Parlour Reading Room convenors Anwyn Hocking and Sophie Adsett showcase a range of read/watch/listen recommendations from the Parlour community.
This set of recommendations was assembled for the launch of the Parlour Reading Room, and first appeared on Parlour Instagram.
When Anwyn’s email arrived, inviting me to participate in this Reading Room promotion, I had just finished listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s triumphant feminist retelling of the Disney princess film, The Little Mermaid, on his Revisionist History podcast. Three episodes that he gleefully points out will take longer than the actual movie! How can a girl in lockdown resist? In the new, improved version, Jodie Foster gives Ariel back her voice and Ursula gets a happy ending rather than a skewering. So, there’s a podcast to start with.
But I want to offer Parlour readers a book about women and their voices by Rebecca Solnit. Being a critical feminist is yet another domain that she covers with such extraordinary skill. If you haven’t heard or read Solnit’s 2008 essay “Men Explain Things to Me”, then best to start there.
Her 2020 book Recollections of My Non-Existence is an account of how she grew up: “as though we were trees, as though altitude was all there was to be gained, but so much of the process is growing whole as the fragments are gathered, the patterns found.” She writes about how she became a feminist – even as she chose to write about many other things like cities, disasters, maps. And she writes about how “Men Explain Things to Me” was created in a chapter that underlines the connections between audibility, credibility and consequence. Three words that might retell Grace Tame’s own account of growing up and speaking out.
I read The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing in 1986 (first published 1962). I vividly remember being completely absorbed, and ended up curling up in bed in my rented Fitzroy share house and reading in every spare moment. It was as though I was IN the book. It was moving, traumatic, inspiring. Deeply personal and deeply political. Lessing apparently rejected the branding of her work as feminist but it was for me, and for many others. 1986 was late in the ‘second wave’ women’s movement and I was reading a lot of feminist fiction, doing elective “Women’s Studies” at Uni, and joining Reclaim the Night marches (still do, aka March4Justice, etc). I was 20 and thought I was heading into the brave new, enlightened world. That was thirty-five years ago. And here I am (photographed) in the kitchen… (with the comfort of Siri Hayes’ beautiful work “Yellow Orange and Purple Brown, 2017” on the shelf behind me).
While feminist theory explains the world from feminist perspectives, it is the stories that we tell that connect us to why it is important to fight for equity. These are two of my favourite feminist stories. I love Rosie Revere because she doesn’t give up and it is her Aunt who helps her to keep going. Plus, her inventions are completely mad. And Margaret Atwood makes us feel every injustice. She writes from the not too distant future and shows us why every battle that is fought is important, no matter how small.
I’d like to offer to the Reading Room “On Being with Krista Tippett: Maria Popov and Natalie Batalha – Cosmic Imagining, Civic Pondering”
The first text that came to mind is this stunning conversation between three amazing women who I greatly admire. It’s not explicitly feminist and certainly not a conventional book club contribution BUT I feel that their work is very interdisciplinary, very intersectional, deeply humanist and hugely hopeful. We could all use some of their perspectives right now.
I encourage listeners to come to this podcast with a feminist lens – listen with the intent of amplifying women’s voices, their pioneering work, consider their intent, tone and energy. Ultimately, in my view, the work and aspirations of the host and her two guests, as well as their contribution to cultural, scientific and philosophical production, is deeply feminist. Feminism should be as big and expansive and inclusive as the ideas discussed here if it is to be successful. I hope the Parlour community will find this podcast as uplifting as I do.
I trust that the free podcast format of this text will also support feminist values of equity and accessibility (the episode can be found on Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts … wherever you find your podcasts).
My architecture major project at RMIT proposed feminist architecture in a built form, so at the time I read many texts on the subject. The one that made the strongest lasting impression is the book Women and the Making of the Modern House by Alice T. Friedman, in particular the essay on the Schröder House in Utrecht, the Netherlands. It’s so interesting to reflect on this now, given my career has been established in social housing.
This book had such influence because for the first time in my education I’d been introduced to the fact that women had contributed, quite significantly, to iconic architecture and they weren’t receiving any sort of credit.
This is a wonderful quote on page 80 from Truus Schröder.
“This house exudes a strong sense of joy, of real joyousness. That’s something in my nature, but here in this house it’s stimulated. And that’s absolutely a question of the proportions, and also of the light; the light in the house and the light outside. I find it very important that a house has an invigorating atmosphere; that it inspires and supports joie de vivre.”
I have just finished reading Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. It has to be one of my favourite feminist pieces.
Their ideas around the impact of gender on the treatment of leaders, although largely in relation to politics, are completely interchangeable lessons across disciplines including architecture.
I particularly enjoyed Hypothesis Four: “She’s a bit of a bitch”, which explored the notion of “What’s resting bitch face?” I’ve been told more than once by men that I’m good at “resting bitch face”. The discussions in the book centreed around unconscious bias toward women in senior roles as being unlikeable. Interestingly (and not surprisingly) the authors also noted that where there was a balance of gender in the workplace, this bias lowered considerably.
Hypothesis Eight: The role-modelling riddle resonated with me because it considered the importance of how “role models both lift ambition and change behaviour.” I feel very passionate about the importance of women being seen in leadership roles, and their influence in these positions to positively mentor and inspire other women and girls.
Within the Stand-Out Lessons chapter, the following quote resounded strongly with me and is why Parlour is so important to our community:
“Do not underestimate how valuable getting people to know you is and how much space you should take up. In addition, spend the time needed to network and build coalitions and friendships. It is worth it.”
Ms Represented with Annabel Crabb which has recently aired on the ABC, also delves into some of these topics.
If I had to pick a favourite song, it would likely be Helen Reddy in 1971 – “I am Woman… hear me roar!”
Here’s me with a book my brother and sister in law gave to me a few Christmases ago. It has many great essays in it, and an interview with Vandana Shiva, who I’d heard of but hadn’t read much until my good friend Hayley Singer suggested her work as an introduction to ecofeminism. I love Vandana Shiva because she thinks and writes brilliantly but is also an amazing practical, grassroots activist and leader. She updates anti-capitalist, Marxist/socialist concepts to centre women and the environment and explains how our economic systems need to shift accordingly; “The interconnectedness of life and the rights of Mother Earth, of all beings, including all human beings, is the ecological basis of the commons, and economies based on caring and sharing.”
What a difficult task to choose just one book … I looked over at the bookshelf I have unpacked amidst all the waiting boxes in my new apartment and saw: Home Body (Rupi Kaur), She is not your rehab (Matt Brown and Sarah Brown), Bad Feminist (Roxanne Gay), Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race (Reni Eddo-Lodge), and The Power (Naomi Alderman). I would recommend all of these wonderful books! And, whilst marching to the bookstore, I’d recommend listening to Miss Beleza Universal (Doralyce), and on the way back listening to Jameela Jamil interviewing ALOK in episode 10 of the I Weigh podcast.
I bought a copy of The Power by Naomi Alderman (2016), along with some of the other titles mentioned above, as part of a goal that I set for myself a number of years ago. This goal came about because I love to read. I love to read so much that I would switch off from my PhD by reading novels! But I came to the realisation that most of the books I had been recommended were written by white men. What kind of picture was I creating of the world if I had such a narrow readership? So, the goal that I set myself was to read only books by non-white people and women. I couldn’t measure the influence this goal has had on my life but it has been huge, and has certainly expanded my understanding of different perspectives, experiences and widened my ability to empathise.
The Power is a story set in a matriarchal future and follows six captivating narratives. The novel centres around five women and one man living in different parts of the world navigating their increasingly unstable reality as women grow the ability to emit electrical currents from their body, and power shifts from men to women. I fell deeply into each of their stories. The stories are told so vividly that I can still picture the landscapes in which each is set. Although some of the characters make decisions you may not agree with from the safety of the couch, you can empathise with their actions. You can understand that if “you have felt powerless in your life, you can easily fall into the trap of wanting to feel powerful – and when we crave power at any cost, then someone else must pay that cost.” (She is not your rehab, Matt Brown with Sarah Brown, 2021, p.223). No one wants to feel the loneliness and desperation of being powerless. I think The Power helps unravel people’s behaviours by reframing them in the context of what has happened in that person’s life to make them act that way. Of course, it’s all told in such a captivating way that I didn’t even notice I was learning such lessons.
I’ll leave you with a quote from page 319 of The Power:
“However complicated you think it is, everything is always more complicated than that. There are no shortcuts. Not to understanding and not to knowledge. You can’t put anyone into a box. Listen, even a stone isn’t the same as any other stone, so I don’t know where you all think you get off labelling humans with simple words and thinking you know everything you need.”
Design: Building on Country is an inspiring and powerful book that has profoundly influenced my outlook as an Australian designer. I especially enjoyed reading about Alison Page’s experience as an Indigenous designer and artist. As a Walbanga and Wadi Wadi woman, her experiences of Indigenous-led projects and their unparalleled consideration of Country will always remain with me. This book is an essential text for any architect finding themselves questioning the relationship between architecture and reconciliation.
To be honest with you, I don’t think I have read a lot of literature that would classify as feminist theory or practice. However, I can share with you the literature that I sincerely believe had a profound effect on me as a young woman.
As ordinary as it may sound, I would pick Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I read it for the first time when I was 11 years old, and have re-read it at least once every two or three years, typically a different version every time. It was the first book where I read about a woman (Elizabeth Bennet) standing up and remaining true to her beliefs regardless of the immense social pressure she might have been subjected to. While this book ultimately has a fairy-tale-like ending with the handsome prince-like character (Mr Darcy), it arrives at that without compromising the character and grit of Elizabeth Bennet – this I found particularly inspiring. Darcy admires and accepts Elizabeth for who she is, and she chooses her happy ending on her own terms.
I would also point out that for a young girl growing up in Bangladesh – which has a very different social and cultural setting than many other countries – Pride and Prejudice was empowering to say the least. Jane Austen was ahead of her time in so many ways, and from all of her written works, I would make the educated guess that she was a feminist even before the term was coined.
The book I’d like to contribute is White Tears, Brown Scars by Australian writer Ruby Hamad.
I have shed many tears when I have read this book, some of recognition and some of relief. After almost decade of questioning my own reality and burying my reactions, I have found the voice to speak up for my lived experiences. To find a respected author enunciate that jumble of feelings and actually read it on a page makes me feel profoundly seen in a way very little else has. I want to grab every woman of colour I know and ask her to read this book so that they too can stop questioning their sanity.
“Brown and black women, I wrote, are deeply impacted, often without realising it, by the grind of living in a society that does not recognise, let alone reward, their value. Overwhelmingly disbelieved when they try to shed light on their experience of gendered racism, the lack of support they receive adds to the initial trauma, leaving them questioning reality as well as themselves. Most devastating is when this happens in interactions with white women, often women they consider friends or at least friendly.”
The Country Bunny (and the little gold shoes) by Du Bose Heyward (pictures by Marjorie Flack) is a very modernist feminist tale written for children in 1939. It tells the story of a young female bunny who, despite facing every prejudice and her responsibilities as a mother of 21 children, attains the exalted position of Easter Bunny. It says it all! It has been a well-worn favourite in my family for a few generations.
I am a lousy reader even though I desperately want to be a more illustrious devourer of the written word. I feel totally guilty for not having this skill or carving out the time to improve it. One day I’ll find the time but for now I am tired of feeling guilty for not being a better reader.
A little while ago I turned to audio books to fill the gap. I admit, it was the convenience of an audible subscription that got me hooked, but the City of Melbourne has so many free audio books available it didn’t take too long to give it the flick. The guilt isn’t gone, but I am now absorbing the content I’m interested in, and better still, it’s in a way that pairs well with some of my favourite activities or fits into my daily grind. What’s important is finding a way to introduce the works of a diversity of female thinkers in a way that is sustainable.
I have weathered lockdowns walking city streets, listening to the likes of bell hooks’ All About Love, filled many a long tram ride home with the reassuring comedy of The Guilty Feminist, disappeared for hours doing repetitive farm labour listening to The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, drifted off to sleep listening to Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia by Anita Heiss, hung out washing to Why I’m no longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, and have been brought back to life on long solo car trips listening to Clementine Ford.
My book recommendation is a collection of essays edited by Hilde Heynen and Güslüm Baydar called Negotiating Domesticity: Spatial productions of gender in modern architecture. The book is framed by two essays by Heynen and Baydar, which introduce the gendered behaviours and relationships that architecture, especially in domestic spaces, generate and fortify. They argue that without an agenda to radically depart from traditional housing, modern (20th century) avant garde domestic architecture reinforced gendered norms in domestic space.
I’ve snuck in another book, behind this book, in the photo. That book is Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, which sets out the philosophical underpinnings for the separation of gender from biological sex and establishes that gender is performed – a performance that is informed by many things, including the spaces that we inhabit.
[The baking tray and roasting fork in the photo above is supposed to be a nod to Martha Rosler and there is no reason for the horse being there. We were searching for somewhere with enough light, which was outside and she just really wanted to be in the photo (her name is Amber).]
Trans: A quick and quirky account of gender variability, by Jack Halberstam (2018) was published in my second year of my PhD. A super important read for me. What I love about Trans is how it brings together critical trans histories, theories, politics and ideas together with popular cultural references. It’s helped me understand my own trans identity, practice at the intersection of music, architecture and transfeminism.
Trans provides a framework of understanding the urgent issues facing trans people while evoking the excitement, imagination and hope about queer and trans futures. Importantly, it speaks to my lived experiences of trans joy and emergence, where otherwise there is so much bad news.
Halberstam finishes off Trans reimagining the LEGO Movie as an allegory through which to understand architecture. Written alongside the work of Lucas Crawford, Halberstam posits how trans people produce space by rejecting briefs, plans, rules, instructions that dictate the binary normative worlds we endure daily. Through play, through transition, through resistance, new worlds are imagined.
“With the ghosts of Bowie and Prince as our guides, we will go where trans takes us, looking not for trans people… but for a politics of transivity. Let’s look at forms of gender, idioms of gender, gender practices and ask all the while how gender shifts and changes through all bodies and how it might be imagined in the future. In short, and as befits both of these eclectic performers, ‘let’s dance’.”
She Persists: perspectives of women in art and design was given to me recently, and it came at a time I felt I was almost running out of steam, with everything happening in the world and female progression seemingly moving forward only to go a few steps back.
It serves as a reminder of the thousands of shoulders of women before us that we stand upon – how in the face of overwhelming prejudice, their persistence continues to serve as a powerful model to us all.
“…to live ambitiously was, and is, to live audaciously. It is to trade certainty for uncertainty… It is to chose to put her own desires and artistic needs first, when thousands of years of gendered biases demand that she put them second.”
“But without the persistence of ambitious women, we would have no progress, no pioneers, no political or creative challenges to the patriarchal status quo. Because ambition is the corollary of change.” – Dr Maria Quirk
I also recommend the “Men Explain Things to Me” series of essays.
The States of Undress docu-series on SBS On Demand is incredible. It’s not intentionally centred around women but it brings light to issues surrounding the fashion industry, of course touching on its disproportionate effect on women, particularly women of colour – all the while bringing different cultures to the forefront and their expectations of the female body and what women wear, or should wear.
Although my collection of suggestions are not books, the stories told in the following series and podcasts have been inspiring over these past couple of weeks where motivation has been low. I enjoy hearing how other women have carried themselves through times of challenge and triumphs. I took away a lesson from each contributor in the following series about the balance of courage, kindness and standing your ground.
I love a doco series that makes me want to research further and dig deeper to know more.
- First Ladies on SBS.
- Ms Represented with Annabel Crabb
- Living Black hosted by Karal Grant
And for those lockdown strolls, I enjoy a podcast. A few of my favourites for this year include:
- You’re Wrong About
- The Michelle Obama Podcast
- How To Fail With Elizabeth Day
And, just because I love her….
‘Superpower’ by Beyonce – a song that reminds me we are stronger and more powerful when united!