Friday, August 17, 2012

The Modern Girl’s Feminist Primer: Getting Your Feet Wet

Here's another reason that librarians matter: Reader's Advisory Booklists.  Getting people to read is something that schools do, but getting people to love to read is what libraries do.  Genre Book Lists are created by librarians so that we can help people find stuff to read that they will really enjoy.  To do this, we research, read books, and read tons of reviews so that we are know the hard hitting authors and prolific titles for every genre.

This is my book/movie/blog list for anyone who's ever thought that feminism is passé, irrelevant, or hurting women and society.  It's none of those things, by the way, and here are some books, documentaries, and blogs to prove it.

The Modern Girl’s Feminist Primer:  Getting Your Feet Wet

Fiction: Just the Classics; Wit, Satire, and Farce: The Creepy World of Anti-Feminism What If’s; and Some Good Old Fashioned Love Triangles

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (fiction, 2011).
This modern day Austenite romance follows a post collegiate love triangle in New England during the early 1980s.  Madeline, the central character has studied and completed a thesis on British romance literature of the 19th Century, while she is ironically living out the same basic plot of the works she has studied.  While she is a young intellectual, we see that Madeline is still bound by the societal standards that the heroines of Austen and Bronte are as well.  Written with heavy allusions and plot references to classic literature, this story draws parallels between the stifling gender-specific society of the 19th Century British upper class and the same upper middle class norms in America over a century later.

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood (fiction, 1969)
Margaret Atwood is known for making social commentary that is employed by ironic and science fiction elements in her novels.  In The Edible Woman, the story’s protagonist becomes unable to eat more and more types of food the closer she becomes to the feminine dream of marriage.  Through deep observations, peculiar characters, and bizarre events this novel leads the reader into a world that is at once realistic and fantastical. The absurdity of the plot elements, along with the deadpan narration of everyday (and not so everyday) occurrences will leave this story with the reader long after the book has been placed back on the shelf.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (fiction, 1985)
In this dystopian world, Atwood paints a picture of dark future for a society that began heavily restricting its citizens after a terrorist attack.  In the wake of these events, the government collapses and a conservative, extremist party comes into power. One of the cornerstones of this new regimes influence is in reverting men and women back to “traditional” gender roles, using men as studs and women as breeding machines.  This haunting and terrifying tale rings close to home as Atwood depicts a society not so different from our own.

Florence of Arabia by Christopher Buckley (fiction, 2004)
Unlikely feminist author, Christopher Buckley writes this satire in his definitive farcical style.  Using humor, pop culture and current events, Buckley tells the story of the Deputy to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Florence Farfaletti, as she becomes entrenched in a plot to grant asylum to one of the wives of a misogynistic Middle Eastern prince and begins promoting women’s rights in the midst of the chaos.  The fictionalized country of Wasabia represents the repressive Arab regimes that subvert women while the Western world looks on.  Seen through the eyes of the witty and strong-willed Florence, the story brings feminist issues in the Middle East home to America.  This book is a likely favorite for any fan of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, with the added elements of a cultural revolution that has become even more relevant with the rise of the Arab Spring.

The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike (fiction, 1984)
Told in Updike’s classic ironic prose, The Witches of Eastwick is a tongue-in-cheek examination of feminist stereotypes.  Strong, opinionated women who have traditionally been viewed as “ball-busting” and man-hating are the models for Updike’s female characters.  3 witches living in suburban Eastwick, Rhode Island routinely and nonchalantly cast spells on men that leave them shriveled shells of their former selves.  The idea that a woman can strip a man of his manhood purely by being a woman is attacked in this satire on societal typecasts of modern feminists.  The book spans commentary-making irony and blatantly offensive images of women that are not necessarily shrouded in the same allegory as the tale itself.  Updike has never openly admitted to writing this as a feminist work, however, the story is regarded by most women’s studies intellectuals and opinion makers as feminist.

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin (fiction, 1972)
Ira Levin’s classic tale of warning is wrought with irony, metaphor, and extremism.  The idyllic town of Stepford is a gender-specific society’s dream come true.  The women happily fill their roles as ultra-feminine housewives, abuzz with the latest technological advances in kitchen appliances, while the men relish in masculine identifiers such as golf and lodge memberships.      Yet, just below the surface there is something amiss in Stepford, as Joanna Eberhart, a former career-woman who reluctantly arrives in Stepford with her husband and two children from the City, notices immediately.  As the steady ascent into housewifery takes a hold of Joanna it is clear that something bizarre and unworldly is happening in Stepford.  This classic novel has set the stage for questioning ideals of womanhood and “normalcy” in American families.

Non-Fiction:  It’s Just Like Reading a Magazine, Only Longer!

The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, and Vulnerability by Laura Kipnis (nonfiction, 2006)
This witty and humorous take on the female psyche disguises intellectual quandaries as entertainment as Northwestern professor, Laura Kipnis takes readers on a journey through her mind, and the minds of all women.  Told through a series of stories and scenarios, The Female Thing makes light of the labels and objectifying thought patterns that men and women impart on other women.  From minor observations to sweeping stereotypes, Kipnis examines why women think what they think about their bodies and themselves in relation to other women.  For anyone who has ever been told that women are innately catty – here is a fresh look at how women are pitted against each other subliminally and blatantly.

A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s by Stephanie Coontz (nonfiction, 2011).
For anyone who has ever wanted to read The Feminine Mystique only to find it blatantly prejudiced, outdated… and well, very long;  A Strange Stirring bridges the divide between white middle class feminism of the 1960s and post-modern feminism that supports varied sexualities, classes, and ethnicities.  Coontz takes a step back from Freidan’s myopic book, and depicts the state of feminism for women in various classes at the time of the Feminine Mystique’s publishing.  Through interviews with women who were in their 20s and 30s at the groundbreaking book’s release, to interviews with those women’s daughters, Coontz rounds out the story of feminism in the 1960s and makes it palatable for any reader today.  Written in a narrative, journalistic style, this book is understandable and relatable to readers who were young adults in the 1960s and those who are young adults today.

Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti (nonfiction, 2007)
The former editor of and author of The Purity Myth, takes a stance on feminism as a young woman in a post-modern generation that has been deemed passive and apathetic by second wave feminist activists of the 1960s and 70s.  Here Valenti’s powerful prose, conversational tone, and outspoken observations about the banal sexism that most women encounter every day, offers readers a fresh perspective on feminism.  From why feminism matters, to what it means, to how apathy towards this movement hurts everyone in society, this book covers ground in understandable, relatable, and just plain funny chapters.  Valenti is the embodiment of modern feminism – at one point in her life she was reluctant to identify with the movement, yet she is now a powerful force in fighting for gender and sexual equality.  This book is for anyone who thinks that feminism is passé, or is curious about what it really means.

The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts  (nonfiction, 2007)
Don’t let the title of this book fool you, Bennetts is not necessarily saying that feminism has failed women, but that feminism has not given women a complete picture of what their lives would look like if they were fully dependent on husbands and men today.  Bennetts argues that feminism needs to do a better job of promoting women staying in the labor force and remaining economically independent despite becoming mothers.  This heavily researched book uses statistics, reporting, and social analysis to give readers a fuller picture of the economic impact of leaving the work force.  While feminism does not argue that anyone follow a strict procedural guide, Bennetts argues for the campaign that encourages women to remain in the workforce.  Written with journalistic quality, this book feels as though it spans many topics of a deeply engaging news article; human interest, economic, political and social.

Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan (nonfiction, 2010)
This is a compilation of “click” moments from feminist writers, thinkers, and activists who suddenly realized that they were, in fact, feminists.  Writers such as Jennifer Baumgardner and Jessica Valenti weigh in to describe the road towards feminism and the moment they knew that they had arrived.  This volume gives readers a great introduction to today’s feminist public figures.  Each essayist’s memoir offers a unique perspective on what feminism means today, how it shaped her, and how it can be lived.

Manifesta by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards (nonfiction, 2000)
In this look back at Riot Grrrl feminism, Manifesta asks “Is feminism dead?”  While the authors undoubtedly have a soft spot for the feminist movement that took place in the 1980s when they were coming of age, the book encourages the next generation of women to pick up where it left off.  Both authors share their personal histories as feminists and compare the old with the new.  While not overly researched, this book does compare third wave feminism with the latest wave and offers insight from the women who were there.  This book is for anyone who is thinking about feminist activism but doesn’t quite know where to start.

Note: Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman (2012) should also be in this category, but I haven't read it yet.  And these other books need some love too.

Authors:  Noteworthy for a Reason

Margaret Atwood (1939 - ) Atwood is known primarily for her work as novelist in cautionary tales of futuristic and modern societies.  While Atwood has stated that she does not feel she is a feminist author because she does not consistently write in that frame, scholars and feminists still regard her work as such.

Jessica Valenti (1978 - ) Valenti is a feminist author and speaker who edited and has published 4 books and 1 documentary to date.  This outspoken feminist has made the movement accessible to Generation Xers and Millennials.  She is known for her hard-hitting, brash yet conversational writing style that has made her books bestsellers.

Jennifer Baumgartner (1970 - )

Creator of the I Had an Abortion Project and It was Rape Project, this activist and writer focuses on gender and sexuality politics.  Baumgartner started as an intern at Ms. Magazine and began writing independently soon after.

Movies:  What Netflix was Made For

Juno written by Diablo Cody, directed by Jason Reitman (2007)
This quirky comedy stars an unlikely protagonist - a pregnant high school student in a middle class neighborhood who resolutely decides to give her baby up for adoption.  Juno quickly realizes that being a pregnant teenager carries some hefty weight (societally speaking), and must overcome stereotypes and prejudices from the peers and adults in her life.  Yet, in her quest to find the perfect home for her unborn baby, while still maintaining her typical teenage life, Juno realizes that perfection is in the eye of the beholder.  The lyrical writing and atypical cast will keep audiences glued to the screen.

Bridesmaids written by Kristen Wiig, directed by Paul Feig (feature film, 2011)
Pre-wedding jitters ensue as Kristen Wiig’s single 30-something character learns that her best friend is engaged.  In this film about female friendship and all the relationships that surround it, we learn that love conquers all – even competition over a best friend.  This movie emphasizes female comedic roles and daring situational humor that is groundbreaking for this genre.  Often referred to as “The Hangover for women”, this film offers more depth and character development than The Hangover, adding to the comedic value.  This film is for anyone who just wants to laugh, for hours.

The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women written by Jessica Valenti, directed by Jeremy Earp (documentary, 2010)
Based on the 2009 book, The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti, this documentary takes a closer look at the purity myth that is perpetuated by conservative Christian groups and the media.  This film explores the powerful images and stories that are used to tell young women that their value lies in primarily in their virginity.  Narrated by the author, this documentary is a thought-provoking look at the dark side of white wedding ideal.  Fans of, Valenti’s writing, especially The Purity Myth, will find this documentary engaging and necessary.

Miss Representation written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom (2011)
The depiction of women in the media is often wrought with stereotypes about female personality and behavior.  In Siebel Newsome’s Miss Representation, she uses a series of interviews, media clips, and statistical analysis to debunk the myths perpetuated by today’s mass media about women.  This film is a great introduction to feminism, as it depicts the blatant sexism and gender stereotyping in the media that should not be ignored.  This accessible news-style feature first premiered on the OWN Network, and fans of Oprah will likely enjoy the format and subject-matter of this documentary.

Music: Show Tune-Free Zone

Frazey Ford
Frazey Ford is better known for her role as lead singer of The Be Good Tanyas, a folk-rock female group that hails from Canada.  On her solo album, Obadiah, Ford uses her bluesy twang to croon self-written lyrics that deal with mother-daughter relationships, drug use, and daily life.  Ford’s unique and haunting voice captivates listeners, while catchy rhythms do the rest.  Frazey is for anyone who has ever worshipped on the grounds of the Lilith Fair.

 This Sri Lankan-born artist and activist uses the lyrics and sounds in her songs to make social commentary on issues that affect her war ravaged home country as well as democratic uprisings all over the world.  She is also known for her neon eclectic fashion choices and political engagement overseas.  M.I.A. raps, sings, and mixes sound to create music that is more than just catchy and upbeat.  Fans of Rhianna and indie pop rock, (who would also like to hear those things combined) will enjoy M.I.A.

Web: Maintaining Your Feminism on a Daily Basis

This website is the go-to for everything feminist (well, mostly anti-feminist) that is aggregated from the headlines.  Feminist author and social commentator, Jessica Valenti was a former editor here, and the legacy of journalism and activism lives on.  This is a great site for anyone who doesn’t know where to begin navigating the choppy waters of feminism and current events.  Let this be your life raft. follows the same format as Gawker and offers pithy headlines for all things feminist and celebrity in the news media.  This site has original content and columns that are both funny and newsworthy.  If humor, satire, and brash writing styles are your cup of tea (more like bottle of cheap beer with this crowd) then Jezebel will be your place in the golden, feminist sun.
For all things cute, girly, and social activist-y, check out created by Zoe Deschanel and 2 of her best friends.  This site has something for everyone – crafts, nail polish ides, and cute food.  But it’s not all fluff, HelloGiggles posts original articles and interviews with women who are making a difference in their communities through social work, activism, or starting their own companies.  For fans of The New Girl… who are probably already on this site.
This content-rich, intellectually written, meticulously researched, and very personal blog which profiles the lives of feminists today and in history, began as a women’s history writing idea.  Written by my best friend, Julia Olson, this blog now receives thousands of hits per day and outlines some of the most progressive and controversial ideas in modern feminism.  For anyone who has ever thought that they were too girly, fun, smart, ignorant, or cool to be a feminist, read this blog!  It’s basically for anyone who cares about people and what’s going on the world.

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