Hey! It’s Women’s History Month Y’all!
And last week was International Women’s Day… I celebrated by opening the first play written by a woman AND directed by a woman for my local community college.
While I’ve considered myself a feminist for many years now, I am far from being a truly good one. But as Roxanne Gay puts it in her book ‘Bad Feminist’, “I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.” That said I’m trying to be better, particularly better educated on the major and not so major issues that still plague us. So I attacked my lack of knowledge in the only way I know how, I hit the internet and asked the brilliant folks in my social media circle to help me compile a Feminist Reading List to fill in some of the gaps. Books as always provide access to worlds and ideas that sometimes feel beyond my reach… that and they allows me the privilege to be taught by minds far better and brighter than my own.
Finding new books and creating my list has not only been a fun project, but it’s also been really enlightening and I highly recommend giving it a shot. And here are some reasons why you should make your own Feminist Reading List
- Mainstream History is Male Dominated
Chances are, unless you went to the world’s most amazing schools your history classes have been filled to brimming with the achievements of great men and how they shaped the world. But aside from some well-worn names and maybe a unit on suffrage the women who helped shape the world were likely thin on ground. And unless high school curriculums have changed drastically since the early 2000s, you have to do some extra legwork if you want to find out how women have contributed to the narrative of history*. Adding books like ‘The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold History of the Women Who Helped Win World War II’ by Denise Kiernan, ‘Hidden Figures: the American Dream and the Untold Stories of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the SPace Race’ BY Marogt Lee Shetterly and many more can add dimension to our understanding of history and reinforce the notion that men and women can contribute equally and cooperatively in major moments. Reading about how women have helped shape the past and present can aid us in our fight to help shape the future.
- Women Writers Still Need Support and Validation
Believe it or not, there are still critics and writers out there who dismiss novels written by or about women as somehow lesser works than those by and about men. Look no further than Jonathan Franzen’s beef with Jennifer Weiner or the backlash against novels like ‘The Goldfinch’, ‘Gone Girl’, ‘The Lovely Bones’, ‘Room’ and ‘A Little Life’ for being what some important critics have essentially labeled sentimental trash. But it’s not just major titles that get run through with stinging gender coded critiques, whole swaths of women centered stories get heaped onto the pile of easily dismissible “chick lit”. While it’s true that a handful of women authors can be found prominently in THE CANON (Austen, Bronte x3, Alcott, Wharton, Plath, Morrison, Angelou etc.) they are outnumbered. And while women are the primary consumers of fiction there is a certain critical stigma that women writers can’t seem to shake. So how do we combat this? We read the amazing if sometimes undervalued books by and about women. We revel in their diversity and unique experiences and learn from them… just like any other book. We support, engage with and validate women writers and the stories that they tell, and in so doing we get to help shape that ever evolving beast THE CANON and infuse it with more diverse voices.
- Intersectionality is Important
This is where I, and many other feminists, fail and must do better. Mainstream feminism (aka white feminism) often focuses primarily on the issues that affect women in general like reproductive health, the wage gap, media representation etc. but largely ignores that sexism affects different groups of women in different ways. Women of Color, Queer Women, Disabled Women, Fat Women, Neurodivergent Women, Poor Women, etc. all face different challenges that intersect with mainstream sexism. Understanding these challenges, recognizing whatever privileges we may have, making spaces for all experiences, and learning when it’s appropriate to throw in our two cents and when it’s not are all crucial elements of working toward being a better feminist… and well a better person. Reading widely from a diverse group of authors with differing perspectives can help build a foundation of understanding—especially if you don’t encounter diversity in your daily life.
- We Aren’t There Yet…
Ladies have come an awful long way… but guess what! We still have a long way to go. We still live in a culture that is plagued by sexist ideology that is damaging to women and the ways we engage with society. The best way to combat this issue it so do the homework. Read the books that explain what rape culture is, how the beauty myth affects women of all ages and backgrounds, how the bodies of all women have become political battlegrounds. Both women and men need learn about what’s out there so that we can work to build a better future for the kids coming up behind us. It’s kind of like that whole “know your enemy” adage, only our enemy isn’t an invading army, it’s that sneaky little fella, ingrained cultural misogyny.
- There are Some Seriously BadAss Ladies Out There
Seriously… go to the library or to Goodreads or the bookstore. Read about amazing women who paved the way for future generations, women who shattered glass ceilings, women who fought to give us the rights we take for granted. There are so many amazing women out there to inspire women and men alike. Get out there, get inspired and you know… smash the patriarchy!
*My experience with history is obviously largely predicated on the fact that I attended public school in the United States.