Tuesday, February 28, 2017

False Feminism on Stalking Jack the Ripper Plus Other Offensive Stuff

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord's daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father's wishes and society's expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle's laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

Rating: 1/5 Stars

I know what you all must be thinking; she’s finally back! Oh my friends, you have spent such a long time without an asshole on your Goodreads feed systematically disliking and complaining about the books you love. But fear not! I am back! (for this review anyways) and with a new beloved book to complain about. I know, I know, I missed you guys too (for real) so I’m going to dig right into this review!

First I would like to start with the question of, what exactly is feminism? I’ve seen this world being used and misused so often that sometimes the meaning becomes unclear. Some people use it with pride; “equal rights for men and women!” Others, more often, with disgust “ugh, another feminist thing”. It happens a lot in the book industry too, we are at a time when the public is demanding inclusiveness in books, and that also means feminism which I think it’s great! But then there are the stories that hang onto this idea of feminism=profit and try to sell their weird and harmful ideas as feminism in a cash-grab attempt.

This is what I feel happened with Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerry Maniscalco. This was a book that I had seen EVERYWHERE being praised for its feminist themes and “strong” main character. So, obviously I thought Jack the Ripper+cool forensic main character girl+feminism= sign me the fuck in. 

Unfortunately, and despite my high hopes, I found this book had a really harmful way of portraying feminism, to the point that it just wasn’t feminism at all; it was a bunch of harmful tropes masquerading as gender equality. So because I’m pissed (what else is new?) I decided to detail exactly why this book is just NOT feminist at all, but rather the opposite.

Let’s begin!

-It’s NOT Feminism If It’s All About White Folk:

This is ESSENTIAL to feminism, to include all ethnicities, religions and sexualities and yet… it’s mostly white people claiming this movement for themselves and thoroughly ignoring other people.

The same happens in this book; everybody in this cast is white, from the main characters to the secondary and third ones with barely a line. It seems as if everybody in 1800’s England was white… somehow.

However, what I found most annoying was that the author made a few attempts at inclusion but it was lazy and offensive. You see the main character, Audrey Rose, is of Indian descent. Her mother was half Indian, with her father being an English ambassador and her mother Indian. Still, rather surprisingly, both of her children (Audrey and Nathaniel) are white. It was a lot like in Mara Dyer, where the mom was Indian so the author could use the culture to bring an element of “mysticism” to her novel, but then all of the characters were super white for… reasons.

As far as culture goes, all we see is that Audrey’s grandma used to dressed her in Saris, as she mentioned once, or that she likes eating curry with flatbread, but that’s pretty much all we get from their heritage. And then we get to this:

Mother never had to worry about doing such things. Her skin was a beautiful honey, showing off her ancestry from India,

Am I the only one who, after seeing skin colour being described as food, feels the urgent need to just drop some honey/olive/chocolate/bread crust/caramel and ponder on how exactly my own skin might be fetishized in a book? Because I think it would be caramel/olive during summer, and honey/olive during winter with the lack of sun. So many things to ponder on!

But really, I don’t see why the author having Audrey’s mother being British Indian, decided that both of her kids should be Caucasian. Why couldn’t they show their mixed heritage? It would certainly make more sense from a genetic stand point. 

But the fact that author went out of her way to make the entire cast thoroughly white (dead/absent relatives and a few mentions of curry don’t count), pay no attention to what this mixed heritage would mean society-wise (I doubt someone mixed-raced would have fared the same as white folks back in the days) shows that the author simply didn’t care. She wrote a completely white cast, using only Indian culture to fetishize it every now and then instead of showing respect.

It’s Not Feminism If There Are No Women:

This would also seem like a given when you’re writing about feminism, and yet I’m always surprised by how very few authors actually take this into account. They write their main female characters as strong! Powerful! Independent women!... But, what about the rest? I mean, there ought to be other women in the story, right? Well there are, but the author’s pay them no mind.

This is what happens in Stalking Jack the Ripper. Audrey is a girl in a man’s world, fighting her way through society while trying to pursue her passion in the forensic sciences, but that’s pretty much all we see women-wise. We do get a bit of her cousin and aunt, but they hardly had a role in the book other than to feed to the author’s pre-conceptions of women and how she wished to portray them.

I mean we are talking aabout Jack the Ripper here, a killer who preyed on women! One would think they would have a bigger part in the book, right? I was expecting Audrey to team up with other girls, to investigate and talk to women about what was happening. Instead all the girls here were used as props to be killed, mocked, or serve to make the MC look good (she’s not as frivolous as them, but she still wants to protect them! She’s good!!!... Even though she never warns them and constantly uses them as bait, not really caring when they die…).


It’s Not Feminism If the MC Treats Other Girls Like Crap:

When we DO get to see other women, they are always portrayed in a bad light. Whenever Audrey would meet another girl they would be shown as rude, they would check Thomas out (and nothing makes and MC angrier than others girls checking out HER MAN Y’ALL) or would simply no exist. The few women that were in the story had a personality so poor made only so that Audrey could stand out.

I can’t say it enough, If you need to put all other women down to make your heroine look good, she’s not that freaking great.

-Feminism is Not Being “One of The Boys”:

I often see a lot of books, movies and shows trying to approach the idea of “strong” female characters by making them similar to what’s considered typically masculine. We get girls who dislike all that’s feminine, that shame other girls for it and who strive to be everything that boys are… whatever that is. This idea that the only way a woman can be valuable and intelligent is if she “man up” is idiotic and misogynist, but unfortunately, awfully common.

Something similar happens in Stalking Jack the Ripper. We see rather forced speeches about how Audrey can be feminine and like the forensic sciences, that she doesn’t have to sacrifice her femininity to pursue her passion, but then her actions speak differently.

Audrey is constantly making the comparison between herself and other girls, how she “enjoys dresses” but only occasionally and that caring beyond that is dumb (thus shaming women who do). How she likes wearing make-up just like any other girl… but not too much so that she looks like a slut!

More importantly, this relates to the fact of not being more women in the story. The few ones we do see, are bland and fitting to a stereotype so we get to see just how good Audrey looks in comparison. 

By doing this we see the MC being constantly praised by men on her intelligence and uniqueness compared to other girls. “She’s not like other feminine girls, she’s just as capable as a man!”

The story was constantly throwing shade on the fact that Audrey was capable and smart because she shamed femininity and disregarded other women.

-Feminists can be housewives, mothers and whatever the heck they want to be:

Something that really pissed me off (okay, the entire book did but this particularly) was reading this:

As the afternoon wore on, I watched them, noting the role they were all playing. I doubted any of them truly cared about what they were saying and felt immensely sorry for them. Their minds were crying out to be set free, but they refused to unbind them.

Audrey has a moment in which she is “forced” to interact with other girls, and she spends every breathing second complaining on how unnecessary and mind-numbing the “frivolous” talk was. Moreover, she makes the… I guess it would be well-intentioned assumption on her part (though it was rather mean, degrading and moronic) that women don’t actually like talking about any of that, and that when they do they are just convincing themselves they like feminine stuff just to fit into society’s mold. So she feels sorry that these girls have been shamed by society to pursue other, un-feminine interest, and if only they could be freed from that!

You see women don’t actually care about boyfriends, or embroidery or anything that women have been subjected to. They want to be like a MAN!... Unless, they don’t? When Audrey begins to realize that maybe these women actually do like those stuff and not just because society told them they should, she starts to consider them as less than people. She begins to see them as mindless, boring and not worthy of her attention. From that point onwards she refera to them as “parrots” and runs away from them every time they want to hang out.

To that I say, fuck you.

What is wrong with wanting any of that? Why is it that people believe gender equality means every woman should be doing what THEY believe is fitting, and ignore all the rest? 

-Feminism is Not Reading Tina Fey and Looking up the Word on Tumblr to Later Spew All Your Incorrect Shit Every Five Seconds:

”I’d had enough of men telling me where I was going, […]”

This book is plagued, and I mean PLAGUED with idiotic info-dumps on what feminism is like. Barely a paragraph went by without Audrey claiming just “How tired she was of men telling her what to do” or how she “Could like dresses and inspect bodies. Women can do both! *wink*”.

I was determined to be both pretty and fierce, as Mother had said I could be. Just because I was interested in a man’s job didn’t mean I had to give up being girly. Who defined those roles anyhow?

In the end, I realized this is what happens when an author tries to capitalize from feminism and the idea of a capable female character that we are so desperately looking forward to, without caring on what she was writing. I swear to God, the contradictions between what Audrey said and what she did was so abysmal I began laughing every time a new little speech came up, just to see how badly the story would fuck it up.

”Honestly, I didn’t appreciate all the males in my life thinking me incapable.”

More importantly, we have another instance in which Audrey describes Thomas to her cousin, and how cold and indifferent he can be. The cousin then proceeds to tell her how Thomas must have some hidden pain, and that it is Audrey’s duty to help him… and she does. For the love of fuck, Thomas turns out to have some mommy issues and complicated childhood (not really, and not explored but the book makes a big deal out of it), and thus Audrey realizes that all of his coldness comes from his internal pain, and if she loves him, it would all go away… how fucked up is that?

Other Complaints:

As the title of this review suggest, I had other issues with this book apart from its false feminism that I wanted to discuss, so here are some:

-Audrey was a bloody idiot (pun non-intentional):

Seriously, she was. So soooooo stupid I wanted to strangle her every five seconds to see if it would make her snap out of it. It didn’t help how everybody praised her for being smart and resourceful when I, as a reader, was left scratching my head and wondering when exactly she had proven to be so.

Audrey is stubborn, short-sighted and narrow-minded. She believes that because she is underestimated as a woman (which is true), all of her wonderful potential is gone to waste thanks to society and its strict rules. Problem is, Audrey doesn’t have any sort of potential whatsoever.

She found clues by accident, and even then she couldn’t piece them together. Cookie-cutter bad boy Thomas had to come to her rescue, take those clues from her hands and go “See Audrey? This is how it’s done. Now the clues make sense!”

And then the vicious cycle would begin, in which Audrey would go all “How dare he assume he knows better than me! Just because he is a man and I a woman, he believes me to be a handicapped idiot! The nerve! The audacity!... He is right though, but I’ll never tell him that because as a woman, I never have to admit when I’m wrong! Screw him and his superiority complex! I can find clues on my own! I can solve this!”

She finds a man slumped in a dark alley at an awkward position and covered with blood (there was also a pool of blood forming under the guy) and she goes “Phew! Thank God he’s NOT dead and just napping! I need to ask him some questions!”


Audrey was an asshole, she used her privilege and family name to get away with the fuck-ups she created, and then she used the excuse of her love of science to treat people like crap, judge them and be insensitive (because people who like science have no feelings… apparently).

It seemed that, just because she was a woman in a man’s world, Audrey could get away with being an idiot simply because she said some “feminist” stuff every now and then, and guys loved her because she stepped all over other women to make herself look better.

- The Murderer was so predictable, I want to cry:

Jokes aside, the second the murderer appeared on page (I think it was chapter 2 or 3?) I knew who the character was. It was so obvious! I was hoping the author would surprise me, because it was evident that all the not-so-subtle hints where pointing in that direction, but then I got to the end and… nope. It was that character.

Also, the resolution with Jack the Ripper was super lame. We got two chapters and then everything is fixed, everything is wonderful. No explanation whatsoever on why the killer targeted prostitutes or why the fixation started. It was obvious that the author didn’t care about the mystery or the killings, it was more about the chemistry-less romance between Audrey and Thomas and how it was going nowhere.

-Cookie-Cutter-brooding-eyebrow arching-devilish dudes can die now:

All the reviews I read mentioned the same thing; Thomas Cresswell. He was described as this swoony and mysterious character you ought to fall in love with.

But for me, he was just one of the bunch. Really, I saw nothing special in the guy. He was as generic as these characters can be. He would say something scandalous, like joking he would kiss Audrey’s hand, she would blush furiously and call him a tease… and that was pretty much their relationship?

At first I thought he was going to be some Victorian Sheldon Cooper, cold, rather rude, clueless, and a complete stereotype. Sadly, I find Sheldon much more endearing (and that should say something about this guy).

Thomas had absolutely no personality. He falls in love with Audrey when he first sees her passing as a boy in one of her Uncle’s lessons, from that point onwards he would “flirt” with Audrey, she would call him a shameless flirt and get jealous of the girls who found him attractive, and suddenly they are attacked and Thomas is confessing his undying love. WTF?

It was a disappointment. I mentioned before how the story was not about the killer or the mystery, but about the romance, and then the romance ended up being some chemistry-less insta-love that I couldn’t have cared less about.

To sum up, despite my high expectations, there was nothing in this book that I could like. There’s a sequel but I won’t be reading it. However, please don’t just take my opinion as fact, try this book out for yourself! The majority loved it :D

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