Posted in Feminism, fighting, fitness

Things I Learned From My First Sparring Class

Yesterday, I decided to attend the mixed muay thai class at London Fight Factory for the first time since my friend and trainer Aaron took over teaching the class. I’ve been thinking about where I want to go with muay thai and I got this worm of an idea in my head that I just can’t get rid of. I somehow got it into my head that I might eventually (like, next year) want to fight. For real.

I know, I know. Its a crazy idea. My sister gave me the most incredulous, horrified look when I told her. I think she was already having visions of my broken nose, among other parts of my body that could potentially be damaged in a real muay thai match. Why, why, WHY would I want to do something so crazy?

But. I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve never really pushed myself to do something so far out of my comfort zone. I’ve always been afraid to try anything that’s not academic or intellectual because that’s how I always saw myself. I’ve placed my abilities in a box with very defined limits and everything I’ve done has been based on that. In one of my previous posts, I’ve already talked about how muay thai has changed the way I see myself. And now, for the first time, I’m thinking that if I commit myself to training and if I work hard enough, maybe MAYBE I can get to a level where I can at least put up a good fight. If nothing else, it will give me a goal to works toward and that’s always a good thing.

So, Aaron thought it would be a good idea for me to attend the mixed class and start sparring so that we can see how I do against other people in a controlled environment. I bought a mouth guard to protect myself while sparring, although I ended up not being able to use it because it was too tight (I must have set it wrong, lol). I was so excited and nervous going into the class. Honestly, I’ve seen what these guys do whenever I’m a little early for personal training and Aaron’s still finishing up a class, and its incredibly intimidating.

But you know what? I’m glad I came because it was a real eye-opener, not to mention a shitload of fun! Halfway through I found myself too busy and too focused to be nervous. I didn’t even realise we were already getting to the end of the 90-minute class.  Time flies when you’re making sure you’re able to dodge those kicks and punches. There’s a few things I’ve learned in that session that applies to both my training  that I’d like to share with you guys.

Think about where you can do the most damage

When you first train with muay thai, you start out by hitting pads. I think I somehow got so used to pad-work that I never really thought about the real goal here, which is to aim for actual body parts to either set up your next move or to do the most damage. Because again, its a fight, not an exercise. You’re not hitting pads anymore when you fight, you’re hitting another person.

In our last one-to-one, my trainer gave me an impromptu anatomy lesson so that I would know what I’m hitting when I aim for certain body parts. Like if I do a right body punch, I’m hitting the liver which – if you punch hard enough- is apparently the equivalent of a man getting kicked in the nuts. I’ll take his word for it as I will never have the opportunity to know.

With the first few rounds of sparring, I think I was aiming for the other person’s glove because I was still in a pad-work state of mind. Its only when my partner, Helene, started saying ‘aim for my face’ that I realised that the training wheels are off. I am now punching and kicking a moving, reacting target and I have to punch THEM because for sure they will punch ME. Its something to think about when I attend the next class.

 

Get them before they get you

When I do personal training, we do these drills so that I’m quicker with my punches, especially the jab. See video below.

I never fully understood the point of this exercise until yesterday. You really have to be quicker with the punches and get your hits in so that you’re in control of the situation. That left jab sets up so many of your next moves so if you’re lightning quick with its, the other person literally won’t know what hit them.

Also, I really have to stop apologising whenever my punches actually land. I found myself doing this A LOT yesterday. Like one of my fakes (see next item) would actually work and I’d get a punch in only to ruin it by stopping to say ‘oh sorry, I’m so sorry’. That’s good, I guess, because hurting people does not come naturally to me and goes against my Disney Princess instincts. But this is a fight. Hurting people so they can’t hurt you is kind of the point.

 

The art of misdirection

This was, by far, my most favourite lesson. On our last one-to-one, Aaron taught me how fighters used ‘faking’ to either open up a target or lure their opponent into a trap so they can strike where it hurts. I tried to apply this to sparring yesterday and I think it helped me land a few shots. However, I think I was giving myself away far too much (amateur!). Despite my intense concentration on the opponent before me, I could hear Aaron’s voice in the periphery saying ‘Eyes front Angela, you give yourself away each time because you’re looking at your next target’.

I know I keep talking about how I’m doing muay thai to prove to myself that I am more than just my brain but the truth is, it is way more mental than people give it credit for. You really have to have a strategy and think about what you can do, or how to do something your opponent won’t expect or won’t see coming (and therefore, won’t be able to block against).

A good defence is a good offence, and vice versa

So I’ve talked about being lightning quick with those jabs, but really there will be times when you WILL be on the receiving end of said jabs and you have to put up a good defense. I think this is the area that I have to work on the most. I could have done better with blocking some of those punches and kicks that I received (and maybe avoid getting hit in the b***bs so much). I let my guard down a lot of times and got my fair share of jabs, and they really hurt. So when Aaron was giving me those anatomy lessons and saying how a punch straight in the nose will disorientate your opponent? Oh boy, he wasn’t kidding. Getting punched in the nose, even in class, is not an experience I particularly want to repeat.

Nor do you want to put yourself in a position where you’re just defending and blocking all the time. You somehow have to find a way to extricate yourself from that situation, or back yourself out of that corner, so that you’re in the offensive – and in control – once again. I’ll have to work on this. I think I have good reflexes and really, its only natural to move out of the way when something comes at you but I have to channel those natural instincts into a skill.

 

Kill the boy, and let the man be born.

Line sounds familiar? Its from Game of Thrones for those of you living under a rock. Maester Aemon gave this advice to Jon Snow when he first got elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and it just came to me when I was thinking about the class I’d just attended, and from the watching the other women in class. Its amazing: they ask for and give no quarter. They pair up with other men and get treated and respected as an equal.

I came to class thinking I’d tell my teacher and whoever I ended up being paired with to go easy on me because I’ve not sparred before but actually, I realise that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to FIGHT. I wanted to take the hits and know that the world didn’t end because I got punched in the nose a few times. I can only learn from it (BLOCK, ANGELA, BLOCK) and be better from it. I think if you do muay thai you have to be strong mentally as well as physically.

By the time I got to my third partner for the day, I was actually saying ‘its my first time but don’t hold back on me’ (I mean, don’t hurt me or anything, but don’t hold back. haha). I wanted to learn and believe me, I did. Kill the girl, and let the fighter be born. 

 

If anyone’s interested in attending these classes, you can find the London Fight Factory Timetable here. Its really great and people are really supportive, I’d really recommend it!

Posted in Books, Careers, Feminism, Lifestyle, london, Reviews

Book Review: The Great Chick-Lit-A-Thon

I always think that people who abuse chick-lit as being all fluff and no substance has never had a week where you’ve used your brain so much that you just want to sit down for a day and not use up any more brain cells. That is what a chick lit is for. Its not unintelligent; in fact, I think it takes brains and talent to write a good chick lit. I don’t think it should even be called chick lit, that term is absolutely sexist. Yes, these books are written for and by women but I think men can learn a lot from them too (It certainly won’t hurt their E.Q. )

I will defend chick lits with my life. I think there comes a point in your year where you absolutely need a good escapist read. I think people who disparage these books as being so far from literature should get over themselves. Of course they’re not literature! One way to avoid going through life perpetually disappointed is to adjust your expectations. Take these books the way they were meant to be taken: they are pure, escapist enjoyment meant to be taken on a beach holiday and read for relaxation. Once in a while they provide a good social commentary and that is why this genre exists, because it is relatable AF.

Ok, I’ve said my piece. Let’s get to the review.

Eligible – Curtis Sittenfeld

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Pride and Prejudice is one of my favourite books of all time (talk about literature!). I love it so much that I’ve seen both the tv and movie version at least 10 times;

I salivated over seeing Matthew McFadden walking down Soho and I’m still kicking myself for not having the balls to get his autograph. I’ve read every spinoff of the book that has ever been released, even trashy ones such as Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife and Elizabeth and Darcy. I even considered reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but stopped myself. So when I saw this book on a trip to Waterstones, I thought, why not?

Eligible is a modern retelling of the classic tale every woman out there (who hasn’t been living under a rock) loves. For the life of me, I cannot understand why out of all the bars and gin joints in the world Curtis Sittenfeld chose to set this story in Cincinnati. There could not be a less glamorous setting for a retelling. But I read on a review somewhere that the author came form Cincinnati so she’s probably killing two birds with one stone: writing about what she knows and shamelessly plugging her hometown.

Mr. Bingley (or Chip Bingley in this version) is an ER (A and E for those of us on this side of the Atlantic) doctor who was once a contestant in a reality show called Eligible, which I imagine to be something similar to The Bachelor. He went on it on the urging of his sister/manager Caroline and because he wanted to find love. At the end of it he just could not bring himself to choose from either of the finalists because he didn’t think what he had with them was real. He moved to Cincinnati and took a job at the University Hospital where his good friend Fitzwilliam Darcy was a bloody neurosurgeon (of course he is).

Liz and Jane are not the shy, innocent virgins that they were in the original version. In fact, Jane is nearly forty, a yoga instructor and has been trying to have a child through IVF for years. Liz is 38, works for a magazine and has been having an affair with her close friend, the married Jasper Wick (Mr Wickham) for a long time and has been stupidly in love with him for even longer. They are both called back to the family home when their father has a heart attack.

I found this to be a really clever retelling. The Bennets are just as ridiculous as in the original and Mrs Bennet clearly transcends generations, revisions and retelling because I found her just as overbearing and annoying. I think the book did a really good job of injecting modern issues while still keeping the theme of the original intact. And I guess that’s only to be expected because no matter how enlightened and progressive we believe ourselves to be as a society, marriage is still by-and-large a game. An eligible bachelor such as Chip Bingley is still eyed and sized by ambitious mamas out there to see if he’s the right fit for their daughters. I’ve talked about the pressure to be paired up and settled as you grow older in my previous blog and that’s hasn’t changed from when Jane Austen published her novel. The shelf-life of women has probably expanded a bit, but a woman in her 30s who is still single is still seen as an anomaly.

I like how this book tackles feminism and proposes the idea that to devote yourself to another person doesn’t mean having to give up being your own woman.

There’s a belief that to take care of someone else, or to let someone else take care of you—that both are inherently unfeminist. I don’t agree. There’s no shame in devoting yourself to another person, as long as he devotes himself to you in return.

All in all, this was a really enjoyable book.

My Not So Perfect Life – Sophie Kinsella

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I used to love Sophie Kinsella when I was in college. When I moved to London I found it a little hard to read her books because I thought they were unrealistic. Living in London is fun but its incredibly tough. Not everyone gets the glamorous jobs in advertising; we don’t all have fun Friday nights where we do all kinds of quirky things. In short, its not as perfect as her novels seem to portray.

Which is why I love this one.

My Not So Perfect Life is a glaring reality check on what social media has done to us as a society, especially for the younger generation, the so-called millennials. I think that we’ve all always felt the pressure to be perfect: the perfect daughter, the perfect employee, the perfect woman. With the advent of social media, there is an added pressure to not just be perfect but to make sure that everyone else knows it. To be honest, I sometimes hate looking at social media feeds, especially when I’ve had a particularly tough day at work or if I’ve had to re-think my holiday plans because I just can’t afford it. I see my friends’ posts and they just seem to be on holiday all the time and I find myself thinking, how in the hell did they find the time and money to do all that? Or I look at other people’s blogs or vlogs and think, mine will never be as interesting as that, my life just isn’t that instagrammable.

Truly, don’t ever go on Facebook or Instagram if you’re not feeling good about your life. 

This book tells the story behind the social media posts. It dares to say that there’s a story behind every perfect post. People project what they want to project into the social media world because they feel the need to maintain an image. Not all of it is real. We shouldn’t lose sight of who we are just because we inspire to be instagrammable. We shouldn’t bend over backwards to make other people think life is perfect because guess what? No one’s life is perfect. Not even movie stars with their blogger poses. They go through their ups and downs the same way as we do, they probably just hide it better. And maybe they have more expensive drinks to process their grief, but grieve they do nonetheless.

I loved this book. I finished it in one sitting. At one point, I felt the need to book myself into a glamping campsite just to see what the experience is like.

I think this book has an important message, especially to the young women of today.

Whoever started the rumor that life has to be perfect is a very wicked person, if you ask me.

Life isn’t always instagram-perfect but you don’t want it to be. You are more than your social media feeds, you do not need to maintain an image. Be real, be you, be better than Facebook.

 I would definitely recommend both these books for people who are looking for a light easy read as we near the end of summer. Enjoy, bookworms! 

 

 

Posted in Feminism, fitness, Lifestyle, london, Stress Relief

This Girl Can

After work today, I went to my muay thai training session at London Fight Factory. I’ve been going to that gym on and off for about 3 years now. At one point when I was experiencing probably the lowest point of my life, I think it probably saved me from giving up or going insane. My friend Aaron first introduced me to it. At the time, I was significantly less confident about my physical abilities. I thought I’d better stick to what I knew best (Zumba) and save myself the embarassment. But he was so passionate about it that I decided to give it a go. And while I may not have been as consistent about it as I would have liked, it has remained one of the most enduring parts of my fitness routine.

It just makes me think about how quick we are to judge ourselves and say ‘I could never do that’. When did we develop this mindset that there are things beyond our reach? When we were kids, we used to be dreamers. We used to believe in magic and in the impossible. More importantly, we used to believe in ourselves. I sometimes envy the innocence (and blissful ignorance) of children. They haven’t yet learned to put themselves in a box nor to place limitations in their abilities. They still believe they can be the next prime minister or president, or be an actress, a ballerina or martial arts fighter. Check out these kids doing warm up for a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training today at LFF. IMG_5476

This stopped me in my tracks first of all because it was so darn cute, but also because it just inspired me. I mean, not all of these kids will be fighters. Some of them are probably going to be awkward executing all those moves. But they will always remember the fact that they tried, and they had fun with it. I will think about this the next time I need inspiration. Because you know what? The fact that I’m out there and trying already makes me better than half the population who are spending the afternoon watching the telly.

 

There were a lot of adverts on the tube and other places a couple of years ago celebrating the active woman called This Girl Can, and it really stuck with me. This one in particular:

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Sometimes I forget that the only limitations I have are the ones I place on myself. If I want something and I work hard enough for it, there is nothing I can’t achieve. This girl can. And if I can’t just yet, I will never stop trying.

So here’s my own rough muay thai training session. Cheers, blabbaholics. x

Posted in Books, Feminism, relationships, Women's literature

Review: Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye and the dynamics of female friendship

There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women
-Madeline Albright

This is the second in my series of reviews of Margaret Atwood’s books. The more I skim through her body of work, the more apparent it becomes that women – their roles, their relationships with men and with each other, and their daily struggles – are central to her writing. Cat’s Eye is heftier than The Handmaid’s Tale and it took me longer to finish this book. It also took me a while to sink my teeth into the writing, but when I did I was hooked. There were moments when I wasn’t quite sure what I was reading, but the prose was so beautiful and lyrical that I just felt compelled to continue.

The quote above was famously posted by Taylor Swift during her beef with Tina Fey (who wrote Mean Girls, interestingly enough) after the latter made a joke about her during the Golden Globes. I confess that I myself don’t have a lot of close female friends. I don’t know why, but I’ve always gravitated towards male friendships because I just find it more…simple. I’m not sure I’m using the right word. Let me try to explain.

I always feel like I can be fully myself around men. I have a lot of female friends and some of those are friendships that I know are for keeps. However, its not always easy for me to open up and be vulnerable with other women because I’m always afraid of being judged and found lacking. I get that that’s probably a symptom of some unresolved issue, possibly from my childhood, rather than a reflection on the kind of friends I have. But its the truth nevertheless.

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Cat’s Eye tells the story of Elaine Risley, a somewhat famous Canadian painter who’s come back to her hometown of Toronto for a special exhibit. While there, she’s haunted by memories of her childhood friends, particularly Cordelia, who was the little ringleader of their group.

The story alternates between the present and flashbacks of Elaine’s childhood, starting with the day her family moved to Toronto after a sort of nomadic lifestyle (her father, I just learned from Wikipedia, was an entomologist. I don’t know why this was never clear to me while reading the book). Elaine’s a bit awkward when it comes to social situations probably because she’s only ever had her brother to play with. She also seems to be more comfortable playing with boys than with other girls.

After about a year of living in Toronto, and just when Elaine probably felt like she was finally getting her sea legs with it comes to her friends, Cordelia moves into the neighbourhood and becomes the Queen Bee of the group. I think she must be like a young version of Regina George from Mean Girls.

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The title of the book was taken from a special kind of marble (the toy) that Elaine has and proceeded to keep in her little red purse, which gave her comfort whenever she felt like life was getting her down. It was her little secret, something that no one else has and no one else knew that she was keeping it, and especially not Cordelia.

Sweet little girls, my butt.

Cordelia’s presence changes the dynamics of the group. Elaine, because of her obliviousness and awkwardness, becomes a target for bullying. And its the kind of bullying that girls at that age seem to specialise in. I know this because I was probably once one of those girls. When I was 10, I was a part a group that consisted of the most popular girls in our year. Other girls looked up to us, they all wanted to be part of us. I always felt like a fraud back then because I could not see what was so special about me. The other girls in the group were all prettier, richer, funnier. I was just the smart one. I was too young to realise there was power in being smart and clever. I always felt like I wasn’t good enough. And just like what the other girls did to Elaine, there were times when I was deliberately excluded and alienated because I did something that the group didn’t approve of. One time I apparently got too friendly with a guy our queen bee just happened to have a crush on, I wasnt even aware of this and yet they made me feel like rubbish for a week. I think that was my first insight as to how hurtful group think among women can be. 

And just like Elaine, I knew that the worst thing in the world would be to tattle. I mean, I was never driven to it. I eventually grew a pair and started to come into my own power. The worst thing was that when I did, I perpetuated this cycle of bullying by turning into one of them. We zeroed in on the other vulnerable members of the group and just teased them mercilessly. Wow, this is the first time I’ve ever had the chance to recollect these memories and I am really ashamed of myself.  We made other girls cry. We called someone fish-face behind her back and proceeded to spread the nickname to the other people in the class, and it caught on like fire. We got the telling off of our lives when the girl we were calling “fish-face” cottoned on to it and decided to do the right thing and tell her mum about us. I suppose we were contrite, not because we felt bad for calling her fish-face but because we had been caught doing it. We then proceeded to ignore her afterwards. She became a pariah for like a month (which is like a year when you’re in middle school).

Elaine went through a more traumatic experience when the group decided to throw her hat into a ravine and when she was then forced by Cordelia to fetch it. They had all been told tales of bad things that happen when someone goes down into those ravines. But nevertheless, it was hard to stand up to peer pressure. So Elaine went and nearly freezes to death. In her delirium, she thought she saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary which enabled her to stand up and somehow get home. Her mum suddenly became fully aware of how much the situation has disintegrated, and the girls eventually apologised albeit insincerely. There was the sense that Elaine had betrayed the group by bringing a grown-up into the situation. It was after that that Elaine finally had the courage to “break” with the group.

You never really get over it

Elaine kind of repressed the whole episode. She would eventually move on to high school, do quite well, get into art school, do quite well, have a husband, get divorced – you know, the cycles of life. Throughout all that she would meet Cordelia sporadically, and the repressed experience would influence most of her life choices and especially her art. You know that girl we called “fish-face”? There’s no telling just how much we’ve altered her life because of that episode. God only knew whether she had fully internalised the whole thing. I can only apologise for making her a victim of my attempt to cover up my own insecurities back then. Because if they were busy bullying her they wouldn’t be bullying me. 

What it all comes down to…

I have a somewhat simplistic credo in life that I apply in all my interactions with other people, but particularly with other women; and its that I will never say anything about them behind their back if its a thing that I can’t say to their face. I also now choose friendships on the basis of whether I can truly open up and be myself when I’m with them. However, it is my belief that – just like love – you can never really be open enough to give something of yourself if you’re not whole. Like, allowing yourself to be bullied or to pretend to be someone you’re not just to be accepted is a symptom of someone who’s not comfortable in their own skin. You have to love yourself first before you become involved with others, whether its relationships with men or friendships with other women. If Elaine had loved herself more, she would never have allowed her life to become what it was. She would not have needed to use her relationships with other men as a crutch for when she was feeling unhappy or empty. She would never have allowed herself to be defined by who she was to others. She would be happy just being Elaine.

I guess the greatest compliment I can pay this book is that it will make you think, and it will mean different things – and be given different interpretations – by different people. It will resonate with anyone who’s ever had to go through the dynamics and politics of childhood friendship.

Happy reading, bookworms!

 

 

 

Posted in Books, Feminism, Politics, Women's literature

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale and what it means to be a woman

I went through a phase last year where I suddenly felt like I should start reading books that are grounded in reality, books that will actually teach me something rather than books that merely perpetuate the myth that a woman needs a man to feel complete (ahem, romance novels). It then got me thinking about feminism, how far we’ve come in terms of achieving equality between the sexes. At the same time, there’s a sense that there’s still so much more we’ve yet to learn.

The Romance Novel: One step forward, two steps back?

Take romance novels, for example. To be fair, they’re no longer the bodice-ripping rompers that they once were. There are less plot lines of women being captured by barbarians-masquerading-as-heroes who are then imprisoned in some castle in the middle of nowhere and virtually raped. Johanna Lindsey is an author that gets a lot of flack for her love scenes, and to be honest when I was younger I never even thought about what her books meant or what message it sends to young girls like me. On average, girls of my generation probably started reading Ms. Lindsey’s books at around 13-14. That is a very impressionable age, and its around that time period that we form a mental image of what kind of woman we would someday like to become. Its at that age where we need strong positive influences more than ever.

I loved Johanna Lindsey’s books when I was younger and to be honest, I don’t think I’m the kind of girl who would internalise whatever it is that I read from these books. I was fully aware that these books are fantasies. I also had strong role models growing up. My aunt is unmarried, but she’s achieved so much in her life that no one would ever say her life is somehow less just because she’s not a wife or a mother. She’s worked for 30-something years, on her own I might add, in the United States to provide a roof over her brother’s heads (including my dad) when their parents died. When our family business was failing about 15 years ago now, she came out of retirement, went back to the States and resumed her career as a teacher even though she was nearly 50 and dammit, deserved to be relaxing in a beach somewhere after all her efforts. But she unselfishly took on the problems of the family on her undeniably strong shoulders, and I am where I am now because of her courage and selflessness.

The point is, not all girls would have role models like that. For some girls, these heroines that they read about in books form the backbone of their mental image of what it means to be a woman. So I get the backlash now, with the maturity that comes with age. Books like Prisoner of My Desire are not appropriate for young girls to read, and thankfully, young girls these days are so conscious about feminism that those kind of books would probably have less of an appeal anyway. We’ve come that far at least.

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Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale

This brings me to Margaret Atwood. I would recommend her books not just for women but for readers of every gender because they deal with subjects that are so relevant in society today. The best book to start with, and undoubtedly her most famous published work, is The Handmaid’s Tale. There is so much discussion surrounding this right now because it was recently adapted for television on Channel 4 (in the UK anyway). I’ve never seen the series but I read the book late last year and it gave me the creeps. That was my first impression of this book: it gave me the creeps51VHe12RxJL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

This story was described by Margaret Atwood as not so much science fiction as it is “speculative fiction”. By doing that, she’s basically saying that it doesn’t take much of a stretch for this book to become our new reality. In some developing countries, it probably already is. The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Offred, who lives in a time where birth rates are falling and where women are basically useful only for their ability to give birth to a child. They are sent to some kind of school that teaches them to handmaids. It teaches them to be submissive, to be obedient and subservient; it basically stamps out any sense of individuality they might possess and turns them into nothing more than vessels of procreation. When they ‘graduate’ they join an official’s household and takes on the name of that official. So Offred is literally of Fred. In that household, she might as well be just a uterus. She exists only for the monthly ‘ceremony’,  where she engages in sexual activity with the ‘husband’ while his wife holds her hand.

The alternative to this demeaning existence is exile and death. A woman has no choice but to submit basically. In addition, there is a finite number of years for her to achieve the goal of childbirth because these women are not taken into schools in the first blush of youth as I initially thought. Through flashbacks, it turns out Offred was previously married and had a child of her own. Then some kind of war or revolution happened and the whole world changed. Anyway, they’ve got about 5 to 6 years before menopause happens and they outlive their usefulness in society.

There are so many themes to explore that I don’t even know where to begin. I guess the overarching theme is that of the woman’s place in society. Its like the novel is saying, who are you if you’re not a wife or a mother? In this world that Margaret Atwood has created you can only be either one or the other. This really resonates with me because I’m nearing 30 and I am in no hurry to settle down and procreate. Never mind the fact that I’ve not met anyone I can imagine spending the rest of my life with, I just feel like there are so many things I still want to do. I haven’t even found my life’s passion yet. I don’t think nursing or even teaching is my passion, although I am quite passionate about the latter. All I really know is, I would like to have the opportunity to explore what it is that gives meaning to my life.

It would be easy to vilify the wives in this story. After all, they seem like they have a cushy position. They don’t live in fear and they don’t have to submit themselves to a demeaning ‘ceremony’ every month. However, they are just the other side of the same coin. All the women in this book are victims. The handmaids because of the role that’s been set for them, but also the wives because of the sheer nothingness of their existence. They are barren and therefore useless. They can’t even be partners to their husband because they don’t get to have a say, or to make decisions. They’ve given up their right to expect fidelity from their husband because of their inability to bear children. So, what are they really? I don’t think there’s anything more painful than a life lived in perpetual inconsequence. 

A slow and painful death

There’s this one scene in the book where Offred is just staring at the walls. I think she was carving something on the bedposts for lack of something better to do, I can’t remember what exactly it was she was doing. The only thing I remember was the overwhelming feeling of boredom that I felt when I read about how she spends her days. I think about the days when I don’t feel like going out, I just want to stay in bed and be alone for once. But then, I have the option of watching television, or reading or writing a blog. Because I am allowed to cultivate my mind and to enhance my knowledge. The women in this book are barred from anything that might stimulate them to think. God forbid they should have one original thought, or any thought. They can’t even read magazines, for crying out loud, not even Cosmo? You would think Cosmo would be encouraged. Isn’t it all about pleasing men? Buy this product, wear these clothes, learn this sex position and the man will be your slave. I could be totally wrong here, I haven’t read Cosmo in a while, they could be all about empowering women now for all I know. I just make it a point NOT to read fashion magazines anymore because it just does nothing for my self-esteem.

God, I can’t imagine a world where I am not allowed to read. But then, wasn’t it only in the last century that there was a big to-do about women being allowed to enter into universities? In the 1950s, weren’t there separate colleges for women in universities such as Oxford and Cambridge? Even now,  I sometimes get comments about hiding my intelligence when I meet a prospective date because apparently an intelligent woman intimidates and drives away men. That’s absurd. Any man that I would even consider dating would have to be strong enough to handle the fact that I have a brain and am not afraid to use it. I don’t suffer fools.

What’s in a name?

The women in this book are not allowed to use their given names. They are instead identifies by the name of the head of the household that they enter. So there’s Offred (Of Fred), OfWarren etc. I would like to say with conviction that I find this demeaning. But then I remember a conversation I had with one of my Italian friends about taking on your husband’s surname when you get married. I was raised in a culture where I just assumed that this was an automatic thing for you to do. You get married, you take your husband’s name and so do your future children.

Apparently, in Italy (and other major European countries) this isn’t a given. You have a choice to keep your surname (or hyphenate). At the time, this was a major revelation for me. It made me think about how I would probably rush to change my name and how proud I would be to wear my husband’s name. Is this a step back from feminism? Am I somehow less of a feminist because I see nothing wrong with changing my name when I marry? Is it somehow seen as a mark of ownership, that I am a property of my husband or something?

I don’t see it that way. Maybe I do still have an idealised view of marriage and being a woman. Those Johanna Lindsey novels may have influenced me more than I thought. I just think of marriage as having a sense of belonging, like you entrust your life to this person who you know will support you, keep you safe, cheer you on, celebrate your achievements and will always have your back no matter what. Taking the name of your husband is a symbol of that trust and that joining. I don’t know, I could be totally wrong here, but that’s how I feel. If my feminist card gets revoked because of it, then so be it. I can’t pretend to change my opinions to please anybody.

Feminism and fighting for women’s right to make their own choices

The Telegraph published this great article about why The Handmaid’s Tale has made such an impact. The truth is, this book hits closer to home than we would like to think. An Anti-abortion bill is now either being passed or has been passed by the Trump administration in the US. In the Philippines, the church is still adamantly against any form of birth control other than the calendar method. The use of a condom is akin to murdering an unborn child, never mind the fact that its just safer these days to use one. I suppose because the church is still under the impression that people don’t have sex outside of marriage (let us all laugh). Women have been fighting for control of their bodies for ages and its a fight that doesn’t seem to have an end. For as long as women can bear children, men seem to think they have a say in what we do with our bodies.

Okay so women are educated now; they can even have careers. But when they marry, they’re still expected to prioritise taking care of the child. I get that, but shouldn’t the husband have equal responsibility? Here in London, I know couples who work on alternate days so that one of them will always be around to care for their children. I suppose that’s because no one can afford to raise a family in London if only one parent is earning money. I find that practice admirable. However, in the Philippines, I know a few women who, back when I knew them in school, were one of the smartest women in our class. They graduated with honours in university and had several prestigious job offers. They gave all that up because their husband was earning enough money and expected them to stay at home to take care of the children. Meanwhile, my other friend postponed her wedding to her rich boyfriend because she insisted on going to Canada and getting her residency there. She refuses to waste 4 years wherein she studied Nursing, just to become a housewife.

It all comes down to choice

All these women that I know had one thing that the women in The Handmaid’s Tale didn’t: the right to have a choice. I think for me, that’s the kind of feminism that I’d fight for: the right for women to make their own choices. Do you have what it takes to make it as a lawyer? Great, apply to university and get a degree. Its your choice. Don’t want to marry? Don’t. Its your choice. Don’t want to take your husband’s name? Don’t do it, its your choice. Don’t want any more kids? Have a tubal ligation, its your choice. Accidentally pregnant and don’t want a baby? Have an abortion. Its your choice. I may not necessarily agree or see the reason behind why women do the things they do or make the decision they make, but I absolutely agree that it should be the woman’s choice. No one should get to coerce or make these decisions for them.

Make the choice to read The Handmaid’s Tale if you haven’t already. Enjoy, bookworms!