When I was working in a bookshop, this is the sort of book we would have put on the counter near the cash register.
It is a certain sort of customer who deliberately includes this section of a bookshop in their browsing rather than half-heartedly paw at it while waiting for their receipt to print; Mister BIP is that sort of customer, whereas I peek while standing in line.
Having said that, The Book of Dangerous Women: A Guide to Modern Life (edited by Clare Conville, Liz Hoggard, and Sarah-Jane Lovett) is just the book to make me rethink my strategy — reverse it even.
Arranged alphabetically by topic, each entry ranges from a few lines to a few pages in length, on subjects as varied as CONTAINER GARDENS and PUDENDA.
Whether practical or impersonal or whimsical or intimate, they are consistently succinct.
Take LONG-HAUL TRAVEL: “Comfortable knickers are vital.”
And DISHWASHERS: “Many people spend more time loading and unloading the dishwasher than having sex. This is unwise.”
Even the longer entries are direct and sculpted and, for all the wit, there is substance there as well.
Stuff to learn, stuff to know: FIVE ELEMENT ACUPUNCTURE, ENTERING A CONVENT (complete with The Sound of Music reference, INSOMNIA.
There are topics that you might expect to find in such a book directed at not-so-dangerous women: CHOCOLATE, SCENT, FROCKS, DIVORCE, SKIN and HOUSEWORK. (Though the tone of the volume makes these fun to read as well.)
But what’s truly fun are the words and phrases that you mightn’t be expecting to find CANCELING CHRISTMAS, MAGICAL THINKING, TRAMPOLINING, WHERE’S MY FUCKING PONY, and GYNOCRATS.
There is a self-help component to the content, from the overt (FAMILY THERAPY, ORGASMS, BOUNDARIES) to the less-in-your-face talk of PLAYING IT COOL, PLEASURE OF WORK, CAN’T.
And at times it feels much like a book filled with the kind of advice columns that I remember the older women in my family reading aloud from the newspapers when I was growing up: DRUNK DIALING, FRENEMIES, GOOD BEHAVIOR.
As such, it reveals current cultural preoccupations, just as those old Ann Landers columns did. So you have entries like GREEN LIVING:
“This is very popular. However, recycling your batteries may not be enough to save the planet. We need big, sweeping international change, radical policies and unswerving politicians, who are prepared to make difficult and unpopular decisions, now, in order that our grandchildren can live in a viable world. Time to demonstrate.”
Many of the entries also contain references, for instance, this one refers to Demonstrations, Eat your greens, Get involved, Green exercise. Sometimes there is also a good giggle included in the references, that unexpected entry.
Some of the entries are simply quotes, too, like this under GREER, GERMAINE: “You’re only young once, but you can be immature forever.”
And with the mention of Greer, you might be wondering if there is an entry under FEMINISM. No, there’s not, though there is a list of the seven demands of the WOMEN’S MOVEMENT.
But the book is infused with a feminist spirit, and the question is posed: WHITHER FEMINISM?
“Where did feminism go and why has it become such a dirty word? […] There is a long list of people we need to thank, so please let’s not forget what they stood for, whom they stood up to, and how much we owe them.”
This entry also connects to the quote included from Hilary Mantel: “I think for a woman to say that ‘I’m not a feminist’ is [like] a lamb joining the slaughterers’ guild. It’s just empty-headed and stupid.”
For some time, I was looking for the “dangerous” element of this volume. Not IN BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE (it wasn’t as frightening as it sounded). Not DANCING WITH THE DEVIL (it was used euphemistically). Not (THE) CURSE (and nor was I expecting it to be there, really).
And, so, the element of danger is the paradox contained in the pink and white covers, that the frilly tendrils of foliage and the elegance of perfume bottles are simply the pretty and socially acceptable packaging for the words of three smart and sassy women, aiming to stretch the boundaries of conventional gendered expectations of femininity.
Project Notes: Truly, beyond the Massey Lectures, I hadn’t given much thought to House of Anansi publishing non-fiction, let alone such diverse material as Lana Šlezić’s Forsaken and this compilation. More about women and girls tomorrow, on Day Four.