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Books I think everyone should read (part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

These are feminist and women’s history books. I believe both men and women should read these. If you don’t believe in feminism, or think it’s a bad word, all the more reason to read them. Also, women have been forced to read about men’s history – or, “history” as it is commonly known – for years. It’s time to give some of the love back, guys.

FlowFlow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation by Elissa Stein and Susan Kim

The book takes the reader through an intense and confusing journey of womanhood from the ancient world to today’s society. Stein and Kim show how society views of menstruation have changed (and not changed) over the course of time, as well as the products and marketing that go along with many female “problems”. The book is littered with colorful (and rather eye-opening) advertisements for women’s products from the 1950s and 60s. They’re a lot like car wrecks – horrible to witness but you can’t take your eyes off them.

The Purity MythPurity Myth by Jessica Valenti

Many of us have heard about purity pledges (not having sex until married) and may have even signed one when in high school. But have you ever witnessed a purity ball? Valenti describes them in full detail, which I recounted and reacted to on my blog post Purity Balls and Sexy Virgins. But there is more to the book than the “rituals” people partake in. Valenti drives home the point that women are self-standing humans. We do not need men to take care of us or give their permission to live our lives. Valenti argues, and backs up her argument with many detailed examples, that expecting young women to stay “pure” until marriage is a damaging concept.

Full Frontal FeminismFull Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti

Do you live in an anti-vibrator state?* Yes, there are states that have “anti-erotic massager” laws on the books. If you think this is absurd, then this book is definitely for you.

Full Frontal Feminism is aimed at young women, with a chapter geared specifically for young men as well. The word “feminist” can draw many images to one’s mind so a lot of women (and men) don’t identify themselves as a feminist. Take this little test to see if you’re a feminist: What are the worst names you could call a woman? Perhaps you thought of slut, bitch, whore or something along those lines. Now, what are the worst names you could call a man? Did you think of pussy? Bitch? Nancy-boy or girly man? Final question: Do you think that it’s really fucked up that the biggest insults to both men and women are a derogatory terms for a woman? If you just answered yes, then congratulations. You are a feminist. Anyone who thinks that the way women are treated is sexist and unfair is, in the truest sense, a feminist. So what should young feminist women and men do? Valenti offers advice in all kinds of scenarios, along with shocking examples of the way women are treated and viewed in modern society.**

*Turn to page 39 to find out if you do.

**I emphasize modern society because some of the acts are so barbaric, one may mistake the scenario as happening in the ancient world.

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Posted by on July 2, 2012 in Literature

 

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The best part of waking up is feeling inferior

It’s early morning.  An older man is sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading the paper.  A younger woman comes in and pours herself a cup.

“You were out late last night,” the man says.

“Don’t worry, Dad,” says the twenty-something daughter.  “I was with David.”

“I just want to make sure you’re safe.”

“Well, you won’t have to worry anymore.”  The daughter pulls her left hand out from behind her mug.  A diamond ring is on her ring finger.  The father and daughter hug and go back to sipping their coffee.

This is a commercial for Folgers that is currently running on TV.*  Every time I see this commercial, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.  Apparently, a twenty-something woman is incapable of protecting herself.  Her father sees himself as her safeguard and will only relinquish control when another man is ready to take his place.  From father to fiancé, this woman is passed off and treated as frail and unable to defend herself.  When did it become 1950?  Let’s upgrade to present day, Folgers, to a time where women can think and act for themselves.  How about this for a commercial instead:

It’s early morning.  An older man sits at the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading the paper.  A younger woman comes in a pours herself a cup.

“You were out late last night,” the man says.

“You don’t have to worry about that anymore, Dad,” says the twenty-something woman.  She pulls her left hand out from behind the mug.  She is grasping brass knuckles.  The father and daughter hug and go back to sipping their coffee.

Women don’t need their coffee company telling them that they are the weaker sex, inferior to men who are the only ones strong enough to protect them.  We get enough of that bullshit from mainstream media and other sources.  The one place that shouldn’t be handing out sexist propaganda is a coffee company.  Wake up and smell your own product, Folgers.  This is 2010 and women can not only vote, but also own land, go to college, or even become a justice of the Supreme Court.  I know it’s a hard concept to grasp, but you’re going to have to accept it.  The time’s they are a-changin’ and your commercials need to do the same.

*The dialogue is not exact but it’s the basic gist.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2010 in Rants

 

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The most common question has the hardest answer

“What are you reading right now?” coworkers and customers alike ask me.  Sometimes I think it might be easier to answer the question, “What aren’t you reading right now?”  I usually have two or three books going at once but currently I have a few more than even that.  Some books take longer than others, especially if the subject is a difficult one.  Even if I finish one book, another one may grab my attention so I begin that one rather than finishing another one that I’ve already started.  It really doesn’t help that I see all the new books that come into the bookstore where I work or that I’m constantly talking about books and authors with friends, coworkers, and customers.  So, in no particular order, here is what I am currently reading:

Heist Society by Ally Carter
I’ve enjoyed reading Carter’s Gallagher Girls series so I picked up this stand-alone.  In the book 15-year-old Kat Bishop is blackmailed into returning some stolen paintings to Arturo Taccone, who thinks that her father took them.  Believing her father is innocent, Kat sets off to find the paintings and get them back to Arturo before her deadline is up.  She locates the paintings but has to assemble the best teenage thieves she knows to get them back.  So far, I’m enjoying the humor and adventure in the book.  I also like how Carter has tied WWII history into it (Kat thinks that Arturo’s paintings were stolen out of homes by the Nazis).  There are minor things that irritate me, though, like how many times the action breaks right after someone hears a familiar voice and confusion over who is speaking and to whom.  I did not have this problem with the Gallagher Girl books, but those are written in first person whereas Heist Society is written in third.  Overall, though, it’s a fun read.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
This book is all arguments for why god doesn’t exist.  Dawkins views several areas of argument for and against religion to drive home his thesis.  I am already atheist so I agree with what Dawkins says but I still find it interesting to see how others argue for religion (and his rebuttal to said arguments).  I’ve been reading this for several months now, not because I’m not enjoying it, but because Dawkins is quite intelligent and it’s hard for me to read too much at once.  Also, I do the bulk of my reading in the morning to wake up my brain and this book is not one for a sleepy mind.  Keep checking back as I will write a full review of the book once I’m done reading it.

Yes Means Yes!  Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape ed. by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti
Not only am I an atheist, I am also a feminist.  Jessica Valenti has written some amazing books on feminism so I snatched this book up when I found out she helped with it.  The book is a collection of essays from several writers.  Each essay has several themes and the reader is encouraged (from the introduction) to use the themes listed at the end of essays like links on a webpage.  “If you like x theme, try these essays next.”  Like clicking on a webpage, the reader can jump around the book rather than being constrained to reading from front to back.  This is one of the many things I like about this book.  Sometimes I’m not in the mood to read about “Media Matters” or I may be drawn to “Surviving to Yes” some days.  It’s also a perfect layout for someone like me (someone who is reading a lot of books at once).  The essays are easily read in short increments.  The subject matter, though, is tough and gets me riled up (we shouldn’t put blame on the victims of the crime but on the criminals!) or depressed (why does rape even have to happen?).  Females and males both should read this book.  Everyone is affected by rape and it can only end when we start talking about it (silence breeds the disease).

The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions by Kenji Kawakami
I’ve seen this book around for years but it wasn’t until recently that I acquired it.  The book is exactly what the title says: “Unuseless Japanese Inventions”.  Apparently, it’s a form of art to make something people could use but is so ridiculous that it can’t be used.  Pictures, of course, show these inventions and brief descriptions of each are given.  Take for example The Earring Safety Net.  Tiny bowls are strapped to a woman’s shoulders and should an earring come loose from her lobe, there’s no need to worry!  The Earring Safety Net will catch it.  You’ll never have just one earring again!  The idea itself is hilarious but to truly appreciate it, you must see the picture.  Go pick it up at your local library or bookstore.  You won’t regret it.

Finally, there are two books I am just a few pages into so I can’t really say much about them.  They are Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica and On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

Well, it looks like I have some reading to do!  Until next time…

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2010 in Literature

 

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Excuse me, mister, but may I have your permission to live my life?

Women, apparently, need to have a man’s approval before doing anything, from staying out late, to drinking with friends at a club, to posing provocatively while having pictures taken.

Today the Miss USA pageant released photos of all 51 contestants posing provocatively while wearing lingerie. There is one on her hands and knees, her arms pushing her cleavage together, making it the focal point of the picture. Others on beds (or, at least, flat surfaces with sheets), some with her legs in the air, and two with button down shirts on but not buttoned. Many women are sticking their asses out and their cleavage is barely contained in the small bras they are wearing.

These are the official photos of the Miss USA pageant yet they closely resemble photos that winners in the past have been stripped of their crown for. Vanessa Williams, probably the most widely known example, was dethroned for a less provocative pose. Just a few years ago in 2006 Miss USA nearly lost her crown when photos of her drinking and making out with girls surfaced. The pageant was up in arms because a woman was doing what thousands of women across the country do. Yet all was forgiven when Donald Trump publically forgave her for her behavior. He then gave her permission to pose for Playboy.

With these incidents the pageant is sending a very clear message: a woman needs a man’s permission to live her life. When past contestants posed nude of their own free will, the were stripped of any title and publically ostracized. But since the pageant, which is co-owned by Donald Trump, has given permission for these photos, it’s suddenly supposed to be okay for the women to be as sexy as she wants to be.

I am not a prude. I whole-heartedly believe that we women are allowed to be sexy and can dress however we want and do whatever we want. But we don’t need anyone’s permission to do so. We are intelligent and certainly not a “weak sex”. We can make decisions for ourselves without advice from any man. So Miss USA pageant directors, if you want the contestants to pose provocatively, fine. But you should issue public apologies and reinstate the titles of all the previous contestants who were publically shunned and humiliated for doing the same thing.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2010 in Rants

 

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Purity balls and sexy virgins

Working in a bookstore is hard for a bibliophile.  It’s even worse to work in the receiving room, seeing and touching every book before it gets put out for the customers.

This is what I do.  Often, I tell my friends that working in receiving is like Christmas every day.  I open a box and there is a brand-new book, begging to be flipped through.

Now, since I have to open a lot (and I mean a lot) of boxes, plus get other tasks done, I cannot stop and look through every book that piques my interest.  Instead, I set aside anything I want to take a closer look at when I’m off the clock.  (And, yes, I often make a snap judgment on the book’s cover, but really, who doesn’t?)

Last March, while working, I opened a box and found a brand-new title written in stark white against a black background: The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti.  I don’t buy as many books as one may think I do (that doesn’t mean I don’t want them!) but this one I knew I had to.  I knew before I even opened to page one that I would want to mark passages as I read them and make comments in the margins.  Sure enough, that is exactly what I did.

The bulk of my reading is done in the morning before work.  I sit at the dining room table, sipping at my coffee, reading and slowly waking up.  The mornings that I read The Purity Myth I could have skipped the coffee altogether because the book had me so fired up.

From chapter one, Valenti argues how the idea of virginity and the expectation of staying pure until marriage is detrimental to young women (because, Valenti points out on several occasions, it is up to the female to be the “gatekeepers” of purity because boys will be boys and cannot help themselves).

Man, I wish I could portray the disgust in my voice.

Throughout the book, Valenti relentlessly argues against different societal ideals, from abstinence-only education, to idolizing famous virgins, to purity balls and so much more.

Take, for example, Jessica Simpson and Brittany Spears.  Both publically declared she was a virgin and was waiting until marriage.  Yet both were made up to look sexy in tight shirts or shorts.  Who remembers the media coverage of Brittany Spears when her boobs grew in (or, as the media argued, were put in)?  *in my best hick impression* “She’s a virgin, folks, and she’s a good girl waiting to get married before giving it up, but check out that rack.  Think that’s real?”  In the societal eye, what could possibly be more sexy than a virgin?

How ass-backwards is that?

Valenti’s description of purity balls shook me to no end, though.  Growing up in a household where we didn’t practice or even talk religion sheltered me (thankfully) from purity balls.  At these lavish events, young women pledge to their fathers to wait until marriage for sex.  In turn, the fathers pledge to “hang onto” their daughters’ virginities until a proper husband comes along.  At that point, the fathers give the virginities to the husbands, not even back to their daughters to give to their husbands themselves.  Some of these balls even use a little pink box as a symbol of the daughters’ virginities (because, as Valenti points out in the first chapter, virginity is pure myth – pardon the pun).  The fathers take the little pink boxes (ugh) and pledge to hold onto them.  What is most shocking to me, though, was that sometimes girls as young as six participate in these balls.  Who, at the ripe age of six, knows what her feelings will be about sex as she grows?  Who at six even knows that the concept of virginity even is?

It makes me sick.  This is a blatant portrayal of how men control women’s bodies, how they have “ownership” over them and we willingly (willingly!) give it to them.  Are we not free-thinking humans in our own right?

The absolute worst part about purity balls, though: they are federally funded.

There’s so much more to the book and I can’t write about all of it here.  It is a book worth buying, even during a recession, because it gets its readers thinking and gearing them up to take action.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2009 in Literature, Rants

 

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On the fence about abortion? You won’t be anymore.

For the longest time, I’ve gone back and forth over whether I’m pro-choice or pro-life.  At first I sat on the fence.  “Well, it’s okay if the woman was raped or it was incest.”  Looking back, I think I was afraid of the conflict and to voice my true opinions.  Then I was strictly pro-choice.  “A man (read: white man) cannot tell a woman what to do with her body!”  I still firmly believe this.  Then I wavered over to the pro-life side.  “I’m a vegetarian.  If meat is murder, then so is an abortion.”  While I still believe this, one thing is for sure: after reading Cristina Page’s How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, I will never align myself with the pro-life side.

While the book does talk about abortion to a fair extent, it talks more about preventing the need for abortion, stopping or reducing the amounts of unwanted pregnancies, and providing comprehensive sex education and health care, among other things.  Page’s thesis is that the pro-choice movement has done more to reduce the need for abortion than the pro-life side, who works toward stopping people from having sex if its purpose is not for creation.

In every chapter Page presents a testimony to the different ways the pro-life movement is fighting to completely stop anyone who is even remotely thinking about having sex for fun.  Page starts with the horrifying cases of women going to get their birth control prescription filled only to be turned down by a righteous pharmacist who is against abortions.  This is completely absurd and Page backs up my feelings toward this.  First of all, what pharmacist is to say what is best for this woman?  That is what her doctor is for.  Maybe she is getting birth control pills because she has had heavy, irregular periods and terrible cramps for the past 10 years and the pill will help alleviate the pain and control the timing and flow of her period.  This woman may very well be waiting until she is married to have sex, but the righteous pharmacist just jumps to the conclusion that the pill is for pleasure and not at all for medical reasons.  Second, the pill does not abort a fetus.  It is scientifically impossible for it to do so.  What it does do is help prevent pregnancy, but does not terminate a pregnancy should one occur.  Unfortunately, as Page points out, some pharmacists (and other right-winged extremists) do not see a difference: preventing a pregnancy is the same as killing a child that God has created.  If you are on the pill and having sex that is not pro-creation, you are obstructing God’s plan and are therefore evil.

Another chapter includes why even condoms are bad, according to the right-winged extremists who, incidentally make up statistics about the failure of condoms in order to scare kids into thinking it isn’t safe to use.  Ironically, what ends up happening is that kids think that it is pointless to wear a condom and then have sex without one, which severely raises the risk of an unwanted pregnancy and the need for abortion.  This also ties in with the abstinence-only sex education that W so widely promotes.  Our children are only being taught one thing: wait until marriage.  So those who don’t wait (and what a staggering statistic that is) don’t know what the phrase “safe sex” means, again raising the risk of unwanted pregnancy and abortion.  Should it solely be the school’s responsibility to teach sex?  No.  Parents need to get involved, too, but many parents are too afraid to approach their children about this so if the only information these kids are getting is from the school, and the school does not provide them with what effective birth control is (ie: how to wear a condom properly) then they’re going to just have sex anyway.  Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the people who wait until they’re married.  But I’m a realist and know that not everyone will wait.  I also firmly believe that to cut back on the amount of STDs and teenage pregnancies today, we need to be telling our children everything there is out there on sex, not just, “Ignore those raging hormones.  They’ll go away in about 20-30 years.”

The scariest chapter (they were all quite terrifying to me), was how the pro-life movement in America has drastically changed how people live and are treated in countries all around the world.  The most staggering story was how one American-based group comprised of just six people stopped $34 million in funding to UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund, formally United Nations Fund for Population Assistance) who, among other things, provides safe health care for new mothers and infants in third world countries.  By getting the president’s attention with fraudulent accusations, the small group Population Research Institute changed thousands of people’s lives.  One calculation was that $34 million could have prevented “4,700 maternal deaths and 77,000 infant deaths” (page 138) world wide each year.

To this date I still go back and forth in my head as to whether I’m for or against abortion.  Perhaps you do, too, or you know you are one or the other.  Wherever you stand on the debate, make sure you know you are behind it a hundred percent.  If you’re pro-life, be sure you are also against sex outside of the marriage, comprehensive sex education, and many, many other things that would prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions in the first place.  Take a look at this book and decide whether you can stand for all of that when you say you are pro-life.  Before I read this book I thought I could say I was pro-life, but seeing what pro-life really stands for, I will not say that any more.  I’m going to say I’m pro-alternatives and pro-education.  Ask me if I’m against abortion and I’ll tell you that we need to have an alternative first for everyone, not just privileged white women, before we eliminate abortion all together.

How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and War on Sex by Cristina Page published by Basic Books ISBN: 0465054897

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2009 in Literature

 

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