We read all about female friendship and the fight for equality in, The Woman In The Photograph, Steph Butland’s latest fictional offering.
Woman in the Photograph – the blurb
Veronica Moon, a junior photographer for a local newspaper, is frustrated by her (male) colleagues’ failure to take her seriously. Then she meets Leonie on the picket line of the Ford factory at Dagenham. So begins a tumultuous, passionate and intoxicating friendship. Leonie is ahead of her time and fighting for women’s equality with everything she has. She offers Veronica an exciting, free life at the dawn of a great change. Fifty years later, Leonie is gone, and Veronica leads a reclusive life. Her groundbreaking career was cut short by one of the most famous photographs of the twentieth century. Now, that controversial picture hangs as the centrepiece of a new feminist exhibition curated by Leonie’s niece. Long-repressed memories of Veronica’s extraordinary life begin to stir. It’s time to break her silence, and step back into the light.
I loved how the book was split in to various sections, each one starting with a synopsis of one of Veronica Moon’s exhibition photographs. The little snippets as to what was going on in the year the photograph was taken were fascinating. Especially when you could contrast this with what life was like [for women] in the following chapters. So Apollo 8 orbited the moon, allowing the famous Earthrise photograph to be taken, yet woman still couldn’t be served alcohol at a bar in 1968.
We followed Veronica’s career as it intertwined around real life events – from the 1968 Ford Dagenham car plant strike right up to the #MeToo movement. It all made for fascinating reading, and that’s not even mentioning the characters or the insight into feminism that Butland also delivered.
Alongside the exhibition pieces my favourite parts were Leonie’s ‘Dear John’ letters. These delivered an ambush of sentences highlighting the subtleties of women’s everyday struggles of living in a man’s world. From payment at restaurants to the ‘nagging’ of men, all delivered with Leonie’s acidic prose.
The Woman In The Photograph needed Leonie with her unyielding don’t give a f@$k attitude. The contrast against Veronica’s meekness only highlighted how you could be a lion(ess) or a lamb and yet still be a feminist. I’m so pleased Butland didn’t go down the lesbian route with Leonie and Veronica. It would have been too cliched and the focus would have shifted from the very excellently portrayed fight for women’s rights.
Have your cake and eat it
Making it all relevant was career woman/wife/mother Erica. Representing second wave feminism, she illustrated how the world hasn’t changed as much as the first wave would have hoped. I recognised myself in Erica. In her struggles to balance her high heeled wearing career with her family. Because that’s what women are faced with today, the image that you can have it all v the colossal strength it takes to make that a reality. Yes women can work (although will still probably be paid less). Yet the guilt that goes alongside leaving a poorly child or the race to get home before nursery shuts is an everyday struggle. Can we really have our cake and eat it?
View of the world
I came away from The Woman In The Photograph looking at the world slightly differently. Beforehand I considered myself to be pretty empowered, pretty equal. After all I was living in 2019. Yet the little details that Butland picked up on resonated with me in a way that sat uncomfortably against my previous outlook. I’m not comfortable just ‘men bashing’, but the book has certainly made me look hard at what is considered the status quo and why. To quote one of the statistics used in the book:
“No country in the world has successfully eliminated discrimination against women or achieved full equality” United Nations. 2018″
My thanks go to Stephanie Butland for providing me with a signed copy of The Woman In The Photograph. More than any other I’ve read this year it has made me stop and think. A very worthwhile read.