Women Who Lead, Read

By: Ebony Taylor

Women’s Center Library, 105 Haag Hall

Since starting college, there has been little time, if at all, that I have gotten to sit down, pick up a book, and read. No distractions, no emails, no assignment deadlines, just me and the smell of printed paper.  As a book lover, I came across a list of feminist-written reads that I had to share. If you have already been introduced to the world of feminist writing, or are just getting started, this list is compiled with reads from feminist thinkers and novelists to poets and producers of feminist pornography. There is something for all. I have picked 7 books that I think I would want to pick up, but you should visit Esquire to get the entire list.  If you want even more feminist reading, don’t forget to check out our Women’s Center library, located in our office at 105 Haag Hall! 

 This collection of essays and poems are from women of color who raise awareness for issues that women continue to face. This book is said to connect with women of all ages, race, and genders.  

This witty, humorous collection of stories recounts memories from the author’s life and identity as a Native American woman.  Midge reflects on feminism, tweeting presidents, and white-bread privilege. Enjoy Midge’s urban-Indigenous identity and how it has impacted her ideas on culture, race, media, and feminism. 

Rana el Kaliouby is entrepreneur and scientist, working in the field of emotional intelligence, Emotional AI,  and cofounder and CEO of Affectiva, a start-up company spun off of MIT Media Lab. This book is a memoir that highlights the conflict between her Egyptian upbringing and her goals in life. 

This book shows how men express emotions in different stages of life, status, and ethnicity and how toxic masculinity skews men away from an important part of themselves. It discusses men’s concerns, like the fear of intimacy and their role as patriarchs in society.  

 We already know stories of magical creatures and witches, but Circe recreates the sorceress from Homer’s Odyssey in a feminist light. The overlooked character of Circe gives rise to her independence in a male-dominated world.   

A collection of writings from feminists in the adult entertainment industry and research by feminist porn scholars. This book investigates how feminists understand pornography and how they produce, direct, act in, and buy a into a large and successful business. Authors of these writings also explore pornography as a form of expression where women produce power and pleasure.  

Serano writes about her journey before and after transitioning, expressing how fear, suspicion, and dismissiveness towards femininity molds society’s view on trans women, gender and sexuality. Serano also proposes that feminists today and transgender activists must collaborate to embrace all forms of femininity.  

Brief Analysis of Chapter VI of A Vindication of the Rights of Women

By Emma Gilham

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, written in 1791, questions societal norms placed on women in that time from a philosophical perspective. Chapter VI “The Effect Which an Early Association of Ideas Has on Character” focuses on the concept that women would never be able to experience true love and intimacy unless they were educated equally as men. She claims, as things were, that women had false ideas of what love would be as they couldn’t connect on an intellectual level with their potential partner, hence chasing charming but undesirable “rakes”. Wollstonecraft asks, “And how can they [men] expect women, who are only taught to observe behavior, and acquire manners rather than morals, to despise what they have been all their lives laboring to attain?” (126). In the 18th century, young, middle-class, white women’s education consisted mostly of learning manners, politeness and creating a demure, inoffensive persona. Therefore, that aspect of a partner was inherently valued more heavily Wollstonecraft argues. In the end, this hindered the ability of these women to experience real love and adequately navigate suitors. She laments, “…women are captivated by easy manners; a gentlemen-like man seldom fails to please them and their thirsty ears eagerly drink the insinuating nothings of politeness…” (127).

In the beginning of Wollstonecraft’s work, the reader may assume most of her points are outdated, as education systems have drastically changed and been standardized. Yet, her observations are still applicable to issues many of us encounter when seeking a relationship today. Consistently, people are charmed by someone only to later realize this person is not who they had thought. Are these simply mistakes that anyone would make or are womxn still conditioned to value surface level traits more in a partner? This chapter brings up many feminist ideological and philosophical questions. I recognize that Wollstonecraft’s work is probably the furthest thing from intersectional. However, it is important to ponder how the societal norms and constructs we grow up in influence our preferences in a partner, views on romanticism, or even our ability to love. For instance, many of the movies I watched as a child revolved around a marriage or a romantic relationship. Did this give me the impression that romantic love is more important or valuable than familial or platonic? We may never know, but asking these questions can help us better understand the things we do and the people we choose.


Works Cited

                    Reed, Ross. The Liberating Art of Philosophy: An Introduction. Cognella, Inc., 2020

Back to school, back in time: When old books and modern ideas clash

By Kara Lewis

Who’s already overwhelmed by their semester reading list? *Raises hand* While making a dent in one of my 10-pound textbooks this week, I came across a slightly less obvious question.

I’m an English major, so I’ve read a lot of classics. From Jane Austen to Edgar Allen Poe and Charlies Dickens, I’ve been entertained, horrified and sometimes flat-out bored by these texts. This week, however, I was offended.

My Shakespeare class read and analyzed The Taming of the Shrew. Its modern adaption, 10 Things I Hate About You, is one of my favorite movies. The original, however, is filled with sexist jokes, and revolves around forcing the main female character into an arranged marriage.

Of course, I angrily thought about consent and gender equality, preparing to unleash my rage in my weekly Blackboard discussion post. Then, I stopped. I considered the same question that arose when I read Jane Eyre, which has been widely interpreted as racist, and The Catcher in the Rye, which many readers call misogynist: Can modern values be applied to classic texts?

I posed this same question on Blackboard. While many of my classmates ranted back, one argued that texts like The Taming of the Shrew show us how far feminism has come.

The contrast between the original play and 10 Things I Hate About You reinforces this viewpoint. Where Shakespeare’s lead, Kate, abandons her convictions and submits to her husband, 10 Things treats Kat’s fiery attitude and ambition as strengths. The film’s modernized message rings clear: Women don’t need to be tamed at all.

Sapphire comes to Kansas City

Image courtesy of Rainy Day Books

By Patsy Campos

Rainy Day Books has a fabulous event coming up for the whole community featuring Sapphire, New York Times best-selling author of the novel Push, which in 2009 was adapted into the motion picture Precious. Sapphire will appear in Kansas City, on Thursday, July 14, 2011 at 7 pm at Unity Temple on the Plaza, to discuss The Kid, the long-awaited sequel to Push

According to Rainy Day Books, “The Kid brings us deep into the interior life of Abdul Jones, son of Sapphire’s unforgettable heroine, Precious. A story of body and spirit, rooted in the hungers of flesh and of the soul, The Kid is a story of survival and awakening, and one young man’s remarkable strength. We meet Abdul at age nine, on the day of his mother’s funeral. Left alone to navigate in a world where love and hate sometimes hideously masquerade, forced to confront unspeakable violence, his history, and the dark corners of his own heart, Abdul claws his way toward adulthood and toward an identity he can stand behind. In a generational story that moves with the speed of thought from a Mississippi dirt farm, to Harlem in its heyday; from a troubled Catholic orphanage, to downtown artist’s lofts, The Kid tells of a twenty-first century young man’s fight to find a way toward the future. A testament to the ferocity of the human spirit, the deep nourishing power of love, and of art, The Kid becomes a young man about to take flight. Intimate, terrifying, deeply alive in Abdul’s journey we are witness to an artist’s birth by fire.”

The admission package for this event is $25.95 which includes one Hardcover copy of The Kid, one Stamped Admission Ticket, and one Guest Ticket.  Scholarship tickets for the event only are also available for students and youth groups.  Students with a valid ID can pick up a scholarship ticket at Rainy Day Books, 2706 W 53rd Street, in Fairway, Kansas or reserve a ticket to pick up at the event by calling (913) 384-3126. For more information about this event visit http://www.rainydaybooks.com/Sapphire.

Lisbeth Salander: Feminist Heroine? Of Course!

Image from Flickr.com

The following blog is a guest post by Dan Winter, member of the Chancellor’s Advisory Board to the Women’s Center.

Having just finished The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest last night, I’m missing Lisbeth already.

The author, Stieg Larsson, portrayed most of the women in his books as strong, complicated figures who went to extraordinary lengths to show their loyalty and commitment to lovers, friends, co-workers and siblings.  They also, literally and figuratively, went on to kick some serious ass.  The author never used their femininity to sensationalize the characters or make them romantically sympathetic.

Salander made virtually all her own breaks.  Yes, she had Blomqvist in her corner, but he was hardly a behind the scenes manipulator or sponsor – never the man-behind-the-woman situation I’m so sick of seeing in American novels of the same genre.  THIS is what sets Salander and Larsson apart from American novels and allows for Lisbeth Salander to be a true literary heroine.  She makes all her decisions independently, doesn’t need a man, or a woman, to define her through romance and displays remarkable resilience.  

Of course, driving the whole plot was that the bad guys were in the business of victimizing women.  By denying the reader the opportunity to know any of those women as characters, we could focus on getting acquainted with the victim-turned-avenger, Lisbeth, while she methodically went about dismantling the entire sex slave operation, destroying the evil guys and saving Swedish society.  

I’ve actually read one blog where the writer, obviously a man, complained that all the bad characters were men in the novels, while women either got off scot-free for their transgressions or were better off for having committed those crimes.  I was delighted to see that that writer got virtually slaughtered by other blog posters for his misogynistic comments.  Lisbeth, so unlikable, is becoming a beloved literary figure.

Of course, Lisbeth is a feminist heroine.  She will go down, I predict, as one of the best-known literary heroines of contemporary fiction.  She’s right up there with Clarice Starling of Silence of the Lambs.

The Millennium Trilogy, while sometimes less-than-elegantly written, is nothing short of a cultural phenomenon that will only get bigger when the American movie versions of the books are released.  The success of those movies will rest, in my opinion, mostly on the effectiveness of the unknown actress who has been cast as Lisbeth.  She has big shoes to follow after the wonderful portrayal of Lisbeth by the Swedish actress, Noomi Rapace, in the Swedish film versions of the books.   

Want to know what others think about Lisbeth Salander?  Join the discussions tomorrow night, Tuesday, October 26, 6:00 p.m. at the Women’s Center, and also Wednesday, November 17, 12:00 p.m. at the LGBTQIA Resource Center. Scott Curtis, Research Librarian for UMKC Libraries will lead the discussions, Lisbeth Salander as Feminist Heroine?

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest: Final Saga of the Millennium Trilogy

Image from Flickr.com

 If you are looking for a good book to wrap up your summer reading, allow me to recommend three:  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  Also known as the Millennium Trilogy, these books by Stieg Larsson are a great collection of crime novels whose best feature is the heroine Lisbeth Salander.

I introduced Lisbeth to most of you last month in my review of the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She is mysterious and harsh, not just in appearance, but also in attitude, and chooses to silently exist within the margins of society. Her actions in this first book define her as a feminist, a heroine, and a survivor, but as the story unfolds we’re immediately aware that there is more to this girl than what appears on the pages of this book.

Larsson’s second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, is what I consider to be his actual unveiling of Lisbeth’s character.  Her feminist passion, her reactionary (often violent and avenging) handling of situations, her distrust of society and authority, and the callous attitudes of others toward her, are all exposed in this book. Larsson ends this book with our heroine so beaten down and vulnerable by such exposure that our emotional commitment to Lisbeth has us anticipating  the third and final book before we’ve even finished the second. 

In the final book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Larsson handles much of Lisbeth’s fate in an uncharacteristic way.  For most of the book Lisbeth is somewhat powerless. She has been weakened by her adversaries and removed from many of her resources of strength. Helpless, she’s forced to do something her survival instincts have trained her not to do – trust people. Luckily for Lisbeth, there are people who believe in her and who care about her. And their systematic scheme to save her must fall exactly into place in order to bring her to the redemption she deserves.

I have to admit, I found the final book a bit disappointing. After all the character development and suspense of the first two books, the third book seemed inconsistent and a bit sluggish for me.  I didn’t like seeing Lisbeth, who before was so strong and indomitable, left vulnerable and dependent on others to “rescue” her.  It seemed out of character for her and definitely out of character for the development of a feminist heroine.  I wonder if Larsson had checked his feminism at the door and felt that he still had to put Lisbeth, a young woman, in her place. Or perhaps it was the idea that no one, male or female, including Lisbeth Salander, can exist in a vacuum and no matter how much we think that we can survive on our own, the very nature of society being a complex system of human lives makes it necessary at times to depend on each other to survive.  In the end, Larsson brings Lisbeth back to her true character and she does tie up some loose ends with her family on her own – kicking butt once again and nailing things down, so to speak. Lisbeth has the chance for redemption, but with this redemption, will life forever be changed for her? And if so, how much will it change Lisbeth?  A fourth book is rumored to be in the works that may answer these questions.

Overall, the Millennium Trilogy is a great series for those who enjoy crime novels and suspense thrillers.  But mostly, it’s an excellent portrayal of a feminist heroine in a genre where women are not often portrayed in such a way. Please join the Women’s Center, UMKC Libraries, and the LGBTQIA Resource Center this fall at our book discussions as we examine Lisbeth Salander and her role as a feminist heroine.  Even if you’ve only read one or none of the books, it will be a great discussion on feminism, crime, and violence against women.

Eat, Pray, Love… I don’t get it.

Eat, Pray, Love has sold nearly 8 million copies. It is now a new movie starring the one and only Julia Roberts. And I simply don’t get it.

Image from Filckr.com

Sure, I enjoyed reading about all the great food in Italy and the scenery in Bali, and I will admit that at the end of the book when she gets together with a Brazilian man on the beach that I fell for it. But, besides the lovely traveling anecdotes, I don’t understand why this book was such a big deal.

The writer and center of the book, Elizabeth Gilbert, embarks on a year-long journey following a divorce and bad rebound relationship to “find herself”. Here is the full synopsis. I won’t recap the book since it has been written about ad nauseam, but I will tell you that it took me at least 3 years to finish.

Obviously, I wasn’t reading it the whole three years but I found that I couldn’t manage to get through the thing.  I usually made it half way through Italy and then stopped. Now that I finished it, I have to say that I am still bewildered why everyone loved this book.

I saw Oprah’s Book Club’s endorsement of the book, I heard all the hoopla about how the book is so marvelous and then I heard Julia Roberts was going to play this woman in a movie, so I caved and bought the book. And I eventually finished it.  But instead of feeling enlightened and inspired, I felt oddly disappointed.

Throughout the book Gilbert shares her insights on all things universal, mainly love and God, and I have to say that I found her condescending throughout most of it (and found myself skimming pages in the India section). Not to say that she wasn’t really funny at times, nor am I saying that, like some people, I thought that she was just a rich white lady who had the luxury of traveling for a year. I just found that most of the time during my agony of reading this book, I was rolling my eyes. I mean why is this one woman, who got to travel for a year and write a book about it, being revered as someone who can teach me something about life and God?

I talked to a lot of people and read bunches of articles trying to decipher if I had missed something groundbreaking. Why are so many women talking about the book and the movie? Am I missing some pearl of female wisdom?

The movie was also a little disappointing. The two redeeming qualities of the book are the locations to which Gilbert traveled (mostly Italy and Bali) and the vivid characters that she painted for us. The movie showcased the locations well enough, but as far as the characters from the book, it fell short. While, I can imagine it is hard to put Gilbert’s entire story into a two and half hour movie, it seems like the screenwriters didn’t even try. Even though it was Julia Roberts, I couldn’t care about the screen version of Elizabeth Gilbert.

I would say I enjoyed the movie but only for two reasons: I went with my mom for a girl’s night out and Javier Bardem. Other than those reasons, I would have to agree with some of reviews I have read (especially Jezebel’s) that Eat, Pray, Love wasn’t life changing. Three years after purchasing my copy, I have finished the book and seen the movie. I feel none the wiser. The only thing I really took from Elizabeth Gilbert’s travel memoir was that I too want to travel the world, and if someone wants to pay me, even better.

The Girl Who Played With Fire

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The Girl Who Played with Fire

is the second book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.  In the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, we were introduced to Lisbeth Salander, an expert hacker with a mysterious past.  In my review of the first book, I described Lisbeth as a feminist heroine who’s dark past forced her into a life heavily dependent on her keen survival instincts.  She has a loathing and distrust for most people, and thus prefers to exist within the margins of society.  Contrary to this, Lisbeth also has a compassionate side for human life and a compulsion to act when she knows someone has been wronged. I found myself intrigued by the character of Lisbeth Salander in the first book.  Larsson did a great job of teasing me with just enough information about Lisbeth that I couldn’t help but want to read his next book.

In The Girl Who Played with Fire Lisbeth Salander is back, but the story opens with a Lisbeth who almost seems to want to fit into society.  She has altered her physical appearance slightly, as well as her lifestyle – initiative that she took after capitalizing on her activities from the first book.  Despite these superficial changes, her distrust of society and authority is still firmly planted and her survival instincts override any mundane choices that any other “normal” person would make. Lisbeth is still reclusive and quiet – conscious not to reveal too much of herself to anyone.  In Lisbeth’s world, no one can be trusted.  It is a world where violence against women is committed without conscience and corruption and cover-ups have left their lasting impression on her.

In this saga, Lisbeth is our feminist heroine once again.  But this time, her past has caught up with her and she finds herself the prime suspect in a triple murder investigation involving drugs and sex trafficking.  Immediately judged by society and the authorities, not for what they think she has done, but for who they think she is, Lisbeth realizes that guilt, at least in this case, is proven by reputation, misinterpretation, and misogyny. We learn more about Lisbeth’s dark past, as Larsson peels back yet another layer of her enigmatic persona. And we find out about “all the evil” that consisted of so much violence and pain, it forever changed our heroine. 

With many of my curiosities about Lisbeth answered in this second book, I began to understand why Lisbeth is the reactive, calculating, survivor that she is.  And we find out why her feminist passions lie where they do and why her actions, at least in her mind, are justified.  One thing that surprised me about this story, was the moral dilemma I found myself in as I sympathized with Lisbeth. I now question my own feelings toward revenge and whether or not the use of violence can ever be justified given the circumstances.   I am a huge fan of Lisbeth Salander as a feminist heroine, and given her circumstances, I found myself cheering on her every move.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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The previous blog mentioned the Women’s Center’s upcoming book discussion this fall on Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.  I just finished reading the first book in the trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I can’t wait to read the other two books.  Larsson’s development of the character Lisbeth Salander is brilliant.  She’s mysterious, yet direct; serious, yet passionate; troubled, yet ingenious.  Larsson unveils her character gradually, only mentioning her in random chapters and paragraphs through the first parts of the book.  You are left curious and almost doubtful of whom she is, but then at one heroic moment in the book, he unveils her true nature as a survivor.  No longer wondering who Lisbeth is, you are only left wondering why – why is she someone who lives most days on her survival instincts?

Lisbeth is described as a frail, anorexic-looking, young woman with harsh features and a wardrobe that harkens back to the 1970’s Brittish punk rock scene – leather jacket, tight jeans, combat boots, and t-shirts that make sharp, sarcastic statements.  Lisbeth makes up in inner strength and intellect what she lacks in physical presence.  She is often quiet but always very present.   A feminist heroine she is; woven into a plot that involves violence against women, sexual assault, family drama, and murder.   Lisbeth is a feminist, a heroine, and a survivor.  Of what?  Hopefully, that will be revealed in Larson’s subsequent books in the Trilogy.  If not, oh well.  Lisbeth’s character is not one that commands the readers’ sympathy for whatever happened to her in the past, but their support and applause for who she is now.

I plan to start reading the next book in the Trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire, tonight.  If you haven’t started reading the series, there’s still plenty of time left this summer.  Then join us on Oct. 26 in the Women’s Center to discuss Lisbeth Salander.  I can’t wait to talk to you about her.

The Big Read Comes to Kansas City

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) launched The Big Read in 2007, an initiative to bring reading back into the forefront of American culture. Now there are over 800 participating communities across the nation who have received grants to host the Big Read program.

The Big Read program is designed to allow people to read a single book that can be discussed at various events around their community with the goal that not only will they be inspired to read more, but also that they will pass on the joy of reading and discussing literature with others. The program is the NEA’s answer to the increasing decline of literary reading among Americans, especially the young. The Big Read uses book discussions, radio, internet, and TV to engage people to read and discuss the book of choice.

This year The Big Read is here in Kansas City. It is being sponsored by the NEA, the Kansas City Public Library, Park University, and The Central Exchange. Events start tonight at the Kansas City Public Library- Central branch, at 6:30 p.m. with Michael Dirda, a Pulitzer prize-winning book critic, introducing the chosen novel for this year, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. The NEA’s website offers this brief description of the book:

“Even avid readers will be hard pressed to find another novel quite like Marilynne Robinson’s luminous Housekeeping. Set in the remote, imaginary town of Fingerbone, Idaho, it presents the  precarious and eccentric lives of three generations of Foster family women. Housekeeping chronicles the deaths, abandonments, and insecurities that beset the Fosters so vividly that it is often heartbreaking, but the novel also radiates a mysterious joy and tender humor commensurate with Ruth’s childlike capacity for the sheer wonder of being alive.”

The Kansas City Big Read includes community discussions about the book, one of them being held at the UMKC Women’s Center on April 14 at 6:30 p.m.  The program also features a serial reading of the novel on KKFI 90.1FM that takes place April 5 – 23, as well as a webcast discussion held by Channel 9 morning news anchor Donna Pitman. And for those who can’t attend the discussion, there is a discussion group titled “Kansas City Big Read 2010” on the literary social website, Goodreads.  And last but definitely not least, the author herself, Marilynne Robinson will be at the Kansas City Public Library- Plaza Branch on May 12 to discuss the book and her writing career.

The Big Read is the excuse we all need to pick up a book and start reading again.

For more information go to:  www.kcbigread.org