The aftermath of the 2016 election was a brutal blow for all women. Nearly a year later, it still pains me to revisit that night: The long walk to my dorm. My hopes for progress on gender equality dashed by the grim confirmation that America once again chose the side of misogyny. I was likely not the only ambitious young woman who thought, So this is the world I am graduating into. This is how that world treats women who want more for themselves.
The November 2016 election is the starting point for Anne Helen Petersen’s collection of essays, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman. Petersen holds a Ph. D. in media studies; you may recognize her as a senior culture writer at Buzzfeed. In the Introduction, Petersen describes about how she, like many of us, was crushed when she saw perhaps the most prominent woman in America, the toughest and most capable in her field, lose to a man who openly boasted about sexual assault. The election, and what it revealed about how severely society delimits the definition of “a good woman,” was the impetus for Petersen’s collection.
Enter seven unruly women. For the subjects of her essays, Petersen chose to examine a prominent woman in the public eye who has somehow been deemed “unruly,” improper, deviant. In this state of national uncertainty, Petersen argues that “unruliness,” in all fields and from all women, is more necessary than ever.
It’s good to be back in my blog happy place writing book reviews, and even better to be writing about this book.
Angie Thomas’s debut novel has received abundant critical praise; it’s held its ground on the New York TimesYoung Adult bestseller list since it came out in February. And because this is YA and you were wondering, casting for the movie adaptation is already underway.
I’m thrilled to add my thoughts on the book that I hope will be a cultural touchstone that defines this generation of new YA and, more importantly, YA readers.
I have this theory that your bookshelf is a portrait of who you are, particularly if you bought a lot of books growing up. Study your bookshelf closely enough and you can trace the ideas that compelled you at different point in your life.The seven volumes of Harry Potter captured my imagination between the ages of five and thirteen. There’s the Eragon series from my 5th grade dragon phase, those tomes that only Comparative Literature majors read, and some poetry that I thought was good when I was sixteen but now find extremely questionable.
My bookshelf reveals the meandering path I’ve taken to build an understanding of the world. And if you’re also like me, the majority of my bookshelves was occupied by books written by white authors. It’s not a totally bad thing. I truly value some of those books – even from a white, European perspective, they could touch on some universalities that I felt as an Asian American girl. But my bookshelf also revealed my blind spots: there was little that I knew about Black, Latinx, Native American, LGBTQ+, and disability experiences. I didn’t even come across an Asian American protagonist until I was seventeen, and I didn’t read a FilAm protagonist until I was 20!
The disparities on my bookshelf have less to do with conscious choices than subconscious biases, the lack of diversity in the publishing industry, the systemic barriers to entry for authors of color, and the dominance of a straight-white-male literary canon that is taught and valued in American high schools.
Since college, I’ve made it a point to diversify my bookshelf and deepen my understanding of stories that aren’t my own (after all, reading diversely is an act of resistance). Here are the 10 diverse books that helped shape my understanding of perspectives outside my own:
There is little I can say about Charlottesville, and the events that have unfolded since, that hasn’t already been said more eloquently, by wiser people than me. When a mob of white supremacists attempt to negate the human life and dignity of entire populations, and when people in power condone hatefulness, it’s hard not to let the waves sorrow, anger, hopelessness, and disillusionment erode you.
You shouldn’t stop yourself from feeling whatever it is you’re feeling. But when you’re ready, there are small steps you can take to heal and resist. And one of the most meaningful ways to resist is to read books by diverse authors.