Blood Water Paint
McCullough has created a remarkable novel that uses various forms of prose and story telling to produce this work about the preeminent woman artist of her time. Artemisia Gentileschi painted during the first half of the seventeenth century and her talent has been compared to that of Caravaggio. Gentileschi focused her work on strong women as depicted in stories from the Bible and from myth. One of her frequent subjects was Susanna and the Elders, a story in a woman bathing alone is spied on by two old men who then accuse her of immoral acts as a way of justifying their own Peeping-Tom behavior. Gentileschi felt strongly about these stories of women who took revenge against men who would hurt them. In her own life Gentileschi was raped, but her ability to continue to create beautiful work was her assertion that she would not be silenced as she performed in a masculine world.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Hermione Winters has reached a position in high school that some people would consider the queen of the hill. She is the captain of the cheerleading squad, and in her high school, it means she’s a star. During the summer she attends a party that she doesn’t remember because someone drugged her drink. When she comes back to school in the fall, she is pregnant. How will she be able to trust her classmates when she doesn’t know who drugged her or who raped her? And what about those who knew something was going on and didn’t say anything to prevent what was happening to her? E.K. Johnston has written a novel that imagines Hermione’s life after a betrayal hard to comprehend.
Myths abound about men’s “natural” affinity for being pioneers in information technology and other STEM subjects. Such myths normalize the gender disparities in Silicon Valley as somehow voluntary choices by women to not become involved in these fields. But in Chang’s fascinating study, she shows again and again how these beliefs about women are not fact-based. One of the most effective of Chang’s techniques is to quote men verbatim, which lays bare the bias the men claim not to hold. A recent study conducted by Stanford researchers showed that women job candidates are treated in different ways than male candidates, and that the implicit bias of men already in the field create impenetrable barriers for women attempting to enter the field.
La Femme de Gilles
Madeleine Bourdouxhe worked for the Resistance in Belgium during World War II and was a part of the influential literary circle that included Simone de Beauvoir. In La Femme de Gilles, Bourdouxhe spins a tragic tale about Elisa, a woman married to the man of her dreams. Elisa has no other life than making her husband happy and she believes that pregnant with their third child, they have created a perfect life together. But she begins to notice that her husband disappears frequently from their home and she suspects that he is carrying on an affair. The revelation of who her husband has brought into their marriage and the sacrifices that Elisa makes will cause readers to consider the price that women pay for the fairy-tale versions of marriage that culture continues to sell.
The Princess Diarist
When women started coming forward to speak of their experiences with men who had sexually harassed and assaulted them, the center of many of these activities was Hollywood. Each year, young women who want to achieve success as part of the film industry move to Los Angeles. But many of them find that they have to get past powerful men who think that they can demand sexual favors in exchange for opportunities. Carrie Fisher was the daughter of two famous parents and yet she still found that those same creepy men still wanted access to her. Her stories of how she resisted make for powerful—and hilarious—reading. Along the way, Fisher details the experiences of working on the Star Wars films where she was the only woman in a world of fan boys. But be warned: reading The Princess Diarist will remind readers of just how much we lost when she died.
The Women's Atlas
Seager’s atlas is a necessary reference work for every woman’s library. Chock full of assorted maps and graphs, the book contains information on populations of women across the globe that includes rates of education, literacy, poverty, earning gaps, marriage and divorce, maternal mortality, plastic surgery, FGM/C, suffrage, and dozens of other factors that create snapshots of women’s status in various locations. Some of the American statistics are shameful. Among these the fact that despite a worldwide trend showing that rates of maternal mortality are dropping, in the United States, rates of maternal mortality have more than doubled since the late 1980s with the U.S. having the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world. North America also has breast cancer rates that are twice the rate in Africa, and in the USA in 2012, 844 women per week died from breast cancer. The Women’s Atlas provides the kinds of information that all women need to know when confronted with those who claim that women have more rights than men.
Those Who Knew
Maria P.’s death has been declared an “accident” by investigators. But Lena suspects that Victor, the man that Maria had been working for, may have had something to do with her death. Years before, Lena had dated Victor, before he became a prominent senator. When Victor became abusive, she had left the relationship. She had watched as Victor had run for office and had risen to power. And she had stayed silent. So if Victor has now killed someone, does Lena have a responsibility to speak up? Those who watched the Kavanaugh hearings this past fall will certainly be reminded of the testimony of those who knew another side to the man who now wanted to be a justice of the Supreme Court. Those Who Knew will startle readers with just how prescient Novey appears to have been in predicting the rise of men who have been allowed to get away with horrible behavior.
The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter in 1850 about events that had taken place centuries before and yet, reading it today feels as if it were written to address the issues of #MeToo. When Hester Prynne gives birth to a baby girl, she is brought up on charges in her village. Hester has no husband and therefore has broken the laws. Her punishment is to wear a large scarlet “A” on her clothing—it symbolizes “adultery”—for the rest of her life. In the meantime, the father of Hester’s daughter, who Hester refuses to name, continues to live in the village without punishment. Hawthorne writes with great passion about guilt and punishment and the corrosive impact that the unequal administration of justice has upon human lives. Along the way, he also points fingers at those who make moral judgments about others while they bear their own moral faults.
The Water Cure
Lia, Sky, and Grace have been raised by their parents on a remote island. The rest of the world is in ruins from toxic chemicals that have poisoned the planet. Their parents are convinced that in order to keep the girls safe, they must rid themselves of all emotions, which caused men to destroy one another. They must also be kept separate from men, whose inability to control themselves lies behind the recent catastrophe. One day, a boat washes up on the island’s beach carrying two men and a small boy. Will they poison the island refuge? And what purpose does it serve for women to bear all of the onus for preventing human violence?
The Vagina Monologues
Eve Ensler interviewed hundreds of women in the 1980s about their vaginas. From these interviews, she crafted multiple monologues that revealed women’s most intimate thoughts about their bodies. They also show how the issues raised by the #MeToo movement have been voiced by women for generations. Since its initial publication, The Vagina Monologues has been supplemented by additional monologues Ensler continues to write in response to emergency situations faced by women all over the world. Each Valentine’s Day, women all over the world perform the monologues as a fundraiser for the foundation she created. The monologues have proven to be timeless and have been performed thousands of time before rapt audiences.
Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud
Anne Helen Petersen
The list of women who are considered to be “too much” according to certain segments of our culture include Serena Williams for being “too strong,” Madonna for being “too old,” and “too shrill” like Hillary Clinton. Elizabeth Warren has just declared her candidacy for president and already, the media is debating whether she is “too much” like Hillary Clinton, although the only similarity appears to be that both of them are women. But Petersen shows in a series of profiles of the women who are frequently criticized, any woman who steps outside these artificial boundaries will be attacked until she learns to be quiet. Along the way, Petersen offers a cultural history of the ways in which women have been perceived, and she shows how the most common way to force a woman to “behave” is to threaten her with sexual violence. The #MeToo movement continues to show that women are no longer down for that kind of intimidation.
Song of a Captive Bird
Forugh Farrokhzad’s talent as a poet was apparent to her family from an early age. But when she asserts her desire to marry whom she chooses and to continue to write poetry as an adult woman, religious and family tradition combine to restrict her choices. She marries the man who has been chosen for her, but Farrokhzad rebels. The story of her rebellion makes for thrilling reading and the poetry that she would go on to produce reflects the spirit of a woman who would not be told “no” by the patriarchy. Darznik has based her gorgeous novel on Farrokhzad’s letters, verse, films, and interviews.
You Had To Be There
This book is not for everyone. Natasha Stagg presents seventy-plus pages of rape jokes, one after the other, without ceasing. These are not jokes that Stagg wrote herself, and by the sheer monotony of the jokes that get told about a catastrophic event she pushes past the objections of those who would tell them. As Dave Hickey, the critic who introduces the collection writes, “She takes the field with a sneer and flashing blades. She is never nice, and with all the weapons of culture and civilization, she treats you like a bumpkin and inundates you with your own foul diction.” For some, the only response to rape that makes any kind of sense is the cutting humor that exposes just how ugly an act that it is. But readers should be aware that Stagg is relentless in their telling.
Look at Me
Before she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan wrote this powerhouse novel about our beauty-obsessed culture. Charlotte Swenson is a fashion model who makes her living by the fees she can charge for her gorgeous face and body. But a car accident leaves her face badly damaged and when she re-enters her former world, it is to find that her role has changed. Egan introduces other characters whose appearances mean that they are not seen by others. What does it cost all of us when certain people are invisible because of they do not meet cultural standards of beauty? And what actions are others inspired to take when they need to feel seen?
Single raindrops become raging rivers and vast oceans. We have been watching the surging of such a river with the #MeToo movement, which originated when Tarana Burke created an organization to reach sexual assault survivors in underserved communities. A decade later, that movement dominated the news in 2017 and 2018 as women came forward to denounce the men who had sexually harassed, assaulted, and raped them. Their testimony is holding many men to account and some of those men will be facing juries during 2019.
Artists and writers have addressed these issues for centuries. Painters such as Artemisia Gentileschi, who worked in the 1600s, used art to depict not only the victimization of women, but also the power of women to fight back against their tormentors. In these fourteen books, various writers give voice to those who have been told to be quiet. Women speaking their truth has stripped power from those who have hurt them. These books offer various perspectives on the issues and provide a foundation for the continuing conversation.
Featured Image: @klovestorun via Twenty20