3 New Books About Women Taking Up (Political) Space
The three new books in this week’s book club couldn’t be more timely or topical. The utterly bizarre tenor of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and the brave, measured testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford have left many of us shaken, upset, and feeling unheard. Once again, we’ve been mocked, belittled, and told to shrink down, be quiet, and accept what is happening. What’s a woman to do? Well, at the midpoint between blind rage and utter helplessness is precise, focused action. Here’s where these books come in. They’re about women past and present who smashed their way into the political landscape, regardless of whether it was “ladylike” or not. So heads up, ladies. Hold ‘em high. Spread out. Shout. Take all the space you need, and deserve. And take the time to read these memoirs and manuals from women who were sick of the status quo.
1. Unladylike: A Field Guide to Smashing the Patriarchy and Claiming Your Space by Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin ($24): Last year’s Women’s March was the largest single-day protest in American history and, outside the US, featured marchers on all seven continents. Whether you marched or not, or whether you were thrilled with the event or wished it had been more diverse, it’s hard to ignore its impact. Of course, one day’s impact is never enough; when you’re a woman fighting for your personhood and rights, life is one big Women’s March. Conger and Ervin, hosts of the Unladylike podcast, create a primer, designed for teens but readable by all, that seeks to inform about the history of feminism while providing a guide to self-confidence and activism.
“At its core, this is a field guide to the patriarchal creepy crawlies that stand between you and the autonomous, safe, compassionate person you were put on this planet to be. To be clear, this isn’t about magical makeovers (though we love a good makeover montage). Our unladylike feminism in action applies to all major facets of our lives: brains, bodies, besties, wardrobes, work goals, wife roles, hookups, and f*ckups. No space is exempt, or topic taboo. We’ll reveal modern patriarchy’s many disguises and what to do when its influencing, privileging, and profiteering slithers into your home, school, work, and even your mirror. You’ll pick up some practical feminist life hacks as well as tips for detoxing from the sexist myths, mindsets, and stereotypes culture constantly force-feeds us… By the time we’ve arrived on the last page, we’ll have mapped out a ready-to-go battle plan for finding your tribe, rising up, and pushing back together.”
Filled with cheerful, eye-catching charts, and diagrams, Conger and Ervin’s book provides readers with vital, serious tools with tongue-in-cheek names, such as a pocket privilege checker and a Self-Worth Swiss Army Knife. They gently but firmly remind us to look at the world through intersectional binoculars instead of binary bifocals, believing that feminism is nothing if it does not also include individuals and communities of different races, abilities, and gender identities. Most of all, they want their readers to get comfortable with going out of their comfort zones, unlearn sexist myths, and follow the “Unladylike” mantra: “Stay curious. Build empathy. Raise hell.”
2. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics by Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry, and Minyon Moore, with Veronica Chambers ($29): This book’s title, a modified version of Ntozake Shange’s Tony Award-nominated play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, recalls a work which has for decades encouraged and inspired truthful storytelling as a means for change. These same decades marked the rise of the Colored Girls, the four most influential black women in American politics, who come together in this book to share their backgrounds and how they came to claim their political space. In the 1960s and ‘70s, four women entered politics from a foundational belief in civil rights. Coming from the outside, through backstage and frontline work, they began to rise in the ranks and finally found their way inside.
“Who are we? We’re the Colored Girls, four African American women who had been a part of [Bill Clinton’s] political life since he first entered politics on a national level. It was an unprecedented moment because we have, throughout our lives, been somewhat hidden figures in American politics. That moment on the stage was a rare public show of who we were and what we were determined to do. The roles we played in the 2016 election were ones that our early mentors, ranging from Coretta Scott King to Shirley Chisholm to Reverend Willie Barrow, might have hoped for but could never have fully imagined. Let us tell you who we are and what we were doing at the 2016 Democratic National Convention: I’m Donna Brazile, and I was the 2016 interim chair of the Democratic Party. I’m Leah Daughtry, and I was the CEO of the convention, the only person in America of any race or either gender to hold that position twice. I’m Minyon Moore, and I was there in my role of senior advisor, and one of the Super Six, the inner circle of Hillary Clinton’s campaign leadership. And I’m Yolanda Caraway. I ran podium ops, meaning I was the one behind the scenes directing everything that was happening onstage. None of us knew what would happen on November 8, 2016. That was all ahead of us, but behind us was a story we’ve never told. Until now.”
The book details each woman’s work with Jesse Jackson and on every presidential campaign since the 1980s; the impactful, off-the-record dinners they hosted for potential presidential candidates in 2004; and their association with a dizzying array of important names in political and civil rights history. It also focuses on their friendship, and how, despite some disagreements and issues, they’ve managed to draw strength and vision from each other over their lengthy and illustrious careers.
3. This Stops Today: Eric Garner’s Mother Seeks Justice After Losing Her Son by Gwen Carr with Dave Smitherman ($25): Gwen Carr was leading a relatively uneventful, complacent life as a subway train operator in New York. All that changed on July 17, 2014, when the grandmother of 15 received shocking and horrible news: Her son Eric Garner had been murdered, choked to death by an NYPD officer during his arrest for selling single cigarettes. Hours earlier, she had been driving a subway train; now, devastated and grieving, she had to fend off a never-ending crowd of news media. After receiving her statement, one media outlet warned her that they had graphic video footage of her son’s violent end. This video, and the lack of an indictment in the case, led to dozens of protests against racially-motivated police brutality.
In the aftermath, Carr felt that she had to speak out for her son, and for others like him. She, along with other mothers like her, formed the Mothers of the Movement. Now, Carr spends her time fighting for equality and against violence. Her book is a testament to the idea that activism and taking up space can begin at any age, and that one person’s actions can have a larger effect on the world. She speaks out about the importance of raising your voice, even if that’s difficult, and using it keep saying their names. Names like Eric and Erica Garner.
In her foreword to Carr’s story, Hillary Rodham Clinton writes, “Gwen’s book is a powerful call to action for our country. It’s also a deeply personal story that any parent can relate to – the story of a proud and loving mother determined to fight for her son. It can be a daunting challenge to pour your heart onto the page, to write candidly and courageously about things you may never even have spoken out loud. But with her trademark eloquence, Gwen bravely shines a light on her own doubts, her struggles, and her quest to push through her ‘limits and pain as a woman in her golden years who would rather be at home in her recliner’… Knowing Gwen is a gift, and so is reading this book.”
What books help you speak up and speak out? Tag us in your next unladylike read @BritandCo.
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