Tag Archives: feminism

Celebrating Diversity With Our Shared Shelf

Are you looking for a way to recognize Women’s History Month this March? Are you seeking an environment to discuss books, politics, culture, and so much more with thousands of people from around the world? What about challenging your reading list for 2016?

If so, check out Harry Potter actress Emma Watson’s new book club on Goodreads.com.

Everyone knows Watson from her role as Hermione in Harry Potter, but more recently, Watson became a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for women’s equality.

If you haven’t watched Emma’s speech introducing the HeForShe campaign for equality, see the video below.

As part of her work with the UN, Watson started an online book club in January called “Our Shared Shelf.” Within the first month, the group’s membership surpassed 100,000. Right now the number stands at 120,947.

What makes this book club so special? Watson’s fame draws large and diverse groups of readers from around the world into a discussion about gender, equality, politics, culture and more. Some discussion topics include “Books and Censorship,” “Fighting Domestic Violence” and “Feminism for All.” Other discussions focus on the books themselves, planning in person meet-ups around the globe, and pay-it forward schemes to pass along copies of books for those who need them. I love checking up on the group and reading through the conversations posted, occasionally sharing my own thoughts.

Cover of My Life on The RoadThe first title was My Life on the Road by longtime activist Gloria Steinem. This memoir acknowledges the rich history of women’s rights activists (like Steinem and many others), who worked tirelessly for so many years to advance women’s rights in the United States. While highlighting some of the key moments in the Women’s Lib movement, Steinem also focuses her book on traveling and the important friendships she made throughout her journey.

Cover of The Color PurpleOur Shared Shelf celebrated Black History Month in February with The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. Even though I read this book a few years ago, I decided to re-read with a fresh perspective and hear what so many other group members had to say. For anyone who hasn’t had a chance to read this powerful novel, I highly recommend reading the book or watching the movie adaptation (starring Oprah Winfrey). There’s even a Broadway musical based on the book!

Cover of All About Love by bell hooksMarch’s selection honors another American author and feminist, bell hooks in All About Love: New Visions. A meditation on love in modern society, hooks explores the ways men and women have been conditioned by their culture to express and receive love. Hooks emphasizes our need to love more respectfully, selflessly, and honestly. I’m very excited to start reading this month’s book!

If I’ve caught your interest, reserve a copy of All About Love: New Visions, and if you want to keep up on what Emma Watson is reading, head on over to Goodreads and read some of the conversations going on right now! In the ever-flowing dialogue about equality, each voice makes a difference. Share yours in the comments!

-Adina H.

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New in SF/F: Sisters, Storms, and Song

Everything’s coming up sci-fi and fantasy on my reading list these days. Whenever I get frustrated with the world as it is, it cheers me up to spend time in the company of authors dedicated to imagining the world as it could be…or, arguably, should be.

Here are a few of the many fantastic–in multiple senses of the word–reads I’ve picked up from the Library this week.

Sisters of the RevolutionAnn and Jeff VanderMeer, eds.

The VanderMeers have a long track record of publishing excellent SF/F anthologies, and Sisters is no exception. This crowdfunded collection describes itself as Sisters of the Revolution. Click on image to reserve a library copy.“feminist speculative fiction,” and as such will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Octavia’s Brood or The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women. You might also want to try these stories on for size if you’re not sure about sci-fi, but are definitely interested in race, class, gender, motherhood, or any of feminism’s other concerns, and want to see how the genre handles them.

The collection is a healthy mix of material from the 1970s/80s and today, and includes work by Nnedi Okorafor, Angela Carter, Hiromi Goto, and James Tiptree Jr. (a/k/a Alice B. Sheldon). At least one reviewer has described the collection’s older stories as “cringe-worthy” in terms of expressing outdated attitudes. While keeping that in mind, it’s also possible to read the stories critically, with an eye to where women’s SF/F has been, and where it’s going. Available in print only (which is kind of ironic, but that’s the future for you).

Loosed Upon the World, John Joseph Adams, ed.

With a title drawn from W.B. Yeats’s famous poem “The Second Coming,” you know this anthology is going to be literally earthshaking. Adams delivers a a solid collection in the Loosed Upon the Worldrelatively new subgenre of climate fiction (Cli-fi, for short) featuring tales of environmental woe from Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, Seanan McGuire, and other contemporary luminaries. Though the premise behind the stories is pretty clear-cut–we broke the planet and now we must pay–the variety in the execution makes this collection seem like a bouquet of poisoned flowers: gorgeous, but deadly.

Cli-fi makes no bones about having an agenda, and the stories in this volume–published by Simon & Schuster’s SAGA imprint–point the finger at excessive consumerism, ignorance, and flawed public policy (among other things) as the reason for environmental catastrophe. Long on cautionary tale and short on solutions, this is a great read for passionate environmentalists, their skeptical opponents, and anyone who enjoys a good disaster flick.  I’d suggest pacing yourself, though: you’re reading fiction here, not watching the news. At least, not yet.

Last Song Before Night, Ilana C. Myer

Lin is an incredibly gifted musician in a world where women are forbidden to sing or play. Once upon a time she had another name, but she fled her family and her fate to follow her musical destiny. Once upon a far more distant time, Lin’s world was filled with magic, and musicians and poets could work wonders far beyond simply entertaining the masses. A terrible plague, unleashed by the quest for dark magic, put an end to all that. But now somebody’s trying to work dark magic again, which means Lin must venture to the Last Song Before Night - click URL to order from libraryOtherworld to bring back their ancient musical powers and save their culture…if she can.

Myer delivers high fantasy at its best, creating a world in which artistic skill and political savvy are equally valued (and having both certainly doesn’t hurt). Lin is a dauntless heroine who is willing to suffer an awful lot for a world that doesn’t appreciate her properly in the first place, if only because dark magic loosed upon the world would be an even more unpleasant alternative. Lin isn’t even sure the object of her quest, a legendary silver branch, actually exists; all she has is her teacher’s word. That’s still enough to send her and some of her fellow poets (think “frenemies”)off to seek it. It’s sort of like the Orpheus myth in reverse, except Eurydice might be a myth. While we’re gender-swapping things, don’t think the menfolk won’t learn a lesson or two about denying women their musical, magical birthright. Good stuff for folks who like their fantasy fiction with both melody and conscience.

It’s hard to keep up with the really avid SF/F fans and their serious reading addictions, but I’ll never stop trying. Where are my genre warriors and social justice mages? Sound off in the comments section if you’ve read any of these books, plan to read them, or have other suggestions you think the rest of the blog audience would enjoy.

–Leigh Anne

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I Promise I Won’t Freak Out This Time.

I have a certificate in Women’s Studies. I’m still not entirely sure how I received it, but I feel that way about most of my college experience. I *do* remember taking my first Women’s Studies class. The four dudes that lived with me also remember. Because I lost my mind. Like, if they didn’t do the dishes, they were clearly keeping me down.

Or, you know, they were 20-something guys.

I was furious all. the. time. Everything I read simply made me more angry. So like an adult, I stopped reading the assigned texts.

Fast forward to now and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Adult Summer Reading program! This year we asked our summer readers to set a reading goal. I volunteered to be a reading coach and set a goal of my own. I will read those feminist classics that I avoided in the interest of not burning my house down. (So far “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is the only one that had me eyeing the matches.)

Here is a short list, with blurbs from the catalog. (I didn’t read them yet, so I can’t write reviews.) What’s missing? What should I skip? OMG, summer is so short!

SimonedBThe Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir’s masterpiece weaves together history, philosophy, economics, biology, and a host of other disciplines to analyze the Western notion of “woman” and to explore the power of sexuality. Drawing on extensive interviews with women of every age and station of life, masterfully synthesizing research about women’s bodies and psyches as well as their historic and economic roles, The Second Sex is an encyclopedic and cogently argued document about inequality and enforced “otherness.” A vital and life-changing work that has dramatically revised the way women talk and think about themselves.

KateChopinThe Awakening, Kate Chopin

Novelist and short story writer Kate Chopin (1851-1904) was the first American woman to deal with women’s roles as wives and mothers. The Awakening (1899), her most famous novel, concerns a woman dissatisfied with her indifferent husband. She eventually gives in to her desire for other men and commits adultery. It is a searing indictment of the religious and social pressures brought to bear on women who transgress restrictive Victorian codes of behavior.

BettyFriedanThe Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan

Landmark, groundbreaking, classic–these adjectives barely describe the earthshaking and long-lasting effects of Betty Friedan’s . This is the book that defined “the problem that has no name,” that launched the Second Wave of the feminist movement, and has been awakening women and men with its insights into social relations, which still remain fresh, ever since.

AudreLordeSister Outsider, Audre Lorde

Presenting the essential writings of black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider celebrates an influential voice in twentieth-century literature. In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope.

NaomiWolfThe Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf

The bestselling classic that redefined our view of the relationship between beauty and female identity. In today’s world, women have more power, legal recognition, and professional success than ever before. However, Wolf is troubled by a different kind of social control, which, she argues, may prove just as restrictive as the traditional image of homemaker and wife. It’s the beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection that traps the modern woman in an endless spiral of hope, self-consciousness, and self-hatred as she tries to fulfill society’s impossible definition of “the flawless beauty.”

And much more by Lucille Clifton, an amazing author and poet I discovered during National Poetry Month in April.

homage to my hips
these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!

Anyone else have a reading goal? Need a coach?

not burning anything down currently,
suzy

 

 

 

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Heroines

When I’m not dressed as a respectable, professional adult, I’m probably wearing jeans and a t-shirt. This comfortable de facto uniform minimizes the amount of time I have to spend actually thinking about clothes, freeing me up for longer sessions of crafting and baking. It’s also a great way to express my political opinions and pop culture preferences without holding forth at length like a tiresome windbag. When people see my shirts, they’ll know right away whether or not we’ll get along; this, too, is time-efficient and, therefore, pleasing. That may sound silly, but I like to use my time wisely and well.

On the other hand, some of my favorite t-shirts make excellent conversation-starters, and I’m okay with that! My obsession with Marie Curie, for example, and the companion tee with which I express it also show support for women and girls in the sciences. Sporting the Ada Lovelace look gives the same props to women in computer science. And my absolute favorite, the Mary Shelley tee, is a fashionable shout-out to the women of gothic fiction.

There are, however, so many women I admire who do not yet have their own t-shirt, which means I’m going to have to make my own until fashion catches up with my vision.  Here are a few of the many (in)famous women I admire who really should have their own clothing line.

Grace Hopper. The first woman to earn a PhD in mathematics from Yale, and a tenured professor at Vassar, Hopper proceeded to top herself by enlisting in the Navy immediately after Pearl Harbor. The ever-restless Hopper completed officer training and was assigned to the Harvard Computational Laboratory, where her gift for programming, excellent collaboration skills, and prankish sense of humor led to a string of professional successes. Thanks to Hopper we have COBOL and personal computers, so the least we could do is thank her with a spiffy tee, no?

Camille Claudel.  Often unfairly dismissed as the mad mistress of Auguste Rodin, Claudel was a gifted sculptor in her own right. The sensual nature of her work, however, was far more earthy and naturalistic than nineteenth-century French culture could bear, and only Rodin and her father supported her unique artistic vision. However, after a series of personal shocks and the unhappy end of her affair with Auguste, Claudel struggled on alone in poverty until finally her mother committed her to an asylum, where the misunderstood muse remained for thirty years. To the end of her life, however, Claudel remained true to herself and did not compromise her vision. A t-shirt is, perhaps, the very least we could do to honor such strength.

Coco Chanel.  Last, but certainly not least, on my list is the fashion designer closest to my heart.  Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel changed women’s clothing forever by rejecting the fussy, restrictive styles of her day and designing simple, elegant garments made from fabrics in which a person could actually move and breathe! Not content to dabble in clothing, Chanel also created hats, perfume and handbags, first for the friends and relatives of her lovers, and then, as her reputation spread, to Paris society at large.   Ashamed of her humble beginnings, Chanel remained mysterious and private to the end, and her habit of hanging out in graveyards and talking to the dead techincally qualifies her as a first lady of goth. What’s not to love?

Your turn:  whose t-shirt would you wear?  Would you make it yourself, or hire someone crafty to create it for you?

—Leigh Anne

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The Wendy Chronicles

It’s been a little over four years since Wendy Wasserstein died, and I still miss her.  Not, obviously, in the way her relatives and friends do; that’s presumptive in the extreme.  It’s Wasserstein’s literary absence that smarts, the loss of a wise and witty author gone too soon.

Best-known for her multiple-prizewinning play, The Heidi Chronicles, Wasserstein’s body of work also includes humorous essays and one smashing novel, the kind of fictional debut that hurts to read because it’s so good, and there will never be another.  As if to atone, Wasserstein did leave behind various recordings that, when read alongside her literary work, flesh out our posthumous portrait of the quirky, determined author.

Whip-smart, and packed to the gills with artistic and cultural references with which you might not be familiar — I made more than a few trips to the library the first time I read Heidi Chronicles — Wasserstein’s writings constitute encyclopedic coverage of women’s history within a particular context. Her entry in the Jewish Women’s Archive succinctly explains her singular position in contemporary American literature:

Wasserstein made a special place for herself in the American theater by being one of the first women to stage women’s issues with the astute and comic eye of a social critic. As her characters, accomplished women who are trying to find fulfillment in their personal and professional lives, discover that it is impossible to “have it all,” they gain a better understanding of who they are. Although she resisted being labeled a “feminist” playwright, arguing that men are not subject to such labels, she was seriously troubled by the unjust inequities based on gender that she saw in American society. Therefore, her plays continued to focus on women struggling to define themselves in a “postfeminist” America that still suffered from the backlash of sexism, homophobia and traditional values but also from the problem of liberal entitlement. Her writing not only reflected her passionate interest in women but also revealed the fact that she was Jewish and a New Yorker.

On the surface Wendy Wasserstein and I have next to nothing in common, but when she speaks of what unites all women — our desire to succeed on our own terms, and to make peace with women whose terms are not ours — I feel a sense of kinship that transcends the boundaries of age, religion, class and privilege.  Reading Wasserstein has taught me to keep my heart as open as my mind, and to laugh at the obstacles in my path, even as I work diligently to strike them down.

This is, of course, one of the reasons we read:  to learn from those who sing with different voices.  Their compositions are meant to encourage us, not to copy theirs, but to inspire our own.

–Leigh Anne
uncommon woman in training

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Surprised by the Elegant Gathering

Sometimes I can’t remember how or why a book ended up on my “to-read” list.  If the title seems intriguing, I check it out anyway. Most of the time, it turns out not to have been worth remembering!

One of the most pleasant surprises I’ve had in years, however, came to me recently courtesy of Kris Radish’s novel, The Elegant Gathering of White Snows.  One night, after their weekly “girl time,” eight friends decide to take a break from their lives, lace up their tennis shoes, and start walking. 

Down the highway. 

In the middle of Wisconsin.

With nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Wow.

Through a mix of newspaper clippings, internal monologues, and narrative passages, we learn the various events that led the friends to seek change, and how their silent crusade–for they speak to no one–affects women and men all over the country as the story of their pilgrimage spreads.

Be forewarned:  this novel’s a weeper, but not in the paper-hearts, sentimental sort of way.  If you have the courage to look deeply into the heart of women’s joys and sorrows, you may find yourself engaged in a good, cleansing cry.  This novel gave me the urge to call up all my girlfriends and tell them how much I love them, and I recommend it highly to anyone who’s ever loved or lost, had a friend, or been a friend.

Have you ever been surprised by a book you didn’t think you’d like?  What have you read lately that’s moved you to tears?

–Leigh Anne

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“Bad” Girls Go Everywhere

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” — Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

“When I’m good, I’m very good.  When I’m bad, I’m better.” —Mae West

Consider the so-called “bad” girl.  Playing by the rules and coloring within the lines are all well and good, to a certain extent.  But what if your dreams and desires just can’t be confined by the contours of a “good girl” life?  What if your vision of the world is bigger than what the world currently has to offer?  What if you just don’t fit into any of the roles society has deemed acceptable for you? 

The “bad” girl shrugs her shoulders and cha-chas forward.  She breaks rules with impunity, fights for what she believes in, and pursues her dreams, no matter what the cost.  She stands up, speaks out, and tears down anything that stands in her way.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many of the women history remembers fondly today were considered “bad girls” in their time?  Here are just a few of the courageous women who pushed buttons and limits, and left a legacy any aspiring “bad” girl can be proud of.

Edith Wharton bit the hand that fed her in the daintiest way possible by satiring the old New York society in which she was raised. Novels like The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence questioned long-held assumptions about love, marriage, divorce, and women’s rights.  In a time when such things just weren’t done, Wharton rejected her own loveless union  for a life of greater social freedom in Paris.  She was also the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature.

Dorothy Day turned Catholicism on its ear by co-founding the Catholic Worker Movement. After reading Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, Day started questioning the social conditions around her and the political structure she believed contributed to them. Day’s long life of activism included housing and feeding the poor, standing up for labor rights, and publicly protesting, an activity for which she served jail time.  In recognition of her efforts to demonstrate that sincere faith and social action are not mutually exclusive, a movement is afoot to have her canonized.

Although Josephine Baker is most frequently remembered for her scandalous singing and dancing career, she also gained fame and renown as a political activist, both in the United States and Europe. During World War II she smuggled intelligence for the French resistance, passing information to the resistance in Portugal via coded messages in her sheet music. She also persuaded officials in Spanish Morocco to issue visas and passports for Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. For an explanation of these and many more colorful stories and actions, check out one of the many biographies written about Baker.

These women’s stories are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg.  For books, videos, and more information on more notable women, ask a librarian.  Oh, and don’t forget to nurture your own unique gifts and abilities, gentle readers. Once you go “bad,” you never go back…and the world is a much better place for it.

–Leigh Anne

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Marilyn French: Feminist Icon

I was sad to hear that the feminist author Marilyn French passed away on Saturday. French is probably most well known for her 1977 novel The Women’s Room, in which a housewife gradually finds empowerment after she divorces and becomes a part of the burgeoning feminist movement.  The novel was harshly criticized for what some saw as it’s anti-male viewpoint but nevertheless was a bestseller, and has earned a spot of one of the classics of second-wave feminism. I love this quote from Anne Tyler’s 1977 review of the novel: 

Pretend you’re from Mars, you haven’t heard a word, and you want to know something about the lives of certain women in midcentury America.  “The Women’s Room” is a good place to begin. 

For the past few months I’ve been making my way slowly through French’s sweeping four-volume history of women From Eve to Dawn: A History of Women in the World. By turns I’ve been both intrigued and infuriated, and have found the subject matter endlessly fascinating. It’s a comprehensive look at what women have been doing since prehistory until the present, and an excellent primer on women’s issues.

Marilyn French wrote several other novels and works of non-fiction; take a look at some of her other titles here

-Irene

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