Thursday, August 03, 2006

Gender Activist Bibliography

Introducing Feminism, 2nd Edition

This collection provides an interesting review of history, complete with witty black and white pictures, often featuring cut outs of women talking to each other about feminist ideas. The book offers a history of the movement (mostly defining the movement as something that happened exclusively in the Western Hemisphere) as well as attempts a basic introduction to key concepts such as pornography, pregnancy, and pay equity. Introducing Feminism has the feel of zine which makes it cute, funky and much more engaging. The cover is cute and would look smashing on any bookshelf. At the end of the day, however, the book falls short in terms of depth. Plus, it seems to treat feminism as something that ended in the ‘80’s—it is in need of a serious update!

After Shock: September 11, 2001: Global Feminist Perspectives

After 9/11, it was supposed to be the end of irony and the opening of a new world order. Commentary and predictions flew wildly around the globe. However, feminist voices were largely excluded from the post 9/11 conversation. Editors Susan Hawthorne and Bronwyn Winter bring together a wide range of views that uncover the connections between war, terrorism, fundamentalism, racism, global capitalism, and male violence. The first line of what promises to be a promising book reads :”Light explodes inside the skull do hours weep?,” opening with a powerful poem titled “who’s terrorism?” Including immediate reactions and more recent reflections, this collection contains essays, speeches, letters to the U.N. and to George Bush, emails, and poetry, addressing 9/11 with much-needed clarity and passion. Contributors include Barbara Kingsolver, Arundhati Roy, Barbara Ehrenreich, Eve Ensler, Ani di Franco, and the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. The range of ideas in this book seems fascinating and highly worth reading. A book that includes material both with Ani di Franco and the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan? I’m there. Check it out!

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Crossing Press Feminist Series) by Audre Lorde

This is prose that gets under your skin and into your head. Audre Lorde writes beautifully about the struggles of being black, woman, lesbian, feminist and a mother. She transforms the personal in the political and back again. If you are looking for some consciousness raising, inspiring, and honest words - then this is the book that will bring that to you. This book contains the famous “Poetry is Not a Luxury” and other crucial essays that are guaranteed to sock you in the gut, bring you down to your knees, and then inspire you to get back on your feet and start marching and dancing away the patriarchy.

The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power by Audre Lorde,

I will admit to never reading this book. However, I have always wanted to pick it up. In this collection Lorde talks elegantly and passionately about how to harness the erotic as a force powerful enough to change the world. While I might disagree with her construction of femininity as something essential, I still think that whatever she has to say will be thought provoking and valuable. Plus, the publisher has packaged this essay in such a way that once you finish reading the essay, you can tuck it into the included envelope and mail it to a friend.

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf

I used to sneak into my sister’s bedroom and rummage through her bookshelf whenever I ran out of things to read. “The Beauty Myth” has been placed prominently in a central part of her shelf for as long as I can remember. I regret never picking it up. In this book, Wolf argues on behalf of a rather simple thesis—that the image of beauty in Western (mostly US) culture is destructive and dangerous to women. However, she infuses this book with compelling statistics and stories in order to earn it’s place as a classic in the contemporary feminist canon. This dangerous “beauty myth” impacts women’s lives in nearly every way, ranging from the workplace to sexuality to religion. Although it can seem out of date in places, this is still a valuable read in that makes interesting link between profit and women’s insecurity.

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan,

This book has been declared to reach the same importance as nearly as the Book of Moses in terms of feminist history. Personally, I never read it until I had to pick it up for school—interestingly, not for any of my women’s studies classes but rather for an English class titled “American Protest Literature: From Tom Paine to Tupac.” Betty Friedan begins by writing that the “problem lay buried, unspoken in the minds of American women.” It was the problem that “had no name.” However, while this book does a valuable service in detailing the lives of privileged Smith graduates and the difficulty they faced in their post-college lives, the book has been inflated to be representative of every woman in America. The book has rightly been criticized as being racist and classist. However, the book is an interesting read, and for many people who haven’t delved deep into academic feminist theory, it can be life-changing. At any rate, it’s a fast read so you might as well pick it up.

Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation by Barbara Findlen

One person criticized the feminist movement as “Every Feminist knows one of the biggest internal and external criticisms of the movement: it is too exclusive. Too white, too middle-to-upper-class, too limited to past decades when Feminism was "needed". In short, the argument runs something like this: if Feminism is not indeed dead, it is too exclusive to attract most people.” This book is written in order to wrench open the feminist ranks and let more and more people in. Accordingly, this anthology has authors that range from different ethnicities, sexualities, races, political persuasions, from victims of rape, mothers, and teenage girls. It is a book that is meant to speak to that ambiguous third wave that has confused feminist activists in recent times. Some of these essays are powerful, most of them are at least interesting, but often times the essays come off as childish and limited. In part because the book tries so hard to be so inclusive, it lacks the sock it to you punch of other feminist works. In short, it’s just too nice and friendly to be truly revolutionary.

Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner, Amy Richards

This book attempts to marry the Second Wave feminists with those kicking at the door in 2006. It is a very historical text and in the later chapters it begins to delve into possible strategies for younger feminists. Specifically, it attempts to reinforce the idea that cultural feminism (girl power, Spice Girls, green nailpolish, high heels) is an important political force. They advocate making the politics more explicit by getting reengaged in the feminist movement collectively. However, the book loses a lot of its punch in that it is too even-handed. It is very polite to older feminists (despite some insistence that they are ageist and don’t take younger feminists seriously) and equally as generous to younger feminists that aren’t politically seriously engaged. The author’s have a difficult time making a stand, and that wishy-washiness does more to split apart the movement than bring it together.

Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism Leslie Heywood, Jennifer Drake

This is a slightly more academic text that attempts to deal with a similar issue as Manifesta. Namely, what to do about this nebulous idea of the Third Wave? The book offers a collection that ranges from “Roseanne: Killer “Bitch” for Generation X” and “We Learn America Like a Script: Activism in the Third Wave or Enough Phantoms of Nothing.” The writing is dense and it seems to be less practical than I was hoping. The “doing feminist” part of the title seems to be largely “doing” in the sense of theorizing about things that have happened in the past. If you are looking for some new and, in some cases, innovative theoretical essays, this is a good place to start. If you are looking for a practical primer on how to deal with the ambiguities facing feminism today, look elsewhere.

Changing the Face of Power: Women in the U.S. Senate
By Melina Mara

Unlike most of the books included in this bibliography, this book is mostly pictures instead of text. It offers a range of stunning portraits and candid shots that feature the 14 female senators at work. The interviews were conducted by Helen Thomas, and if any of you saw the now famous clip of her and Stephen Colbert, that is reason enough to buy this book. However, the most compelling reason to buy this book is that the pictures are shocking, insightful and provide a never before seen look into the lives of these senators.

Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism by Daisy Hernandez (Editor), Bushra Rehman (Editor)

This book accomplishes the rare feat of being readable and challenging in both the “real world” and an academic context. This is a collection of essays from a range of women of color (Chicana, indigenous American Indian, Arab, and more) about the intersection between contemporary feminism and racism. This book is divided into four sections: family and community; mothers; cultural customs; and talking back to white feminists, men, mothers, liberals, and others. The book and it’s radical, radicalized tone could be off-putting to some who are not in position where they can analyze their own privilege. Indeed, the book should be off putting to all those that are in some privileged category. However, it is that edge of discomfort that makes this book so valuable and more likely to actually build a movement than some of the other more sanitized feminist texts.

Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity by Chandra Talpade Mohanty

This book has been assigned to me no less than five times. It is pretty much the basis of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department at Harvard. And despite all of that, I am ashamed to say that I’ve never actually managed to get through the whole text because it was so overwhelmingly boring. Additionally, I was frustrated with many of her solutions for solving the problems of reductionism, colonialism, and capitalist-based theory in mainstream feminist work. Most of her solutions only addressed the academic side of feminist life, and never seemed to get at real life. Additionally, in her first chapter “Under Western Eyes,” she writes that people need to be having different conversations with each other in order to undo the subject/object dichotomy. Which is all well and good, but she never gets into the mechanics of what that conversation would actually look like. That being said, I only did read about half of the book, so the words of another reviewer should give a more complete and balanced perspective : Feminism Without Borders is an excellent book, one of the best I have ever read. Mohanty is a strong advocate of a transformative, economically and socially just feminist politics. She defines herself as an anti-racist, anti-capitalist feminist. Her feminist vision is one of a truly free world where every person can enjoy true equality, security, and integrity, where there is "economic stability, ecological sustainability, racial equality, and the redistribution of wealth..." (3). In short, if you have a slight interest in feminist theory, this is a crucial book that has become the foundation for current thinking in feminist thought.

Toward a Feminist Theory of the State by Catharine A. MacKinnon

Catharine MacKinnon is the epitome of the “love her or hate her” school of thought. In this book, she begins with an analysis of Marx and Engels and locates the tensions between Marxism and feminism. She then continues on to discuss a host of feminist issues (abortion, pornography, et cetera). She has been criticized as a misogynist, a man hater and a general misanthrope. She has also been declared to be one of the most brilliant contemporary legal theorists. Regardless of what you think of her views, her book is an engaging and interesting read. MacKinnon is a brilliant manipulator of language (on occasion at the expense of argument), and each sentence is written in a beautiful and rhythmic way. In addition to the other accusations, MacKinnon has also been accused as being anti-sex. However, after reading her work—laced with erotic undertones and sensual imagery, it becomes clear that MacKinnon is not anti-sex—simply anti-sex as a tool of oppression. And even though I am a nerd for political theory, this is a fun book for any one to read because at its most basic it is a sexy and provocative treatise.

Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism by Jennifer Baumgardner, Amy Richards

Grassroots is written by the same authors of Manifesta. Grassroots is a much more practical application of the thoughts that were first laid out in Manifesta, and in that sense I found it much more refreshing. This book, however, is still not going to solve all of the problems in the feminist movement, and leaves much to be desired. First off, the book occasionally suffers from a “holier than thou” attitude and can be off-putting. Additionally, there is a serious lack of self-analysis from what it means that this guide is coming from two affluent white women. However, the book does provide a valuable list of resources in the index, and from there you can use it as a jumping off point to fueling your own personal brand of activism. The fundamental message of the book is “any one can do it” and despite its flaws, the book does provide an activist (seasoned or budding) with the resources they need to get the job done.

The F-Word: Feminism In Jeopardy - Women, Politics and the Future by Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner

One of the most challenging aspects of being a feminist is having reliable data to whip out whenever one is involved in the seemingly perpetual “but feminism is dead/irrelevant” conversations. This book provides an interesting analysis of some of the bread and butter feminist issues, including the glass ceiling effect and pay equity. The book is well-researched and easy to read and chockfull of useful statistics and anecdotes that can be casually (or not so casually) dropped into conversation. While the book can be criticized for only approaching “safe” “middle-ground” positions—leaving the stickier work of anti-racism, anti-classism and general all around revolution to others—it is still a valuable feminist resource for any gender activist.

The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World: Completely Revised and Updated by Joni Seager

The first sentence of this book is powerful: “To UNDERSTAND WHAT IS GOING ON in a world characterized by swift and often fundamental change, it is worth keeping your eye on power.” This Atlas does an excellent job of keeping tabs on important statistics affecting women around the globe. The pages are well laid-out and the information is easy to find. The graphs and charts are professional looking, but still visually appealing and simple enough that the book is a pleasure to read and flip through even if you are not looking up some specific information. While the Atlas is small and much of the information is basic, some of it is surprisingly in depth. The categories range from Women in the World, Families, Birthrights, Body Politics, Work, To Have and Have Not, and Power. It provides a valuable insight into the discrepancies in resources available between men and women, but also even more interestingly the discrepancies between women from different regions. The Atlas is definitely worth adding to your collection.

Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics Updated Edition with a New Preface by Cynthia Enloe

This book attempts to bring together a gender study with international politics and policy. It focuses on the affects on women when companies move factories abroad, the impact that bases have on local women (especially in regards to prostitution), and the ever-increasing tourism industry. Like any book that attempts to confront such a broad array of topics, this text is extremely long and can sometimes be difficult to trudge through. Also, the book focuses pretty much exclusively on the impact of gender, and leaves out a more intersectional perspective that would include race, class, and national privilege. However, she does provide an excellent perspective of feminism as an attack on they way that the world is presently constructed and built around oppression. Furthermore, this book provides a nice bridge between academic feminism and real world feminism. Her main point of “The personal is political, the personal is international” really resonates.

Who Cooked the Last Supper: The Women's History of the World by Rosalind Miles

This is an entertaining, informative look at the history of women throughout the globe. Miles’s history is written with a heavy dose of humor, wit, and you go, girl! anecdotes. Even when the history necessarily details oppression and persecution, she is still able to salvage inspiring stories of women who made a difference. The book is lively and filled with interesting facts about little known women who made a huge difference in history, but have largely been left out of the classroom. She talks about the woman who opened the first both control clinic, women warriors in Islam, and reveals that Florence Nightingale’s nickname was “Lady with a Hammer.” Read this book instead of some chic lit fluffy romance novel on the beach this summer. Or if you have to, read both!

Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by Bell Hooks

bell hooks is a warm and engaging writer. She is a pleasure to read, but if you take her words to heart, they can sometimes be painful and earth shattering. This book, however, is mostly warm and fuzzy and is a good text to read if you want to remind yourself (or others!) about the importance of feminism. She writes “A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving....There can be no love without justice.-from the chapter "To Love Again: The Heart of Feminism". Her work is inspiring and rooted in common sense and wisdom. However, maybe because I am cynical and jaded and looking for more of a punch, this book is a little too inspiring and optimistic. Regardless, it is worth checking out.

The Jewish Women's Awareness Guide: Connections for the 2nd Wave of Jewish Feminism by Janet Carnay, Ruth Ann Magder, Laura Wine Paster, Marcia Cohn Spiegel, Abigail Weinberg, Marcia C. Spiegel

As a Jew and as a feminist, I’ve often had difficulty trying to make harmony of two crucial aspects of my identity. Although I’ve managed to gain a deeper and stronger connection to both Judaism and feminism through my individual struggle of combing the two, having a handy resource book would have made my life a lot easier. And since I’m still struggling with many of the thornier issues, I’m delighted to have found one such guide in such an easy to use and basic format. For those who are planning on studying at yeshiva or have similarly entrenched themselves in Judaism, this might be too basic. For the rest of us, this is an excellent resource.

Organizing for Social Change: Midwest Academy : Manual for Activists by Kimberley A. Bobo, Steve Max, Kim Bobo, Jackie Kendall, Midwest Academy

This is a helpful, easy to use collection of tips and strategies on how to actually do the hard work of organizing. It teaches you how to run an effective meeting, how to approach an elected official, and offers strategies on how to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. In short, it is an invaluable guide for an activist dedicated to social justice. The only downside is that the book is pretty boring, since it is essentially just a tool kit and manual. Other than that, this book is a must.

No comments: