bad gal book club

I want to preface this post by saying I am not terribly good at discussing books. I took the English studies track with the littlest literature discussion, and I rarely discuss books with people in my real-life, because few people I know like the same types of books. I’m also rarely reading what’s current, because I wait-list at the library rather than purchase most books. But, I’ve been wanting to discuss books lately. Maybe it’s due to spending my days with a toddler, but this mom desperately needs some intellectualism.

And maybe you can tell by the books I’m going to discuss but apparently this mom needs some bold and brash female friends quite badly. 🙂 We will see how this goes, and I may do more posts like this. If you’ve read anything I discuss and want to talk about it, please comment. Or if you’ve got recommends along the same vein, I’d love to hear those, too!

men explain things1. Men Explain Things to Me.

This book is a collection including and named for Rebecca Solnit’s most famous essay. I’d actually read the essay before somewhere, but was glad to come across it again because it’s so very good. The premise of the essay is familiar to me: Men often wrongly assume they correctly understand things, and often wrongly assume women don’t. It’s a phenomenon that crops up daily in the workplace and elsewhere if you pay attention. Solnit’s anecdotes are every woman’s anecdotes; I’ve been at parties or the office, and have listened to men wrongly explain or interpret subjects I know a great deal about, with great authority. More often I’ve been in meetings and have had what I’ve said ignored only to have a man rephrase the same thing later. The essay is rather lighthearted in nature compared to those that come after, the theme of which are darker takes and consequences of the silencing of women. Then we get into domestic violence rates. Rape statistics. The lack of female literacy and education throughout the world. Shocking and sickening. The book left me with so many emotions. It’s an awkward position to be a white, middle-class, educated feminist. It’s heavy with guilt. There’s a guilt associated with knowing how far white American women have to go and realizing we still have it better than women of color, LGBT women, and women and girls in the third world. There’s guilt about not doing enough about it. Solnit lays it out very beautifully and in my opinion did a great job acknowledging cross-sectional feminism in such short pieces of writing. It’s actually of no small significance to shed light on the struggle for all women; many white feminist writers do not bother. Admittedly, I didn’t even notice that until reading Solnit, which made me realize I very badly need to diversify my own book consumption.

One of my favorite, and timely, essays in her book was about marriage equality, arguing that there really IS a threat to “traditional marriage”.. because it threatens the patriarchal power arrangement that we’ve been burdened with since the 1700s, when women literally gave up their identities, wealth, and voice to their husbands when they married.

She says: “Gay men and lesbians have already opened up the question of what qualities and roles are male and female in ways that can be liberating for straight people. When they marry, the meaning of marriage is likewise opened up. No hierarchical tradition underlies their union. “
Her point is that like so many other issues in our society, hetero, Christian white males don’t want to give up their power. Redefining marriage to include same-sex makes the definition one that leaves room for unions that are egalitarian in nature and that scares them. I think her theory makes so much sense. I’ve never understood what the “threat to traditional marriage” could possibly be and it’s never been fully explained to me. Solnit explains that a shift in our society to acceptance of different kinds of unions might plant the idea in the heads of women or unmarried young people that marriage doesn’t have to mean subservience to men or traditional gender roles. Roles can be “assigned” based on actual strengths, talents, etc as they should be. Also explains why people who already think there should be equality WITHIN a marriage (feminists, humanists, social liberals) by and large are advocates of marriage equality. Really fascinating take on how marriage equality is a threat to those in power who really just fear gender equality.

yes please2. Yes Please.

Everyone loves Amy Poehler because she’s hilarious and adorable. I love her because she’s hilarious, because she’s Leslie-freaking-Knope, and because I feel like I know her. I love that she wrote a book about her life as an improv comedian. She didn’t write a hyperbolic memoir with the “that-dialog-is-funny-but-didn’t-actually-happen” style that most comedians use. (Though I don’t mind when they do. In fact I was surprised Poehler’s wasn’t more that way when I dove in.) The book wasn’t actually all that funny. It’s good, and it’s entertaining, but didn’t have me cracking up. Instead I got a glimpse of Amy as more than funny. She’s a professional who worked her ass off. To achieve her level of fame as a female comedian she has worked that rare combination of ambitious and easy going. She didn’t overuse self-deprecation to endear me, but she didn’t brag. I mean, there were a few “I can’t believe how cool my life is” moments, but they were so completely genuine. She spends so much time gushing and thanking people in her professional life throughout the book and I loved that. If this book were a manual for how to be Amy Poehler, the success formula is to be hard-working and grateful as much as clever.

How to be a woman3. How to Be a Woman.

Feminist comedy nonfiction has to be my new favorite genre. It’s as though you realize how much female perspective is lacking in the media when someone can make you laugh while thinking critically about tampons and pornography. Overapologizing is the plague of womankind, so we need more icons that refuse to. Caitlin Moran is raunchy and real, but in a way that doesn’t make you hate yourself. For that reason I feel like something like this book should be required reading for young girls. Probably most people would disagree. But, my reasoning is this: sometimes accidentally as a kid you stumble upon things that are well out of your maturity level and you can never un-see it or un-hear it. This was the case for my generation, and I would imagine it’s even worse now given that anything can literally be pulled up at any moment on a phone or computer. Sex isn’t going away, ever, but it’s not our preoccupation with it that is damaging to both women and men: it’s the narrow, male-dominated perspective. This book kind of helped me better understand that hard-to-wrap-my-brain-around concept (that censorship isn’t the answer, but rather inclusion of more perspectives). I just picked up another Moran book, How to Build a Girl, and I’m looking forward to starting it.

4. Gone Girl.

gone-girl-book-cover-medI finally broke my non-fiction streak and read Gone Girl last week, then watched the film this week. And, um? What can I say without giving spoilers, but .. twisted. It’s a guilty-pleasure type read.. it read quickly and hooked me. It’s well-written and well-mapped. It’s hard to read a book or watch a film where I have no character to root for unless the story can suck me in (like Palaniuk can manage to do) and I liked the twists and folds Gone Girl.

One thing I kept taking issue with throughout was that the unspooling of Amy and Nick’s marriage was supposed to be a result of the real and recent economy problems in the US, but theirs were so completely and self-consciously (to me) rich white people problems. Both had lost their jobs in the print magazine industry, but Amy had a (dwindling) trust fund, and they left New York for Missouri to sink the last of it into a dive bar and a McMansion in a mostly foreclosed neighborhood. The first half of the book includes Amy’s diary entries complaining of leaving her beloved Brooklyn Brownstone, and the tacky processed-foods appetizers she now had to endure at social functions in the Midwest. She’s hardly a likeable victim from the beginning.

The film was decent but different in the tone. David Fincher (who I love) directed and it’s artsy and dark, sharply edited and the Trent Reznor score gave it a really fast-paced thriller vibe rather than the slow, unraveling decent into madness vibe of the book. Recommend them both for a quick summer diversion (beat the heat with chills?)

So.. what are you reading these days? 🙂

happy international women’s day (& why i’ll never call my daughter a princess)

Today is International Women’s Day! The theme this year is “Make it Happen.” I suppose “it” can be whatever you want – getting the promotion, taking that leap to do something new, investing in yourself, taking control of your finances, getting fit, or throwing out the scale.  

Feminism

For me “it” would be saying something and getting involved in things I care about rather than sit idly by. Coming out as a feminist because it is something to be proud of, not something I should apologize for. Trying to be mindful of what I’m teaching by example means that this is on my mind a lot. I know I frame nearly everything in terms of being a mom now, but it’s because it’s changed my perspective of the world so much. I don’t mean that in a smug only-mothers-can-know kind of way. Not at ALL. It’s more in a I-didn’t-know-how-much-I-didn’t-know kind of way. Ya follow? Raising a human in this world is no joke. Walking the walk matters so much more.

Somehow the word “feminist” was given some unpleasant connotations  {a typical reaction to the fear of losing power is generally to discredit the opposition, amIright?}. What feminism isn’t is hatred of men {gender equality!} It’s not a criticism of traditionally female roles. It is only about opportunity. That is all. Opportunity to the same economic benefits and education. We should be treated with respect not because we are weaker, but because we are also people.  We make our own decisions about our own bodies.

I read recently that more US women are graduating with college degrees now, than men, yet women still are making 78% of what men earn. (This addresses some of the myths you’ll hear arguing that there are legitimate reasons for this.) Maybe this is encouraging and the shift toward women achieving equality in the workplace is moving faster. There are so many factors at work here: our dismal family leave policies in the US, the lack of women in Science and Math fields, the low pay for administrative and care giving fields that are largely filled by females and others.

If I could only choose to have one hope for my daughter’s future (aside from being healthy and safe and happy, of course) it would be that she always knows her worth as a person. And I think that believing in gender equality is inborn; no girl comes out of the womb feeling insecure about their intellect, shape, size, looks, etc, or thinking that they somehow deserve less money for the same job. It’s years of conditioning – the media, direct sexism, well-meaning friends and family who unknowingly pass on all of the “rules” for being a girl.obsessed

Yes, even their feminist mothers.

Even though I’m absolutely 100% for self-love and gender equality, I forget. I say self-deprecating things about my body. I apologize when someone bumps into ME in line at the grocery store. I overhear overt sexism and don’t say something. I realize that if I want to raise a strong, fearless, unapologetically awesome daughter I’m going to have to quit doing those things and show her by example that women can and should be for women, and that so much of that begins with how you see yourself.

It’s been on my mind a lot and thus reflected in what I’ve been reading lately, so I wanted to share some things I found particularly good. (Granted I am already the choir to which these women are preaching; I have beef with the princess agenda and forced gender stereotyping and I love to read anything backing me up on that..)

1. Dr. Rebecca Hains’ blog. A well-respected media critic, she wrote the book “The Princess Problem” which is still on my list to read. I really like the Parent-Child discussion guides for watching Disney movies, which help parents to help kids to think critically about the messages they are receiving (body image, violence, racial stereotyping, etc).

2. If Our Sons Were Treated Like Our Daughters is an easy but good read, that points out the ridiculousness of the gender stereotyping we place on girls by replacing “girl” with “boy,” “princess” with “prince,” etc. I wrote a story in this manner in high school in a creative writing class, in which a girl was praised and a boy was slut-shamed for the same event. It’s a really simple strategy for pointing out how unnatural gender stereotypes really are.

3. The LEGO Friends cartoon you’ve probably already seen, but it’s so good. Unnecessary gender stereotyping of toys makes me cringy when I think of my own daughter, and yet it’s still one of those things I find SO easy to fall into when shopping for other people’s kids who already have the gender-assigned obsessions with princesses or super heroes. I am vowing to be better about this.

Re LEGO Friends and other unnecessarily gendered toys, I wanted to point out that calling pink and purple blocks “girl LEGOs” implies that all the other colors are boy colors. I realize, then, that naming a day for women then, logically implies that all the other days are for men. And I guess that’s the point. We hope to be celebrated and represented, but on our own terms.

In some ways it seems surprising we’ve got so far to go in terms of equality, but when you really think about how culturally ingrained the messages are that will all soak in on a daily basis, it’s easy to see why. Our insecurities are deep and begin so early. If you let it, even when you mean for it not to, the world keeps pinging away at it our whole lives. Standards of beauty, expectations to be perfect wives and mothers, the importance placed on landing a husband.. those things are used against us to sell us things. And if you let it, the expectations for perfection distract us from real goals and progress and ass-kicking.

{Quote image source. Collage image is my own.}