Social Change Reading List

My friend and I put together a reading list in response to the horrifying election results. You can find it on Goodreads as “Social Change Book Recommendations” or check it out below (the Goodreads list is constantly being updated though). You can also add books to this list.

  • “We Should All be Feminists” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • “Between the World and Me” – Ta-Nahisi Coates
  • “Bad Feminist” – Roxane Gay
  • “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman” – Lindy West
  • “In the Country We Love: My Family Divided” – Diane Guerrero
  • “Citizen: An American Lyric” – Claudia Rankine
  • “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood” – Marjane Satrapi
  • “March” (Books 1-3) – John Lewis et al.
  • “Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America” – Firoozeh Dumas
  • “Muslims and the Making of America” – Amir Hussain
  • “We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation” – Jeff Chang
  • “Negroland: A Memoir” – Margo Jefferson
  • “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” – Ibram X. Kendi
  • “Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms
  • “When We Fight, We Win: Twenty-First-Century Social Movements and the Activists That Are Transforming Our World” – Greg Jobin-Leeds
  • “The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community” – Mary Pipher
  • “Sex Object” – Jessica Valenti
  • “Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America” – Helen Thorpe
  • “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College town” – Jon Krakauer
  • “I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim” – Maria M. Ebrahimji
  • “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” – J.D. Vance
  • “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism” – bell hooks
  • “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” – Matthew Desmond
  • “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate” – Naomi Klein
  • “Known and Strange Things” – Teju Cole
  • “We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler” – Russell Freedman
  • “This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color” – Cherrie L. Moraga
  • “Harvest of Empire” A History of Latinos in America” – Juan Gonzalez
  • “Hope in the Dark” – Rebecca Solnit
  • “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” – Michelle Alexander
  • “Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement” – Angela Y. Davis
  • “White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” – Nancy Isenberg
  • “Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People” – Thomas Frank
  • “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” – Jane Mayer
  • “Beyond Outrage: What has gone wrong with our economy and our democracy, and how to fix it” – Robert B. Reich
  • “The Fire Next Time” – James Baldwin
  • “The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race” – Jesmyn Ward
  • “Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education” – Mychal Denzel Smith
  • “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” – Wes Moore
  • “Men We Reaped” – Jesmyn Ward
  • “Readin Lolita in Tehran” – Azar Nafisi
  • “The Complete Maus #1-2)” – Art Spiegelman

We should all be bad feminists

Guess what!? No, I didn’t get a new tattoo or piercing – I am a Feminist!

No doy! You say, of course you’re a feminist! You have a vagina and believe you should receive equal pay for equal work!

Well, yes, I suppose that is true, but I never labeled myself a feminist before. In fact, I spent most of my life not thinking about feminism, and if I did think about it, it was to rejoice in the fact that I did not have to fight for the rights that generations of women before me did. But, as I get older, I realize there is still a lot to fight for as a woman. I talk about it with friends and loved ones and I hear their stories of sexual harassment and inappropriateness. It seems there are a lot of men out there who think it’s just fine to make sexist comments or jokingly refer to their female staff as their whores.” Then, when complaints are made, they say, “Lighten up” and “Get a sense of humor.” I now declare that if you ever say those two phrases you probably need to take a sensitivity class.

My revelation about the need for feminism started when I heard about Gamergate.

If you are not familiar with Gamergate, let me try to summarize it for you: Gamergate emerged when female gamers, game designers, journalists, etc. criticized the gaming industry’s treatment and portrayal of women. A bunch of guys then went completely apeshit and made rape and violence threats against these women in droves. I am leaving out about a gajillion parts of the story here, including vengeful ex-boyfriends, accusations of trading sex for good game reviews, social justice, journalistic ethics, and Adam Baldwin (whom I used to love and now, tragically, firefly is permanently ruined). I recommend you read the story for yourself, Wikipedia has an excellent article on it, although it is rather long-winded.

This story perked up my ears to related stories and, soon after, I was listening to a Book Riot podcast (#97) where they discussed feminism and the harassment of women online. Rebecca Schinsky is my new hero. She is able to passionately articulate intelligent arguments about the need for discussions about diversity, including feminism. She talked about how, whenever she publishes an article on Book Riot about women’s issues or diversity she never fails to get vicious responses from the trolls. Some of these responses include threats of rape and violence. I was shocked. Silly me, I thought we lived in a more highly evolved world. Particularly on a website devoted to the love of books.

Now, whenever I see an article about women standing up for themselves I go straight to the comments section to see what the responses are. I have yet to see outright threats, those are hopefully removed by a watchful moderator, but I do see some pretty mind-boggling responses.

For instance, I read a TED article titled: “This is what it’s like to be a woman in competitive gaming” by Lilian Chen. I didn’t find it a particularly controversial article, she wrote of some harassment online and at conventions and how it caused her to struggle with self identity issues as a gamer and a woman. She discussed how her self-identity skewed how she viewed other female gamers. Interesting but hardly threatening to anyone, right?

Well, here are some of the responses:

“I’d imagine it’d be a lot like being a man…..
Only you’ve got another X chromosome.
Seriously ladies, by posting these ridiculous “what it’s like to be a woman” posts… you’re actually taking steps FARTHER AWAY from gender equality.”

“Arrrrghhhh my god. This again.

“The millenials are wasting time with this crap and are failing to build real assets.

“Yeah. Trailblazing journalism. Susan B Anthony would be proud.”

And, probably my favorite: “All the women I know don’t like to play games.”

There were a few other responses but not as many positive ones as I would like, so I added a few nice words in support of Ms. Chen and other female gamers. I felt compelled to write something because I watched the Monika Lewinsky speech she recently gave at TED and I fully agree with her about the need to bring the positive to battle the negative. And I read the article TED posted afterwards that spoke of the horrendous and wonderful responses to the speech that eventually restored the writer’s faith in humanity and I’m down with being a part of that.

All of this brings up the subject of moderating conversations. Should I ever receive troll-like comments I will certainly delete them. No, it does not impinge on anyone’s first amendment. That amendment is in regards to the government controlling speech. You’re not going to be prosecuted by the law for saying mean and stupid shit. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be consequences. Moderators can stop abusive comments and other commentators can turn the conversation around. It would be ideal if, whenever we see a hateful comment, we outnumber it with positive messages by at least ten to one. I believe that is a good way to start bringing about change.

This is a (excuse the old-timey reference) ‘Read more about it’ subject! I highly recommend Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” (based on her TED speech) and Roxane Gay’s “Bad Feminist.” Both books are wonderful but “Bad Feminist” is one of those books that just makes you see the world differently, especially if you are not used to critically thinking about feminism and racism in popular culture. I will certainly be on the lookout for more books on this subject.

In conclusion, we have a ways to go as a society, but I’m an optimist so I’m going to quote MLK: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

The Slut Shaming Avengers

I’ve been reading with great interest about Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans calling Scarlett Johanssen’s Black Widow character a “slut” and a “whore.” I was not outraged by this, I’m certainly guilty of jokingly using these words. But I’m trying to clean up my act because I know better now. The statements were a genuinely dumb thing to say, especially in an interview, but I certainly don’t hate these men and I will be one of the first in line to see Age of Ultron.

“Slut” and “whore” should be the “s” and “w” words that we never use again. Words can hurt. That’s why it was particularly upsetting to find so many comments telling people (particularly women) to “lighten up” and “get a sense of humor.” No, get some sensitivity and education. The world will not stop being a funny place if you stop using these words and other mean-spirited epithets.

I’m currently reading Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist and when this controversy started I had just read the part where she describes being brutally gang raped (as if there was another way to be gang raped) as a teenager. To make matters worse, the boys told everyone at school that she had sex with them. Guess what the kids called her from then on? Yup, “slut.” Even her teachers looked at her with disdain. No one stopped to think about how out of character this was for her, they just mindlessly joined the shame train. And what if she had voluntarily had sex with all those boys? Should she be ostracized for it? Someone should have reached out to her either way.

I’m not proud of it, but there was a brief period in my life when I loved watching VH1 reality shows such as Charm School, I Love Money, etc. It shocked me how the women would call each other “whore” when they fought. I mean, all of these women were sexually promiscuous, what were they accusing the other one of?

The question of whether a woman called a slut is actually using her sexuality for gain is irrelevant. She gets to do that whether you like it or not. Yup, in the comics Black Widow uses her sexiness over men. James Bond does the same thing with women. Other characters use their physical strength or superpowers and nobody calls them names. What is it about sexuality, specifically a woman’s sexuality, that makes it okay to use insults? Is there something particularly unfair about it?

In any case, I am glad that this subject is being discussed. In some places I see it being discussed maturely and in other places I see it devolve into some ugliness, but it won’t be going away soon.


Note: Please excuse the disjointedness of this post. I wanted to get it up while the topic was being discussed and it usually takes me days or weeks to properly edit my writing.