This fall is full of badass ladies making awesome art. There are too many books and films I want to review but don’t have time for, so here’s what I’ve enjoyed this fall and put my Ella stamp of approval on:
1. Gone Girl. If you haven’t seen Gone Girl yet, get up from your computer and go see it right now. I have nothing left to say to you until you have seen this brilliant mindfuck of a film. There’s a huge amount of debate over whether this movie is feminist or not, and while it does feed into myths about false rape accusations (which is a terrible myth that needs to be ground into the pavement under Rosamund Pike’s stiletto), I left the theater feeling more energized and powerful than I have in years. Never in my life have I seen a movie with so much female rage. Amy Dunne is a glorious female antihero, a powerful fuck you to gender expectations, to cheating men, to patriarchy writ large. Everyone in Gone Girl is abusive and shitty and it’s riveting. Extra credit for the chilling soundtrack that made me fantasize about framing my cheating ex-boyfriend for murder.
2. The Walking Dead: For a show about the zombie apocalypse on AMC, The Walking Dead is great. Let me talk to you about character-development. While I’m not saying it’s always on point in terms of gender (Lori and Andrea, my dear ones, you deserved better), this show has my favorite female character on television: Carol Peletier. Carol has evolved from a meek victim of domestic violence to a ruthless, fearless, do what has to be done hero of the series. In the season premiere last weekend, she singlehandedly saves everyone. Literally everyone in the show is still alive thanks to Carol. She quickly sussed out something was up with Terminus, the creepy, supposed sanctuary where people actually eat each other, and she covered her face and clothes in blood and gore to avoid attracting zombie attention before blowing up the entire compound. Baller status. Carol has consistently done what no one else has the nerve to, from the necessary (taking the life of child psycho murderer Lizzie) to the cold (killing Karen and David to prevent their illness from spreading). I fucking love Carol. She’s the last character anyone would have bet on at the beginning to become the MVP of Team Rick, myself included. I can’t wait to see where season five takes her.
3. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran: You know any novel that opens with a fourteen-year-old girl masturbating is going to have a lot to say about sexuality, gender, and storytelling. Moran’s latest book is really hard to categorize: it’s a teenage girl coming of age story but it is decidedly not YA in its content, language, and general politics. Moran drops the c-word enough that even I was dubious about its necessity, and yet this is the type of book I was hungry for when I was fifteen and precocious and desperate for someone to tell me how to grow up. Socially awkward but brilliant Johanna Morrigan creates a new identity after making a fool of herself on national television. She constructs Dolly Wilde to be her new, updated self: someone who writes music reviews and wears crazy shit and fucks whoever she wants. This is both a great and terrible lesson for teenagers to learn (the self-construction part, I don’t care about the sex part): act like the person you want to be and eventually you will discover you are that person. Just make sure to check in with yourself often and make sure this is still the person you want to be. “I can see where I have drawn Dolly Wilde on top of my own face—the two uneasily co-existing—but perhaps others can’t. If I walk and talk fast enough, maybe no one will notice.”
And seriously, the sex. None of it is good and all of it is important. Watching Johanna go from defining herself by her sex life without actually enjoying the sex very much, to discovering she’s actually miserable and wants more than to be a reflection of the desire of others is so important, guys. It was almost physically painful to read because it reminded me so much of freshman year of college Ella, using sex for validation and not pleasure. “Whether I’m in love with him seems far less important than whether he’s in love with me. I never take me to one side and ask myself, “Do you actually want him?” because I feel like I never really see me around anymore.” And I’ve read a lot of erotica and sex writing, and never have I seen anyone address in popular fiction the fact that yes, sometimes you throw up in your mouth while giving a blow job (or as Johanna calls it “a small, discrete lady mouth-sick”), and sometimes big dicks are the worst. There are a solid ten pages of Johanna recovering from a horrible UTI and sulking in the bathtub of her one-night-stand. This book gets me.
4. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham: I belong to the “HBO Girls is a self-aware masterpiece” school of thought, and I have always assumed Dunham is brilliant despite her occasional fuckups. She scared me when Adam had his abusive moments in his relationship with Hannah, and when Hannah was diagnosed with HPV and it was never mentioned again after the first season. Plus what the hell was that OCD plotline, seemingly unprompted and out of character? But Not That Kind of Girl confirmed my trust in Dunham, showing just how much Hannah is Lena and Lena is not Hannah. In this collection of essays, Dunham talks about having HPV (something no one ever does, so yay), writes at length about her experience being sexually assaulted in college, lovingly eviscerates her emotionally abusive exes, and reaffirms all of my lazy, self-involved, guilty post-grad frustration.
The collection includes meditations on family, career, education and the like, but the sex and relationship section resonated the most for me. Dunham isn’t afraid to talk about things that are messy, like feeling complicit in her own rape, and why someone might stay with a partner who mistreats her. “I thought that I was smart enough, practical enough, to separate what Joaquin said I was from what I knew I was,” she says of a partner who might as well have been my own ex-boyfriend. “The way I saw it, I was fully capable of being treated with indifference that bordered on disdain while maintaining a strong sense of self-respect.” Gurl, thank you. I feel you.
5. 1989, Taylor Swift: So I haven’t actually heard TSwift’s new album. It won’t be out until the end of the month. And yeah, her music video for “Shake It Off” had some weird racial appropriation and stereotyping, alarmingly common in female pop music videos as of late. But “Shake It Off” is fantastic as a track, and TSwift’s very public feminist awakening does not reek of a publicity stunt the way most do. I love how she’s taking control of her narrative in a smart, intentional way. I love that she didn’t always know what feminism was (like a lot of girls) and now talks about how she wished she’d had it explained to her when she was younger when praising Emma Watson. I love that she’s single and staying that way after having made her love life a feast for the public. I love that she’s learned. I love that she’s human. I love that I used to hate Taylor Swift and now she seems like she’s on her way to becoming a new breed of pop star: someone who evolves fearlessly and honestly. She has a lot to atone for, but my expectations for this album could not be higher. I kind of want to be her friend. No, I really want to be her friend. I mean, have you seen her tumblr? She just throws herself into conversations. That’s how you use tumblr.