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.

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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: This Will Be My Undoing

this will be my undoingThis Will Be My Undoing: Living at the intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America
by Morgan Jerkins
Memoir/Black Feminism
258 pages
Published 2018

I have a tough time reviewing books about Black Feminism. I enjoy reading them – well, maybe “enjoy” isn’t quite the right word. They can be tough. I am glad to have read them. But how to review them? I’m a white woman, it’s not really my place to critique these works. But it would be remiss of me to not talk about them – denying them the same space on my blog that I give to everything else I read is its own kind of erasure. I’m not sure how best to resolve this, but for this specific book, at least, I can talk about what I learned from it.

What I learned is that some of my childhood was straight-up racist. I always thought of my childhood as pretty idyllic – my parents were high school sweethearts, and to this day still adore each other. We lived in a house my parents owned. (My most formative years were actually spent in the house my mother grew up in; my parents bought it from my grandparents when I was seven.) We got to run around and play on a quiet neighborhood street where we knew all of our neighbors. We had pets of various species, we got technology fairly quickly since my father was a computer geek, we had a garden out back that Mom canned beans out of every year.

But I was homeschooled until eighth grade. (With Bob Jones and Abeka Books, notoriously Christian curriculum. I thought humans lived with dinosaurs well into my twenties.) We went to a conservative Christian church every Sunday. (And Tuesday. And some Fridays.) While my parents taught that I could be anything I wanted to be, the church definitely over rode that with “women should be subservient to men” and “don’t trust your own judgment, ask God/your parents/the elders.”

The incident that Jerkins’ book brought back to mind, though, was a party I went to. I’m pretty sure it was someone’s birthday party, but at a church. Not our church. There were a lot of people, though, so I could be wrong about the birthday party. It was this party where I got the tiny scar in my eyebrow – some kid broke the bat on the pinata and threw it behind him, where it hit me in the face. Before that, though, was the cake walk. There were footprints laid out on the concrete floor, and we paced around them while music played, kind of like musical chairs, I think. (I was younger than ten, my memory is a little fuzzy.) I won the cake! I thought nothing of this until reading This Will Be My Undoing.

“The cakewalk was a dance performed in the late nineteenth century at slave get-togethers. You lean or rear back and kick your feet out left and right or vice versa as you move forward……White people would watch them dance, fascinated by the exoticness of it all. These spectacles were purposeful humiliations. But the cakewalk evolved as slaves’ own form of subversion. While serving at large and fancy parties in the early 1800s, they would watch well-to-do white people perform strict and stiff dances, like cotillions and quadrilles, and mimic them, exaggerating the bowing and small skips and hops and adding some high steps and jumps. In diaries kept by white people in the antebellum South, the cakewalk is not depicted as a form of satire. After all, why would a sweet slave mock his benevolent master? To white people’s eyes, this imitation seemed like flattery. They were delighted that the slaves were attempting their civilized dances. In fact, they would hold competitions and the winning slaves would receive a cake, hence the name. Yet they were being mocked, right in front of their faces.”

WHY WAS THIS BEING HELD AT A CHURCH PARTY? I don’t recall if it was all white kids, but it probably was. My hometown was not very ethnically diverse. The more I learn – academically, politically, socially, secularly – the more I realize my childhood was pretty fucked up in a lot of different ways. I don’t know if it was more or less fucked up than most white kids’ childhoods – white supremacy is insidious. I was an ignorant child at the time, but to realize, decades later, how racist holding a cakewalk is, stopped me in my tracks. (Incidentally, this means that calling something “a cakewalk” has its roots in racism, like so many other things in our language. Cakewalks weren’t easy – but the best dancers made them look that way.)

So that’s what I can say about this book. I learned something about my childhood. Beyond that, all I will offer is that Jerkins is an excellent writer; the book flows well and is an easy read, despite the subject matter not being easy. Read it. It’s important.

From the cover of This Will Be My Undoing:

From one of the fiercest critics writing today, Morgan Jerkins’ highly-anticipated collection of linked essays interweaves her incisive commentary on pop culture, feminism, black history, misogyny, and racism with her own experiences to confront the very real challenges of being a black woman today—perfect for fans of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists.

Morgan Jerkins is only in her twenties, but she has already established herself as an insightful, brutally honest writer who isn’t afraid of tackling tough, controversial subjects. In This Will Be My Undoing, she takes on perhaps one of the most provocative contemporary topics: What does it mean to “be”—to live as, to exist as—a black woman today? This is a book about black women, but it’s necessary reading for all Americans.

Doubly disenfranchised by race and gender, often deprived of a place within the mostly white mainstream feminist movement, black women are objectified, silenced, and marginalized with devastating consequences, in ways both obvious and subtle, that are rarely acknowledged in our country’s larger discussion about inequality. In This Will Be My Undoing, Jerkins becomes both narrator and subject to expose the social, cultural, and historical story of black female oppression that influences the black community as well as the white, male-dominated world at large.

Book Review: Well, That Escalated Quickly

well that escalated quicklyWell, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist
by Franchesca Ramsey
Memoir/Comedy
244 pages
Published May 2018

This is the third comedic memoir I’ve read by a black comedian. I don’t really know what to make of that; I’ve certainly read non-comedic memoirs from African Americans, and comedic memoirs from white people, but three comedic memoirs from African-Americans in the last year seems a little surprising. They’re all fairly new, maybe it’s just what’s been getting published recently? Or maybe it’s just a coincidence and not yet a pattern. Or maybe it’s my way of giving my brain a bit of a break from current events while still trying to read inclusively. That last one might be it.

Anyway. While I didn’t like Ramsey’s book as much as I did Trevor Noah’s or Tiffany Haddish’s books, I did really enjoy it. I didn’t really know who Ramsey was before reading her book, and that might be why I didn’t like it quite as much. This book deal with internet culture a lot more than the other two do; and that pertains to my interests. What I really enjoyed is that she talks about her missteps, how she was criticized for them, and admits that she was wrong and much of the criticism was needed. She explains how she corrected her own behavior in response and strove to be better, and that’s something we don’t see a lot of. We see half-hearted apologies and no change in behavior from a lot of internet celebrities, and Ramsey definitely tries her best to rectify her mistakes. I really liked reading about her experiences with that, as it can be such a touchy issue. No one likes to be called out. But sometimes we need to be so we can learn to be better.

I really enjoyed this one. I wouldn’t say it dealt with racism more than Noah or Haddish’s books did, but it definitely dealt with combatting racism more than they did. It talked about the activist aspect of it, and how to help.

This is the third book I’ve read from my Summer TBR list.

From the cover of Well, That Escalated Quickly:

Franchesca Ramsey didn’t set out to be an activist. Or a commentator on identity, race, and culture, really. But then her YouTube video “What White Girls Say . . . to Black Girls” went viral. Twelve million views viral. Faced with an avalanche of media requests, fan letters, and hate mail, she had to make a choice: Go all in or step back and let others frame the conversation. After a crash course in social justice – and more than a few foot-in-mouth moments – she realized she had a passion for breaking down injustice in ways that could make people listen, laugh, and engage.

Ramsey uses her own experiences as an accidental activist to explore the ways we communicate with one another – from the highs of bridging gaps and making connections to the many pitfalls that accompany talking about race, power, sexuality, and gender in an unpredictable public space . . . the internet.

A sharp and timely collection of personal essays, WELL, THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY includes Ramsey’s advice on dealing with internet trolls and low-key racists, confessions about being a former online hater herself, and her personal hits and misses in activist debates with everyone from bigoted Facebook friends and misguided relatives to mainstream celebrities and YouTube influencers. Alongside useful guides to unfriending and a glossary of “not so simple concepts,” Ramsey shows readers that mistakes are inevitable, but what’s important is how we learn from them to make a better world.

Book Review: The Black Rose

black roseThe Black Rose
by Tananarive Due
Biography/Fiction
373 pages
Published 2001

The Black Rose is the lightly fictionalized story of the life of Madame C. J. Walker, America’s first black female millionaire. Tananarive Due seems to have taken over the project from Alex Haley, the acclaimed late co-author of Malcolm X’s autobiography. Due is a wonderful storyteller; many biographies I’ve read have been dry and uninteresting, but The Black Rose is technically a novel, and kept my attention through the entire book. Madame Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, is an incredibly charismatic figure. She was born to former slaves just after the Civil War – the only member of her family born free – and the book chronicles her entire life. From her parents’ deaths, to her early years working in a cotton field, to being a washerwoman, cook, then finally an entrepreneur. According to Wiki she had four brothers; the book only mentions one. Wiki also mentions a marriage in between her daughter’s father and CJ Walker; that one wasn’t mentioned in the book at all. So there are some differences.

The Black Rose is an engrossing look at an influential woman whose name seems to be largely forgotten. Or perhaps it’s only forgotten because we’re not taught nearly as much African-American history as we should be in this country. Madame Walker’s company was a path to economic freedom for thousands of black women in the early 20th century. Besides the jobs she created, she also made many charitable donations and was active in politics and civil rights, participating in marches and, once, visiting the White House to speak with the president. (According to the book, the president declined to speak with her group, though.)

This is a good example of why I’m trying to diversify my reading. I didn’t know the name C. J. Walker. I had no idea where she came from, or the scope of the company she built and the people she helped.

Excellent, educational book.

I actually really don’t like the cover, though, so this is my pick for “ugly cover” for the 2018 PopSugar Reading Challenge!

From the cover of The Black Rose:

Born to former slaves on a Louisiana plantation in 1867, Madam C.J. Walker rose from poverty and indignity to become America’s first black female millionaire, the head of a hugely successful beauty company, and a leading philanthropist in African American causes. Renowned author Alex Haley became fascinated by the story of this extraordinary heroine, and before his death in 1992, he embarked on the research and outline of a major novel based on her life. Now with The Black Rose, critically acclaimed writer Tananarive Due brings Haley’s work to an inspiring completion. 

Blending documented history, vivid dialogue, and a sweeping fictionalized narrative, Tananarive Due paints a vivid portrait of this passionate and tenacious pioneer and the unforgettable era in which she lived.

Book Review: Tears We Cannot Stop

tearsTears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America
by Michael Eric Dyson
Nonfiction
228 pages
Published 2017

I’m always trying to continue to educate myself on my white privilege, America’s racist history, and civil rights and activism in general. Tears We Cannot Stop fits neatly into that category, but it’s not an easy-to-read book. I mean, it is – in the sense that it’s well-written and flows very well. But it’s not easy to read because of what it says. Dyson is a black pastor, and he wrote this book as if he was preaching to the white people of America, trying to make them understand the plight of the minorities we oppress. Black people specifically.

It’s a short book, but a very powerful one. It’s separated into sections like a sermon would be, with a Call to Worship, Hymns of Praise, Scripture Reading, the Sermon, a Benediction, and more. He’s correlated these sections of a sermon with that of the book – The Offering Plate, for example, is a short little section talking about how one university – Georgetown – apologized for their past use of slavery, and established an institute to study slavery and its effects. Tried to make reparations, in a way. In the scripture reading he quotes a lot of Martin Luther King. In the Benediction he actually talks about a lot of other books to read about the subject of slavery, all of which I’ve added to my already extensive Goodreads shelf on the subject of civil rights and activism. (I’ll be attempting to read as many of those books as I can.)

Tears is a really good opening book to read on the topic, especially for white people. It’s eye-opening, and both invites and provides guidance for further investigation into just how big of a mess we’ve made of things in this country. I highly recommend it.

And, if you happen to be local to Baltimore, the author will be speaking at the Baltimore Book Festival this Friday, September 22nd! Unfortunately, I can’t make it on Friday, so I’m going on Sunday. Sunday I’m planning to catch Daniel Jose Older, the author of the Bone Street Rumba series and Shadowshaper, and Kevin Shird, the author of Uprising in the City, about the Baltimore Riots in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray. I’m really excited about it, even if it is going to be the hottest day we’ve had in a couple of weeks. (Still only mid-80s, though, so it could be worse!)

From the cover of Tears We Cannot Stop:

As the country grapples with racial division at a level not seen since the 1960s, one man’s voice is heard above the rest. In his New York Times op-ed piece “Death in Black and White,” Michael Eric Dyson moved a nation. Now he continues to speak out in Tears We Cannot stop – a provocative and deeply personal call for change. Dyson argues that if we are to make real racial progress we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted. In the tradition of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time – short, emotional, literary, powerful – this is the book that all Americans who care about the current and long-burning crisis in race relations will want to read.