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GAB Monthly Book Club

March 1, 2010

We are very excited to announce a monthly book club on Gender Across Borders! All of us are avid readers as well as writers, and would love to engage more with our readers (that means you!) through a monthly book club. Each month we will announce our text of choice, giving readers a month to read and prepare for discussion on the first day of the following month. We hope to promote dialogue, inspiration and also have some fun. Since we welcome a global audience who could not all gather in the same physical space, we will share our ideas together on the blog.

To get ready for next month’s discussion on Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows, all of the editors have contributed a book they find important to the global feminist discourse. (Check back tomorrow for a post from Elizabeth who will lead the discussion this month.) Read below for our Editor’s Picks.

Emily Heroy- In the Land of Invisible Women By Qanta Ahmed

This nonfiction memoir is about a British-born Pakistani female doctor, Qanta Ahmed, who moves to Riyadh<, Saudi Arabia for two years to work in a hospital. Ahmed, as a Western Muslim woman, eloquently comments on the political and historical milieu of Islam and women in Saudi Arabia as it frames her personal experiences in a country where women have very little rights. She is careful not to make any rash judgments on a culture other than her own which brings a fresh perspective on women, feminism, and Islam. I hadn’t heard of this book until I found it in the “Recommended” section of the Women and Children First feminist bookstore, but I highly recommend it.

Colleen Hodgetts-Sex & Social Justice By Martha C. Nussbaum

Anyone who considers her/himself a feminist must also closely examine the intersection of sexism with other forms of oppression, and this books does just that. Exploring global issues such as poverty, illiteracy, health, and violence from a gendered perspective, Nussbaum challenges readers to recognize the power structures that have hidden our shared humanity and discouraged equality across borders. The book argues that lasting change can only be made when gender equality and global justice progress hand in hand.

Jessica Mack- Infidel By Ayaan Hirsi Ali

This is the closely told autobiography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, one of the most vocal and controversial figures in Islam and feminism.  Born in Somalia and raised in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, Hirsi Ali experiences abuse, oppression, and the deep fundamentals of Islam before fleeing to Holland as a refugee in the early 1990’s.  Her story is painful, shocking and provocative — after self-identifying as a fundamentalist, she takes a bold stance against Islam writ large and its oppression of women.  In the process, she turns the calm of Holland on its head, causing national panic, one gruesome murder, and the confrontation of what Islam’s role is in modern feminism.

Carrie Polansky- Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics By Jennifer Baumgardner

Baumgardner takes on female bisexuality by analyzing her own romantic histories with men and women, as well as discussing the way bisexuality is addressed in pop culture and perceived in gay and straight communities. Rather than resort to tired arguments (such as “Everyone’s really bisexual!” or “Bisexuals are greedy and confused!”), she focuses on the critical role that bisexual women can play within both the feminist and gay movements, stating that “…in a gay/straight world, my life doesn’t make sense — many people’s lives don’t make sense unless we believe that sexuality is far more complex.” Her honesty and sensitivity are refreshing at a time when sexual politics are typically discussed in black-and-white terms.

Erin Rickard- The Handmaid’s Tale By Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale is to the feminist movement what Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was to the environmentalist movement. It’s a work of speculative fiction that imagines a future United States run by a fundamentalist government, where a program of racial genocide has been carried out and women are reduced to nothing more than child-bearers. It’s scarier than a horror movie and entertaining in that same ‘can’t look away, must see what horrible thing happens next’ kind of way, plus it makes you think critically about a lot of aspects of our present society.

Elizabeth Switaj- Geisha of Gion By Mineko Iwasaki

While this memoir isn’t framed as a feminist text, its publication in English is in accord with an important principle of global feminism: the ethical imperative to broadcast the voices of women who want to tell their own stories. Iwasaki was one of the geisha whom Arthur Golden interviewed when putting together Memoirs of a Geisha. Though she only spoke to him on the condition of anonymity, he named her in his acknowledgements. While this betrayal could not be undone, the publication of her real memoir of a geisha goes some way towards undoing the way Golden betrayed her: by distorting elements of life in Gion.

Roxanne Samer- The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For By Alison Bechdel

This book is a collection of the 27-year running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. The strip follows Mo, Lois, Sydney, Sparrow, Ginger, Clarice and their friends over decades of living openly as lesbians in an all-American college town. It’s difficult not to fall for this diverse group of characters as they banter over tofu tartar at Café Topaz, get laid, march on Washington for LGBT rights, hold commitment ceremonies and sell feminist lit, lesbian erotica and Venus of Willendorf coffee mugs as employees of Madwimmin Books. The comic strip is written and illustrated by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who with vocation and wit combines text and image to create an amazing world, within which any sojourn is bound to be stimulating. I expect that anyone interested in queer culture, feminism or progressive politics would enjoy it immensely, but those of you uninterested in such topics should check it out as well, as its beauty, humor and honesty may just change your mind.

Kyle Bachan- The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts By Maxine Hong Kingston

Part auto-biographical, part Chinese mythology, Maxine Hong Kingston weaves five tales of mixed feminine identity together to form a story about self-realization. At first glance, the book looks like a collection of short stories but the more astute have labeled Kingston’s effort as a genuine memoir. It begins with the birth of the literal woman warrior and ends with the author’s reconciliation of her life as a Chinese-American. Kingston explores themes of silence and repression, self-discovery, and assimilation through a non-traditional storytelling narrative. Highly recommended.

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