Recently, I overheard a man talking with two of my female friends. I watched as their typical politically-charged repartee turned to post-Weinstein wave of sexual harassment allegations. The man jested, saying that the women making all these accusations are probably just ugly, jealous and vindictive, gesturing amiright? Who doesn’t like a little harassment now and then? His goofing escalated, ending only after he moved behind one friend, galloping around like a lusty cowboy, and pretended to slap her (the horse) from behind. A mime of harassment: good deflective fun!
As the news cycle inevitably turns its light toward our own beloved book industry with allegations landing on the big-name-shoulders of familiar children’s book authors, particularly with the latest Sherman Alexie debacle, the feeling can’t be shaken: we are teetering on the tip of an old iceberg. Everyday ordinary men (and women): we seem to stumble about awkwardly at best, crudely at worst, squinting in the sun of ubiquitousness.
So let us imagine that in their confusion, these men were instead to create a book club.
The 2018 Feminist Book Club for Men , or ... how about ... How-to-Sidestep-the-Pitfalls-of-Patriarchy Book Club ? ... or Our-Sons-will-Embrace-an-Egalitarian-Society Book Club ?
Here are five recommendations (plus some extra credit!) to get started.
Ladies, what would you add to the reading list?
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (or anything) by Roxanne Gay
Men, read this for the cold-water baptism of Roxanne Gay’s pulls-no-punches writing style reflecting on sexual trauma and the undercurrent of spite toward obesity in our culture.
In Hunger, Roxanne Gay recounts egregious sexual violence she experienced as a teenager and the very real emotional and physical effects of trauma. The title rings throughout the book as a desire for wholeness in a society that shames women for so much, particularly our bodies, as she relates what it’s like to be diagnosed a ‘super morbidly obese’ person. Dense with honesty, Gay’s words cut away rhetorical bullsh*t about empowerment and overcoming and let me see her insecurities, her own cycles of self-doubt and destructive behavior. She let me look and see and take deep breathes along with her memoir and until I could match my very pulse to her writing and feel the weight of being a woman, abused, and moving forward. (Order from BookBar here).
Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard
Men, read this to trace the connection of women and silence from Greek and Roman history right up to the tweets of our current president.
In this trim book, Beard the academic and historian known most recently for the excellent SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, not only bullets out the history of misogyny, but gets personal by sharing her own experiences of online combat with sexist men. Here, she sets the silencing of Philomela in Greek mythology (whose tongue was cut out after being raped) beside our social movement after Elizabeth Warren’s being shushed by her male counterparts last year. You will not find, though, and exhaustive outline of female degradation, but rather the combination of two of her public lectures as a reminder of female subversion: a call for solutions to change the male-dominated power structures from which women have traditionally been left excluded. (order from BookBar here).
Extra Credit: Pair with Naomi Alderman’s The Power and discuss the relationship between power and aggression.
Men, read this to start a conversation about how childbearing effects feminine power.
Louise Erdrich set this speculative fiction set in a not-too-far-in-the-future U.S. that hasn’t seen snow in decades and where evolution has not only stopped, but is turning backward. Cedar Hawk Songmaker is the protagonist and the novel is an epistle to her unborn child. The plot is quickly propelled by the question of what kind of baby this will be in a time where babies are being born in more primitive states, lizards are eating Labradors, and a military state is rounding up all pregnant women. While it is true that Erdrich is less invested in the minutia of her dystopian world, the questions she brings up about Cedar’s Native American roots, her adoption into a white Midwestern family, her relationship to her two mothers and two fathers, and how these pieces of her identity affect not only her survival, but perhaps humanity’s survival, are well worth discussion. (Buy from BookBar here).
Extra credit: Read and/or Watch Hulu’s 2017 adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale and read Red Clocks (premise: lawmakers criminalize abortion by revoking Roe vs. Wade) to extend the conversation about how power is both given to and taken from women as child-bearers.
I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men and What I had On by Khadijah Queen
Men, read this to gaze back at the male gaze.
I have heard Khadijah Queen read from this collection, and I will tell you it was juicy in that way that makes you exchange privy flushed looks with the person you came with. With no less than poetry, Queen is fed up and tell-all and so so right. Hanif Abdurraqib of the The New Yorker says:
The title is literal: The book is a collection of several short stories about Queen’s interactions with men, woven together into a single narrative. Though most of the men are famous—Arsenio Hall, Tupac, Montell Jordan—each encounter feels ordinary, familiar. This place, with these men, could be anywhere…Many of the stories in “I’m So Fine” serve as a testimony to the burdens that come, in this world, with existing in a woman’s body. … The book is an investigation of celebrity culture and toxic masculinity that moves at a lyrical sprint, stuffed with characters and movements, with the ampersand often serving as the only available punctuation.
(Buy at BookBar here).
Extra credit: Queens Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams, begin every podcast with a story of racist or sexist nonsense, often existing in entertainment culture. This time, in the form of a comedy podcast, 2 Dope Queens. Add Phoebe’s excellent and hilarious cultural commentary, You Can’t Touch my Hair while you’re at it.
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (to be released April 2018)
Men, read this to consider feminism as a series of choices beyond causes or movements.
Set within the last decade, Greer moves through her twenties, guided by her feminist icon, Faith Frank to make her career in the world of nonprofit feminist work. Meg Wolitzer moves among her cast of characters’ perspectives giving time and attention not only to her protagonist, Greer, but also five key characters so that we can see a whole story from the top, bottom, and side with an omniscience that pays off in huge insights from the small moments. And herein lie the questions: how do women support or sabotage one another? What is actual feminism and what is its form and institution? How do we heal one another and what is good work? With so much to explore in the murkiness of young adulthood, and when the morality of a causes hit the reality relationships and real life, Wolitzer, as always, gives us a lot to think about. (Pre-order at BookBar here).
Extra Credit: Pair with the re-release of Eve Babitz’s Sex and Rage to feel the flavor of the 1970’s women’s liberation references in The Female Persuasion.