Books to read this International Women's Day
What makes these books special? From new interpretations of feminism, to talking about sex and sexuality, dealing with the double standards every woman must know to creating a space for oneself in a male dominated world, six books cover them all
We Should All Be Feminists, Chimananda Adichie
This essay is adapted from Adichie's much admired TEDx talk of the same name. Here she offers a unique interpretation of feminism in the 21st century, one that is rooted in inclusion and awareness. Read the essay or listen to the TEDx talk...this one is a winner.
At some point I was a Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men. Of course much of this was tongue in cheek, but what it shows is how that word feminist is so heavy with baggage, negative baggage:you hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture, you think women should always be in charge, you don't wear make-up, you don't shave, you're always angry, you don't have a sense of humour, you don't use deodorant.
Sugar In My Bowl, edited by Erica Jong
When it comes to sex, what do women want? In this amazing collection of memoirs, short stories, essays and monologues, Erica Jong reveals that every woman has her own answer, and in the foreword she writes:
Sex hasn't changed that much. Not since the bonobos and silver-back gorillas. We use sex for relaxation. We use it for domination, for power, for pride, for pleasure. We use it to titillate, to ejaculate (including women), to cuddle and to coo.We even use it to make babies - although we can use in vitro for that too. We use it to hold back consciousness of mortality..., we use it to assert ownership... We even use it for love...and we use it to indulge in our kinks..We use it to depict outrageous fantasy.
In none of this are we radical...
A Life Less Ordinary, Baby Halder
Known as Baby, this 32-year-old house help's book written in Bengali and translated into many languages, is a bestseller. In the Foreword Sheela Reddy writes:
What was there to say about her (Baby's) mindless, senseless existence with its petty tyrannies and abuse, so singularly bleak, and lit up now by the courage of the desperate? She had gone where her father, an ex-serviceman and driver, took them, from Kashmir to Murshidabad to Durgapur. A motherless child unquestioningly enduring an abusive father and stepmother, and then an uncaring husband fourteen years older than her, until one day she boarded a train for unknown Delhi with her three children. In Delhi, she did what thousands of women fleeing poverty and drunken men from all over the country are doing: she took up ill-paid work as a household help, sometimes spending the near-freezing nights with her children on the streets.
The Quilt and Other Stories, Ismat Chugtai
Ismat Chugtai (1915-1991) is one of Urdu's most accomplished writers - bold, iconoclastic, progressive and feminist. Her most feminist novel is Ziddi (the stubborn one), but it was Lihaaf (The Quilt), a short story that earned her much notoriety. A story on female homosexuality, Lihaaf brought court summons for Chugtai and in an interview she said
(I got) a very bad name! You know, when I first wrote Lihaaf, this thing (lesbianism) was not discussed openly. We girls used to talk about it and we knew there was something like it, but we didn't know the whole truth. I had not read any book or any literature on it, so when I wrote this story, I showed it to my sister-in-law who was my own age. She recognized certain characters and said "This is So-and-so, and that is So-and-so." She didn't say it was dirty or anything....When I wrote on this subject, I thought -- how stupid of me! -- that this was something only women did. I thought that men always went to prostitutes, but because girls can't go to prostitutes, they do this. Really, I was very stupid at the time. I didn't know about it because no one ever discussed it. They might discuss sex, but not this aspect of it, perversion. So as soon as I wrote this, oh, it really was like an atom bomb exploded. People started calling me bad names. Nobody knew my address, so they could only write me through my editors.
He's a Stud, She's a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know, Jessica Valenti
Jessica Valenti is an American blogger and feminist writer, founder of the Feministing blog in 2004. She is the author or co-author of four books on women's issues, including Full Frontal Feminism, He's a Stud, She's a Slut, and The Purity Myth. In her book Valenti writes
Naturally, I'd be called a slut many times over later in life - not unlike most girls. I was called a slut when my boobs grew faster than others'. I was called a slut when I had a boyfriend (even if we were not having sex). I was called a slut when I didnt have a boyfriend and kissed a random boy at a party. I was called a "slut" when had the nerve to talk about sex. I was called a slut when I wore a bikini on a weekend trip with high school friends. It seems the word "slut" can be applied to any activity that doesn't include knitting, praying, or sitting perfectly still lest any sudden movements be deemed whorish.
Despite the ubiquity of "slut", where you won't hear it is in relation to men. Men can't be sluts. Sure, someone will occasionally call a guy "a dog," but men aren't simply judged like women when it comes to sexuality. Men who have a lot of sexual partners are studs, Casanovas, pimps and players. Never sluts.