Tag Archives: feminism

Review: The Female Persuasion

2018 has been such a fantastic reading year for me (so far), even though there have been plenty of misses among the hits. Today I’m going to talk about a miss, but somehow thinking about how little I liked this book has also sparked new appreciation for my reading approach this year: trying all sorts of new things. Sometimes I find authors or subjects or series that only teach me what I DON’T want to read, but that’s valuable too. So I picked up Barnes & Noble’s first ever book club selection, Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion. It has an eye-catching cover, a feminist/finding-oneself story, and a tie to one of my favorite bookstores. But I didn’t like it.

thefemalepersuasionAbout the book: Greer is a bitter college freshman who lost out on an Ivy league education. Instead she’s at her safety school, not expecting much. On the first weekend, she checks out some parties with a soon-to-be friend, and experiences a sexual assault. The college takes as much notice of the man as it will, and Greer wonders what she could possibly do next to stand up for herself and women everywhere. Then she attends a speech given by a renowned feminist from years past, and finds her inspiration. She makes a valuable contact and learns to use her outside voice to spread her ideas to the women who need a vote of confidence as she once did. In addition to her political activism, she’s also balancing relationships with a wayward boyfriend, a queer best friend, a disappointing relationship with her parents, and a role model who’s grayer than she seemed.

I’m embarrassingly new to feminism, but even to me this book seems dated. Maybe ten years ago it would have made a bigger splash, but despite living under a rock I’ve heard this commentary before. Much of the book takes place prior to 2015, and even when the plot approaches present day, it doesn’t become more timely. Rarely have I been so bored while reading, though it wasn’t a slow read. The book seemed longer than it needed to be, but I fell easily into the writing and kept up my pace. The story itself was just too bland to make any sort of impression on me beyond the desire for something more.

“I think there are two kinds of feminists. The famous ones, and everyone else. Everyone else, all the people who just quietly go and do what they’re supposed to do, and don’t get a lot of credit for it, and don’t have someone out there every day telling them they’re doing an awesome job.”

But I will say that The Female Persuasion‘s characters are extremely well-developed. The characters are the strength of this book, though their stories didn’t always interest me enough to believe I really needed to be learning so much about them. Each character feels like a real and distinct person, and their lives intersect in interesting ways. They are not “good” or “bad” people, they’re just people, in a way that I wish more books were able to capture. The chapters utilize a third-person narration that focuses on different major characters at different points in the plot. Greer’s perspective comes up most often, but every other perspective interested me more than hers. Cory’s chapters were my favorite, perhaps because his character sees the most change, and positive views of male feminism are always intriguing. As I’m currently in my twenties myself, I also appreciated seeing these people trying to put their lives together, and watching that happen in the moments when they weren’t paying attention.

“Your twenties were a time when you still felt young, but the groundwork was being laid in a serious way, crisscrossing beneath the surface. It was being laid even while you slept. What you did, where you lived, who you loved, all of it was like pieces of track being put down in the middle of the night by stealth workers.”

Though some might say the beauty of this book is its ability to turn full circle, I was disappointed to see the story end on a new cycle of the same  process it opened with. There are differences between the characters, of course, and perhaps it is depictive of slow progress in feminism, but a new young idealist with the potential to surpass Greer the way that Greer surpasses Faith made most of Greer’s accomplishments (not to mention Faith’s) seem futile to me. Inspiring future generations is important, but inspiring them to fight the same fight that may never be won? That’s a cynical view, I know, but I ended this book feeling pretty depressed about the progress women have made and will continue to make– this book left me worried that I would not see substantial change within my lifetime, and that’s not the way I want to feel while/after reading a feminist book. That’s certainly not the only possible interpretation of The Female Persuasion‘s ending, but with Faith constantly criticized for old-time, privileged white lady views, seeing an up-and-comer have a moment of awareness during Greer’s moment of success made me think that Greer would end up the same way– renowned for a single moment and then forever shelved as old news. Everyone does what they can, but this book left me feeling like sometimes all we can do is not enough.

I so want it to be enough.

“Women in powerful positions are never safe from criticism. The kind of feminism I’ve practiced is one way to go about it. There are plenty of others, and that’s great. There are impassioned and radical young women out there, telling multiple stories. I applaud them. We need them. We need as any women fighting as possible. I learned early on from the wonderful Gloria Steinem that the world is big enough for different kinds of feminists to coexist, people who want to emphasize different aspects of the fight for equality. God knows the injustices are endless, and I am going to use whatever resources are at my disposal to fight in the way I know how.”

My reaction: 2 out of 5 stars. I had seen Meg Wolitzer’s books around before Barnes and Noble announced this book club selection, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read them. Still, I do believe you have to try something once before you can say you don’t like it, so I’m glad I did pick up one of Wolitzer’s books, and now I’m confident that I don’t need to read any more of them. Her covers are often gorgeous, but that’s not enough for me. I’ll be looking elsewhere for feminist lit in the future.

Further recommendations:

  • If you do like Wolitzer’s style of character-driven feminism (which I know and understand why some readers do; I’m grateful for every reader who finds inspiration in books, even if not in the same books I find it in), you should check out Naomi Alderman’s The Power. The Power is a sci-fi/futuristic book that gives women the upper hand (literally) in world power, and explores through several diverse characters what might happen to the world as we know it if women gained dominance over men.
  • I also recently read Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which is a great example of feminist lit that’s also light enough for beach reading and features some truly phenomenal characters. This is also (perhaps primarily) an LGBTQ+ book, if you’re looking for an extra layer of equality advocacy. It’s a story about a fictional celebrity who’s willing to do whatever it takes to chase her dreams and make it easier for others to chase theirs.

What’s your current favorite feminist book?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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Review: The Power

While I’m (still…) waiting for my April selections from Book of the Month, I decided to dip into my backlog from last year again. As glad as I am that I’ve finally read Naomi Alderman’s much-discussed novel, The Power, I really wish I had found the time to read this one back in October when it was new. From the colors and sci-fi details on the cover to the otherworldliness of this story, this would’ve been a perfect Halloween read.

thepowerAbout the book: All over the world, women begin to develop the power to conduct electricity through their hands. From a wide range of reactions– panic, discouragement, anger– emerges a new world order. Women upend religion, politics, and social norms as they take back their right to live without fear, although in relatively little time equality is not enough and the women seek to reign supreme. Men are afraid to leave their homes, to speak their minds.  As the world becomes more and more unstable in the face of such a sudden and incontrovertible shift in the power dynamic, a major war looms on the horizon, the result of which will determine who will write the laws and enforce order.

“It doesn’t matter that she shouldn’t, that she never would. What matters is that she could, if she wanted. The power to hurt is a kind of wealth.”

The Power is narrated in the third person, in chapters that follow four main characters and a few minor ones. The major perspectives are vastly different, focusing on a mayor interested in climbing the political ladder, a newly independent foster child with an abusive past and a penchant for religion, the illegitimate daughter of a gang lord, and a college student who begins reporting/documenting the change in power dynamic after a confusing sexual experience. The first three of these characters are female, and all four are from different corners of the world. The minor characters are friends/relatives of the major characters. All of the chapters are labelled by character name until their stories start to intersect at the end of the novel.

And all of that is interspersed with drawings of “artifacts” with historical descriptions that depict life “thousands of years ago,” which is actually our near future. The whole story is bookended by written correspondence between the fictional man who has  written this historical novel and Alderman, a friend and early reader.

What worked and didn’t: the character chapters are easy to follow, though occasionally the narration slips from the chapter’s titular character to someone nearby. The artifact drawings interested and amused me, especially after I read Alderman’s explanation of their realness and significance at the end of the book. They seem randomly placed and only abstractly relevant to the overall story, but I liked them. The correspondence between fictional Neil and Naomi was hit-or-miss: in the beginning it confused me, but at the end, it helped explain the story and give a framework that made certain details more significant. And it ended on a great note about publishing under a pseudonym of the opposite gender in order for your work to be “taken seriously.” I’ve never been more sure about using my own name if I get published.

“There are no shortcuts. Not to understand and not to knowledge. You can’t put anyone into a box. Listen, even a stone isn’t the same as any other stone, so I don’t know where you all think you get off labeling humans with simple words and thinking you know everything you need. But most people can’t live that way, even some of the time.”

There are several great lines about power and gender in this book. The concept of the story is fascinating. But in all honesty, I wish I had just read a 5-10 page sample with the concept outlined and the great quotes listed because I think the benefit would’ve been the same. Most of the book was a boring and even unpleasant reading experience for me.

Here are some reasons why: It’s very episodic, and the tension just isn’t there for me when the plot hops around so much. Most of the characters are pretty meh; I didn’t hate them, but I didn’t really like them either. The whole story is very political, which can feel a bit tedious when the politics are hypothetical dystopian projections of real world politics. There’s a lot of violence that I found uncomfortable to read at times, including limbs torn from bodies, multiple rapes, painful electrocutions; a lot of these things are done for the sake of cruelty and/or sadistic sexual pleasure.

“Power doesn’t care who uses it. […] It just says: Yes. Yes, I can. Yes. You’ve got this.”

The worst aspect , in my opinion, is the feminism. That sounds blasphemous. I know “feminism” means equality for all genders, not empowerment for females. And there are some great lines and points made in this book toward general gender equality. But a lot of the novel takes female empowerment to extremes; it became painful to read about how women would turn the world into a chaotic violent mess if they had the choice to do so. It didn’t feel much like a reason to advocate for more female rights in the real world. None of the main female characters in this book are selfless or gentle or particularly kind, and even when I sympathized with them the thought of making them leaders was concerning.

But the biggest problem for me with the feminism in this book is that it seems like it’s trying to tackle too much. It’s trying to show how harmful to society a dominant gender can be, no matter which gender. It’s trying to show what the world might be like if women were in charge, both in peace and wartime. But the world of The Power is not the same as our modern world, and while it was trying to show these new possibilities, it does so with an eye toward more familiar injustices by pushing (unfortunately common) cases of today’s female victimization to their opposites. And the balance of real and imagined gender issues just don’t quite match up into one coherent picture.

“One had done the thing to a boy because he asked her to: this story holds much interest for the girls. Could it be that boys like it? Is it possible they want it? Some of them have found internet forums that suggest that this is the case.”

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I wanted to like this book, I really did. And I did like parts of it. But in the end it was the sort of book that I liked being able to think about in the aftermath more than during the actual reading process. It’s a great concept, upending the gender power dynamic to demonstrate the need for gender equality, but The Power felt more like a thought experiment than a polished story. I can see why it’s been getting the attention it has, and it deserves the credit for the conversations about equality it starts. But I wouldn’t say I had a fun time reading it.

Further recommendations:

  1. Tom Miller’s The Philosopher’s Flight is another recent release that turns familiar gender dynamics around to put women in power. This one is also sci-fi, but it’s a lot more adventure-driven than political, and it’s a lot more fun.

Do you have any great feminist fiction reads to recommend for me?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Problem That Has No Name

I have reached the end of my first wave of Penguin Moderns. I bought 6 right away when the collection was released, and I’ve just finished reading the sixth: Betty Friedan’s The Problem That Has No Name. I’ve already ordered 6 more that should be arriving any day now, but I think I’ll either try to read them more sparingly or start reviewing them in my monthly wrap-ups so my regular posts aren’t inundated with all these short modern classic reviews. Unless you like these? Here’s one more to help the decision process in the meantime.

theproblemthathasnonameAbout the book: Betty Friedan was a publishing feminist in the 1950’s/60’s who captures the discontent of the American housewife in that period. Even before there is a name or a clear way to describe the problem that women were experiencing with losing their identities in marriage, the stirrings could be seen in statistics, hospitalizations, statements of complaint, and more. Friedan pulls sources together to make a case for the harm being done to women across the nation as society tells them over and over in every way that their place is in the household, as a wife and mother and nothing more. In two essays, “The Problem That Has No Name” and “The Passionate Journey,” Friedan outlines the first wave of feminism that culminated in women’s right to vote in 1920, and the second wave around 1960 when women begin to rise together again to win destinies as more than subservient childbearers.

“The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slip-cover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night, she was afraid to even ask herself the silent question: ‘Is this all?’ “

“Just what was this problem that has no name? What were the words women used when they tried to express it? Sometimes a woman would say, ‘I feel empty somehow… incomplete.’ Or she would say, ‘I feel as if I don’t exist.’ “

This is a nonfiction book with a lot of statistics, dates, names, etc. It’s an outline of where we’re coming from in regards to gender inequality in the US, and Friedan lets the facts do the work in persuading readers to join the cause.

“The wonder is that the feminists were able to change anything at all– that they were not embittered shrews but increasingly zestful women who knew they were making history.”

Although the information in this volume is a bit outdated– we no longer see a nation full of women stuck under the title “homemaker”– this is a great start for anyone interested in the history of feminism. And it’s shocking how very recent some of that history still is. Friedan writes about a time when women had legal rights, but were still expected to fit a certain mold that society formed for them. They were allowed to work and go to college, but society frowned upon the women who did and so those rights went unused in many cases. Women were pressured from every side to live a certain lifestyle, and they gave up so much of themselves to fit into the box the world wanted to put them in.

“The problem was dismissed by telling the housewife she doesn’t realize how lucky she is– her own boss, no time clock, no junior executive gunning for her job. What if she isn’t happy– does she think men are happy in this world? Does she really, secretly, still want to be a man? Doesn’t she know yet how lucky she is to be a woman?”

Women have made strides. We’ve come a long way toward equal treatment despite gender, but there are still issues to fight for. The issues covered in “The Problem That Has No Name” were new in their time, but they are largely battles that have been fought and won by now. In the pressure to be a perfect wife, a perfect mother, to work in the home and keep up appearances, women of Friedan’s time lost their personalities, their very humanness.

“It was the need for a new identity that led those passionate feminists to forge new trails for women. Some of those trails were unexpectedly rough, some were dead ends, and some may have been false, but the need for women to find new trails was real.”

Friedan writes for the generations of the future– for this generation, and generations to come. Though she discusses social issues of her own time, she writes with an eye toward documenting. She doesn’t want women to fall into another lull like the one in the twentieth century that led to millions of passive housewives with no real agency. She is remembering and reminding that each life is unique, and the fight for equality is not complete until every right is won.

“The women who suffer this problem have a hunger that food cannot fill.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I’m increasingly interested in feminism and this volume provided both new information for me and renewed my standing passion for the issue. For those that aren’t sure how they feel about feminism yet, this might be one of the books with the power to help you decide, as its very informative and briefly covers nearly 200 years of feminism. I don’t know that I will be reading more of Friedan’s work (I feel like I’ve gotten the gist from this volume), but I will be reading more feminists, and I will be reading more Penguin Moderns. I just might not be reviewing them the same way.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Hunger

One of my goals for 2018 is to read more nonfiction. That won’t mean exclusively memoirs, but I have been enjoying a few of those already this year– including the one I just finished, Roxane Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body.

hungerAbout the book: Roxane Gay discusses what it’s like to live in modern America as a woman several hundred pounds overweight. She talks about the trauma from her past that led her to eat, a rape that left her wanting her body to become an untouchable fortress, and the difficulty she’s had with moving on from that mindset and changing her methods of defense. But perhaps most importantly, she talks about how hard it has been to fit into a world that doesn’t want to accommodate her body– a world that hurt her and yet won’t accept the results of that pain.

No book has ever made it more clear that what you see on the surface is not the whole story.

In my opinion, a good book both entertains and teaches. There’s a lot of darkness in Gay’s story, so in this case I’m using “entertains” to mean “holds the reader’s attention.” With that allowance, let me say that this book certainly both entertains and teaches. Gay addresses every aspect of her life that I might have had a question about given the premise, and she does so in an intelligent and considerate way. She talks about diets and eating disorders, the clothing industry, cooking shows, health affects, gyms and trainers, travel, restaurants, etc. There’s not a lot of structure to these points, but like chapters are grouped together. Each chapter feels like its own mini essay. Perhaps “essay” isn’t even the right word– some of these chapters feel so raw and intimate that they’re more like journal entries. The one that felt the strongest to me was the one in which Gay talks/speculates about the present-day life of her first “love,” the boy who raped her. But while Gay holds the reader’s attention with the secrets of her life, she also teaches the reader to consider rather than assume, to act respectfully and equally toward all humans, because the book can most definitely not be judged by its cover.

“I am nowhere near as brave as people believe me to be. As a writer, armed with words, I can do anything, but when I have to take my body out into the world, courage fails me.”

One of the interesting details about Hunger‘s construction is that it isn’t a success story. It doesn’t even have a plot arc– the anecdotes of past experiences that appear are used as supporting details for present ruminations rather than steps in a narrative ladder. This is a book about struggling, about being in the middle of a journey rather than the end. It’s about failed projects and what-ifs and maybe-somedays. Who can’t relate to that?

“I am determined to be more than my body– what my body has endured, what my body has become. Determination, though, has not gotten me very far.”

Another aspect I loved about this book is that you don’t need ever to have suffered any sort of weight issues, eating disorders, or even body image anxieties. It’s entirely possible to read about Gay’s life without finding anything in common with her, and still appreciate her story. She’s not just fighting for control of her body, she’s fighting for a place in the world, and fighting to love herself. Gay’s stance as a feminist shines through this book beautifully, and there’s a definite undertone of equality for all that makes this book fitting for all sorts of readers, no matter what they weigh. It’s about breaking unfair expectations and making the world a fairer place.

“This is what most girls are taught– that we should be slender and small. We should not take up space. We should be seen and not heard, and if we are seen, we should be pleasing to men, acceptable to society. And most women know this, that we are supposed to disappear, but it’s something that needs to be said, loudly, over and over again, so that we can resist surrendering to what is expected of us.”

The only thing I didn’t like about Hunger was its use of repetition. In some cases, repetition can add emphasis and new meaning to what’s being said. Sometimes it even works wonderfully in this book. The repetitions of “I hunger” seem particularly apt, and add many new ways to look at the meaning of the word “hunger.” There were other examples of strong repetitions throughout the book as well, like this list of variations:

“We don’t necessarily know how to hear stories about any kind of violence, because it is hard to accept that violence is as simple as it is complicated, that you can love someone who hurts you, that you can stay with someone who hurts you, that you can be hurt by someone who loves you, that you can be hurt by a complete stranger, that you can be hurt in so many terrible, intimate ways.”

But there were also chapters that began in such a way that for an entire paragraph or two I had the impression that I had already read those exact words, that exact phrasing. A couple of times I even started a chapter wondering if there had been some sort of editorial mistake and the same chapter had somehow been included twice. This is by no means a long or unbearable memoir; I read the entire book in three sittings, and it only took more than two because I was interrupted. But with such powerful content, I think a more succinct style could have fit this book even better than constant repetitions. You know how you can listen to a great song on repeat and it feels like it’ll never get old? But eventually it does, and you hear it some more, and before you know it you can’t stand to hear the song at all. Hunger is like a great song on repeat– it is great, but by the time I finished I had hit my limit for the song, and as much as I loved it the first time I don’t think I could read it again. At least not any time soon.

But I know different readers have different tastes, and the fact that the only issue I had with this book was such a stylistic one explains to me why this book has been so well-received. It’s at a 4.25 rating on Goodreads right now, and it deserves that love.

“In our culture, we talk a lot about change and growing up, but man, we don’t talk nearly enough about how difficult it is. It is difficult. For me, it is difficult to believe I matter and I deserve nice things and I deserve to be around nice people.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I’m so glad I read Hunger, and I will certainly be reading more of Roxane Gay’s work. Surprisingly, from a list of fiction and nonfiction, I think I’m more interested in nonfiction for once in my life. I think I’ll pick up Gay’s Bad Feminist when I’m ready to read more from her. My positive experience with memoirs continues– I can’t believe it took me so long to explore this genre, and I can’t wait to see what other gems are out there.

Further recommendations:

  1. If you’re looking for more powerful memoirs, try Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, another sad but empowering tale. This one deals with poverty and (questionable) parenting, but it uses more of a plot arc and it ends on an encouraging note.
  2. Elie Weisel’s Night is another impactful memoir I’ve read this year. This one won the Nobel Peace Prize for its look back on the concentration camps of WWII, and it deals with my favorite nonfiction subject: equality.

What’s your favorite brand of nonfiction?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

Another short book for you today, and maybe a short review to go with it (I know I’m not good at keeping things brief). Last year I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists; I expected it to surprise me more than it did, but I did enjoy reading the essay enough that I had to pick up more of Adichie’s work. I haven’t been in the mood for a 60-page book for a while, so as soon as that urge struck this month, Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions was one of the books I immediately picked up.

dearijeaweleAbout the book: Adichie writes a letter to a friend with a new baby girl who wanted some advice on raising her daughter as a feminist. Adichie offers two tools and fifteen suggestions on parenting from a feminist perspective (published after she herself has become a parent), touching everything from how to be a mom and live your own life, to who should do the cooking, parenting, and financial providing for a family, to encouraging the child to be her honest self rather than her most likeable self.

“Her job is not to make herself likeable, her job is to be her full self, a self that is honest and aware of the equal humanity of other people.”

This book reads like a conversation, something both more accessible for the personal feel of the letter but also very specific in its target. Nevertheless, I am a reader without children at present and I found myself surprised and inspired by the content of this beautiful little book. It’s probably most relevant for new mothers, especially moms with daughters, but many of the ideas in Dear Ijeawele are more widely applicable to people in general who are interested in learning about the disparities between society’s expectations for men and women, and what might be done about those disparities on an individual level.

“What matters is what you want for yourself, and not what others want you to want.”

Sometimes I like being in the middle of a long series, and sometimes I like being able to read an entire book in the space of time it takes to finish a meal. But don’t let the brevity of Dear Ijeawele deceive you: it’s the sort of fodder for thought that stays with you long after the last pages have been turned. Equality is something that’s important to me; the world is not a fair place, but I believe we can make it fair. And the first step to doing that is understanding the current obstacles so that we can begin to overcome them. Gender inequality is one of those obstacles, and Dear Ijeawele is a letter that highlights some of the reasons behind that argument, encourages readers to change the way they think about gender right now, but also with an eye to future generations who could be spared growing up with the same restraints.

I would suggest reading Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists before Dear Ijeawele; they’re both short books of about 60 small pages each, but We Should All Be Feminists is a more general outline of feminism while Dear Ijeawele is more proactive. I recommend the both not only to mothers, or even solely to women, but to anyone interested in equality for all human beings and especially those that have close contact with children in their lives– any children. It’s good just to be aware of some of the things society says are “normal” that really aren’t fair.

Both books also reveal some aspects about Adichie’s history with Igbo culture, and her experiences in Africa and America as not only a woman but a woman of color. But even the parts that didn’t seem to quite apply to my own life were interesting to learn about, and contributed to the overall messages that Adichie is offering.

“This is the only necessary form of humility: the realization that difference is normal.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I really like these short essay-type works of Adichie’s, and I’m sad to have both of them behind me now. But I am nevertheless looking forward to picking up more works by this author– I think Americanah will be next for me. I’m also becoming more eager to pick up more books about feminism, but I’m not quite sure where to start. Some of Roxane Gay’s work is on my TBR, but I could really use some more suggestions about what’s good to read– I want books that are empowering and encouraging, not just ranting about the problem. Any suggestions for me?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: We Should All Be Feminists

This tiny book is an essay by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, adapted from a TED talk she gave in 2012. I don’t want to write political posts here (or anywhere), but I think we can talk about feminism without turning it into a giant political debate. Why? Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists is first and foremost a definition and an appeal to humanity.

weshouldallbefeministsAbout the book: Adichie explores some of the backlash she has received for calling herself a feminist. Specifically, she addresses the struggles of being African and calling herself a feminist, but she stands firm in her beliefs and explains why her quest for gender equality should be called feminism rather than something more broadly encompassing of both genders–the female gender has been discriminated against for centuries, no matter which way you slice it: any fight for equality must take that into consideration.

“I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femininity. And I want to be respected in all my femaleness. Because I deserve to be.”

Conditions have certainly improved for women over the past several decades. Adichie argues that men have been favored by society since hunter/gatherer days because the (generally) greater strength of the male body meant that he was needed as the protector and provider of the family. But now, when men and women can work the same jobs for the same pay (although Adichie also notes that the higher up the corporate ladder one climbs, the fewer women one finds), there is no longer any reason for certain expectations to fall to the female–expectations of cooking, cleaning, child rearing, house tending, etc. Adichie uses anecdotes from her own life to prove that despite law changes, social expectations that preserve the unequal gender balance between men and women still remain.

“The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.”

Without allowing her essay to become a list of personal complaints or a diatribe against men, Adichie proves that humankind still has some fighting to do in the name of equality–and that everyone would benefit from an evening of the scales.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. This essay really seemed to put some of my own scattered thoughts into words. It’s simply stated, easily understood, properly backed up with anecdotes that many people can relate to, and it makes some darn good points. In the end, I decided against 5 stars simply because I didn’t feel like I was discovering anything new. I haven’t read many feminism texts (by which I mean I can’t specifically name any, although I feel that in my essay class in college we brushed through the topic), and yet I felt like I’d heard all of this before. Don’t get me wrong–that’s a great thing. I love that these ideas about equality have a firm enough footing in the world that without trying I’d already acquired a solid definition. I just expected a little more from this essay once the meaning was established. I’m really glad I read this book, though, and I will definitely be reading more–not only from this author, but along this same topic in others’ words. Personally, it’s something I want to be educated about because I think it affects us all.

Equality for the win.

What’s next: I’ve just finished reading Rainbow Rowell’s adult romance novel, Landline. This one’s about Georgie (the dreamer and breadwinner) and Neal (the stay-at-home dad) who find themselves at a difficult point in their marriage, and the magical phone that unites the two (even if only to argue) across the country and across time. Check back tomorrow to find out more!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant