Book Review: Rage Becomes Her

Rage Becomes HerRage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger
by Soraya Chemaly
Nonfiction/Feminism/Civil Rights
392 pages
Published September 2018

This book goes in the same category as One Person, No Vote for me. I knew a lot of the general principles, but not the details, the statistics, the true scope of the problem. This book delves deeply into the statistics, but, like One Person, No Vote, is still very readable. I like nonfiction – when the author’s voice doesn’t bore me to tears. I’m slowly building up a list of nonfiction authors who I enjoy – Mary Roach, Soraya Chemaly, Carol Anderson – interesting that they’re all women.

Anyway.

Rage Becomes Her is about women’s relationship with anger. How we tamp it down for the men around us, because being angry makes you a target. Having an opinion online usually means getting harassed, stalked, threatened, swatted. We fear to provoke violence, so we don’t show our anger. And that’s fucked up.

Rage Becomes Her is also about why we are so angry. The rampant sexism and violence against women, the pressures put on us as women, the lopsided assignation of unpaid and underpaid labor.

Rage Becomes Her is about how boys and girls are socialized in regards to anger – it’s expected from boys, but girls are socialized not to show it, to be polite, to give way instead of saying NO. (I know I was brought up this way.)

Rage Becomes Her talks about the effect that anger has on our bodies. Did you know research shows that anger is “the single, most salient emotional contributor to pain”? Which leads into a very interesting passage:

Unaddressed anger affects our neurological, hormonal, adrenal, and vascular systems in ways that are still largely ignored in the treatment of pain. It’s hard to overstate what this means in terms of women’s health.

All over the world, women report much higher rates of both acute and chronic pain than men do. Of the more than one hundred million Americans who report living with daily pain, the vast majority are women. (A comprehensive study involving more than 85,000 respondents in seven developing and ten developed nations found that the prevalence of chronic pain conditions in men was 31 percent but in women it was 45 percent.) (Rage Becomes Her, p. 51)

Well that’s interesting. I’d never thought of my pain being connected to my anger. I certainly have plenty to be angry about currently, as a liberal woman. Interestingly, the book mentions that in the lead-up to Trump’s election, the angriest demographic was white women, especially conservative ones. It makes me wonder about the subconscious anger they must have felt while siding with white supremacy over their own gender. Internalized self-hatred is one hell of a drug. Chemaly delves into that, too. The myth of the “kind patriarch” and “benevolent sexism” and how women are often guilty of system justification, to their own detriment. If you gossip about a woman for showing her anger, it only reinforces that you won’t be able to show yours.

There is so much in this book that was eye-opening, like the fact that doctors are TWENTY-TWO MORE TIMES likely to recommend knee surgery to men with severe arthritis pain than to women, because women are expected to just suck it up and deal with being in pain. There were also unspoken rules spelled out, like when women swear, they tilt towards the “impure” in our social understanding of “purity” and hence, deserve punishment. Why is that a big deal? Numerous studies have shown that cursing numbs pain. Expletives alter our perceptions of pain, and if women aren’t allowed to use them, we’re saying women deserve to be in pain more than men do. (Also the point that women, using the same curse words men do, are considered more offensive.)

What I did find disappointing is there’s really only one chapter giving us any hint as to what to DO with all this information (and the anger it causes, ironically) – and it’s not all that extensive. I’ll be doing more reading on women’s anger; there’s several books out there right now, including Good and Mad: the Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, which is currently on hold at the library for me.

This is a book I’d like to go back to and reference in the future, so it’s going on my list of books to buy eventually. It really is excellent.

From the cover of Rage Becomes Her:

A TRANSFORMATIVE BOOK URGING TWENTY-FIRST-CENTURY WOMEN TO EMBRACE THEIR ANGER AND HARNESS IT FOR LASTING PERSONAL AND SOCIETAL CHANGE.

WOMEN ARE ANGRY, and we have every right to be.

We are underpaid and overworked. Too sensitive or not sensitive enough. Too dowdy or too flashy. Too big or too thin. Sluts or prudes. We are harassed, told we are asking for it, and asked if it would kill us to smile. (Yes, yes, it would.)

Contrary to the rhetoric of popular “self-help” and entire lifetimes of being told otherwise, our rage is one of the most important resources we have, our sharpest tool against both personal and political oppression. We’ve been urged for so long to bottle up our anger, letting it corrode our bodies and minds in ways we don’t even realize. Yet our anger is a vital instrument, a radar for injustice and a catalyst for change. On the flip side, the societal and cultural belittlement of our anger is a cunning way of limiting and controlling our power.

We are so often encouraged to resist our rage or punished for justifiably expressing it, yet how many remarkable achievements would never have gotten off the ground without the kernel of anger that fueled them? Rage Becomes Her makes the case that anger is not what gets in our way, it is our way, sparking a liberating new understanding of this core human emotion.

Following in the footsteps of manifestos like The Feminine Mystique and The Beauty Myth, Rage Becomes Her is an eye-opening, accessible credo, offering us the tools to examine our anger and use it to create lasting positive change.

Book Review: Feminasty

FeminastyFeminasty: The Complicated Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Patriarchy Without Drinking Herself to Death
by Erin Gibson
Comedic Memoir/Feminism
280 pages
Published September 2018

Comedic collection of essays about feminism? Yeah, I’m in. I was actually unaware of Erin Gibson prior to this book; she’s apparently pretty popular as one of the personalities on a podcast named Throwing Shade. But she’s got a way with words, and a sharp undercurrent of anger under the jokes, which happens to be just the way I like my political comedy.

That said, there wasn’t really anything new in this book. It’s the same ranting I’ve seen millions of times on Facebook and Twitter and online editorials. I really enjoyed her summary of the annual ob/gyn visit. I just didn’t find it all that original.

She’s got some amazing chapter titles – “THE TERRIFYING PROSPECT OF MIKE ‘VAGINAS ARE THE DEVIL’S MOUTH FLAPS’ PENCE” for example, or “EVERYONE HAS A CHOICE . . . UNLESS YOU’RE A WOMAN AND IT’S BEEN TAKEN AWAY FROM YOU.” She sums up a lot of topics that fledgling feminists might not know many details about, from abortion rights to sexist dress codes to teen abstinence pledges. But for the well-read, politically informed feminist that I try to be, I didn’t get much out of this book.

So – funny, yes. Sharp, angry wit, yes. Worth taking up space on my list when I have SO MANY other things to read? Not really.

From the cover of Feminasty:

Too bad I don’t give a f*ck about what the patriarchy wants.

Erin Gibson has a singular goal: to create a utopian future where women are recognized as humans. In Feminasty – titled after her nickname on the hit podcast Throwing Shade – she has written a collection of make-you-laugh-until-you-cry essays that expose the hidden rules that make life as a woman unnecessarily hard and deconstructs them in a way that’s bold, provocative, and hilarious.

Whether it’s about shaming women for having their periods, allowing them into STEM fields but never treating them like they truly belong, or dictating strict rules for how they should dress in every situation, Erin breaks down the organized chaos of old-fashioned sexism, intentional and otherwise, that systemically keeps women down.

Feminasty is Erin Gibson’s revolutionary handbook for dismantling the patriarchy, one pay gap joke at a time.

Book Review: One Person, No Vote

one person no voteOne Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy
by Carol Anderson
Nonfiction/Politics/Civil Rights
270 pages
Published September 2018

I already knew a lot of the basics of voter suppression before picking up this book – the closing of polling centers, limiting early voting, requiring photo IDs that a lot of people don’t have, locating polling centers in hard-to-get-to places. I did not, however, fully grasp the extent of it. This book does an amazing job of supplying details and statistics without just being a mess of numbers and dates.

The book is much shorter than it appears – the last hundred pages are notes, index, and acknowledgments. Mostly notes, giving sources for every statistic and event and court case that is mentioned in the book. It still took me the better part of a week to read it; nonfiction always slows me down, and keeping this much information organized in my brain slowed me down further. I can’t just sit and read it straight through like I would with fiction!

The information in this book is appalling. From the history of voter suppression, the insidious ways that politicians have devised to keep minorities from voting, it’s bad. I learned where the term “gerrymandering” came from – some politician (governor, I think) of the last name Gerry made a district shaped like a salamander when he was making a new district map. Hence, a gerrymander.

Another horrifying factoid:

In 2016, the Economist Intelligence Unit, which had evaluated 167 nations on sixty different indicators, reported that the United States had slipped into the category of a “flawed democracy,” where, frankly, it had been “teetering for years.” Similarly, the Electoral Integrity Project, using a number of benchmarks and measurements, was stunned to find that when it applied those same calculations in the United States as it had in Egypt, Yemen, and Sudan, North Carolina was “no longer considered to be a fully functioning democracy.” Indeed, if it were an independent nation, the state would rank somewhere between Iran and Venezuela. The basic problem in North Carolina was that, despite the overt performance of ballots, precincts, and vote tallies, legislators and congressional representatives were actually selected for office rather than elected.

And that was in 2016! There have been so many more voter suppression laws passed in the last two years, I shudder to think of where we rank now. (Or where North Carolina ranks!)

As a white woman in a very blue state, I personally face little barrier to voting, but the book has still given me a new appreciation for the act. I’ve actually already voted – I took advantage of the week of early voting here in Maryland. If you’re a US citizen who hasn’t voted yet, Election Day is this Tuesday, November 6th, and for the sake of those that can’t, please, PLEASE GO VOTE. If you don’t have transportation to your polling place, Uber and Lyft are running free rides to and from polling places on Election Day.

Read this book and vote against voter suppression.

From the cover of One Person, No Vote:

In her New York Times bestseller White Rage, Carol Anderson laid bare an insidious history of policies that have systematically impeded black progress in America, from 1865 to our combustible present. With One Person, No Vote she chronicles a related history: the rollbacks to African American participation in the vote since the 2013 Supreme Court decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Known as the Shelby ruling, this decision effectively allowed districts with a demonstrated history of racial discrimination to change voting requirements without approval from the Department of Justice.

Focusing on the aftermath of Shelby, Anderson follows the astonishing story of government-dictated racial discrimination unfolding before our very eyes as more and more states adopt voter suppression laws. In gripping, enlightening detail she explains how voter suppression works, from photo ID requirements to gerrymandering to poll closures. And with vivid characters, she explores the resistance: the organizing, activism, and court battles to restore the basic right to vote to all Americans as the nation gears up for the 2018 midterm elections.

Book Review: Many Love

many loveMany Love: A Memoir of Polyamory and Finding Love(s)
by Sophie Lucido Johnson
Memoir
230 pages
Published June 2018

I always pick up new polyamory books, and this one is excellent. Sophie simply tells the story of her love life, from falling in love with other boys while dating someone as a teen, to consciously deciding to date another couple, as a couple, in her adulthood. She doesn’t pretend it was all roses, though. She hurt people unintentionally when she was younger, and struggled with jealousy in a number of different ways.

I liked that she was so real. She didn’t shy away from talking about her heartbreaks, and the situations she found herself in sound all too likely. I also really liked the illustrations. The cover is a good indication of the style within – almost comic-book like. Rather than going with the story, the illustrations are part OF the story – she asks her boyfriend a question, his answer is in the illustration, and then the story continues in text. There’s a chart of types of jealousy, drawn in the illustration style rather than perfect text boxes. Then you get owls asking each other “Whooooo is your favorite?” It gives the book almost a playful feel.

One thing I really liked is how she talked about friendships and polyamory. In a typical monogamous marriage, (not all!) there are rules about cheating. If you cuddle another person, or spend the night with them, that’s probably cheating, even if it’s platonic. In polyamory, though, there’s a lot more leeway for how relationships can look. Sophie, for a good portion of the book, lives with a couple who are her best friends. She climbs into bed with them for comfort. They have dinner together, and tell each other “I love you.” I really love that she talks about friendships in the context of polyamory; I don’t think that gets discussed often enough. I feel like being polyamorous lets friendships evolve as they will, instead of being constrained by your romantic relationships. If I have a friend who I like to cuddle up on the couch with and watch movies, my husband sees nothing wrong with that.

I plan to buy this book to add to my polyamory shelf. If you’re polyamorous or curious about the relationship style, I highly recommend this book. She also has chapter notes, a bibliography, and an index in the back of the book, so it’s stuffed full of other resources, too.

From the cover of Many Love:

Sophie Lucido Johnson gets a lot of questions when she tells people that she’s polyamorous. Many Love is an intimate look at this often misunderstood practice: its history, its misconceptions, and Sophie’s personal transformation from serial monogamist to proud polyamorist.

After trying for years to emulate her boomer parents’ forty-year-and-still-going-strong marriage, Sophie realized that maybe the love she was looking for was down a road less traveled. In this bold, illustrated memoir, she explores her sexuality, her values, and the versions of love our society accepts and practices. Along the way, she shares what it’s like to play on Tinder side by side with your partner, encounter – and surmount – many types of jealousy, and learn the power of female friendship, along with other amazing things that happened when she stopped looking for “the one.”

In a lot of ways, Many Love is Sophie’s love letter to everyone she has ever cared for. Witty, insightful, and complete with illustrations, this debut provides a memorable glimpse into an unconventional life.

Book Review: Fear

fearFear: Trump in the White House
by Bob Woodward
Current Events/Nonfiction/Investigative Reporting
357 pages
Published September 2018

First we need to address this cover. It’s a great cover, but I hate it. I hate having it in my house, on my coffee table, glaring up at people in the room. It’s creepy. It’s perfect for this book, but I will be very glad to give the book back to the library and have that cover out of my house!

That said. It was interesting comparing this book to Fire and Fury, which I read at the beginning of the year. Woodward is a very respected journalist, and you can tell how much he tries to remain objective and simply report the things that happened. Fire and Fury definitely had a slant to it. Fear doesn’t have a slant, but it still comes off as negative. Which says something about the entire administration when trying to be objective still results in the president shown as a “f*cking moron,” (Tillerson’s words) or a “f*cking liar.” (John Dowd’s words.)

The thing that really struck me about this book was learning how much Trump wanted to pull completely out of South Korea. Even when he was told we could detect a North Korean missile launch in 7 seconds from South Korea, as opposed to 15 MINUTES from Alaska, (out of a 45-minute missile flight!) he still didn’t see that as a good enough reason to stay in South Korea. (You know, treaties and allies aside.) His ignorance and stubbornness is mind-boggling.

It took me three or four days to get through this book, which is much slower than my normal single-day read time. The subject matter is just that weighty, though Woodward’s writing style is fantastic. This is the first Woodward book I’ve actually read, but I want to look up his backlist now, because he’s really good at not putting me to sleep!

One other difference from Fire and Fury – there were things in the book I didn’t know. (And I pay attention to the news.) There wasn’t really anything in Fire and Fury that was surprising to me. Fear did have new information.

It’s a frightening, weighty book, so don’t read it if you’re not prepared for that. But it’s good.

From the cover of Fear:

THE INSIDE STORY ON PRESIDENT TRUMP, AS ONLY BOB WOODWARD CAN TELL IT

With authoritative reporting honed through eight presidencies from Nixon to Obama, author Bob Woodward reveals in unprecedented detail the harrowing life inside President Donald Trump’s White House and precisely how he makes decisions on major foreign and domestic policies.

Fear is the most intimate portrait of a sitting president ever published during the president’s first years in office. The focus is on the explosive debates and the decision-making in the Oval Office, the Situation Room, Air Force One and the White House residence.

Woodward draws from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, meeting notes, personal diaries, files and documents. Often with day-by-day details, dialogue and documentation, Fear tracks key foreign issues from North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East, NATO, China and Russia. It reports in depth on Trump’s key domestic issues, particularly trade and tariff disputes, immigration, tax legislation, the Paris Climate Accord and the racial violence in Charlottesville in 2017.

Fear presents vivid details of the negotiations between Trump’s attorneys and Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Russia investigation, laying out for the first time the meeting-by-meeting discussions and strategies. It discloses how senior Trump White House officials joined together to steal draft orders from the president’s Oval Office desk so he would not issue directives that would jeopardize critical intelligence operations.

“It was no less than an administrative coup d’etat,” Woodward writes, “a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.”

Book Review: Headscarves and Hymens

headscarves and hymensHeadscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs A Sexual Revolution
by Mona Eltahawy
Nonfiction – Women’s Rights/Feminism
240 pages
Published 2015

Headscarves and Hymens was the third book in Book Riot’s Persist: Feminist Book Club, which is what brought it to my attention. We’ve been reading roughly two chapters a week and talking about it via Instagram Live. It’s certainly not my favorite venue to use – for one, I can’t seem to find a setting to let me know when someone goes live on Instagram, so I have to set myself an alarm. (I missed one book club session because I just forgot.) I also can’t seem to watch the videos after they’re over, so I can’t catch up on what I missed. I much prefer the Twitter chat that YA_Pride does. I can go back through those, and still have conversations with other people that read the book (and follow them!) where I can’t do that easily with Persist.

But you’re here to hear about the book, not the club! HH is short, under 250 pages, with seven chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter is basically an essay on a topic, from driving (“Roads Through the Desert”) to veiling (“Black Veil, White Flag”) to purity and Female Genital Mutilation (“The God of Virginity”). Eltahawy is well-researched, mixing anecdotes and statistics to show us both the big picture of what is going on, as well as making it personal and hard-hitting.

I’m glad we read it in small chunks – some of the chapters are harder than others (the chapter on FGM and sexual “purity” was particularly rough). Spacing it out let the information really sink in before moving on to another topic. Additionally, we were reading it at the same time as the Kavanaugh hearings, and that was also….unsettling.

This is a really eye-opening book, but be sure you’re emotionally prepared to read it. It’s probably healthier to set it down and walk away for breaks, rather than to read it straight through.

From the cover of Headscarves and Hymens:

The journalist Mona Eltahawy is no stranger to controversy. Through her articles and actions she has fought for the autonomy, security, and dignity of Muslim women, drawing vocal supporters and detractors. Now, in her first book, Headscarves and Hymens, Eltahawy has prepared a definitive condemnation of the repressive forces – political, cultural, and religious – that reduce millions of women to second-class citizens.

Drawing on her years as a campaigner for and commentator on women’s issues in the Middle East, she explains that since the Arab Spring began in 2010, women in the Arab world have had two revolutions to undertake: one fought alongside men, against oppressive regimes, and another fought against an entire political and economic system that represses women in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and other nations.

Eltahawy has traveled across the Middle East and North Africa, meeting with women and listening to their stories. Her book is a plea for outrage and action on their behalf, confronting a “toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend.” A manifesto motivated by hope and fury in equal measure, Headscarves and Hymens is as illuminating as it is incendiary.