Sunday, August 06, 2006

Gender Activist Bibliography - Part 2!

Here is my Part 2 to Dara's first installment of the Gender Activist Bibliography. I would say that I painstakingly rated these books from 1-20, but that would be a lie, so please note that there's no particular order, and enjoy!

This Bridge Called My Back: Radical Writings by Women of Color
Edited by Gloria AnzaldĂșa and Cherrie Moraga

This is one of those books that absolutely changes your life. I first read it in my Introduction to Women’s Studies class, and since then, This Bridge’s beauty, conviction, and ideas have followed me. AnzaldĂșa and Moraga offer a moving anthology of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and essays. The authors, including big names like Audre Lorde and Trinh T. Minh-ha, break away from the stiff and patriarchal methods of writing, expressing themselves in whichever way is most comfortable while still giving compelling testimonies. The authors of This Bridge challenge the readers to examine their own lives: to realize how they too are implicated in racism and sexism, and to change themselves. Read this book with an open mind and be ready to be critical toward both yourself and the world around you, and you will have a truly enlightening experience. Disclaimer: don’t read this book if you’re complacent and unwilling to change your mind and your life.

Making Face, Making Soul / Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color
Edited by Gloria AnzaldĂșa

Making Face, Making Soul is almost like a Part 2 to This Bridge Called My Back. It furthers the dialogue of women of color and offers even more challenges to its readers. Not only that, but the prose and style of this anthology are exquisite and lasting. Just look at a few of the section titles to get an idea: Still Trembles Our Rage in the Face of Racism: There is War, Some Losses can’t be Counted; (De)Colonized Selves: Finding Hope Through Horror; and If You Would Be My Ally: In Alliance, In Solidarity. While both This Bridge and Making Face do not often offer tangible solutions to the problems of white supremacy and racism, they challenge the reader to make her own solutions, and to fight for people of color, either as a member or as an ally. The best thing about this anthology, however, is the hope. Shining through anger, frustration, confusion, and lingering after critical revelations, the hope and the inspiration in Making Face, Making Soul is tangible.

Radical Feminism Today
By Denise Thompson

From what excerpts Amazon has offered me, I can say that this book looks to be an interesting critical interpretation of feminism. When it comes to theory, however, it is not for the faint of heart. Reading Radical Feminism Today is much like reading dense philosophical texts: the ideas are great, but are sometimes difficult to understand, at least on the first read. Nevertheless, this seems like a book that would be engaging for modern feminist scholars, and would at least illicit a reaction of either agreement or disagreement. In Radical Feminism Today, Thompson seeks to define feminism, accusing many feminists of skirting actual explanations. One promising definition that Thompson gives is: “Feminism aims to expose the reality of male domination, while struggling to expose a world where women are recognized as human beings in their own right.” I can agree with that. I admit that I’m a little wary that Thompson “points to the limitations of implicitly defining feminism in terms of ‘women,’ ‘gender,’ ‘difference,’ or ‘race/gender/class.’ I’m also wary of any book that claims itself to be ‘controversial.’ Then again, as feminism is continuously evolving, it doesn’t hurt to be ‘controversial’ once in a while, and I anticipate at least perusing Radical Feminism Today in the future.

Cult of Power: Sex Discrimination in Corporate America and What Can Be Done About It
By Martha Burk

Don’t you hate when men and women say to you, “there’s no need for feminism anymore: women and men are equal now” and “there is no more discrimination”? Well here’s a book that you can politely but firmly ask them to read before continuing that sentiment. Martha Burk writes a gripping eye-witness account of severe discrimination that still exists, even if it is more covert. The book is centered around the Augusta National controversy, using the “resulting firestorm” as evidence for a larger epidemic. “Cult of Power is an in-depth account stemming from the initial controversy, written by the woman who was at its center. Burk lays bare the reasons the closed gates of Augusta National symbolize all the ways women are still barred from the highest echelons of power—in government, social and religious organizations, and most important, in corporate America—and why we must change the system.” Take that, nay-sayers!

Eleanor Roosevelt, Volumes 1 and 2
By Blanche Wiesen Cook

The best part of this book is the fact that it’s a feminist perspective in the often male-dominated world of biographies. Avoiding the patriarchal lens, Cook offers honest insight into Eleanor’s independence, grace, and achievements. In the preface, Cook writes, “I am proud to be part of this movement that removed women from the margins of our culture and placed them at the center of their own lives, and our field of vision.” The first volume covers the years 1884-1933, including Eleanor’s family, childhood, education, and marriage; the second volume, years 1930-1933-1938, begins at Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency and covers Eleanor’s determination and many accomplishments. This is definitely a book (or rather, two volumes) for feminists searching for political inspiration.

Unfinished Work: Building Democracy and Equality in an Era of Working Families
Edited by Jody Heymann and Christopher Beem

Here’s a read for all your policy-minded folks. Unfinished Work is a great anthology for all those interested in the politics and policies surrounding family and the workplace, with an emphasis on women. In fact, it’s good information for anyone wanting to have a family and work too in an American society in which this combination seems increasingly impossible. “Unfinished Work provides invaluable insights into the lack of an effective national response to the challenges faced by working families today, and offers solutions from leading thinkers in labor, public policy, sociology, economics, history, ethics, family studies, social work, and political science.” Woo, that’s a long list! But the broad scope of Unfinished Work is what makes it seem both revolutionary and effective.

50 Ways to Improve Women’s Lives: The Essential Women’s Guide to Achieving Equality, Health, and Success
Edited by the National Council of Women’s Organizations

The topics in this collection are endless: sexual health, work and family balance, higher education, networking, mentoring, advocacy, community-building, international women’s issues, and more. Personally, I haven’t had a chance to read 50 Ways yet, but I plan to! The National Council of Women’s Organizations has harvested compelling articles from leading women in many areas, from academia to politics to nonprofit organizations. And don’t worry – just because the Younger Women’s Task Force is under NCWO doesn’t mean this is a shameless plug – the book really does look good!

Letters to a Young Feminist
Phyllis Chessler

This may, at first, seem like a patronizing attempt to bridge the intergenerational gap. However, while there are some parts where it feels like Chessler is your mother, it’s not in a “oh look at you, you amatuer feminist” way. Chessler cares enough about the future of feminism to write candidly about the realities of feminism and the dangers it faces now. She explains how feminism was and is and should be, particularly in a way that would be useful to early and/or young feminists (hence the title – and by “young” it seems that she means “new”). The following statement is one that I want to say to the many people who tell me feminism is no longer necessary: “Darling, I don’t want to frighten you away, but I don’t want to waste your time either, so I can’t pretend that simply because you or I want it to be so that men and women are equal.” Exactly.

A Hunger So Wide and So Deep: American Women Speak Out on Eating Problems
By Becky W. Thompson

So much of our discussion about eating problems today is biased. We make the mistake of thinking that only well-off, white, heterosexual women obsessed with the media’s portrayal of beauty can have eating problems. In A Hunger So Wide and So Deep, however, Becky Thompson explores the experiences of women of color as well as white women, both lesbian and heterosexual. “She argues that many women turn to food—bingeing, dieting, purging, or starving—as a sensible means of coping with physical and psychic ‘atrocities’ deriving from ‘racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, the stress of acculturation, and emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.’” This is a book that tells us the disturbing and deep-seated realities of eating problems from a multicultural standpoint. It may not be the most cheerful of reads, but it’s important knowledge for readers who care about women.

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions
By Gloria Steinem

This is one of those books that I’ve heard about several times but never gotten around to actually reading. I can say, however, that after glancing at just the Table of Contents on Amazon, I want to run out and grab a copy right now. Titles that seem especially interesting are “I Was a Playboy Bunny” (really?) “In Praise of Women’s Bodies” and “Men and Women Talking.” If you won’t read this just to see if Steinem’s serious about the playboy bunny thing, then read it because she’s one of the truly great thinkers of the feminist movement. This may be her first collection of feminist essays, but it’s still good.

Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black
By bell hooks

This book by bell hooks may not be as popular as Feminism is for Everybody but it is just as powerful, with ideas that are similarly revolutionary yet easy to understand. Talking Back focuses more on hooks’ personal experiences: about her community, how she overcame racism, her methods of teaching, and more. Throughout the collection of hooks’ essays runs an unspoken theme that words are power to black women. The title Talking Back references how young black girls in hooks’ hometown were often punished for being outspoken, and in response, hooks uses this book to “talk back” triumphantly.

Zami, a New Spelling of My Name
Audre Lorde

“Zami, a carriacou name for women who work together as friends and lovers.” Just the definition of “zami” makes me want to read this book. Zami is basically the self-told story of Audre Lorde’s life, a genre which she entitles (instead of autobiography) a “biomythography.” Lorde, an African-American lesbian feminist, takes the reader through her different identities and transformations, explaining how she has come to reconcile these many important identities. It seems as though Zami is not only Lorde’s journey through life, but a journey on which Lorde takes her readers.

Don’t Bet on a Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England
Edited by Jack Zipes

In the mood for a little whimsy without the damsel-in-distress? Well here’s the book for you. Jack Zipes presents a collection of tales written by authors like Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, and Anne Sexton. These authors focus not on weak, helpless damsels, but on powerful female role models and archetypes. Knowing the influence that stories have on young children’s perceptions, Zipes decided to compile stories that empowered them (especially girls) rather than perpetuating patriarchal stereotypes. “Don’t Bet On a Prince was created out of dissatisfaction with the dominant male discourse of traditional fairy tales and with the sexist social values and institutions which it supports.” Sounds like a good idea to me. And not only are these stories suitable for children (more suitable than, say, Sleeping Beauty), they’re also a light, intriguing read for adults (who will particularly enjoy the subtle humor and satire in many of the stories).

The Good Body
By Eve Ensler

As if we didn’t have enough people scrutinizing and trying to control our bodies, now Eve Ensler reminds us that we too are waging war with our bodies: “It’s as if they’ve been given their own little country called their body, which they get to tyrannize, clean up, and control while they lose all sight of the world.” And yes, even us feminists suffer from these delusions of power. However, Ensler tells us, we can change all that. With her typical sarcastic and wholly satisfying humor, Ensler gives us a different collection of “monologues” that are just as inspiring. So go ahead, have your cake and eat it too (seriously, eat it).

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us
By Kate Bornstein

This book is an intimate autobiography detailing the struggles and triumphs of a transgendered woman. “[T]his particular coming-of-age story is also a fascinating and deeply provocative investigation into our notions of male and female, the myths attached to them, and the penalties that befall not only those who transgress the definitions but anyone who blindly conforms to them.” Bornstein challenges the notions of gender in a candid and humorous way, inviting her readers to consider a world without the constrictions of a binary gender system. And the best part about this book is that it’s an interesting read – instead of being bogged down with lengthy discussions of identity politics, Bornstein writes about her own identities, and the philosophy follows.

Ariel: the Perennial Classics Edition
By Sylvia Plath

The last book of poetry that Sylvia Plath wrote and compiled before her suicide, Ariel contains some of Plath’s most well-written and captivating poems. Her style and content together are intriguing, and the reader experiences vicariously both Plath’s despair and her ability to capture a moment at its finest. This Perennial Classics edition of Ariel is particularly important because it recreates the collection as Plath had originally intended. Upon her death, Ted Hughes, her husband, took out over a dozen poems, while rearranging the poems’ order, before submitting the collection for publishing. Now, however, we see Ariel as Plath would have wished us to read it.

Women Write: A Mosaic of Women’s Voices in Fiction, Poetry, Memoir and Essay
Edited by Susan Cahill

If, like me, you ever wished that there was a collection of strong women’s writing, here it is. Women Write seems like it is truly a monument to women writers, showcasing some of the best talent and insight all the way from the 1600s onward. Some of the authors include: Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, Anne Bradstreet, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, Mary Shelley, and many more. Also, as I was going through the Table of Contents, I noticed that not only is this anthology a mosaic of types of writing, but it is also a mosaic of women from all different backgrounds and histories. As a literature and women’s studies major, this book looks perfect for me, and I’m excited to read it; it also looks perfect for anyone interesting in women and writing.

Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century
Edited by Justine Larbalestier

It often seems to me as though there isn’t enough feminist science fiction (and discussion of it) out there, besides Judith Butler, Ursula K. LeGuin and a few other authors. Even when I searched “feminist science fiction” on Amazon, there wasn’t much to show for it. These two reasons, and more, are why Daughters of Earth is such an important book for young women. Justine Larbalestier teams 11 powerful science fiction stories with 11 equally as powerful critical essays and insights, combining fiction and criticism into one great science fiction anthology. After all, “[w]omen’s contributions to science fiction over the past century have been lasting and important, but critical work in the field has only just begun to explore its full range.” I’d like to add one more significant accomplishment of Daughters of Earth: Larbalestier’s anthology brings attention to women in science fiction, period.

Talking Up: Young Women’s Take on Feminism
Edited by Rosamund Else-Mitchell and Naomi Flutter

Oftentimes we in the women’s movement focus so much on past achievements that we forget our movement is still evolving. Talking Up is therefore refreshing simply because it is full of young voices, voices that haven’t been heard yet but have great ideas to share. The young women authors in this collection share their experiences with learning, living, and sharing feminism. Topics range from women’s studies classrooms, to sex, to family. And although Talking Up features only young authors, there is still engaging discussion on the generations within the movement and how we can reconcile differences in order to forge ahead.

Letters of Intent: Women Cross the Generations to Talk About Family, Work, Sex, Love and the Future of Feminism
Edited by Anna Bondoc and Meg Daly

This book is so important in an era in which feminism is harshly divided into 2nd and 3rd wavers. Letters of Intent is an intimate collection of letters between new and established gender activists, containing such pairings as Amy Richards and Gloria Steinem, and Emily Gordon and Katha Pollitt. Like the members of YWTF, “[t]he authors in this section are deeply committed to social change yet refuse to follow a prescribed activist formula. Their exchanges with seasoned activists illuminate what activism is and could be.” Letters of Intent is yet another book from my gender activist list that I’ll have to read soon, for it speaks so well to older and younger activists alike. Not only that, but it seems like a truly enthralling read.

Well, that's the end of my Gender Activist Bibliography (Part 2!) and I hope you found some good books to read. And feel free to add to the list yourselves!


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