The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna

Available for purchase here.

Mandanna draws heavily from Frankenstein–itself a powerfully feminist novel, the Ur example of a science fiction novel, written by a woman–but her novel, despite heavy references to its spiritual predecessor, is a creature entirely unto itself.

Eva is a creation of the shadowy and mysterious Weavers, a copy of the beloved only daughter of a family half a world away, a safeguard against her “original’s” death. Her job is to be Amarra, the original, should anything happen to her. What Amarra likes, she must like. Who Amarra loves, she must love. From birth, her choices have been made for her.

Still, in England, under the care of various tutors, Eva enjoys a certain amount of freedom, even though her very existence is illegal. She is viewed as subhuman, a soulless aberration that many factions in her country and around the world want eradicated. As long as she keeps a low profile, she can be herself.

Tragedy strikes, however, and Eva is forced to go to India and assume Amarra’s life. She is thrust into the role of daughter, sister, friend, and mysteriously, girlfriend. Despite the many mundane details Amarra has been forced to correspond to Eva, she has kept secret her boyfriend, Ray, her first and only love. Amarra resented Eva in life, and disliked the idea of her life being absorbed by another. Even in death, Amarra’s hatred and resentment have far reaching consequences. She wants Eva destroyed, and since Eva isn’t legally a person, killing her isn’t a crime.

It’s timely that a novel that questions the nature of life, existence, and bodily autonomy has a young woman as its protagonist. Women in general live a life similar to Eva’s in the beginning of The Lost Girl. Existing as female while in a modern society has a lot of ways to avoid catching unwanted attention: dress a certain way, only go places in groups, don’t put your drink down, etc. If you follow these prescriptions, you can go about more or less with a measure of independence.

The problem is the socially sanctioned Amarras of the world, the people who are given legal right to dictate our roles to us, decide who we will be, and assume authority over our very existence. The novel makes it clear that Eva is greater than the role that has been prescribed for her. Hopefully, readers will realize the same applies to the real world.

Female Nudity, Feminism, and Kim Kardashian

I don’t like Kim Kardashian. Her whole family, including her erstwhile stepmother Caitlyn, could disappear from my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. and I would be glad for the respite from the 24/7 onslaught of infotainment concerning that family. I’ve never watched a single episode of any show they’ve been a part of. So I say this not as someone slavishly devoted to the Kardashian brand, but someone tired of feminism taking on the same ugly connotations as patriarchy.

Kim Kardashian recently posted a nude selfie, and many of those who criticized her for doing so claimed to be feminists. They reduced Kardashian to her body, her sexuality, claiming, among other comments, that she was pandering to the male gaze, that she was a slut, that she was good for nothing other than sex. Because she was naked.

Millions of men, both private citizens and public figures post shirtless or close to nude selfies on social media. Sometimes, not always, they are being sexual. Never, however, is their sexuality somehow an indictment against their other qualities the way a woman’s sexuality appears to be against hers.

I don’t necessarily believe posting a nude selfie is the best way to empower yourself. I don’t think it’s necessarily a brave thing for a woman as conventionally attractive as Kardashian is to do. But I also don’t necessarily believe I have the right to police her choice in doing so.

I do necessarily believe that the mere act of being nude where others can see you is not an act that makes it acceptable for the patriarchy to view either Kim Kardashian or women in general as “sluts”, “whores”, or somehow unworthy of being taken seriously, ever, under any circumstances. And feminism cannot be about women assuming that right and calling it equality.

When we say it is unacceptable for society to code our behavior and tell us the “proper” way to be a woman, we can’t dismantle the system that perpetuates that thinking and put a different idea of “proper” womanhood in it’s place. Because that still leaves out a huge swath of actual women. And if we’re not fighting for all women, what is the point of this whole movement?

Kim Kardashian responded to her critics here. She defends her actions in posting a nude selfie, but why, in 2016, should she be defending anything at all? Why are her choices in bodily autonomy still a subject of conversation? If she were a man, this episode would have gone unnoticed.

I’m still waiting for that day to arrive. Until then, I will go bury myself in books until I feel better.

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

Available for purchase here.

With the exception of Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, memoirs were not my preferred genre of literature until I undertook this project. Mostly because anyone famous enough to have a memoir released is also famous enough for their Wikipedia page to read as a “best of” reel, but also because they are difficult to write without being either self-serving or blasé. If you weren’t a writer by trade, I didn’t trust you to straddle that line. And if you were a writer, how interesting could you be? Every witticism you had was immortalized in your previous work.

The introspection of smart, fascinating women that I’ve since discovered since embarking on my year among women has completely changed my mind, and none moreso than Janet Mock. Mock is turning 33 within days of this post, yet she has lived enough for a life 5 times as long. She grew up in profound poverty, with a childhood spent between Honolulu with her mother and California and Texas with her father.

She now lives in New York working as an author, editor, and activist, careers that are the result of her hard-won college education, a first for her family. In and of itself that would be remarkable, but her victory is all the more impressive since her rise from poverty was hampered by racism, sexual assault, and transphobia.

Mock describes her first experiences with with sex as an assault at the hands of her then-stepbrother before she had even begun puberty. She also reveals her teen years, spent engaged in sex work, two events that seem impossible to unravel from each other. She describes the first incident in horrifying detail, but the latter in almost exclusively a clinical, detached tone. As the book draws closer to the end, she reveals a horrifying occurrence that highlights just how dangerous a position she was really in. She also writes about her modern dating life in New York, where her sexuality is something she controls rather than something others commodify. Reading about her modern day romance with her now husband is tear-inducing–Mock has more than earned her happy ending.

Mock reveals the casual racism she grew up with in Honolulu, a result of her Black father’s heritage against the ethnicity of her Hawaiian neighborhood, proof of how widespread and systemic racism is. Even in circumstances that induce solidarity, people found a way to be divisive.

Even as a successful adult Mock writes about experiencing exclusion and divisiveness. Mock is exceptionally beautiful, and could easily “pass” for a cisgender woman. She’s heard this comment frequently, well-meaning in intention but flawed in the execution. The statement creates a false hierarchy of femininity, with ciswomen outranking transwomen. It also invalidates her experience as a transwoman, and contributes to the idea that a trans identity is something to hide, rather than a thing of beauty.

Mainstream feminism talks about the pink tax, the added cost of being a woman in modern society. A comfortable bra costs 3 times as much as an undershirt, seemingly gender neutral grooming and hygiene products cost more when marketed towards women (razors, soap, shaving cream), and most egregiously, tampons and pads are taxed, as though monthly bleeding is a luxury for those with a uterus.

Little is made, however, of the T tax. Mock used her sex work to fund her hormone replacement therapy and gender confirmation surgery, both of which were uncovered by health insurance. For people living with gender dysphoria, these treatments are a medical necessity, yet only trans activists are vocal about the need for insurance coverage for themselves and their fellows.

A sobering 41% percent of transpeople attempt suicide–we usually learn the names of the ones who succeed. Mock writes of her best friend Wendi, also trans, whom she met in high school. Along with the network of women who looked out for each other when they were selling sex, Mock appears to have escaped a violent fate because she had that which is such a fundamental human need–community.

It’s impossible to know, as someone assigned female at birth and always comfortable with that designation, how very isolating it must be to exist in a space where you alone are different. Transgender rights and issues have become more widely discussed than ever in modern society, but by and large anyone over 30 didn’t grow up with the words to describe the feelings of dysphoria. We, the cis majority, have a responsibility to the transpeople in our lives. To accept them, to love them, to celebrate them, most of all to listen to them, to not put our words in their mouths and tell them we’ve heard them.

The Girl from the Garden by Parnaz Foroutan

Available for purchase here.

Parnaz Foroutan reveals layers of hidden worlds to the reader. First is twentieth century Iran, seen from the perspective of a wealthy family that still lives with prejudice due to the country’s anti-Semitism. Further, the business world of men is a secondary purview to the secret world of women, one that operates on a set of rules entirely specific to itself. It’s outside the interest of the men, so the women have the freedom to run the household as they see fit.

The two primary characters are Rakhel, the wife of Asher, the oldest son and family patriarch, and Khorseed, mother of the first born boy and wife to Asher’s untalented younger brother Ibrahim. Even in this rarefied world of women, the hierarchies are determined by their relationships to the men. Asher and Ibrahim’s mother Zolekhah still rules the titular garden with an iron fist, with Rakhel her heir apparent.

Khorseed is a constant reminder and latent threat to Rakhel’s place in the household: she is fertile, while Rakhel struggles in vain to conceive an heir. A third woman, Kokab, creates even more tension. Asher, desperate for a son, turns his attention to her, a fact complicated by her marriage to his distant relative.

The story is filtered from the memory of elderly Mahboubeh, an old woman living in LA recalling her youth in the garden in Kermanshah watching the family drama play out. Her new home is no accident–Los Angeles’ arid climate triggers a host of sensory memories that transport Mahboubeh back to her childhood. She is the last remaining member of the family, a delicious irony considering the desire for a boy provides the story’s central conflict.

One of the greatest feats of the narrative is that it’s inspired by the life and family of Foroutan herself–she created the story from the threads of her own ancestral legend. She is a real life Mahboubeh–a woman who is the greatest legacy of her patriarchal family.

Nookietown by V.C. Chickering

Available for purchase here

Lucy Larken, the protagonist of V.C. Chickering’s debut novel Nookietown is deeply unlikable. She has great qualities: smart, competent, witty, but make no mistake, she is deliciously self centered and self involved. Her sense of morality is constantly shifting to justify her behavior, and while she apologizes, she never really changes. For that reason alone, Nookietown would be worth the read despite the embarrassing name.

The premise is absurd in its practicality: in an affluent suburb, married women solicit their divorced girlfriends to fuck their husbands. It seems like a win-win at first: the husbands are satisfied, the wives have one less thing to worry about, and the divorcees get their rocks off with some much needed NSA sex.

Nancy, Lucy’s friend and the innovator behind the idea, creates a business plan that allows the wives to pick the divorcees (codenamed Helpers) that will alleviate their husbands’ sex drives, and in return, the Helpers get various favors: freshly cooked meals, yardwork, manicures, and other niceties prized by the uptight suburbanite set. The concept flirts with prostitution and polyamory but never fully bleeds over one line or the other.

For a while it appears the residents of the titular town have discovered the key to marital and single bliss, and the method works harmoniously. Human emotions being what they are, however, the scheme devolves into a volatile mess. No longer guided by conventional morality, Lucy pushes the boundaries of her new setup until she no longer resembles the selfless friend she initially comes across as. Her actions ultimately lead not only to her acts of betrayal but to an extremely satisfying delivery of an epic Reason You Suck” speech.

What’s ultimately the most satisfying thing about Nookietown is that the novel takes a deeply realistic, even cynical look at a nominally idyllic life, but doesn’t betray itself with the ending. Lucy gets a resolution, but she still has to be accountable for her actions. The final pages wrap up a bit too neatly, but never falls into the trap of the fairy tell ending.

My Year Among Women:

Here is a list of the books I’ve read and will be posting reviews to in due time. As I read newer (and new to me) works, more will be added. Until then, you can buy them by clicking the links.

The Women’s History of the World by Rosalind Miles  Review

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (re-read)  Review

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson  Review

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain  Review

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie  Review

Carol, or the Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

Infinite Home by Kathleen Alcott  Review

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit  Review

Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey  Review

Fat Girl Walking by Brittany Gibbons  Review

Bitch Planet Vol. I by Kelly Sue DeConnick  Review

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace  Review

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll  Review

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling  Review

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips  Review

Spelled by Betsy Schow  Review

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson  Review

Winter by Marissa Meyer  Review

Gonzo Girl by Cheryl Della Pietra  Review

Reality Bites Back by Jennifer L. Pozner  Review

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock  Review

Sexism in America by Barbara J. Berg  Review

The Lolita Effect by M. Gigi Durham  Review

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell  Review

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me by Jennifer Teege  Review

The Clasp by Sloan Crosley  Review

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day  Review

Flawd by Emily-Anne Rigal  Review

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan  Review

How to Be Single by Liz Tucillo  Review

You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero  Review

Annabel by Kathleen Winter  Review

The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna  Review

Ash by Malinda Lo  Review

The Marriage Pact by M. J. Pullen  Review

The Girl from the Garden by Parnaz Foroutan  Review

Deadly Persuasion by Jean Kilbourne  Review

One More Day by Kelly Simmons  Review

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel  Review

Stars Above by Marissa Meyer  Review

Nookietown by V.C. Chickering  Review

Food Whore by Jessica Tom  Review

She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan  Review

Drawing Blood by Molly Crabapple  Review

We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge  Review

The Big Rewind by Libby Cudmore  Review

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie  Review

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara  Review

You Don’t Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent  Review

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood  Review

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (The Taliban Shuffle) by Kim Barker  Review

Broken Verses by Kamila Shamsie  Review

The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod  Review

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy  Review

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer  Review

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes  Review

Krik? Krak? by Edwidge Danticat  Review

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney  Review

Shelter by Jung Yun  Review

The Grown-Up by Gillian Flynn  Review

Real Artists Have Day Jobs by Sara Benincasa  Review

You Deserve a Drink by Mamrie Hart  Review

Unspeakable Things by Kathleen Spivack  Review

“The Great Hunger” by Kitty Shields  Review

Sex Object by Jessica Valenti  Review

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae  Review

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin  Review

The Girls by Emma Cline  Review

Sleepwalking by Meg Wolitzer  Review

The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgodoroff  Review

The Never Weres by Fiona Smyth  Review

Bone Black by bell hooks  Review

I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro  Review

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad  Review

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay  Review

Life in Motion by Misty Copeland  Review

“Embers” by K.B. Carle  Review

Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle  Review

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson  Review

I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi  Review

Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson  Review

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende  Review

Vivian Apple Needs a Miracle by Katie Coyle  Review

You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

Welcome to the Feminist Bookworm

My name is Michelle. I am a writer, but long before I was a writer, I was a reader and a lover of stories. Real, fantastical, or, as with most stories, somewhere in the middle, I didn’t care. I absorbed everything I read like a sponge.

Somewhere around the age of 12, I first heard the word “feminist”. For the past 18 years I’ve considered myself one, but the definition of the word changes the more I grow and change. The basic framework is always the same: I believe in the social, economical, and political equality of women.

As a child, this meant that I wanted all the opportunities for myself that would be available to a boy. As a young woman, I wanted to be rid of the disadvantages of living in a patriarchal society while female. As an adult, feminism has become a driving force for outward change, and we are enjoying a pop culture moment in the spotlight, and greater emphasis is placed on the need for intersectionality.

White feminists often conflate feminism with according women all that the patriarchy concedes to men. Intersectional feminists seek to fully dismantle the structures that have been systemically used to oppress based on race, gender, gender identity, ability, sexuality, class, etc.

Much of what we consider “normal” in patriarchy is steadily reinforced from birth. It is normal that white, cisgender, able bodied, straight, middle class and upward men are the ones who create not only our public policies, but our art, our music, our collective voice.

Last year I came upon this post: K.T. Bradford for XOJane. As a society, the words we value become the voice we shout to the world to let us know who we are. And for too long, that voice has been a sheer monolith.

Don’t get me wrong, two of my favorite writers are Christopher Moore and Neil Gaiman. Both men create brilliant work.

But I won’t be reading them from September 17, 2015 to October 20, 2016. This is my year among women.

One year. One hundred plus novels/short story collections/memoirs/essays/non-fiction/graphic novels told solely from the female voice. From white women, from women of color, from women with diverse abilities, from straight and queer women, from transwomen. One year of experiencing only the words of women.

Everything I read will be reviewed in no specific order, and a definitive list will be provided for everything I read. I hope you all enjoy this as much as I do.