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Essential Reading: Feminism

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2017_Mar_ER Feminism_heatherV_for websiteMarch is Women's History Month, a month near and dear to the hearts of the all-female staff of Literary Mama. In order to celebrate, we're recommending books about feminism in this month's Essential Reading roundup.

As I wanted to learn more about the history of women in government, specifically women on the Supreme Court, I recently read the biography Notorious RBG The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And while I knew Ginsburg to be a strong woman, I had no idea exactly how much she has endured in her lifetime. I'm late to the girl party on this read, but happy to have attended at all. Something about RBG resonates with the youth of today, so much so that she is the subject of a Tumblr blog, a Saturday Night Live "Weekend Update" spoof, and even a coloring book. Journalist Irin Carmon recognized this and teamed up with the Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr creator Shana Knizhnik to research and interview the Supreme Court Justice in order to write the book. Carmon and Knizhnik provide a comprehensive, yet fun, profile of Ginsburg's 84 years that at times made me audibly gasp in shock and disbelief. Not only is Ginsburg strong in mind, she is also strong in body, and boasts of her ability to do 25 push-ups among other gym routines. Upon finishing the book, I found myself wanting to make a donation to my favorite women's charity and to work out, so I did both in honor of such an amazing and inspirational woman.

Andrea Lani, Literary Reflections Editor, explored feminism in the form of fiction. She writes, "While recent events have sent many I know scurrying for classic dystopian reads like The Handmaid's Tale and 1984,  I've headed in the opposite direction, picking up Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland, a utopian tale of an all-woman society. Gilman is best known for her autobiographical short story 'The Yellow Wallpaper' which depicts a woman going mad from the ravages of postpartum depression and 'the rest cure.' In Herland, she tells the tale of three male explorers who come upon a remote and isolated country of all women. If the reader overlooks the dubious science behind the parthenogenetic reproduction that takes place in the land, and that the race of this 2000-year-old culture in South America is white, it is an engaging and entertaining read that turns every assumption the male explorer-narrator has about gender and western civilization on its head. The women of Herland are utterly and completely devoted to motherhood—recognizing the great miracle of their being able to reproduce at all—and every endeavor they undertake—from cultivating land, to building cities, to designing clothing—is for the betterment of their small world for the children's future. This includes refraining from reproducing more than the land can sustain. Theirs is not a sappy, sentimental motherhood, but rather a practical and universal one; every woman is a mother to every child. The narrator describes it thus, 'You see, they were Mothers, not in our sense of helpless involuntary fecundity, forced to fill and overfill the land, every land, and then see their children suffer, sin, and die, fighting horribly with one another; but in the sense of Conscious Makers of People. Mother-love with them was not a brute passion, a mere 'instinct,' a wholly personal feeling; it was a religion.' Though written in 1915, the women of Herland are subjected to attitudes from their male visitors that we still experience today, including mansplaining and rape culture. The novel continues to be relevant today and is worth a read not only for the clever, amusing story, but also because it can remind the reader that there are better ways to do things than the way it's always been done.' It also teaches a very useful mode of argument—continue to ask innocent questions until your opponent is forced to concede the error of his thinking."

A book of essays is a great way to explore the topic of feminism, which is exactly what Senior Editor and Creative Nonfiction Editor Amanda Jaros did. She shares, "Roxanne Gay's  Bad Feminist is the ultimate book on feminism for me. Gay is raw, honest, and powerful with her words. She cuts right to the heart of what women face simply by being women in society. Some of her essays revolve around pop culture, but always bring the reader back to how women fit into that culture and the ways in which we are represented, both good and bad. I think this book should be essential reading for any woman, but be warned, overall it is not a light read. Gay dives into some very dark issues, including her own gang rape, which both altered her world and gave her the power she now wields. I recommend Bad Feminist for anyone who wants to walk a mile in someone else's shoes and be deeply moved by the experience."

What are you reading to celebrate Women's History Month? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet us @LiteraryMama. Follow us on Goodreads for more recommendations.


Abigail Lalonde lives in Philadelphia with her husband and three cats. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Rosemont College. Her work has been featured in Sanitarium Magazine and Pretty Owl Poetry. She writes about books and writing on her website.


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Heather Vrattos is pursuing an interest in photography by taking courses at the International Center of Photography. She is the mother of three boys, and lives in New York City.


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