Raising a feminist?

Somewhere in my social media feed a link titled 18 Ways to Make Sure Your Child’s a Feminist caught my eye.  Of course I clicked.  And found myself nodding in agreement at the suggestions (Lead by example, challenge stereotypes, watch your language, etc) most of which are things I’m doing or trying to do.  The one that stood out to me, though, was number 15:

“15. Teach them about inspiring women who’ve changed the world. It wouldn’t be the same without Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, or Anne Frank, now would it?”

radamericanomenNow there are a lot of great biographies of women who have changed the world.  If you’re looking for a particular woman’s story, I’d be happy to recommend one to you.   But if you just want to share the idea that there are a lot of different women who have changed the world in a lot of different ways, I recommend Rad American Women A-Z.  Not only does this book share one page profiles of women like education activist Jovita Idar, artist Maya Lin, and journalist Nellie Bly among many others, but it also encourages young people to be rad in their own way.  What more could you ask for?

For me, the book was a mix of names and accomplishments I knew with more than a few that were new to me.  As I turned the pages, I found myself happily surprised by the inclusion of musicians and artists along with activists and scientists.  Soon, my seven-year-old daughter was peeking over my shoulder.  The bright colors and bold text grabbed her curiosity, and she started asking questions about the women on the pages.  Almost none of the names were familiar to her.

It occurred to me then that I need to be more intentional in making sure she sees what women have done (and are doing) to make a difference in our world.  This book is exactly what I need to get started.





Thank you to City Lights Publishing for the review copy of this book.

A New Zine for Women’s History Month

For Women’s History Month, I dug into my own history.   Several years ago, I started a zine about the books that shaped my ideas of feminism and femininity, but I set it aside.  I revisited the idea back in 2011 when Bitch Magazine published their list of books for the young adult feminist reader, and the resulting controversy over the titles left me too intimidated to share my own such list.  It took a while, but I got over my intimidation.

Here is the final version of Being a Girl: A Recommended Reading List:


If you peek inside, you can see it is a mix of the old (typed) and the new (handwritten).  My original book picks and comments are unedited, but I couldn’t resist adding my current thoughts.


You can order it online here.  

Also, if you are interested in books and feminism, you might check out a new series from First the Egg in which feminist readers share childhood favorites and current children’s book picks.  Watch for my contribution, and share your thoughts in the comments! :)

Some things are complicated. This is what’s worth reading about.

It’s a beautiful day for a walk in Minneapolis.  My kiddo is at Grandma’s for the day, so I indulged in a leisurely walk to my local library, where I had several books waiting for me.  One of them happened to be Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power in a World Without Rape.  I’d put it on hold weeks ago (around the time I wrote this post about feminism), and I thought it an amusing coincidence to pick it up today of all days.  Today is Slut Walk Minneapolis.  It’s happening as I type, actually, in Hennepin Island Park.

To be honest, I’ve never been certain how I’ve felt about Slut Walks.  There are so many great points about them.  Reclaiming female sexuality and bodily autonomy.  Changing the connotations of the word “slut.”  These are things that I love.  Yet, I’m not completely comfortable with it.

I’ve only read a bit of the book so far, and it has already made me think more deeply about the issues involved.  There are no easy answers.  The editors of Yes Means Yes! write in the introduction:

“. . . we don’t believe that empowering female sexuality is the answer to dismantling rape culture, or that it will stop all rape, nor is sexual freedom the only cost of rape.  But until we start shining a light on all the dark corners of sexual shame and blame projected onto us by American culture, we’re going to keep spinning our wheels.”

Thank you to the editors and contributors to Yes Means Yes! for helping me to shine more light on my ambivalence about the Slut Walk.  However I end up feeling about it, I must say that I applaud the women walking today for standing up for change.  I ask blog readers to withhold judgment until you read the mission statement and the blog.  They have some important things to say there.

Feminism, and what it means to me

Sexism and feminism have been major topics of discussion in the Proper Noun household lately.  It came to a strong head with ElevatorGate, and it continued through not-quite-small-talk conversation  after a performance at a recent block party that raised a few feminist eyebrows.

In the midst of the discussion, I happened to read a biography of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which had me thinking about the rights I take for granted and questioning whether I could have dedicated myself to the cause as completely as these women did.

My experience with feminism had less to do with history and civil rights and more to do with my own experience as a woman.  As I attempted to define what I wanted from my life, I read books like The Vagina Monologues and Woman: An Intimate Geography. Cunt by Inga Muscio shocked me and empowered me.  Words can mean something different to me than they mean to others? Yes! I can change my attitude and affect the change of others? Yes!!

This is where it all began  for me, and the past several weeks of discussion has been an opportunity to revisit issues that I don’t often think about. An opportunity to ask questions of my current self compared to my past self.  Is this still what I think?

Now matter what opinions or ideas change over time, I’m glad that I was able to explore femininity/feminism for myself as a young woman.  I have to express gratitude to the women who started the fight, those who revived it, and those of my own generation who have been articulating just what it means to be a feminist in the twenty-first century.  I was reminded of the words of a mother to a daughter in a teen novel I read recently–“No choice is stupid if it comes from you.”–as I read these words in the introduction of Sisterhood, Interrupted:

“Seventy-something Gloria Steinem–who is, many would argue, the most famous living feminist–often meets women admirers who say, with great urgency, ‘Look, I think feminism might have failed–my daughter (or son) doesn’t even know who you are!’

Gloria’s answer is warm but also philosophical.  She says, ‘It doesn’t matter if she knows who I am–does she know who she is?’

At the end of the day, feminism is expressed in individual women and men in unlearning pointless self-sacrifice, artifice, and self-suppression and believing that they, in fact, own feminism, too, and can contribute to social justice.”

Celebrating womanhood, whatever that means

Can you tell when you look at a photograph whether it was taken by a man or a woman?  What does it mean to be a woman?  Is it emotional, personal, political, sexual?  Are women mothers?  Are we caregivers?  Damsels?  Is that how we see ourselves or our peers?

In the Woman as Photographer: Documenting Life as a Woman exhibit at the MPLS Photo Center, I saw mothers, lovers, sisters.  There were women who had survived much who stared into the camera with smiles or what felt to me like determined eyes.  The photos spanned continents, but I found myself focusing on the women whose stories I knew or had read about.  The shot of a powerful looking African-American woman in front of an inner-city Chicago house.  The photograph’s title said “principal.”  I’ve read this story in articles and books.  My heart ached for the painfully thin woman who sat on a thick cookbook.  I have read so many stories of body image and eating disorders.  I read teen novels, for crying out loud.  So many teen novels are about girls growing into themselves, about exploring their boundaries, about creating space for themselves and their insecurities.  I thought about these stories as I walked slowly through the gallery.

Many of these photographs were painful to see. Many were full of love. Others were thoughtful.  To be honest, I am most struck by the diversity of the lives depicted in the photos.   I am continually struck by the diversity of the women I have known or have read about.  We are vast, and we are worth exploring.  (I feel like I might have written about this before, but about books.)

The exhibit is open daily from noon to six until April 17th at the MPLS Photo Center.  I highly recommend it.

Read more about the exhibit:

Being a girl (in books)

Girl in the Know by Ann Katz

I love Girl in the Know.  If you know a girl between the ages of 11 and 13, buy her Girl in the Know.  It’s a fabulous book that covers all the questions from bras and periods to exercise and self esteem.  Being a girl isn’t easy.*  Books like this are important.

I only have one tiny, little quibble with it.  On page 47, in the chaper “Turning On and Tuning In,” there is a reading list with the tag line “Curious about other girls’ experiences?”  Among the nine books are a few of classics (Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and Anne Frank), a couple of award winners (Kira-kira and Princess Academy), one popular chick lit title (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), one I didn’t recognize at all (Losing Forever), and two with which I’d like to take issue: Parvana’s Journey and Love, Stargirl.  Mainly, both are sequels.  I guess they basically stand alone, but why not choose the story that came first?  I guess neither of these books really stood out to me as particularly noteworthy, but that’s just one reader’s opinion.  (As a sidenote, I did really like Stargirl.)

A few years ago, I started working on a zine that I tenatively called “Being a Girl: A Reading List.”  I never finished it because choosing just a few books to cover all of femininity is actually kind of an intimidating a task.  The book that started the zine concept was Betty Smith’s Joy in the Morning.  I read it shortly after I had gotten married, and it seemed appropriate because it is about a young married couple.  It wasn’t necessarily my favorite book ever, but it changed my perspective.  The girl in the book had to worry about getting kicked out of college for getting married.  She had a great husband, but he wasn’t exactly a help-around-the-house partner.  I guess I realized how drastically women’s lives had changed in a relatively short amount of time.  Have I mentioned that my husband is a wonderful cook and better at housecleaning than I am?  I am grateful for this and more.

What would I choose for a nine book “Being a Girl” list for pre-teens? The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle for sure.  Maybe Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan.  If we’re talking teens, it gets easier to choose.  Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is number one, and, to be honest, I recommend it even to adult girls.  Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian is a provocative look at female sexuality for teens.  It would make the list easily.  Maybe Hattie Big Sky for a little historical perspective and Weetzie Bat for some magic.  I’d put Dicey’s Song on the list, but it’s a sequel. It stands alone, but didn’t I already take issue with that somewhere?  I guess this isn’t as easy as I thought.

Bitch Magazine learned that the hard way this week.  First they published 100 Books for the Young Adult Feminist Reader.  It was a fabulous list.  It spread around the Internet quickly.  That’s when the controversy began.  Chasing Ray has a great run-down of the issue in How Not to Stand Up for (Some) Literature as Explained by Bitch Media.
Maybe one day I’ll finish that zine.  Right now I’m feeling a little intimidated.

*Being a guy may not be easy either.  I am not commenting on that as I have no personal experience with it.