Cupcakes and Kalashnikovs: 100 Years of the Best Journalism by Women edited by Eleanor Mills with Kira Cochrane
In my last couple years of high school, I was taught by a bunch of feminists. It is no coincidence that it was around this time that I actually started to engage with my classes. After a school career largely spent staring out of the window, consumed by fantasies concerning Jess from Gilmore Girls (don’t even talk to me about Dean or Logan. I’m serious.), this was a big deal.
I was sixteen and I had a vague notion that feminism existed – I had a friend who talked about masturbation and men being the worst a lot (yeah, I think those things were connected, too) – but I didn’t really see what it had to do with me.
Then I took a sociology class in which my teacher taught us everything through a feminist lense, and I started studying this book, along with some Sylvia Plath poetry, during my English lessons. I quickly realised that what I was learning appealed to my single parent upbringing (it turned out my personal was kind of political!) and the vague notion of not-rightness that had developed in my belly ever since men I didn’t know had started shouting things at me in the street. I staunchly declared myself A Feminist. I have been learning exactly what that means ever since.
In this book, I learned about suffragettes, about women experiencing racism, war and rape. I read about being the sort of lady who sometimes takes clothes back out of the laundry basket because, over time they’ve become the better option.
Daphne Du Maurier discusses the challenges of letter writing during wartime. Her article, published September, 1940 is about what you can possibly write to your husband, son, brother or lover off experiencing the escalating horrors of the Second World War. Conversely, in a piece published in 2005 by Christina Lamb, I read of how the day after she got out of hospital after giving birth to her son, she went to have tea with General Augustus Pinochet during his house arrest. She’s a war correspondent.
I read about the drastic changes in women’s experiences, but also how they haven’t changed at all. Maddy Begtel’s ‘Forty – when the Baby was Born’ article, for example, despite being from 1930, feels contemporary in its approach.
The writing in this book is glorious. Whenever I read it my determination to be better is reignited.
The year after I studied this book, I read How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran in which she defines feminism using the following two questions:
a) Do you have a vagina? And
b) Do you want to be in charge of it?
To say I was sold was a drastic understatement.