In the Media: 10th May 2015

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

It’s Mother’s Day in 80 countries around the world today. Not surprisingly, there has been a whole range of articles, from a whole range of view points, about mothers and motherhood this week. The Hairpin ran a series including  ‘Mommy Queerest‘ by Sarah Liss; ‘Thoroughly Modern Murdering Mothers; or, Women Who Kill for Their Children‘ by Meredith Haggerty; ‘A Joke, A Story‘ by Naomi Skwarna; ‘Going for the Burn: Revisiting Jane Fonda’s Workouts‘ by Alison Hamm’ ‘Mothers and Moms‘ by Haley Mlotek, and Randi Bergman, ‘The Weirdest Beauty Tips I Learned From My Mom‘.

Tameka Cage-Conley wrote, ‘Motherhood, Art, And Police Brutality‘ on VSB; Amy Shouse wrote ‘My mom never wanted kids‘ on Salon; Anne Enright wrote, ‘When Mother Leaves the Room‘ in The New York Times; Cheryl Strayed wrote, ‘The ‘Painful Personal Toll Lung Cancer Has Taken on My Life’‘ on The Huffington Post; Monica Hessler, ‘The long drive to end a pregnancy‘ in The Washington Post; Mary HK Choi, ‘The Dicks Of Our Lives‘ on Buzzfeed; Mary Elizabeth Williams, ‘Sorry about Mother’s Day, my childfree girlfriends: Moms aren’t any more special (or unselfish) than you‘ on Salon; Edwidge Danticat, ‘A Prayer Before Dying‘ on Literary Hub; Brogan Driscoll, ‘I Refuse to Celebrate ‘Dad Bod’, Until We Appreciate the ‘Mum Bod’ Too‘ on the Huffington Post

Catherine Bennett wrote in The Guardian, ‘It’s dehumanising to be ‘an oven’ for someone else’s baby‘; Jessica Roake wrote, ‘An Ode to the “Mom’s Night Out”‘ on Slate; Rebecca Mead wrote, ‘A Woman’s Place Is on the Internet‘ in The New Yorker; Sophie Heawood wrote, ‘I’ve read all the advice, but I still don’t know – am I raising a serial killer?‘ in The Guardian; Laila K wrote, ‘Up with the kids‘ in The Pool; Dahlia Lithwick, ‘“Bye-Bye, Normal Mommy”‘ on Slate; Christie Watson, ‘The Joy and Pain of Trans-Racial Adoption‘ on Literary Hub; Meagan O’Connell, ‘It’s My First Mother’s Day As a Mom. Now What?‘ in The Cut; Kate Spencer, ‘How I Finally Let Go Of Grief For My Dead Mom‘ on Buzzfeed; Domenica Ruta, ‘Can Having a Child Help Me Get Over My Abusive Mom?‘ in The Cut.

Danah Boyd, ‘I Miss Not Being Scared‘ on Medium; Melissa Duclos, ‘To the Doctor Who Reported Me to Child Protective Services‘ on The Offing; Christopher Frizzelle, ‘The Day Virginia Woolf Brought Her Mom Back to Life‘ on Literary Hub; Lauren Laverne, ‘“Mum” as a diss‘ in The Pool.

And if you’d rather read a book instead, Literary Hub suggests, ‘Five Intense Books for Mother’s Day‘ and the Huffington Post recommends, ‘Mother’s Day Reads: Eight Great Mother Characters in Literature‘.

Photograph by Idil Sukan

In the UK, there was a general election. 3AM Magazine ran a whole series of reactions including, Lauren Elkin, ‘an open letter to mark-francis vandelli‘; Juliet Jacques, ‘london – 2015‘; Eley Williams, ‘rosette manufacture: a catalogue and spotters’ guide‘, and Rachel Genn, ‘you wouldn’t like me when i’m disappointed‘. Other reactions included: Laurie Penny, ‘Don’t give in: an angry population is hard to govern; a depressed population is easy‘ in the New Statesman; Joan Smith, ‘Almost a third of all MPs are now women – a milestone has been reached‘ in The Guardian; Janice Turner, ‘Why the north is in revolt against Labour‘ in The Times; Beluah Maud Devaney, ‘Unfriending Tories on Facebook Is Not the Answer‘ on the Huffington Post

And there were a few pieces written prior to the result that I still think are worth reading: Sam Baker, ‘When voting doesn’t make you feel good‘ in The Pool; Suzanne Moore, ‘By Friday we’ll be reduced to bystanders at a revoltingly macho political stare-off‘ in The Guardian; Concepta Cassar, ‘Food For Thought: Hazlitt, Malthus and the Tragedy of Food Banks‘ in Litro; Katy Guest, ‘Sandi Toksvig’s Women’s Equality Party is a movement for which time has come‘ in The Independent; Salena Godden, ‘Colour-blind: What colour are you?‘ on her blog, and Isabel Rogers’ poem ‘The truth about political correctness‘ on her blog.

I promised myself I wouldn’t mention it but there have been a few good pieces written about the birth of THAT baby: Sian Norris, ‘She’s not like other girls…‘ on Sian and Crooked Rib; Heather Havrilesky, ‘Royal Baby Girl Fated to Lead International Mob of Fake Princesses?‘ in The Cut, and Viv Groskop, ‘She’s a tiny baby, not a Kardashian‘ in The Pool.

Congratulations to Gill Lewis who won the Little Rebels children’s book award with Scarlet Ibis this week; to Emily St. John Mandel who won the Authur C Clarke award, and to Alice Notley who won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Foundation Prize. A gender balanced shortlist was announced for the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2015 and a female dominated one for the Branford Boase Award 2015. The ALS Longlist and NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Shortlists were also announced.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:


Society and Politics:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction to read:

If you want some poetry to read:

If you want some non-fiction to read:

Photograph by Cybele Knowles

The lists:

With or Without You – Domenica Ruta

They fuck you up, your mum and dad
They might not mean to, but they do
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

‘This Be the Verse’ – Philip Larkin

For the first half of Domenica Ruta’s memoir, it seems that Larkin got it wrong. Kathi, Ruta’s mother ‘was a hair taller than five feet and…a screamer’.

But volume was never an accurate herald of my mother’s mood; loud was simply the who and the what of her. That voice, those big dangling earrings, the long red nails and skintight jeans and shirts slit open a few inches below the cleavage of her enormous breasts…Her hair was almost black, but she insisted on bleaching it Debbie Harry blond. She had one tattoo, a small but regrettable crab on her left finger.

Ruta, on the other hand:

…had a wrinkled forehead and perpetual dark circles around my eyes…With my black, bushy unibrow, the faint scribble of a mustache on my upper lip, and my greasy, unbrushed hair, I looked like the bastard child of Frida Kahlo and Martin Scorsese.

“Honey,” [Kathi] asked me in a plaintive voice, “why do you always look like a fat forty-year-old lesbian?”

Ruta does her homework as soon as she gets home and ‘was born with a wolfish appetite for the printed word’.

Kathi veers between working three jobs to buy Christmas presents, staying in bed all day getting high or sleeping.

The house seems to be full of Kathi’s latest circle of friends – whether that be other junkies or recovering food addicts, while Ruta has no friends, content to do her homework while the other kids on her street run around outside ‘shrieking’.

There’s no doubt that Ruta’s childhood was grim. Besides her mother’s endlessly changing moods, her step-mother, Carla, sees her as a burden; her father tries to choke her mother, and one of her mother’s friends sexually abuses her. It’s no surprise that her Nonna describes her as ‘lonesome’, a label that she chooses to accept:

It was a shadow sewn to the soles of my feet that followed me everywhere I went, something as inexorable, dark and magical as death.

It’s also no surprise that by the time Ruta had settled in at boarding school, she was regularly smoking pot – ironically bringing her a friendship group, although she describes them ‘more like business associates’ – and that this became the beginning of a hefty downward cycle.

This is a well-written memoir but, midway through, I found myself wondering what I wanted from the genre. If I’m reading a ‘celebrity’ memoir, I’m probably already interested in who they are and some of the things they’ve done. I want to know how they got into their profession; where it’s taken them; who they’ve met; what they’ve got up to. Basically, I want a good old nosey around their lives. And to some extent, I want the same from a memoir by someone ‘unknown’. As with fiction, I want to experience a life I haven’t and possibly will never lead, or I want to have some part of my own existence validated. I want to reflect on the human condition and why we do what we do. And I think that this is what the first half of With or Without You is missing. There are glimpses of it – a beautifully written paragraph every so often:

It becomes a memory that becomes schrapnel. Shards of experience still hot with life singe the brain wherever they happen to get embedded. Sometimes I swear I can feel the precise location of my memories like warm, tingling splinters under my scalp. Pictures with no sound, feelings with no pictures, the lost and found, mostly lost.

but not enough to keep me really engaged. And that’s a shame because Ruta’s story is an interesting one – her mother, in particular, is fascinating – and the book seems to develop more in the second half. Maybe I’ve read too many childhood ‘misery lit’ tales to handle another and the choices that adults make for themselves and their children have become more interesting to me.

Having said all that, Ruta can write, as I hope the quotations I’ve chosen show, and I would have no hesitation at picking up another book by her. Perhaps some fiction next time?


Thanks to Spiegel & Grau for the review copy.