Gender Trouble by Judith Butler, published in 1999, is a key text for feminist theory, queer theory, and continental philosophy. She wrote several other books on gender and has a position as a professor at the University of California Berkeley. Her books are regarded as difficult to read due to their long, unstructured sentences and many references to other philosophers that it is assumed the reader knows. Regardless, I still think her work is valuable because of its contributions to the larger field of gender theory and how we think about gender today. I will give a summary of Gender Trouble, explaining the concepts she covers.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is a novel dating from the late eighties that I read recently with my book club. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t the most fantastic book I’ve ever read, but it certainly made me think. It tells the story of Offred, a middle aged woman who is struggling to find her place in a society in transition. This novel was fairly dystopian, but what made it different than other dystopian novels that I’ve read is that I felt like this is something that I could see happening in my lifetime, practically at any moment. It was realistic, and it said something about American culture that scared me.Continue reading “Positive and Negative Liberty and The Handmaid’s Tale”→
The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian-style tale set in a radically theocratic America. The regime, called Gilead, has classified women into based on fertility and obedience, with different ranks identified by their unique uniform. All women are completely stripped of their rights—everything from reading to purchasing power—and are sorted into classes to divide and control them. Handmaids are fertile women who serve as surrogate wombs for the Commanders and their aging wives. The Wives—women married to the powerful Commanders—are reduced to days of knitting, gardening, and waiting for their Handmaid to give birth to their children. Handmaids are completely powerless, and everywhere they go, there are Eyes—the military division of the Gilead regime—watching and waiting to kill them for any misbehavior.
One reviewer writing for The Verge called it “1984 for feminists… but a lot scarier”. This theocratic society has based its societal revolution on a passage in the book of Genesis about Jacob’s wife, Rachel, allowing her handmaid to conceive Jacob’s child on her behalf. This passage is recited in the book during the monthly ceremony in which the Commander attempts to impregnate the Handmaid under the Wife’s watchful eye. If a Handmaid cannot reproduce, she is sent to a labor internment camp with other Unwomen—old and infertile women who are no longer valuable to the society. Handmaids are only containers for babies, and nothing more. Continue reading “Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”: A not-so-improbable dystopian world”→
Currently women of color make up less than 40 percent of the US population. By 2050, this will rise to 53 percent of the population. In 2014, 14 percent of books were by and about people of color.
Small independent publishing companies, like Nothing But The Truth are attempting to make a dent in these numbers. VIDA tracks the breakdown of women in the literary arts. When authors of color are turned away, a blank spot is left in the history books. Already the United States has lost so much culture and voice by prohibiting certain peoples from publishing. Whatever is keeping these women from being published now is just as devastating.
Regardless of what genre you choose to read, it’s always important to search out new and unfamiliar work. New perspectives can broaden your horizons and make you see things in a different light. One way you can help is to create demand for these little known, yet fabulous authors. This is a list of books by women of color that I encourage you to take a spin through. There is something for everyone on the list!
Imagine losing your mind. Your brain fails you and you can’t properly function in the society you have been raised in. You lose your identity. Susannah Cahalan experienced just this, and lost her sanity for a month. She began falling behind at work, experiencing seizures, inappropriate behavior, and far more that all culminated into a blackout of hospitals and scrutiny.
Mental Illness is an obvious concern in this book, but her book, Brain on Fire, deepens our insight on issues such as the national focus on medication for illnesses, while bringing us in on the personal stress surrounding figuring out a diagnosis. Cahalan, although diagnosed bi-polar as well as schizophrenic during her journey, was actually finally cured of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. This autoimmune disease left her life and mind in ruins, but her bestselling story leaves us amazed, yet still perturbed with the medical system in America.
The abundance of rape and violence against women is almost never treated as a human rights issue, let alone a crisis, or even a pattern. It takes very little inference to recognize that the violence and assault that women face is an extremely prevalent issue that needs to be addressed immediately. Men Explain Things to Me is a provocative collection of short stories and essays that address the core of the gender inequality issue: a deeply rooted craving for men to have control over women’s lives. Through honest examination of case studies and cultural attitudes, Rebecca Solnit demonstrates that the incidents that are so often seen as isolated events are all, in fact, very connected and illustrate a much larger social problem.
One of the soaring successes of Solnit’s collection of essays is the effortless grace with which it presents gruesome and heavy topics. I felt like I was speaking with a wise colleague, or perhaps my best friend’s cool older sister. The book begins with the title essay, “Men Explain Things to Me”, in which she introduces the idea of “mansplaining”: men explaining things to women in a condescending or patronizing way. Solnit recounts a posh party in a luxury cabin in Aspen. One man began asking her about her numerous book publications, and when she mentioned her latest book about Eadweard Muybridge, he immediately began recalling the “very important Muybridge book that came out this year”. It took multiple interruptions and comments for him to realize that this “very important” book was her book. She continues to discuss the slippery slope of silencings. The presumption that women’s thoughts and emotions are somehow invalid crushes young women into silence by indicating, in the same way that street harassment does, that this is not their world and that the truth does not belong to them. When we tell women they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, we annihilate their very real and valid experiences, opinions, and accomplishments.