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: Toil & Trouble

toil & troubleToil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft
Edited by Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe
YA Anthology/Fantasy
405 pages
Published August 2018

Toil & Trouble was a much-hyped anthology of YA stories, and I think it lived up to that hype. I really enjoyed almost every story in this book – only one or two of them were less than awesome. And they still weren’t bad! Anthologies like this keep introducing me to yet more authors that I want to read, and just keep growing my TBR list! Some of the authors in this book I was familiar with; while I hadn’t read her work yet, I met Zoraida Córdova at the Baltimore Book Festival, and she was amazing. I’m familiar with Brandy Colbert’s work, and have not yet read Anna-Marie McLemore but desperately want to, and her story in this work (Love Spell) only increases that need.

I read this book just before Halloween, and it was a perfect choice. I’m not a fan of actual horror novels, which seem to be what everyone else is reading this time of year. Give me my strong witchy women! The stories in this book are all young women – teens to early adulthood – learning to rely on themselves. They embrace what family traditions mean to them, or break free of them entirely if they’re the wrong path. They break social taboos and fall in love where they will. They FIGHT for what they want.

I think my favorite story in this book involved a woman whose powers had been bound by her coven until she was old enough to use them wisely, but had to watch her father die in an accident when she could have healed him if she’d had access to her magic. She went to an ancient place of power in the mountains and broke the binding, horrifying her coven. The story is actually about her defying them further in refusing her destined soul mate for the girl she’s been in love with since she was a child, and Fate’s punishment for that. The two girls fighting for each other and for their own magic was amazing. (The Heart in Her Hands, Tess Sharpe.) Unfortunately it doesn’t look like it’s part of a larger story, I was hoping for more in that world!

As far as I can tell, only one of the stories is part of something larger – I’m pretty sure Zoraida Córdova’s story is part of her Brooklyn Brujas world. Other than that, they all appear to be standalones, which is a little sad as I’d like to see more of many of these worlds!

Toil & Trouble is an outstanding anthology of magical women, and I loved it.

From the cover of Toil & Trouble:

SCORN THE WITCH.
FEAR THE WITCH.
BURN THE WITCH.

History is filled with stories of women accused of witchcraft, of fearsome girls with arcane knowledge. Toil & Trouble features fifteen stories of girls embracing their power, reclaiming their destinies and using their magic to create, to curse, to cure – and to kill.

A young witch uses social media to connect with her astrology clients – and with a NASA-loving girl as cute as she is skeptical. A priestess of death investigates a ritualized murder. A bruja who cures lovesickness might need the remedy herself when she falls in love with an altar boy. A theater production is turned upside down by a visiting churel. In Reconstruction-era Texas, a water witch uses her magic to survive the soldiers who have invaded her desert oasis. And in the near future, a group of girls accused of witchcraft must find their collective power in order to destroy their captors.

This collection reveals a universal truth: there’s nothing more powerful than a teenage girl who believes in herself.

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: 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.

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: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud

too fat too slutty too loudToo Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman
by Anne Helen Petersen
Feminism Nonfiction
266 pages
Published 2017

This is the first book Book Riot chose for Persist, their Feminist Book Club. I only just learned about the book club, so I’m reading the first two books before diving into the third. (Second book is Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper, and the third book is Headscarves and Hymens by Mona Eltahawy.) I really wish I could have read this book with their book club, as it definitely would benefit from being able to discuss each chapter with other readers.

The book is divided into chapters focusing on individual women and what they are guilty of being too much of. So Too Strong – Serena Williams, or Too Shrill – Hillary Clinton, or Too Slutty – Nicki Minaj. Then it dives deeply into why people think the woman embodies that negative, and often, what the woman herself thinks of it. We get cultural background on the adjective; in Too Pregnant, Petersen examines how celebrity pregnancies have changed how we treat pregnant women – how pregnancy has changed from something to be hidden to something to be valued and publicized and adored. But when someone isn’t pregnant in the right way – Kim Kardashian, for instance, suffered from swollen feet and preeclampsia and general misery and “poor” fashion choices – we judge them for it.

Too Loud delves into the world of publishing and book reviewing, profiling Jennifer Weiner’s fight against sexism in publishing. The chapter educates us on how the genre of “chick lit” started, and how women authors and readers are too often relegated to “chick lit” when if the same story had been written by a man, about a man instead of a woman, it would just be “literature” and eligible for review by things like the The New York Times Book Review.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud was a highly educational look at pop culture and how women are judged much harsher than men are for showing the same traits. It is imminently readable – I only started to fall asleep once, and I think that’s more because I only slept four hours last night! I had a fiction book on the table beside me, ready to dive into when I needed a break from the nonfiction – it’s still there, untouched. This is a great book, but I’d definitely read it as part of a book club or a buddy read if you can. Get a friend to read it so you can discuss it!

From the cover of Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud:

You know the type: the woman who won’t shut up, who’s too brazen, too opinionated – too much. It’s not that she’s an outcast (she might even be your friend, or your wife, or your mother) so much as she’s a social variable. Sometimes, she’s the life of the party; others, she’s the center of gossip. She’s the unruly woman, and she’s one of the most provocative, powerful forms of womanhood today.

There have been unruly women for as long as there have been boundaries of what constitutes acceptable “feminine” behavior, but there’s evidence that she’s on the rise – more visible and less easily dismissed – than ever before. In Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud, Anne Helen Petersen uses the lens of “unruliness” to explore the ascension of eleven contemporary pop culture powerhouses: Serena Williams, Melissa McCarthy, Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Kim Kardashian, Hillary Clinton, Caitlyn Jenner, Jennifer Weiner, and Lena Dunham. Petersen explores why the public loves to love (and hate) these controversial figures, each of whom has been conceived as “too” something: too queer, too strong, too honest, too old, too pregnant, too shrill, too much. With its brisk, incisive analysis, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud will be a conversation-starting book on what makes and breaks celebrity today.