My Top 5 Feminist Reads
Good Afternoon dolls,
I am back at work after my wonderful Christmas break and am feeling the pain.
Not just the pain of my sheer lack of sleep, but the pain of watching the Golden Globes the other night.
As we all know, the #TimesUp Movement, hosted by numerous Hollywood women to raise money, hope and power for those who have been victims of sexual assault, is in full swing. The stars wore black in solidarity to their cause, and brought activists with them to the ceremony to preach their message loud and clear;
Time is Up.
However, it was the journalists of the evening that truly let us all down. Instead of discussing the biggest topic of the evening, the Times Up movement, they awkwardly tried to ask about fashion choices and the films of the evening.
I can appreciate it is tradition to treat award ceremonies like a live exhibition of gorgeous clothes, but there are occasions where one can deviate from tradition. Instead of asking the stars who designed said black dress, perhaps ask them why?
Cosmopolitan’s Amy Odell wrote a fantastic article of the sheer madness that this ceremony became because of the media in attendance. I think its fair to say that E! News was the most shocking with their decision to cut away from activist Tanara Burke, creator of the #MeToo movement (!!) when she began to discuss her work.
Now, I read books for escape. Like everyone else, I like to immerse myself in a world that can provide a sanctuary from my day to day life. However, books are also here to teach us. Learning isn’t always tedious and reminiscent of school, learning is often a subconscious journey, one we suddenly emerge from as a new and better person.
Reading Feminist literature is like that.
It’s very easy to assume that “Feminist Literature” means cock waving, boring, angry speeches, with references to the first feminists that none of us knew. I know because I once thought like that.
I once assumed Feminism meant women before men. That it was about blaming men for everything and condemning them for crimes of the past. I was surrounded by men who had never embraced feminism and only saw its bad side. They were the men that saw the statistics of innocent men punished for crimes they did not commit. They were the men that assumed all women were lying and attention seeking, the kind of men that called Kim Kardashian only famous for having tits and a sex tape. They were the men that spawned the hashtag “Feminism is Cancer”.
But I am here to tell you it isn’t like that.
Reading Feminist Literature is like reading any other novel, except you are guaranteed that wonderful moment of “hey, I think like that too, this character totally gets me!”. I emphasise, feminist literature isn’t gruelling, boring, guilt trip inducing material. In fact, they often read like blogs and will connect you, your experiences and your thoughts to women around the world who you never knew existed.
So I am here to introduce to you my top 5 feminist reads that have made a lasting impact on me.
Best for Epiphany:
I Call Myself A Feminist: 25 women under the age of 30.
Ideal for: anyone under the age of 30!
Avoid if: you are dealing with trauma. This is a raw read.
Age range: 13-30
As far as feminist Reads go, this is very easy and is broken down into very small chapters per author. The language isn’t difficult or academic. It’s like you’re sitting in the room with them and chatting about their experiences.
As a 22 year old woman, the aspect that I enjoyed the most was having the opinion of someone from my generation. Someone who understood what it was to be a young adult in the 21st century. To anyone who isn’t a “lazy, self indulgent millennial” you might laugh. What horrors do us millennials know! How can women of today possibly understand the true horrors of the past? Well, we can’t. There are many things us western girls take for granted. We have the ability to vote, speak out minds, wear whatever we like and hold hands with other girls without being arrested.
So with this in mind, its easy to feel guilty when we experience 21st century sexism.
The whole “We don’t have it as bad as they did” argument is poisonous. It makes it easy for us to forgive and forget, to allow behavior that realistically shouldn’t be permitted.
I Call Myself A Feminist explores what it is like to be a present day feminist, helping you to not feel so alone and naive. It validates your experiences and your identity as a feminist.
“The F Word is Fairness.” -Kate Mosse
This book enabled me to connect with a part of myself I had kept hidden for years. It was Louise ONeill’s account of sexual abuse and how it affected her relationship with the women around her that helped me to forgive myself. When you’ve had someone force themselves on you and get away with it, you are consumed with so much anger and hurt.
For me, disappointment in myself was big. I was ashamed that I hadn’t spoken louder, that I hadn’t screamed or called for help or even tried to lash out. Instead, I froze up. I was 13 years old and I had my first boyfriend. I wanted to just hold hands and be cute at school. He said to me “there isn’t a thing I wouldn’t do for you” I said “me too”, my thirteen year old mind couldn’t comprehend what he really meant. He pulled my top down. The my shorts, tights and pants. I was wearing Mr Men pants from Topshop. I barely felt comfortable in the gym changing room let alone with a boy.
He said “you’ll like this trust me” I said “I’ll pass thanks”, he did it anyway. Naturally, word got out, rumours flew around about me at school, everyone was furious, with me. He was commended as some kind of war hero, whilst I became the school slut. I had boys making up rhymes about me, girls giving me filthy looks. Even my own friends were dumbfounded. No one asked me if I was okay. Because no one asked, no one knew. Because no one knew, I felt irrelevant and that how I felt was wrong.
You’re probably asking “well, why were you alone with him?” Because at that age I never imagined what would happen. I was young, naive and childish. People have said to me since “what did you expect! being alone with a boy” I didn’t expect it. But he did. And that’s the problem.
Somehow, somewhere along the line, children are assuming that its the done thing. They are assuming that it is a rite of passage to touch someone up and that if they say no, being called frigid is the worst thing imaginable.
I’m not sharing this story to receive sympathy or attention, I am sharing it because sexual abuse doesn’t always mean being dragged into a bush late one night on the way home, kicking and screaming. I want people to realise that when someone takes advantage of you in a vulnerable position, you are not at fault. Because in your terror you froze up and didn’t fight, it does’t make you a coward or to blame.
YOU ARE NOT TO BLAME.
It took me such a long time to realise that I had no fault in what happened and if sharing this can help anyone else realise that they are not at fault then I will gladly preach this.
I was angry at him for a long time. But, it is in my opinion that he was as much a victim as I was. Society taught him that he could help himself to my body. That is the chain feminism wants to break.
It made me realise why I am a feminist: to break this chain of abuse.
I am a feminist.
How to be a woman
By Caitlin Moran
Ideal for: all women
Avoid if: you don’t want to risk laughing until you cry in public. Messy business.
Age range: 16+
For any of you who don’t know, Caitlin Moran is hilarious. She has five books now, How To Be A Woman was her second, published in 2011. This book serves as a memoir with a focus on being a woman. From periods, to orgasms, to naming your vagina, to dating, to children and abortion, and to career. It covers a whole range of experiences, each one of them relating back to feminism and delivered with so much gusto and humour that it is impossible to not laugh! (See section on naming your daughter Cunt)
The most redeeming thing about this book, outside of how much it will make you laugh, is how it simplifies feminism.
Do you think everyone should have equal rights?
“Congratulations! You’re a feminist” -Moran
Also, my favourite moment in this book will always be when Moran’s sister is told that she will want children when she finds the right man, to which she replies
“When Mrya Hindley met her right man, it was Ian Brady.”
Nothing will ever shut up those pesky baby boomers quite like the uttering of a child killer.
It discusses all aspects of sexism, such as appearance, work and porn. With regards to the first two, Moran essentially says, Girls, do what ever you want to do. Be a lap dancer, be a porn star, be a model. Flaunt your bodies or don’t. Just whatever it is, do it for YOU. Moran states how porn isn’t inherently bad. Only the way it is portrayed. The moment we get some decent porn that isn’t all about some woman having an explosive orgasm upon entry then we are good.
Although, if you are one of those women who can achieve an orgasm from penetration alone tell me your secrets.
This book gave me the confidence I needed to wear my feminism on my sleeve. It brought me out of the feminist closet and taught me to not be afraid.
Best Short Read:
We Should All Be Feminists
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ideal for: E V E R Y O N E.
Avoid if: it’s simple, don’t avoid it.
Age Range: All
Arguably one of the most famous books on this list. We Should All Be Feminists is a very short book, the kind that can be read in your lunch break or on your commute. It’s also pocket sized! So not only is it feminist, but its practical! Tah-Dah!
Dimensions aside, this book really pulls a part what is is to call yourself a feminist.
Adichie asks; ““Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.”
Which is exactly right. Feminism is a word that acknowledges all dimensions of this movement. Its past, its presence and its future. To just be a human rights advocate is akin to being a casual.
Of late, there has been a lot of discussion over the various feminist subtitles… Intersectional Feminist, White Feminist, Feminists who hate men, Feminists who don’t hate men and like wearing lipstick. The whole thing is a bit of a mess.
Adichie ends up calling herself:
“A Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men and Who Likes to Wear Lip Gloss and High Heels for Herself and Not For Men”
Then there is a bigger issue all together; White Feminism. In short, White Feminism is a form of feminism that focuses on the struggles of white women alone. It forgets and often ignores the issues that women from other parts of the world are also feminists. White Feminism is naive and inherently racist. It follows that classic western mindset of “If it doesn’t affect me then I won’t affect it”.
I hate the concept that this belief in women being equal to men is exclusive to non-white people. Its embarrassing to think my beliefs are discriminating. Feminism should be a united front, its concept and motto plain, simple and universal. I don’t want to come across as ignorant, nor saying that there isn’t a problem, because there clearly is one, else why would this even be a discussion?
I want this fight to benefit and include everyone.
The one thing I took away from this book was that Feminism still has a way to go. Just because we now call ourselves feminists it doesn’t mean we are exempt from stupidity. We need to keep learning, supporting and empowering one another until the word feminist becomes non-existent.
We will know we have won then.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Ideal for: Men! In a non threatening way, The Power will help you understand what it is like to be in a woman’s shoes.
Avoid if: you don’t enjoy dystopian fiction
Age range: Young Adult
Chapters: The Power N/A , THMT 44
Pages: The Power 339, THMT 324
Published: The Power 2016, THMT 1996
I have included both of these books because 1. they are both fantastic pieces of fiction and 2. they are the opposite of one another. One asks; what if women had no rights? The other asks; What if men had no rights?
These novels switch and play around with gender roles in their most extreme form.
The Handmaids Tale portrays women at their most subservient point; used as nothing but baby making machines. Their identities are stripped from them both mentally and physically. Made to bare the same name as the man they serve and made to dress in the uniform of their class. There is no freedom for anyone, man nor woman under this regime.
Meanwhile The Power tells the story of multiple women and one man from around the world. They are all dealing with the fact that women have evolved to have a “power” allowing them to rule the world. This power is in the form of electric, living in a skein under their collarbones/chest allowing them the upper hand in any conflict. Thus men are no longer safe. They are scared of walking home late at night, of being around women in large groups, even their own partners. The story deals with the rising of this power, to how it changes the world, the end of the book ultimately showing the world at its lowest point. There is Allie, who is abused by her foster parents, she runs away and becomes Mother Eve, the leader of a women’s only cult. There is Roxy, daughter of a prolific crime boss in England. she joins forces with Mother Eve after realising her power. There is Margot an American Politician who appears as a Hilary esque figure, fighting for control over this ever changing power dynamic. Then there is a Tunde, a young Nigerian man reporting on all he see’s around the world.
The writing style aside (which I personally struggled to enjoy) The Power, is indeed a powerful read that will encourage you to look beyond the broader statement of being a feminist and draw attention to the little details. It shows the reality of extremism irrespective of your gender and beliefs.
The aspect of this book that struck me was how it shows that Men and Women are not evil. Feminism is not evil. Instead, it is extremism that can be evil. Neither one of the genders alone in this story project hate. It is a select few that abuse their power in the world that is ultimately the downfall.
With this in mind, not all men are evil. Not all men will hurt you, just like not all women are good and some women will hurt you. It isn’t our gender that defines us, it is our choices as individuals.
So men, without me sounding like Mr Burns from the Simpsons in his alien form, don’t be afraid of Feminists. We aren’t all bad.
P.s. If you enjoyed these books, try Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours It is a dystopian Mean Girls.
The Bad Feminist
By Roxane Gay
Ideal for: If you want a structured read
Avoid if: the word essay brings you out in a rash
Age range: 16+
Author of The Black Panther graphic novel series to writing numerous autobiographical feminist tales, Roxane Gay is sensational. Bad Feminist is a collection of essays broken down into five sections. Within each section is numerous chapters/headings.
2. Gender and sexuality
3. Race and Entertainment
4. Politics, Gender and Race
5. Back to Me.
Don’t be put off by the word “essays” they’re not the kind you’re used to writing crying at 4am because its due in 4 hours time and you haven’t read the book. like with the previous feminist texts, this reads more like a blog post, just with the structure of an essay.
Each “essay” is short, snappy and straight to the point. There is no fluff or waffle as my old Professor would say. Gay hits the nail on the end with so many points she raises, such as “How to be friends with a woman”: Abandon the notion that all female relationships are bitchy.
Like Moran, Gay perfectly sums up what being a feminist is;
“I believe feminism is grounded in supporting the choices of women even if we wouldn’t make certain choices for ourselves.” –Roxane Gay
It is the acceptance that everyone is different yet united in their belief of equality.
On the topic of White Feminism, it has a whole chapter dedicated to the discussion of white people who depict black history, primarily in regards to the film/novel The Help. Gay essentially says the problem with these adaptations is how assuming they are. How they don’t tell the full story and how they portray western people as saviours. Its all very narrow minded and ridiculous.
I am going to do my best not to be a hypocrite here, I am only trying to phrase the scenario in a way us white chicks might understand. White portrayals of black stories are akin to a man with no medical knowledge or experience explaining how a period works. Its frustrating and insulting. Imagine that his explanation alone is hailed as genius. A genius piece that is heart warming and emotional and sums it all up. He is rewarded and commended for his brilliant intuition into the female sex. When in reality, he is barely scratching the surface and is 99% wrong. That is how I can only imagine women on the other side of white feminism feel.
Overall, this book is incredibly powerful, Roxane Gay is a fantastic writer and I urge you all to start reading her work!
Bonus! My Current Read:
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
By Reni Eddo-Lodge
#OurSharedShelf ‘s book for January and February!
So, I am still reading this, so my full review is a little way off. But from what I have read so far of the book and its reception, we all need to read this.
As I mentioned with Adichie and Gay, Feminism shouldn’t be an exclusive club. It shouldn’t be a place where you have to fit certain criteria. It should be open for all and an identity for anyone to adopt.
One thing I have noticed is how a lot of white women, feminists or not, have been offended by this book. Honey, the fact you are offended alone means you need to take a step back and get some perspective. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a “white feminist” but the fact remains I no doubt will exhibit the behaviour of one. I am not a racist person but I am a person who is guilty of not thinking. I am a person who can make assumptions and be naive. I will frequently put off reading a novel written by a woman of colour to indulge in some western woman’s fantasy fiction. This is because I assume I won’t be able to identify with these women. But, I am wrong. At the end of the day, we are all human. We are all women and as such we have the same experiences. So It’s time I stepped out of that mindset and gave myself an education.
For those of you who think you don’t need to read this, or perhaps don’t want to read this, take a step back and consider the bigger picture.
Start by reading this book. It’s not a guilt trip, its an eye opener.
And finally, my message to the boys, and particularity my brother.
Just because there are some women in the world who believe that feminism should be women triumphing over men, it doesn’t mean that that is its definition. If you believe that we should all have equal rights, welcome to the club.
Don’t be afraid to call yourselves a feminist.