Reading Reading Women

19 Sep

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a sucker for the new spinoff of chick lit that has popped up in recent years.  You know the kind—the “I’m-a-financially comfortable-woman-who’s-mildly-unsatisfied-with-life-so-will-spend-a-year-changing-up-my-routine-and-write-about-my-fulfillment-in-a-New-York-Times-bestseller” kind.  I felt a connection to Liz Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love when I read it as a newly-single woman abroad.  The Happiness Project inspired me to achieve greater joy through daily resolutions.  Inevitably, I at some point get frustrated with the self-indulgence inherent in writing an entire book about yourself, but I still enjoy getting a sort of easy insight being handed to the reader.

With this in mind, it should be no surprise that, when browsing the New Nonfiction shelves at the BPL, I got excited when I saw Reading Women: how the great books of feminism changed my life by Stephanie Staal.  Right place, right time, perfect book.  I love when that happens.

Like Rubin and Gilbert, Staal decides to shake up her rut by “doing something,” then writing about it.  In this case, as the title implies, she reads feminist writing, by auditing a few classes at her alma mater, Barnard.  The book itself doesn’t really tell a new story.  Staal’s dissatisfaction is mostly with her marriage, and the conflicting feelings brought on by being a feminist and a mother.  And for some reason, I just could’t empathize with Staal at all.  Frankly, she just annoyed me.

So, then, why perfect book?  The syllabi from Staal’s FemTexts classes, that’s why.  Over the course of several semesters, Staal and her classmates survey texts from all three major waves of feminism, along with all the post-structural/post-modern/post-feminism, etc. that now comes with.  I got to live vicariously through Staal and reinvigorate my inner feminist academic.  This was greatly appreciated, especially since  I no longer have the luxury of discussing discursive constructs in a Gender and Women’s Studies class, or of exploring the implications of militarized masculinity in a Gov seminar.

I remembered texts I’ve read and loved (or hated), and wrote down an extensive list of must-reads.  From The Awakening, to Luce Irigaray, to raunch culture, Reading Women gives us a broad survey of fantastic feminist writing that we all would do well to, well, read.  If you’re willing to skip over the filler, you can take it as an overview, remind yourself of oldies-but-goodies, or reflect on new ideas presented.  Or delve deeper into it, spending 15 minutes reflecting on one single page–or better yet, one sentence.

Just like Gilbert’s easy adventurous independence, or Rubin’s simple steps to happiness, Staal gives us a view of feminist theory that comes across as very accessible, even for non-academics.


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