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March 13, 2012

Never Mind the Patriarchy: Three Books for International Women's Day

Renee Rodin’s Subject to Change was recommended to me via Anakana Schofield’s list of her favourite Vancouver books, and I fell in with with the cover, its light, those clothes. And though Rodin’s approach is very different (these are essays, not short stories), I was reminded of Grace Paley’s Enormous Changes at the Last Minute all the way through, and not just due to similarities in title. Also of Madeline Sonik’s Afflictions and Departures, which more overtly links the personal and political in a collection of essays. Like Paley, Rodin writes about an eccentric, passionate, left-leaning single mother, who is dare-to-be-errant, who scrambles to balance motherhood with writing, and who sees motherhood as a role that comes with political responsibility, and knows a good neighbourhood like Jane Jacobs does. Rodin writes of her upbringing in Jewish Montreal, begins one essay with “…when I was a teenage beatnik”, recounts her experience as a bookstore owner in the ’80s and ’90s, accosts BC Premier Gordon Campbell in the street, serves on a jury, takes care of her father at the end of his life, watches the twin towers fall with her sons in New York City, becomes a grandmother, confronts grief and the unimaginable reality of violent death with the murder of her son’s fiancee– the irresolvable nature of such things, and writes, “It is hard to be consoled and it is hard to console.” These essays are familiar, engaging, and unforgettable, kitchen-sink feminism as written from the trenches. 

The best of Michele Landsberg’s Toronto Star columns have been collected as Writing the Revolution, which I heard about because when her launch took place around the corner from my house, lines of people stretched all the way down the street. To read these columns (from the 1970s to early 2000s) in our current climate is to encounter a bizarre sense of how far we’ve come coupled with being stuck in a time warp. It feels like a different country from one in which bookstores were being firebombed (also around the corner from my house, just a different corner), there was no such thing as maternity leave, and rapists went free due to a variety of reasons women were “asking for it”. But not too far south from us, they’re letting a lunatic who wants to outlaw birth control imagine he’s a serious contender for US presidency, women’s organizations in Canada are no longer publicly funded, and there was that charming police officer whose wardrobe advice inspired the Slut Walks. Landsberg writes, “Because our history is constantly overwritten and blanked out…., we are always reinventing the wheel when we fight for equality.” Landsberg’s passion for and hope for the future of feminism is inspiring and this book is essential reading, providing the kind of perspective that’s entirely necessary if feminists want to keep moving forward.

And then there’s Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, which I discoverered here. Germaine Greer meets Adrian Mole in this book that had me literally howling with laughter, and reading entire chapters aloud to my husband in bed, which is difficult when one is howling. Howling and honking, even. Yes, here is the book I’ve been waiting my whole life for and which I’m going to buy a copy of so my daughter can read it herself as soon as she cares to. So she will know from the start that there’s one woman who dares to say that brazilian waxes are stupid, high heels are crippling, who asks why no one makes porn in which women are enjoying themselves, and points out that no man really cares what your underpants look like. Liberator of obsessively-masturbating teenage girls! Not remotely sorry for her abortion! Who wants to take back the strident in strident feminist! She writes, “So here is a quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hand in your pants. a) Do you have a vagina? b) Do you want to be in charge of it?”I want to read you entire chapters too, or maybe the whole book, but that will take too long, so why not just read it? You’ll howl too, and you’ll also be uplifted by the fact that the voice of reason is fucking hilarious.

Oh, to read three brilliant, engaging, non-academic feminist books in a row. It did something to me, though spring and sunshine might deserve some of the credit too, but by the end of Caitlin Moran, I felt amazing, unstoppable, and gorgeous without caveats. As radiant as Renee Rodin in the sunshine. Enormously proud to be carrying on the feminist tradition, and content to be as strident as they come.

One thought on “Never Mind the Patriarchy: Three Books for International Women's Day”

  1. Heidi says:

    Oh, I want to read all three! I already had two of them on my list, and you’ve made me very excited. Great point about buying the books to have them available for our daughters to discover as soon as they’re able. Given that at 13 I was reading a discovery from my mother’s shelf called The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality (it advocated submission to men, the abolition of birth control, and women taking their rightful place in the home as helpers and supporters of their male heads), and given that it set the course for the next ten years of my life, I would love to have its opposite waiting for my own daughters to pluck from my shelf in 10 or 15 years’ time.

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