Bernardine Evaristo’s ‘Blonde Roots’ - by Jade aka Ada
A few weeks ago, Tumblr was set ablaze by the discovery of Victoria Foyt’s novel Save the Pearls, a dystopian speculative novel in which black people dominate the world and white people are forced into hiding and can only go out wearing blackface. I haven’t read the book and I’m not going to. Instead, I’d like to tell you about a book that also depicts a world in which the racial dynamics are reversed, but this one was written by a black woman. And that changes everything. Blonde Roots is one of my favourite books ever. It starts in the United Kingdom of Great Ambossa (UK or GA for short), one of the wealthiest nations of most resourceful continent, Aphrika. From the first page:
Frogs and crickets provide a drunken nighttime chorus while camel-drawn carriages deliver stoosh party guests to our neighbouring compounds. The men wear flamboyant kaftans and their glamourously fat women try to outdo one another with peacock-print headscarves tied up into the most extravagant girlie bows.
All the houses are freshly whitewashed, with stained-glass windows depicting the gods: Oshan, Shangira, Yemonja. Stone sphinxes guard porches, and stationed by doorways are torch lamps on tall marble plinths — their flames are slippery blue fingers grasping out at the sticky nighttime air.
The narrator, Doris, is a white Englishwoman who was sold into slavery and longs to see her motherland, which the Ambossans call the Cabbage Coast. As the novel progresses, we are taken through many different aspects of slavery, from house slaves on the continent to field slaves in the fictional version of the West Indies, the West Japanese Islands.
Bernardine Evaristo explores the many aspects in which people takes power over another: she depicts a fictional Africa that is as confident and as imperialistic as white people were in those centuries of slavery (and still are in many regards today). Her white narrator is constantly ashamed of herself for being so pale, so scrawny and for having such lanky, unmanageable straight hair. Though she hates her masters, she also envies their physical features, their wealth and their righteousness. Included in the book is a forty-page narrative from Doris’s first master, a fierce anti-abolitionist who recounts his travels to the “Grey Continent,” Europa:
Naturally the savages were overdressed, as I had been told they would be. They wore grimy layers of cloths and matted wools that were coloured in browns and greens so dingy they could blend into the filth of the earth without need of camouflage.
As I followed Doris’s forced journey, I felt for her and had to reflect on how much the history we know didn’t have to turn out this way, at all. Blonde Roots is a page-turner, sometimes satirical, sometimes tragic, and always beautifully written. Let me mention that Evaristo is also a poet, which shows in the rhythm of every sentence and in the careful selection of words. I enjoyed reading every page of Blonde Roots and learned many things about slavery and the mechanisms of oppression in the process. I recommend this book to everyone.
‘Charmed’ review by Jordan Farrar
SisterWitchGirlPower and the Problems with Charmed
Going into this, I seem to have seriously underestimated Charmed, the television show about sister witches that ran from 1998 - 2006. Mostly, Charmed just seems so incredibly average. I’ve seen more episodes than I care to count, but I don’t know if I could successfully summarize the plots of more than a handful. Charmed was what I watched if I was at home and bored, looking for a reason to stare at a TV screen and think about other things. The dialogue isn’t captivating, the clothes are very early 2000s, and the supernatural special effects are pretty lame. I just never thought of Charmed as a show that people actually care about.
However, the internet has taught me that people not only love this show, but people write dissertations about a witch played by Shannen Doherty. There’s even a wikipedia page titled “Charmed academia.” When I realized that Charmed was being analyzed as a feminist text, I was both disappointed and a little relieved. The entire reason I set out to write about Charmed is because I saw in it so little merit. From a (very) broad perspective, Charmed’s closest television ally is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, another show about the supernatural, featuring strong women, and produced at around the same time. But Buffy is good. It’s well-written, the fashion is horrifying in a deeply satisfying way, and there have already been a wealth of scholarly articles written on the program. Because I love Buffy, and because I didn’t want to get buried under the livejournal pages of slayer-themed feminist criticism, I decided to turn to the next (next next next) best thing. A late 90s show about witches and girl power that is watchable yet unbelievably bland! No one will have analyzed this through a feminist lens, because who would want to? But they have. Apparently, many have. And because I don’t want to pay to download anyone’s Charmed-based dissertations, I will assume that no one has compiled a list of moments from the pilot episode and lazily critiqued them from an anti-essentialist perspective. If so, I’m sorry, because I could only watch this episode (which is, hilariously, called “Something Wicca This Way Comes”) while intermittently checking all of my social media. It’s not a very riveting 40 minutes of television.
As you might expect from a TV show about witches, Charmed heavily relies on the inherent power of the feminine. Merely including the word “wicca” in its pilot’s title suggests a certain earth-mother-essence that can be found in almost all other pop culture depictions of modern day witchcraft (I’m looking at you, Tara). This apparent worship of the feminine has always bothered me, for the simple reason that I don’t find an idolization of the feminine to be particularly empowering.The assertion that, with womanhood, comes a certain maternal strength usually seems to reek of a contrived “girl power,” that easily accessible feminism preaching that girls can kick @$$ while looking cute. Feminism is complicated, and, no woman gains power just by being a woman. We have to work at it, because we are human. We do not inherit any strength from a maternal, mystical force. And TV shows about witches do not seem to understand this.
Theorist Judith Halberstam highlights this potentially dangerous trend; recognizing the dangers within the “mother-daughter bonds” that dictate some feminist theory, she states that “The pervasive model of women’s studies as a mother-daughter dynamic ironically resembles patriarchal systems in that it casts the mother as the place of history, tradition, and memory and the daughter as the inheritor of a static system which she must either accept without changing or reject completely”. Exactly. Feminism cannot be based on women “passing down” a specific view of what it means to be a woman. Womanhood does not automatically produce power.
The first episode of Charmed introduces two sisters, Prue and Piper (played by Shannen Doherty and Holly Marie Combs), who live in their dead mother’s house in San Francisco. Prue is mad at their youngest sister, Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) for vague reasons, which we later find out is because she thinks that Phoebe stole her boyfriend. We know that Prue and Piper have inherited a “mystical” object from their mother, because they find a “Spirit Board” with a not-so-cryptic message on the back about the “power of three.” Phoebe comes to live with her sisters in the house that is rightfully hers, Prue gets mad for five seconds, and then the “Spirit Board” tells Phoebe to go into the attic, because they are all witches! They come to terms with their powers in very tidy ways; Piper uses her’s to get a job, Prue quits her job and accidentally strangles her ex-boss / ex-boyfriend with his own tie, and Phoebe uses her psychic powers to save two rollerbladers from the slowest moving car. You go girls!
Because the characterizations of mystical, feminine power are so obvious, Charmed is actually somewhat difficult to critique from an anti-essentialist perspective. There just isn’t much to say that can’t be easily inferred. To me, the first episode of Charmed reads like an introductory text to select works of Hélène Cixous, except overly simplified and painfully rudimentary. In one of her beautifully poetic essays, Cixous claims that a woman inherits her capacity for self-expression from her mother, that she must hear the “Voice of the Mother, that omnipotent figure”. Equating the “Mother” to god, Cixous suggests that this “Mother” is not an individual, but instead an ethereal feminine power that is instinctual in all women. Additionally, this maternal voice isn’t clearly defined, but is instead, in Toril Moi’s words, “the echo of a primeval song”. Lacking linguistic structure, this feminine voice cannot be explained, but must simply be known, an almost otherworldly power passed on from mother to daughter. Obviously, Cixous’ theory is a good deal more complicated than “woman is God, God is your mother, your mother has an ancient, mystical power.” But not in Charmed. Applying Cixous’ statement to the show reveals that nothing is complicated; in fact, everything is very simple. In fact, the “Woman as Mystical Power” trope is so obvious in the pilot episode that I’m simply going to list the instances where I rolled my eyes:
• Phoebe is playing with the Ouija Board (excuse me, “Spirit Board”) when it spells the letters “A-T-T-I-C.”
• In the attic, she finds the Book of Shadows (a spell book) which is actually glowing. It is an otherworldly gift from her mother, magically and nonverbally communicating with her. (Also, the book is glowing from the inside of a box — hellooo vagina!)
• Phoebe reads a portion of the book aloud and endows herself and her sisters with WITCH POWERS. Simply discovering the hidden knowledge of their powers (their lost maternal connection) ensures that they get their powers (they are now “primevally” feminine and ethereal themselves.)
• The sisters had a witch ancestor who, before she was burned at the stake, vowed that “each generation of witches would become stronger and stronger, culminating in the arrival of three sisters.” And those sisters would be the MOST POWERFUL WITCHES OF ALL TIME. This is almost too obvious. A matrilineal passing down of a mystical knowledge, a literal “mother-daughter dynamic.” Of course, Phoebe makes it clear that witches can be either male or female, but it is no coincidence that the line begins, and ends, with women, and that these women are the most effective bearers of their mystical powers.
all! Especially mystical feminine solidarity. This just bothers me because there was nothing really anything more to defeating this warlock than just reconfirming their relationship and the inherent powers that relationship allows. Just because they were born as the three most powerful witches ever, it seems like they would have to try a little harder to get stuff done, rather than just falling back on the fact that they are sisters, and that they are witches, and that as sister-witches they can never lose.
Maybe I’m being a little too hard on Charmed. After all, I have watched many, many episodes of it, and sometimes I’ve been a little bit entertained. The house they live in is very pretty, and I like Piper’s eyebrow scar. But still, the “femininity as mystical power” trope is too easy, especially for a show about three witch sisters. Not every television program has to be subversive, but maybe it would have been nice if Charmed looked beyond a basic “girls rule” model for female empowerment. Because, really, that doesn’t do anything.
 Halberstam, Judith. The Queer Art of Failure. London: Duke University Press, 2011. Print.
Moi, Toril. Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. New York: Methuen, 1985. Print.
 Moi 114
 I was trying to think of a good “Madwoman in the Attic” joke, but they were all too obvious while being too much of a stretch at the same time. Look at all that feminine power locked up in there! Additional side note: even though in Charmed witches are good beings with supernatural powers, and warlocks are evil ones dedicated to stealing powers away from witches, and even though these categorizations disregard gender, in most cultures “witch” is primarily coded as female while “warlock” is often used to describe a “male witch.” I don’t want to get into this because it is dumb, but: masculinity as a
danger to femininity, the masculine co-opting the powers of the feminine and using them for nefarious purposes, feminine as victim of the masculine, thanks Charmed! Couldn’t you have just called evil witches “demons” or something? Or have had them all have black hair like when Willow turns evil? Come on!
‘Conception’ novel review by Ilse Castellanos
I absolutely ADORED the book!!! It is defiantly a one of a kind story; exposing hard themes like abortion, abusive parent offspring relationships, unemployment, under-validation, sex, and racism (just to cross of the very first ones of my mind). Such themes are just never too popular in books, and even less when the main character is a teenage black girl; the best thing it is just so relate-able, because everyone knows what it is too feel stuck and trapped. It just so beautiful, the way it is written and the plot is absolutely brilliant, and I have just too many great things to say about this book. I EXTREMELY recommend it to everyone, it might not be an easy read to many people but it is defiantly worth the
constant dictionary usage re-reading of certain paragraphs.
The story consists of two points of views, Shivana’s and her baby’s. I know the baby’s sound a bit creepy, but after you finish the book you realize that the baby acts as a conscience, like an almost adult, even a god.
Summary (WARNING!!!!: The first paragraph contains spoilers)
Conception takes place in the underprivileged black society in Chicago. Throughout most of the book, the author describes the main character’s life, in this crime, injustice and stereotypical
neglected black community. A social class, somehow, a bit more luxurious, than the projects, but still not a class one would be proud to belong to. The author describes this part of Chicago, from the point of view of Shivana.
Shivana is a fifteen year old, hormone manipulated, that is constantly controlled by the questions: “What would her friends, and/or mother say about this?” Basically, the typical teenage girl. The book takes place in Shivana’s small world, where her mother is many times the enemy. Where her best friend, Nakesha, and her aunt Jewel mean more than the world to her. Where she falls in love with man, Leroy, who does not love her back. Where she finds out what true love is, and how it really looks with a boy, Rasul, she would never imagine talking to.
Shivana is convinced that all men leave after pregnancy is over. Once your body losses all its tight beauty, there is nothing else attractive left for men. Just like her father had done to her, and her mother. Shivana recalls that her mother works at least three jobs a day to put food on their plate, and even then it they still lack money, for basic things. So Shivana works as a babysitter for her upstairs neighbors, the Washington’s, a family with three children under ten. In the Washington’s house, the only one that works is the wife Renelle, while her scum of a husband, Leroy, stays at home. While Shivana takes care of the children, Leroy plans how he is going to take advantage of her.
Shivana recalls, that what he did to her could be cataloged as a rape, but then again the word “no”, never left her lips. So while Renelle, is working night shifts and the children are asleep, Shivana and Leroy sleep together, and this goes on for months. Until one day Renelle, comes crying to Shivana’s apartment, where she tells her mother and Jewel, while she is visiting, that some cops came and took Leroy away. As it turns out that Leroys actually had a job, hustling crack. Shivana falls apart, how is it possible the man she loves is in jail. And if this was not enough, a couple of days later, when her and Nakesha go to their appointments at New Horizons Family Planning Clinic to get a contraceptive injection. In the clinic Shivana is told by the counselor they can not give her the injection, because she was pregnant. The counselor tries to tell her the alternatives, but she refuses to listen and walks out of the clinic.
When Nakesha and Shivana get back from the clinic they get to the Washington’s apartment, where Shivana loses sanity and demands that Nakesha jump on her, so she can abort her baby.
Nakesha refuses and Shivana throws herself at her and starts choking her friend, and when they realize it Renelle is standing at the door. At that moment Shivana lets go of Nakesha, and runs out, but not before screaming at Renelle that Shivana is pregnant of her husband’s child. Renelle is unable to respond, and Shivana runs out of the apartment, as she runs down the stairs, she bumps with a boy from her building, Rasul, that invites her to his apartment. Shivana plans to stay at the fully furnished and comfy apartment for a couple of days, just until she figures out where to get the money for her abortion.
She stays at Rasul’s apartment for two days until one day in the morning, her mother and a man come knocking at the door, at first Shivana hid, but in the end she came out and left with her mother and the man, who turned out to be Jewel’s boyfriend, Hakim. When she got back to her home, her mother, aunt Jewel and Hakim interrogate her, about her being pregnant, because Renelle told them. Shivana considers saying the truth, but instead declares Renelle a liar. Apparently aunt Jewel and Hakim have to go back to New York and leave on Thanksgiving, the night before they leave; Shivana steals two hundred dollars out of Hakim’s wallet. On Thanksgiving Day, while her mother left for dinner with family. She decided to runaway to a girl’s shelter in downtown Chicago, she moves her things with help of Rasul.
After a week in the shelter, Shivana and Rasul decide to go to New York and live with her aunt Jewel, until they can be able to live on their own. On the way to New York they stop at a motel, where they make love for the first time and where Rasul declares his love for her and the baby, and tells her that he will raise the child, because he wants to be the father. During the road trip both of the teens turn into adults and start realizing how severe the situation is. They start argue and act like a true adult couple. As they start to approach New York, they die when a deer crosses in front of them and trying not to hit her they lose control over the car, and fall over a cliff at the side of the road.
Potty Mouth – Sun Damage 12” EP review by Caitlin Gwynn
Potty Mouth, straight from Massachusetts, have been Girls Get Busy favourites for quite a while, and judging from their latest 12” EP, it isn’t difficult to see why. The 6 track ‘Sun Damage’ EP is a near perfect example of the recent riot grrl revival. Potty Mouth are 4 ass-kicking ladies, whose speciality is angry songs with relatable lyric and a punk edge that are totally infectious.
Some GGB readers will have already heard ‘Kids’, and will have probably seen the video that accompanies it. ‘Kids’ is a future theme tune for disenfranchised grrls, and is a feisty song about not wanting to grow up. Similarly, EP opener, ‘Hazardville’, the infectious sister track to ‘Kids’, about the frustrating nature of hometowns, is a song that many will instantly relate to, and connect with, and this is where Potty Mouth really shine. It’s obvious from ‘Hazardville’ alone that the subject matter is rooted in the frustrations and annoyances of growing up, the awkward stage between being a teenager, and finally being a responsible adult. The rest of the EP continues in this vein, with songs like ‘Dog Song’, where the protagonist of the song imagines themselves as a subservient dog, and the feminist ‘Girls XL’. The subject matter touches on a lot of different themes, but the lyrics are always backed up by singalong refrains, and strong riffs from the rest of the band.
With their infectious punk and indie hybrid, Potty Mouth are set to be big. They successfully take the feisty-ness of riot grrl, add some massive tunes to it, with an extra shot of emotion to boot. ‘Sun Damage’ as a whole really shows off the formula the band have created, and the EP is a great collection of solid and self-assured songs. The band are touring around the US over the next few months, but fingers crossed we’ll see Potty Mouth visit us in the UK very soon.
You can listen to the EP here:
‘Strong Female Protagonist’ webcomic review by Margot Eberle
Strong Female Protagonist is a recently web released comic, updated bi-weekly, that follows the daily trials and tribulations of a college age American girl who just so happens to have superpowers and a “crippling sense of social injustice.” Written by Brennan Lee Mulligan and drawn by Molly Ostertag, fans of the always classic Wonder Woman will love the more “Occupy Generation” take on the female superhero archetype in this comic. Allison, aka Megagirl, used to be a superhero but now attends college in an urban city. Her roommate is an avid member of protests and once even tries to use Allison’s powers to fend off police, much to the chagrin of Allison.
The comic is young, only in the beginning of its second issue, but I’m already anxiously awaiting what the rest of this particular issue and the comic series itself have in store for Allison. [SPOILER ALERT] Why did she stop being Megagirl? Are she and Patrick going to actually date? What is up with that Rat guy?
Strong Female Protagonist is a webcomic about a female protagonist who also happens to be strong in terms of being a superhero, however, I’m also anxious to see how truly progressive this comic is in terms of its representation of a female lead—besides being hetero-normative, at least from what I can gather from it’s early issues. Hopefully Allison doesn’t pull an original Batwoman and just give up her powers because of a bright-eyed boy or something. So far though, this webcomic is entertaining, cute, and pretty different. Check it out!
The comic can be read free online at http://strongfemaleprotagonist.com