does not matter so much) in terms of the way people regard him racially. You can see my blog from last year about this and I will write another soon once I have seen the film.
So now we journey back to March 6th. It’s Paddling with Pecha. I sort of like this title as it links in with a bookreview I was writing at the same time but which is not yet published.
I headlined the review Queueing with Elephants. The book is about finding a place, in the world , a sacred combe. in which you can commune with your soul.
But, for me, Pecha Kucha was not really a place that I could use for communicating with my soul. But I did paddle in it and I felt that I understood and liked and respected it in the end. Nevertheless I think that I would prefer a spot in West Cork or on the Hook Peninsula for my combe. Although I am quite fond of certain parts of London, especially bridges.
My Pecha Kucha is complete. The slides are chosen and ordered. The narrative is written. I forgot to do the storyboard thing but never mind.
Others are beavering away at the online presence and organisational matters. Thanks to all of them. Soon the day will come and we will strut our stuff. Then it will be over. Bring it on.
Donna’s list, above, tells me that I must mention my two research seminar blogs. To Seem a White King’s Gemwas posted on March 13th.
This was a seminar given by Benjamin Keatinge about the Anglo-Irish poet Richard Murphy. I was thrilled by the prospect as it particularly focused on Post-Colonialism and form.
Keatinge suggests that Murphy had a ‘quarrel with his own inheritance’. That he sees ‘himself as a victim as well as an inheritor of colonialism’. I find it poignant thinking of Murphy – sexually ambivalent, ancestrally misbegotten, and spatially unsettled – his life seems to have been exceedingly liminal. For further elucidation you might read Maurice Harmon’s 2007 ‘In Good Form’, an interesting account of Murphy’s life and work and/or his own piece ‘Notes for Sonnets’ published in The Poetry Ireland Review (2011).
What I find most interesting about Murphy is his use of the sonnet form. I have always regarded this structure as a sort of corset for composing poems. If you can get into it, it provides an elegant silhouette. But if you are flabby or loose you’d be better off leaving it alone.
In his journal ‘Notes for Sonnets’ Murphy writes to himself: ‘Have all possible cadences been tried and exhausted in the sonnet? … Ask this question in the Wellington sonnets … ? Are you square bashing in rhymed metrical verse … ? constrained by the left right left right of the metre and the rhyme, the platoons of polished boots on the parade?’
So I would say that this is the best blog I have written in terms of the MA. After I had written it I send it to Adam Hannah, who had been at the seminar. He sent me a really useful link to a film by Richard Murphy’s niece, about her parents and uncles and aunts and grandparents in their ‘quite’ big house, Milford. It is fascinating if you are interested in the last remnants of the Anglo-Irish. And shows me how useful research blogs can be if someone reads them and offers useful comments. Thank you Adam.
Back we go to February 8th and it’s the aftermath of the Wikipedia Editing session. I am writing about my efforts to edit the page on Enda Walsh. I was quite interested in the idea that the entries on Wikipedia had to be factual and objective, like an encyclopaedia. That was a discipline. There were more gushing compliments to Donna and Emilio, of course.
I put in another new heading which is ‘Themes’. There is an issue with this I think. Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia and the idea of themes might be a little too interpretative. To get around this I used only Walsh’s own words. He is a great one for saying what his plays are about, unlike Beckett or Pinter, but he doesn’t always say the same thing. I love his sweeping statements which suggest that all his plays are about . . . whatever he says at that moment. So, even if someone eventually cleans this section off the page I have put in on as I think it is fascinating.
I found the technicalities of citations, links and screenshots very straightforward. I also managed to send some rather dull tweets although I am not sure whether I am following enough people or if enough people are following me. Thank you Annie, Roy and Donna for your ‘likes’. I am indebted to Donna Alexander and Emilio Bonome-Ares for teaching me how to edit Wikipedia. They were both very kind and supportive. Also calm in the face of my panic.
In terms of live Tweeting. I got a reply from an Irish friend who is a Chelsea supporter but not, in the slightest bit, interested in my studies. He said that I had to put an icon on my Twitter account. All Greek to me… Icon? But I dug out an old photograph.
Actually this had been scanned for me by the Irish Examiner for an illustration for my review of Dadland.It wasn’t used in the end but three other images of my family were used. The reason for this was that the writer, Keggie Carew, and I were born around the same time, as were our fathers. So my review looked at her father in terms of his success as a soldier and failure as a dad. My father was the opposite although he had been ‘steady under fire’ at DDay+1.
In England we call that the Second World War whereas in Ireland it was known as the Emergency. My father came from a family of Quakers and pacifists – both my grandfathers were conscientious objectors during the Great War – but he felt strongly that, weedy as he was, he would have to take up arms against the evil of Hitler and Nazism. Many Irish fought alongside my father. So died, some lived.
Back we go to January 26th and I am on my high horse about the literature review. Heather Laird had delivered an inspiring session and I had rushed home and drafted a literature review, a concept on which I blogged in my usual mean-spirited way. I have not even looked at the review since – but, oh gosh, we have now had strict instructions to submit our literature review under Turnitin. Maybe because I mentioned the availability of buying one we all have to use Turnitin. Whoops!
As I do not choose to avail myself of a bought product I will have to re-write the Literature and IT Review shortly, in the light of work that I, and no one else, have done since January 26th. The deadline looms. Hoping to meet it somehow.
Now it’s a long way back…
December 2015. I was writing about Modern Irish Gothic. This post springs from a reading of Irish work at the UCC Boole library. I was very taken by a story Eílísh Ní Dhuibhne called Goldfinch in the Snow. I wanted to write about it for the Gothic to Modernism unit. I was not allowed to as I have not been taught the work, the writer nor modern gothic. So I wrote a blog instead. I think it has particularly nice images and Heather liked my work on colour imagery.
Ní Dhuibhne uses colour in interesting, if rather heavy-handed, ways. Darina, the eponymous goldfinch, looks like one. She wears ‘high heels and … black lacy stockings’. On her feet are ‘shoes, black patent, strappy, more sandals than shoes?’ and ‘her long black hair [has] the tiny red cap on top … the scrap of yellow silk at her throat’ (54/55). Darina is representative of colour. We hear of the colour of her home town of ‘Golden Beach’ (presumably Golden Sands, near Varna, on the Black Sea) where the sea is blue, the boats and birds are white, and ‘the women in their bikinis’ are ‘like tropical birds’. We hear about the liminal colour of dawn, ‘a pale, milky colour … a pale bluey grey … maybe, pearl blue’ (53/58).
I am quite annoyed that only 4 people looked at this blog as I am proud of it. One was Heather Laird, of course. One was my partner. One was Margaret, my peer from Irish Writing and Film. And it is one of my key blogs as it counts as a Research Seminar blog.
But I know that some of my feminist peers would have been interested to read it, had they known. I read Louise O’Neill, in the Examiner, every week, and have read her novel, Asking for It, about rape. I have also reviewed, for the Irish Examiner, the book Animal by Sara Pascoe. My review cannot be blogged yet as it has not been published. Other reviews of it have already appeared. Pascoe, a woman from Essex, is an ardent feminist and comedienne. She is brave and funny. Pascoe cannot believe that it is illegal to have an abortion in Ireland.
She comments in her introduction to the reprint of her book that she feels confident that by the time the reprint is published the Eighth will have been repealed. Well, the reprint was published a while back. And, according to my sources, the Eighth is nowhere near being repealed. For me abortion is a basic human right. But I am too ignorant on the detail of the Irish debate to comment.
Before Goldfinch in the Snow we find a blogging fest in November 2016. Three reviews, including Dadland and one blog about Remembrance Day. The latter is another of my high horse issues. I am not a fan of the establishment. Not in England and not in Ireland. But I have a blog with images of Queen Elizabeth II of England and prime ministers and presidents.
What is going on?
I am offended as there is , in Ireland, to my knowledge, no official two minutes’ silence on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. We do have this in England at schools and workplaces.
I am a bit of an aficionado of literature of and about the First World War. I taught it for years for a synoptic paper at A level. I led trips to the battlefields and identified site-specific readings for my students to deliver. I took a particular interest in Irish literature as my partner was working here in Cork. In fact, I wrote about it in the Irish Examiner and my partner wrote about the historical context. He also spoke to my students, over the intercom in the coach, about the history of the war and the contribution of the Irish.
To return to the point, Armistice Day, is a commemoration of the ending of a violent event, rather than the violent event itself. Can that be argued for commemoration of the Easter Rising? If you commend Bruton’s remarks then you should not really celebrate an uprising which deflected resources from a world war which was fought to establish the self-determination of small nations; especially given the contribution to the hard-won victory by soldiers from the island of Ireland. I recommend Sebastian Barry’s novel A Long Long Way to anyone wanting to engage with the conflicting ideas of this period.
My interest in the First World War was deepened by reviewing a book about shell shock called Breakdown. Ignorance and fear led to traumatised young men being badly treated or even shot at dawn.
I also wrote, on 26th November about a book by the Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington. It was called The101 Greatest Plays. My blog, which focussed only on the Irish playwrights therein, was called Not Waiting for Godot.
Nine Irish playwrights and a total of ten plays make the cut. Farquhar, Goldsmith, Sheridan, Shaw (twice), Joyce, O’Casey, Beckett, Friel and McPherson. But where are Boucicault, Synge, Behan, Keane, Murphy, McGuinness, Carr, Barry, and Walsh? Another nine off the top of my head, and I haven’t even started on those born elsewhere such as McDonagh.
Instead Billington chose All That Fall, a radio play, because of its “vivid particularity” rather than “exemplary archetypes”. Helen accuses Michael of a “dated penchant for observant realism” but he insists that the play contains “all the great Beckett themes given flesh and colour”.
Interestingly, although the MA students studying English and American Literature and Film did study Waiting for Godot, we in Irish Writing and Film looked at Happy Days. I wrote an essay for Anne Etienne on Lust, Love and Loss in the play.
This is one of the few blogs that I have written which has received a comment – and one from a total stranger!
Well, that was an interesting juxtaposition of subjects! I thought more Bill and Ted than George and Lennie, but I enjoyed both the film and your review. Cheers. BTW interesting dilemma about the barnacle!
What a result! The above popped in five months’ later on March 16th 2017.
So my blogging journey has been long and varied. I would say that is nothing like scholarly enough – I tend to keep that for my essays. But I have really enjoyed writing it and I have enjoyed reading my peers’ blogs too. Have a look at my first post for a laugh.
Oh guess what? I do not think this blog-of-blogs will be shown as an example of excellence next year, do you? But here is what Maureen sent me before leaving for her sabbatical: A model blog! You have tags, a category ‘cloud’, links to other blogs, thoroughly engaging, provocative entries, made with regular frequency and which strike the perfect tone. Your multimedia elements are appropriate and Illuminating and your citations are pristine!
Barnes, S. The Sacred Combe. London. Bloomsbury. 2015. Print.
Fenton, Josephine.’#textualities17‘. Corkucopia: Irish Writing in English. 17 Mar. 2017. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.