Books, Bikes, and Food

Reviews, Recipes, Rides… and some other things, too.


Leave a comment

Happy International Women’s Day

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I thought I’d do a round-up of some interesting things in the world of feminism I’ve come across recently (some more bookish than others).

Image Source: lulastic.co.uk

Currently reading: 

Gioconda Belli’s El país de las mujeres (A Women’s Country). It’s set in a Central American country where a feminist party takes power and starts exercising it, much to the dismay of some men. Gioconda Belli is a Nicaraguan poet and fiction writer and an awesome feminist. I’ve previously read and enjoyed another of her novels, La Mujer Habitada (The Inhabited Woman). Check her out!

Looking forward to: 

Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. I know I’m REALLY late to the party on that one, everyone and their sister have already read it except me. Since everyone is also raving about it, my excitement just keeps growing!

This excellent quote sets some things straight and is available as a print from this great Etsy shop.

Watching: 

I’ve already ranted at length about the This Girl Can campaign and why I think it’s awesome. For International Women’s Day, the ladies at the BBC have gone and shot their own video of being awesome while female and sweaty.

Loving:

  • The idea of making International Women’s Day your #feministdayoff (Link in German) – enjoy Sunday while feministing to your heart’s content: watching films, reading, posting a blog entry… the possibilities are endless!
  • This article in the Guardian’s Women in Leadership section addresses an important career dilemma for women: how to manage employees who are older than themselves? (Unfortunately the article’s advice wasn’t that great, I thought, but at least they identified an important topic)
  • One of my male friends who asked his female friends on Facebook what advice he should give to a younger woman in his department. If only more men asked these questions!
  • This post on Bookriot.com on feminist books for kids and teenagers. Yeah for getting them started early!

Have a great day 🙂


5 Comments

“This Girl Can” – Of Criticisms and Pigs (of Sorts)

Today’s post is slightly off topic from what I usually write about, but I’ve given this quite a lot of thought over the last week or so and wanted to share and discuss it with you knowledgeable folks on the Interwebs. Many of you have probably already watched the latest Youtube video to go viral: the This Girl Can campaign launched by Sport England. If you haven’t, here it is in all its glory:

The good folks over at Sports England have studied what keeps women from exercising and found that a lot of them don’t exercise for fear of being judged for their looks while they do sports. This isn’t surprising, since sports brands and fitness clubs only ever seem to put pictures of perfectly toned stick insects on their advertisements. And from fashion mags and ads we already know that our bodies are far from perfect. So naturally, lots of women don’t exercise because they’re intimidated. Will they be made fun of? Will the guys at the gym find them ugly? Will the other super-fit almost-models with whom gyms, pools, and sports centres are apparently populated judge them? So Sports England went and made this awesome video to show “normal” women doing their favourite sports: swimming, dancing, cycling, etc.

I LOVE THIS CAMPAIGN. I felt hugely inspired by these fabulous ladies doing their thing and having the time of their lives. I myself am a woman with many “imperfections” and I’ve felt super self-conscious when doing exercise because of them. In fact, I felt so inspired that I even took a silly selfie of my post swimming-pool racoon face and posted it under the #thisgirlcan hashtag. Here it is, just for kicks:

But of course, as these things go, whenever a campaign to empower women is launched, the critics from the feminist camp itself aren’t far away. The Guardian published a piece by Jessica Francombe-Webb and Simone Fullagar entitled “The This Girl Can campaign is all about sex, not sport”. Essentially, its points are: (1) Where are the women? If this campaign is targeted at all women, why does it perpetuate the myth of “youthfulness” and belittle women by calling them “girls”? (2) By accompanying the campaign with lines such as “Sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox”, women’s bodies are once again sexualised and objectified. It ends thus:

It’s disappointing that a campaign to get women more physically active doesn’t focus on how exercise strengthens friendship, reduces the stress of work and care and gives us physical and emotional strength. And we suppose it would be far too much to ask to see a campaign that shows exercise as an opportunity to find an active space outside the cult of body worship and display.

First of all, I want to emphasise that I find these thoughts important. We need to have a discussion about them.

I still disagree with the article.  I’m not the only one, either. Erika Nicole Kendall of This Black Girl’s Weight Loss published a very interesting critique of The Guardian’s piece, and I recommend it. She argues that the term “girl” is used in a colloquial way by the campaign, not to exclude elderly women. And she also argues that the language used precisely plays on stupid stereotypes such as women sweating “like pigs” being un-sexy or “to throw like a girl” meaning to throw badly. Indeed, I would argue that a more “thoughtful” campaign like the one The Guardian’s critics would like to see wouldn’t have gone viral the way This Girl Can did. And if it gets even one more woman to exercise who didn’t do sports because of body image issues before, then this campaign has already done a tremendous job.

I’m aware the campaign isn’t perfect. Personally, I’m quite bothered by how snuggly they are with certain sports apparel producers, especially since these folks are to a great degree responsible for perpetuating the idea that you need a “perfect” body to exercise through their very own ads. Links to sports apparel brands are only a few clicks away once you start digging into the This Girl Can resources: if you scroll down the “swimming” page, you will find a link to… (wait for it)… a Speedo campaign that’s basically an undercover ad for their “body-shaping” swimwear

“to help your body appear in perfect proportion, creating optical illusions that enhance and shape the body: slimming, lengthening, balancing or creating curves, while distracting from the bits you’re not so keen on.”

I kid you not. Major “WTF” moment right there.

However, I want to discuss something else about the criticism levied against this campaign and many other initiatives that’s been driving me up the wall. As I’ve previously mentioned, whenever a book/campaign/whatever intended to help empowering women comes out, it’s instantly criticised by some feminists for everything it doesn’t do. For example, as I discussed in my post back then, Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In received plenty of criticism for ignoring the hardships of women not in up-scale managerial positions, as well as for taking pressure of institutional and societal reform by calling women to “lean in” and overcome barriers rather than calling to remove such barriers, etc. All of these are important points, I admit.

BUT. Why the hell do we feminists expect every women’s empowerment campaign to address ALL THE ISSUES? This is simply impossible. No single campaign, especially if it wants to move out of the obscure corner of high-brow feminism in which only very few feminists actually feel comfortable, can address every single problem there is with gender inequality. Or even “only” the problems with objectification, sexualisation, and body image issues. Campaigns like This Girl Can are designed to address A LOT OF WOMEN, including many who have never thought about any of these questions and “just” don’t feel comfortable while exercising because they don’t “look right”.

I’ve found a term for this demand for empowerment campaigns to address the entire universe of all that is wrong with the feminist world. Unfortunately, it only works in German. So bear with me for a moment. My wonderful mother tongue has a great term for wanting something that solves all the problems you’ve ever had, are currently having, and will ever have. You’re looking for an “eierlegende Wollmilchsau”, a pig that lays eggs, gives milk, and grows wool.

Now that would be a handy beast to have, right? Just as handy as it is fictional, of course. What people, more often than not, seem to expect of empowerment initiatives is a swiss army knife-type of solution.

It sometimes seems as if everyone else gets to do single-issue campaigns, except the good people seeking to empower women. They target young women (or “girls”), they’re criticised for not thinking of the elderly. They target professional women at the management level, they’re criticised for not considering working-class women. They use colloquial language, they’re chided for perpetuating stereotypes. It seems that women, and especially women’s empowerment campaigns (books, articles, speeches, whatever), really can never have (or do) it all, especially when it comes to living up to expectations.

I think in many cases it’s because the campaigns and the campaigners themselves overreach in their language and portray themselves as the saviours we’ve all been waiting for to relieve us of gender inequality.

But more importantly, I think it’s because we still don’t have enough of those campaigns. They’re so far and few between that whenever one does come out, we expect the world of it. Encouraging all kinds, shapes, sizes, and colours of women to work out should be normal, not a one-off thing that goes viral on Youtube. Encouraging women to be just as (professionally and personally) successful as they want to be shouldn’t fall only to the Sheryl Sandbergs of this world, it’s a responsibility to be assumed by bosses, politicians, rule-makers and society as a whole to create an environment in which women (and other genders!) can live the lives they want, and to remove any barriers that hinder this development.

In the meantime, we should cut these campaigns and initiatives some slack. Baby steps are where it’s at, people! These initiatives are each working on their part of the puzzle. No initiative can do it all. There are no egg-laying wool-milk pigs (who could even handle the cuteness overload?!). We need all different sorts of animals to provide eggs, wool, milk, and ham. And that’s a good thing. Because variety and diversity are good things, right?


1 Comment

On meeting Taiye Selasi, stereotypes, and getting schooled

Almost two weeks ago, I went to a lecture by Taiye Selasi, the author of Ghana must go fame, and I was super excited to meet such a brilliant author in the flesh. I had many thoughts on her talk, which is why it’s taken me this long to write about it. I was prepared to fangirl all over her talk, so it took me some time to get over the conflicted feelings I came away with. She’s a great speaker and I’m full of admiration. But there were also some elements of her talk where I thought she might take things a bit further.

Continue reading


4 Comments

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more…

In a much anticipated yet surprising turn of events, I have the Internet back! It was supposed to come back yesterday but seemingly it didn’t get the memo and therefore turned up a day late. But up it did turn, so there’s happiness all around and I can share some of my moving pursuits. After a busy few days, I now get to enjoy some days of “staycation” at my new place before I start my new job on Monday. I’ve been furniture shopping and building (pro tip learned from painful experience: never go to a certain Swedish furniture shop on the first day of holidays, it is horror), putting up pictures, re-shelving books… it was fun. Here are some of the results.

New living room, aka reading nook. Where I am currently sitting sipping thick hot chocolate.

I’ve also found my favourite shop in Tübingen, Cosita Bonita, a gem of a Mexican shop selling food, clothes, decorations, and even furniture! If you read German, you can read more about them here, and they also have an on-line shop.

They have the prettiest bags.

I’m eyeing one of their chairs to complete my living room, but it’s kind of expensive and so some humming and hawing will have to be done before I maybe take the plunge. This is what I got in the meantime.

A gorgeous black ceramic vase from Oaxaca and paper flowers

The best fridge magnets in the history of fridge magnets

I also went on a small book haul in anticipation of German Literature Month, but I’m saving that for another post.


14 Comments

It is possible that I may be back…

Marco? Marco? Marco? Just in case there is anyone still out there to shout “Polo” back – I may take up posting again. This blogging hiatus was quite unintentional to be honest. It was just that work got even more insanely busy than it had previously been, my social life in Hamburg finally became a bit more intense, and then I started job hunting… and as you’ve probably experienced first hand, that can turn into a second full-time job of its own. I was still booking, biking, and fooding, but I just didn’t have the energy to write about it on top of everything else. Throughout this post are some pictures of a few things I did get up to when I wasn’t working or job hunting.

I went bicycle spotting in the Basque Country.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Merry Christmas, and a festive (non-)recipe

Merry Christmas, dear readers! I hope you’re all having lovely holidays, wherever you are and whether you celebrate Christmas or not! I’m spending it at home with my family, snuggled up on the sofa reading or watching TV, and spending some time with friends as well. Here’s a glimpse of our Christmas tree, all lit up.

Today, we had a big Christmas lunch, to which I made a humble contribution in the form of a starter. This is really a non-recipe as it involves very little preparation once you have the apple sauce ready, but it was delicious. It disappeared from its platter in record time and since we’ve still got another few days of festive eating ahead of us, I’m sharing it with you in case you’re still looking for a starter for New Year’s Eve – or for Christmas next year!

Pintxos de foie con compota de manzana y granada (Foie gras pintxos with apple compote and pomegranate)

Pintxos are Basque small snacks (they’re sometimes called the Basque form of tapas, but they’re not really tapas at all). They’re delicious little bites often arranged on a slice of bread and often pinned to the bread with a skewer or toothpick. But they also come in all kinds of other shapes and forms, some cold, some hot, simple or sophisticated. They’re elevated to a true art form, and they’re all over the country with bars taking real pride in making them look so pretty you almost don’t want to eat them. Especially in San Sebastián (Donostia), but also in Bilbao, you can spend the whole day just eating your way through the old town from one pintxo bar to the next. The bars are full to the brim with these little creations and I’ve often found myself, mouth agape and watering, with a tough choice to make – even though they’re small, there are only so many you can eat before you’re full.

As pintxos go, this one isn’t sophisticated at all and very quick to make, but it looks and tastes fantastic. In fact, it’s perfect for when you have a complicated menu to cook without much time to spare for the starter. Foie gras is a specialty in some regions of France and in the Basque country, which may be a bit difficult to get elsewhere or very expensive. You can replace it with other types of duck or goose pâté.

Ingredients (for about 15 pintxos)

  • 15 very thin salty crackers or 15 very thin slices of baguette, toasted
  • 180g foie gras mi-cuit
  • apple compote
  • pomegranate seeds (a tutorial on de-seeding pomegranates is here)

Cut the foie gras into 15 thin slices. It’s best to do this when the foie is quite cold, but to make the cutting easier you can warm up the blade of your knife a bit. If you’re using baguette, you may want to drizzle it very slightly with olive oil and sprinkle a bit of salt on top. Place the foie slices on top of the crackers or baguette. Top with a bit of apple compote each and sprinkle liberally with pomegranate seeds. Serve immediately.

On egin!*

* Basque for “enjoy your meal”