Posts Tagged feminism
When it’s done well, historical fiction transports you to a particular time, place and setting through the eyes of its characters. The best historical fiction makes me want to learn more about the period or the characters. I try to refrain from googling while reading a book but if I’m itching to look something up, I know the author succeeded in transporting me to another time. That’s one of my favorite genres. Two compelling novels came out recently which center around independent and unconventional women, one real and one fictional.
Learning to See focuses on Dorothea Lange and her photography in the 1930s. I’m familiar with Dorothea Lange’s Dust Bowl photographs but not much else. In this thoroughly researched novel, author Elise Hooper brings readers into Lange’s world. Told from Lange’s point-of-view, the novel follows her burgeoning career as a photographer at a time when women weren’t pursuing careers, they were focusing on raising children. After moving to San Francisco with a friend, Lange finds work at a photography shop. She soon opens her own portrait studio and amasses clients. She’s friends with a group of photographers and artists which includes Ansel Adams. She marries rather volatile artist Maynard Dixon. They travel to Arizona so that Dixon can work on some painting. Lange notes: “Our first few days were spent examining the terrain, so different from everything I’d ever known: wide sweeps of empty desert, soaring sky, endless clouds. It felt timeless, nothing like the city. The simple geometry of the landscape’s lines and bold shouts of color left me awed. During each sunrise and sunset, under a sky bruised with purples and rippling with flames, the desert was reborn. The air thrummed with possibility.” Lange is an independent, strong woman determined to use her skills to benefit others in a deeper manner than merely taking pretty portraits. Navigating her way as a working mother, wife and professional photographer, Lange faces many challenges including her husband’s alcoholism and affairs. When her marriage and the nation’s economy begin to decline, she decides to take a position with the government taking pictures of the country’s disenfranchised, the photographs she’s known for today. She photographs migrant workers and Japanese Americans in camps during World War II. Hooper effectively allows readers the opportunity to see the time period through Lange’s lens.
Learning to See by Elise Hooper. William Morrow| January 22, 2019| 384 pages | $15.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-291035-6
This wasn’t on my radar but the title and cover intrigued me so I started reading it one day and became completely absorbed by it. After immigrating to the United States from Ireland, three siblings forge their path in antebellum Cincinnati in The Eulogist. James establishes a successful candle-making business, free spirit Erasmus becomes a traveling preacher and independent, open-minded Olivia challenges a conventional life. These dissimilar siblings function like the id (Erasmus), ego (Olivia) and superego (James). I became completely charmed by Olivia, by her loyalty, curiosity and determination. She attends lectures by feminists and abolitionists and questions women’s expected roles during that time: “That summer of 1829, culture and curiosity came over the city like the quickening of a maiden’s heart. Cincinnati was overrun by fanatics and intellectuals trying to make their case: Caldwell’s discourse on phrenology; Miss Fanny Wright on slavery and marriage; Dr. Alexander Campbell and Robert Owen battling the fundamental relationship between godliness and goodliness.” She’s not particularly interested in marriage [“I have never been one to pine for marriage, nor did motherhood enchant me. As I saw it, marriage was a function of economic dependence, and wrongly, too, since women rarely had money of their own.”] or starting a family. She does end up marrying a doctor who she falls in love with after spending time with him performing autopsies and doing research on corpses. When he dies, Olivia returns with his body to Kentucky to find her brother-in-law heavily involved in slavery. She’s determined to save a young black woman who has been living fairly free in Ohio from being returned as her brother-in-law’s property. She enlists the assistance of both her brothers. Through detailed descriptions and strong character development, I found myself completely engrossed. Taking place in the decades preceding the Civil War, slavery was illegal in Ohio, the first state created from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Ohio was active in the Underground Railroad. I recently found a family tree my grandmother created which traces several generations in Ohio and I’d like to conduct research someday to see if any of my ancestors had any involvement in the Underground Railroad.
The Eulogist by Terry Gamble. William Morrow| January 22, 2019| 320 pages | $26.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-283991-6
–review by Amy Steele
Connor Desai, “Killing the One Who Believed in Your Love”
— comfortable, soulful vocals combined with meaningful lyrics provides candor and intensity in this song about a woman’s independence and self-identity. Desai explained: “The decision to reclaim oneself often requires women to grieve someone who is still living, or an ideal which was part of them.”
Connor Desai earned a masters in teaching and works as a music teacher. The Seattle-based musician’s new EP, Sister, is out now. Feminists take note.
Thayer Sarrano, “Thieves”
Thayer’s vocals sound a lot like Hope Sandoval and the song’s arrangements may remind listeners of Mazzy Star. The ethereal, swirly music instantly takes you to emotional depths both gloomy and exquisite.
Athens, GA-based psych/shoegaze/dream-pop artist Thayer Sarrano grew up in a seminary as well as the swamps of southern Georgia. Classically trained as a child, she writes poetry and instrumental compositions. She started collaborating with friends and worked as a studio/touring session player with of Montreal, Dead Confederate’s T. Hardy Morris, Cracker & Camper Van Beethoven, Dave Marr, David Barbe, Kuroma and more. Her new LP is called Shaky.
“My First Day,” Wiscon
Here’s an edgy song with garage rock fervency and potent vocals from pop-punk Seattle band Wiscon to add to your anti-Trump inauguration day playlist. The band wrote the new single in response to the growing hatred and intolerance in the United States. Proceeds will be donated to Southern Poverty Law Center –an organization focused on fighting hate groups.
De Facto Feminism: Essays Straight Outta Oakland by Judy Juanita. EquiDistance Press| October 2016| 233 pages | $19.99| ISBN: 0-9716352-1-0
Essential feminist reading, these provocative, contemplative essays cover feminism, sexuality, spirituality and race with clarity and depth. In her outstanding debut novel, Virgin Soul, author/activist/teacher Judy Juanita details a young woman’s transformation and radicalization when she joins the Black Panther Party. I admire Judy Juanita and how she experienced so much and remains open to new experiences. She’s open and caring and understands both the realities and limitations and joy in a following creative endeavors and passionate causes. Several months ago I received an email informing me that this essay collection would be released in the fall and asking if I’d like to review it. I soon received the review copy along with a lovely hand-written note. In the introduction author Judy Juanita writes: “Though exploration and unintentional trespass I’ve crossed boundaries of art, sexuality, spirituality and feminism at the margins of society, where sexual-racial bullying is most intense. Freedom fighters, word warriors and pushy heroines have informed the public of this dilemma, this discomfort borne of alienation, classism, sexism and racism. I stand among them.” Being a white female feminist I won’t proclaim to understand her detailed essays on race such as “Black Womanhood #1” but I’m glad to be both an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement and removed from White Racist America. This essay collection thrives as an insightful meditation on the connection between black women and current events in this society. Most essays first appeared in The Weeklings where Judy Juanita is a contributing editor. Readers will glean new information, empathetic moments and enlightenment.
“Cleaning Other People’s Houses” proves to be an interesting contemplative piece because so many educated women find themselves under-employed at various times of their lives (nearly my entire adulthood). There’s something to be learned in every experience. She learned through the clients for whom she worked as well as in the work itself. Juanita offers: “Whenever I ran into problems, cleaning or otherwise, I feel back on the great rhetorical ‘Why am I here?’ Testing my strength against that of my ancestors? Tackling a horrific job that one should ever have to do? I knew it was temporary, and it wasn’t horrific, just tedious and inglorious.” Two essays tackle writing: “A Playwright-in-progress” and “Putting the Funny in the Novel.” The first essay explains what she learned about her process and her needs as a writer. In the other when her agent tells her to add more humor to her novel, Juanita embarks on stand-up comedy. She decides that her novel doesn’t need to be funny. In “The N-word: Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater,” she reflects: “Used with the threat and/or act of murder, discrimination, prejudice, or brutality, of course the N-word is an abominable travesty. Used with affection between friends, in the height of lovemaking (yeah ,people get freaky with it), when making an emphatic point in dialogue between podnahs, e.g. at a barbershop, on a street corner, at a family dinner with o.g.’s in the family a little toasted, the N-word is appropriate.” Black Lives Matter, the author’s personal Black Panther Party experience, gun-obsessed America and mass shootings powerfully evoked and reflected upon in “The Gun as Ultimate Performance Poem.” There’s a plethora of cultural and historical references in the thorough and provocative “De Facto Feminism.” She writes: “The blur of legality, morality and practicality at the heart of de facto activity has been a feature of African-American life since the first Africans arrived on these shores–and a part of immigrant life. Making it in America means going from the margin to the mainstream, not so easy in one generation. The stigma that black people carry as pigment forces them to be what others would term illegal, immoral but not impractical. The dividing line between feminism and black independence is necessity.”
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the author.
We Were Feminists Once by Andi Zeisler. Public Affairs| May 2016| 285 pages | $26.99| ISBN: 9781610395892
Andi Zeisler, founding editor of Bitch Media, provides a history of feminism in mainstream pop culture and whether or not it benefits the feminist movement. She writes: “This increasingly looks not like a world that has finally emerged into fully realized feminism, but like a world in which we are letting a glossy, feel-good feminism pull focus away from deeply entrenched forms of inequality.” In the past few years, legislators in various states have decreased women’s health care and threatened women’s right to make choices about their own bodies, sexuality and chose whether or not to give birth. Women do not have pay equity. Must I even mention this country’s prevalent rape culture? I list feminist on my social media bios and my dating profiles. So there are questions such as: “what type of feminist are you?” and “do you shave your legs/armpits etc?” and comments such as “no wonder you can’t get/keep a man.” I could go on but won’t. Zeisler delves into advertising, film, television, music. Meticulously researched, analyzed and thoughtfully presented, this is a must-read.
On film: “If there’s any silver lining here, it’s that more people than ever are talking about Hollywood’s woman problem as pattern behavior, rather than movie-by-movie shortcomings.”
On “this is what a feminist looks like” t-shirts: “The appeal of the slogan was easy to interpret: after all, too many people find the biggest roadblock to embracing feminism is in its unflattering optic legacy. Hags, dykes, ugly, unshaven, angry, finger-pointing, furious women—such adjectives and images have been encoded as the truth of what ‘feminism’ represented for so long that it’s begun, sadly to feel natural.
On celebrity feminism: “The fascination with Beyonce’s feminism, the urge to either claim her in sisterhood or discount her eligibility for it, speaks to the way that a focus on individuals and their choices quickly obscures the larger role that systems of sexism, racism, and capitalism play in defining and constraining those choices.”
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Public Affairs.
American Psycho 
directed by: Mary Harron
In Her Skin 
written and directed by: Simone North
Jennifer’s Body 
directed by: Karyn Kusama
written by: Diablo Cody
Pet Sematary 
directed by: Mary Lambert
Office Killer 
directed by: Cindy Sherman
Mirror Mirror 
directed by: Marina Sargenti
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night 
directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour
directed by: Kimberly Peirce
The Babadook 
directed by: Jennifer Kent
written and directed by: Axelle Carolyn
The Countess 
written and directed by: Julie Delpy
“That’s such a strange thing to say, isn’t it? Like, what do you mean? Do you not believe in equality for men and women? I think it’s a response to overly aggressive types. There are a lot of women who feel persecuted and go on about it, and I sometimes am like, “Honestly, just relax, because now you’re going in the other direction.” Sometimes, the loudest voice in the room isn’t necessarily the one you should listen to. By our nature alone, think about what you’re saying and say it—but don’t scream in people’s faces, because then you’re discrediting us…
“It’s the overcompensation to where our generation goes, “Relax,” because it’s been easier for us, and because we don’t have as much of the anger, so it’s like we can’t get behind it and it’s a bit embarrassing. But that being said, it’s a really ridiculous thing to say you’re not a feminist.”
from Bustle October 13, 2014.