I’m a little later with this than I would have liked to be, but I’m finally just getting out from under my boxes and boxes of stuff from my move home and just haven’t felt up to doing anything quite yet. Anyway, the challenge for Week #4 of the Weekly Geek challenge (courtesy of Dewey at The Hidden Side of a Leaf) is to choose a social or political issue, then find several books on the topic you have read or might like to read.
The topic I chose was feminism, something I have read a bit about already but am always curious to learn more about. As a generally conservative female, I spent a lot of time in college watching “the Right” and feminists face off on issues that, to me, don’t seem that incompatible. It’s hard to explain exactly, but I like to think that I’ve grown into what I call a “sensible feminist,” and feminism is a topic that I constantly want to know more about. I’m not absolutely certain this counts as a current social or political issue, but I’m going to go with it anyway.
I first started to question my own conflicting feelings about feminism after my best friend got me Sarah Jane Gilman’s memoir Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Growing up Groovy and Clueless for my birthday. I was initially skeptical about the book, but found I really loved it and connected with many of Gilman’s conceptions about feminism. The chapter that got to me was called “Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress,” and was about Gilman’s trepidations approaching her wedding. When she gets engaged at age 30, Gilman decides she is going to be “Anti-Bride,” rejecting everything that makes up the traditional wedding. However, her world is turned around when she is persuaded to go to David’s Bridal. When she falls in love with a “big, pouffy, ivory-satin dress…confectionary, princessy, glittering”dress, she has a realization that struck close to me:
“Every woman should have this experience – and not only if or when she gets married. Every woman should see herself looking uniquely breathtaking, in something tailored to celebrate her body, so that she is better able to appreciate her own beauty and better equipped to withstand the ideals of our narrow-waisted, narrow-minded culture.”
For Gilman, David’s Bridal becomes a “bizarrely feminist place: a froufrou heaven staffed by women dedicated to making sure that other women look astonishing.” Gilman’s own epiphany forced me to reconsider my previous conceptions about feminism. Her idea that a truly feminist place is one that supports and empowers women, and in some way makes them feel uniquely beautiful for whatever choices they have decided to make, seems like the ideal of feminism, but one that I hadn’t thought about before.
One other important book on feminism I have read is Christina Hoff Sommer’s Who Stole Feminism? Sommers looks at the ways the modern feminist movement has been divided between two types of feminists, and that one type is harmful to the movement. While I agree with some of the claims she makes about problems in modern feminist research, her overall argumentative tone would probably make the book hard to stomach if you weren’t inclined to agree with her. I definitely recommend this book, but would obviously say to read it with a grain of salt (as with any book that presents information with an agenda).
Another book I would really love to read is The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. I don’t have much background in the background and early part of the feminist movement, and I think this is an important cornerstone work. I’d also like to read Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women by Susan Faludi because it’s one of the major books Sommer’s argues with in Who Stole Feminism?
I’m sure this list is missing a huge number of good books on feminism both historically and in a modern context. I’d love something that tries to give an overall history of the movement in the United States, but finding a book that doesn’t have a lot of ideological bias is pretty difficult to find and I haven’t put in much effort just yet.