I’ve recently joined an online feminist book club, and this was the book chosen for the month of march. It’s the first book club I’ve ever joined, which seems odd, I suppose, but you could say I have had pretty much an informal book club with some of my best friends for years now, as our discussions are mostly about books we read and recommend to each other, so I’ve never really felt like I didn’t have enough opportunities to discuss books.
So why join now, and why choose a feminist book club? (enjoy the rhetorical question, I’m in a rhetorical mood)
I’ve called myself a feminist for a long time. To be honest, it never seemed to me like such a controversial statement, mostly because all the women, and indeed all the men in my family and around me growing up, have never had any trouble with this simple statement: I believe women should have the same rights as men, therefore, I am a feminist. And so it was never really associated to negative stereotypes like angry female burning bras. But, at the same time, it wasn’t really attached to a strong sense of identity, to – as you could say, a cause in itself: I read feminist books and essays, not as a distinct purpose to read feminist literature but just because I read what interested me in general, I’ve always admired female writers and activists, you could almost say I considered I was inadvertently feminist, like I breathe or am antislavery, it was an evidence, but not an active purpose. Which of course, is nonsensical.
When I stop to actually think about it, it is in many aspects not an evidence. It is also an identity, a statement – and even though I think I’ve been largely sheltered from negative comments about feminism, I have experienced how it changes the conversation when you put it on the table, how it is certainly not a neutral word (of course, I would advance there are very few “neutral words”, if not one at all). And when I saw this book club I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to shake this “evidence” I haven’t bothered to think too much about for a long time, meet other bookish-feminists and have a chat.
So, about this book, as it is indeed – at least supposed to be – a review:
This is a collection of essays, most of them very short, all of them very easy to read, by women under thirty, about what feminism means for them, and why they call themselves feminists. It is interwoven with quotes about feminism, some of them interesting, some of them really loosely connected to the theme, and some that really don’t add anything.
The essays cover a large range of topics, as it is the purpose (stated in the introduction) of this book to be “all-inclusive” and that everybody may find something that resonates with them while reading it.
Some of those I found very interesting. Particularly the ones dealing with intersectional feminism, there is a “manifesto” by Jinan Younis stating the importance of considering that “All oppression is connected”, as Stacyann Chin says: that the abuse suffered by women who are also not cis-gender, or from an ethnic minority, or muslim (as it is the example used, and her experience), is – put in a very simplifying way – much more important than the sum of those different types of abuse taken one by one, and that the isolation and suffering resulting from this is much greater. In this sense, I think there are two essays in particular that moved me: the first one is from June Eric Udorie about her growing up in Nigeria and speaking about feminist and pro-choice issues in her christian community – that is both funny and sad, and the other from Samira Shackle about her visit to a health center helping victims from acid burns, that ends on a beautiful note about how these women, who have been disfigured or handicapped, manage to maintain their identity, their sense of self intact, despite all. And there are also essays about LGBTQ+ women and their experiences of feminism, which I loved to read about, as it is not often a voice you hear.
Those experiences of feminism across cultures and across the gender spectrum were the most enlightening to me, also I suspect because they resonated with what I’ve recently heard from the migrant women I’ve encoundered, and that is mostly what I will take from this book. It isn’t a full description of feminist ideas or a powerful pamphlet on women rights. It won’t – probably – teach you much in that regard. It is sometimes a bit repetitive as a lot of different young women state why they are feminists, but it is also nice to hear all those voices stating sometimes the same priorities, it feels like a choir. And sometimes I didn’t particularly agree about how an issue was presented, but it is also the interest of this book that presents so many views: I got to sit and rethink about what was feminism to me, why it was important, and how I would position myself compared to what I read.
In short, a great introduction to feminism or a great re-introduction to it, a book that has clearly reached what it was set out for: give a voice to young feminists of different backgrounds and experience, so that they may state again: It is important, as ever, to call ourselves feminists, to own to the “label” and the multiple and beautiful identities that go with it.
I think I’ll choose one from E. Lockhart, because after writing this I feel pumped up in the best sense of the term, and don’t want to finish on a quiet, reflexive tone:
She will not be simple and sweet. She will not be what people tell her to be.