In late December I read an article in the Washington Post about Geraldine Ferraro's extreme disappointment over the young women who voted for Obama rather than Hillary Clinton. Her point was that all other things being equal (meaning you were going to vote Democrat anyway) then women should have put Clinton over the top as women should have felt the higher need to place a woman in the Presidency. Here's a bit:
Ferraro was livid, and distraught. What more did Hillary Clinton have to do to prove herself? How could anyone -- least of all Ferraro's own daughter -- fail to grasp the historic significance of electing a woman president, in probably the only chance the country would have to do so for years to come? Ferraro hung up enraged, not so much at her daughter but at the world. Clinton was being unfairly cast aside, and, along with her, the dreams of a generation and a movement.
What intrigued me about this piece was the notion that feminism means you inherently must support the best qualified woman, over the equally qualified man - at all times. So if I voted for Obama and not Clinton, I am not as "good a feminist" as I should be. This also made me wonder just what being a feminist means in the 21st century and beyond that, if teens today have any idea what feminism used to mean and why it continues to matter. Is feminism an outdated word today? Is it even a negative word? And yet Lily Ledbetter proved that inequalities exist and must be rectified and who can argue with her situation - demanding equal pay for equal work regardless of gender? But do today's teens see gender bias - and should they?
Basically, the question is, what does it mean to be a 21st century feminist and on the literary front, what books/authors would you recommend to today's teens who want to take girl power to the next level?
Lorie Ann Grover: "No way, should a girl vote for a woman just because she's a woman, Colleen! Both my girls would be upset to hear that they were expected to do so. Thankfully, they are not of my mother's world, but their own. They have the luxury of looking at issues over gender representation. That said, a hip young feminist blog is The F Bomb . This was recommended by iheartdaily, and it's a great, fresh voice for teen girls.
Girldrive by Nona Willis Aronowitz and Emma Bee Bernstein is compelling, both the book and blog. Here two young women hit the road and interview women across the country about feminism. Answers are different, current, and colorful.
Those two sources come immediately to mind. Other than that, I think reading broadly through YA lit will bring a great balance. The books of today empower girls to think for themselves and stride forward."
(ETA: Read a NY Magazine Q&A with Nona Aronowitz.)
Laurel Snyder: "What I cannot stop thinking about, as I ponder this question, is that no matter how much things change, teenage girls are still boy-crazy. For healthy natural reasons, of course, but this reality places boys firmly at the center of the developing girl consciousness, and at the center of their literature. As YA has developed as a genre, the boy-centric book seems to have risen to the top. I feel like the ratio of books about girls who struggle with non-boy-issues has dropped.
So I'm inclined to look to books that are a little younger, in which romance/boys are introduced, but where the stories don't revolve around the boys. An obvious book like that is When You Reach Me-- where there's a little spark of boy/girl, but the "adventure" that absorbs the reader isn't about the boy. Another example is the new Polly Horvath, Northward to the Moon. Same deal. Girl likes boy, but that feeling is an integrated part of her life, her world. The boy brings in some added drama, but so does family, mystery, travel, sense of self.
I'd love to think girls would be reading biographies of Gertrude Stein, but for me its enough to hope they're reading books about themselves, not just books about boys."
(ETA: That's a young Gertrude Stein, on the left, standing behind her younger brother circa 1900.)
Loree Griffin Burns: "My thinking about this question is all wrapped up in my reading of Phillip Hoose's CLAUDETTE COLVIN: TWICE TOWARD JUSTICE. It's purely coincidence that I happened to be reading it these past few weeksâ€”but the coupling of book and question was instantaneous and irreversible. I have been unable to separate them.
As a teen, I would have been struck by Claudette's courage, but also outraged by her mistreatment at the hands of adults. I'm talking not only of the abuse she suffered at the hands of white police officers and bus drivers, but also the way adults in her lifeâ€”many of them leaders of the Montgomery civil rights movementâ€”shunned her when she became pregnant out of wedlock. Middle-aged me skipped outrage and moved straight to admiration; I was mesmerized by Claudette's inner strength, the hard-earned (and hard-edged) wisdom that I could hear in her voice as she spoke from the pages:
"â€¦ I wasn't ashamed of myself. I knew I wasn't a bad person. A more experienced and much older man took advantage of me when I was at my very lowest. I got caught up in a mistake, yes, but that's all it wasâ€”a mistake."
I'm not sure I could have appreciated those words at fifteen; at forty, they rang in my head.
I guess what I've decided is that what a woman needs, book-wise, is not only completely unique to the woman in question, but also changes as she ages. My advice is less about what to read and more about how to read, which is to say, widely, repetitively, incessantly, and with an open mind. What it means to be a woman will change, the woman you are will change, and the books themselves, somehow, will change. Just keep reading."
Margo Rabb: "I absolutely think feminist literature is necessary today! We've come a long way, yes--but we have a long way to go: women still earn less than men for equal work, there is still an appalling lack of women in high-level positions at scores of companies; we have yet to have a female president; and though the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was an important step, we have yet to provide all working mothers with adequate pay and leave time. I think many young girls don't realize how recently many feminist gains were made--that it's only been 89 years since women won the right to vote, and how few opportunities were available for women in the workforce until recently. Although 21st century teens probably wouldn't use the word feminist, they should know their history, and read about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ida B. Wells, Simone de Beauvoir and bell hooks. There's a great list called the Amelia Bloomer Project, which recommends feminist titles for readers from birth through age 18--Jacqueline Kelly's novel is on the list this year!"
(ETA: Ida B. Wells: Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Ida Wells would become African-American educator, newspaperwoman, anti-lynching campaigner, and a founder of the NAACP.)
Zetta Elliott: "Feminism matters more than ever, but I think a lot of young people today don't even know what it means to be a feminist. Many girls think being a feminist means being unfeminine, and unfortunately that matters a LOT to most of today's teenage girls. I'm not sure boys know that they, too, can be feminists, but I do think that all teens are willing to talk about gender and sexuality in meaningful ways. It's important, then, that we have literature that responds to that desire to engage in conversations around power and justice and equality. I hate to say it, but sometimes a problematic book can do more for the cause of feminism than an on-point but preachy one. I read Coe Booth's Tyrell last year and was deeply disturbed, but the book is enormously popular with black teens and could be a useful teaching tool: why does Tyrell think it's his job to "fix" everything? Should he follow his father's advice and never date smart girls because they won't need him for anything? I find I often fall back on stories that leave the reader unsureâ€”there's no clear winner because feminism is often a process of negotiation rather than an outright battle.
I like Second Wave black women writers like Ntozake Shange; her short story, "comin to terms" is always a favorite with my students even though they often can't agree on the main character's feminist status.
Would a feminist stay in a relationship with a man who tried to rape her? Would she cook and clean for him and let him stay out all night long? Can we respect her right to set the terms of her relationship? I also love the Combahee River Collective's "Statement"; written in the 1970s it remains the most lucid feminist manifesta I've ever read and it reassures those who fear being a feminist means abandoning anti-racist struggle and black men in general:
We have a great deal of criticism and loathing for what men have been socialized to be in this society: what they support, how they act, and how they oppress. But we do not have the misguided notion that it is their maleness, per seâ€”i.e., their biological malenessâ€”that makes them what they are. As BIack women we find any type of biological determinism a particularly dangerous and reactionary basis upon which to build a politic.
Feminism is for everyone, and I think everyone should read 20th-century activists like Audre Lorde and June Jordan, but also 19th-century anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells."
(ETA: Pic of Ntozake Shange.)
[Top Post pic: "Miss Janet Fotheringham, of Buffalo, N.Y. a teacher of physical culture, was arrested on July 14, 1917 while picketing in Washington D.C.; They were fined $25 or given the option of going to jail. Miss Fotheringham, like the others, chose jail, and all were sentenced to up to 60 days at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia. The conditions were bad enough, but around 40 guards rampaged through this group one night, beating everyone and sending some to the hospital with severe injuries.
Miss Fotheringham was fortunate that her sentence was reduced to 3 days; by November, 1917, all were released. The resulting publicity in favor of woman's suffrage was priceless."]