Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“Only women there—and children,” Jeff urged excitedly. “But they look—why, this is a CIVILIZED country!” I protested. “There must be men.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 176 pages.
Read from September 17, 2019 to September 19, 2019.

While it isn’t necessary to read Moving the Mountain before this book, I would still recommend it as it sets the basis for the author’s ideas.

Three male explorers, Terry, Vandyck, and Jeff stumble upon an all-female society. Not wanting to believe it at first, the three men are forced to reassess their views on women in their own society and the basis of some of their beliefs about women. This society of women is strong and educated and live harmoniously among themselves and are able to reproduce asexually. For these women, nothing is more revered than motherhood and the harmony of their society.

While Van and Jeff come to understand, learn and appreciate this all-female society and are humbled by its feats and the women within it, Terry, however, cannot get past his own insecurities and that fact that the women in this society don’t fall for his patriarchal charms. The men fall in love, Terry unsuccessfully with Alima, Jeff with Celis, and Van with Ellador. Terry can hardly wait to leave and continues to get frustrated that this society doesn’t meet his own values. Jeff and Celis choose to stay within the all-female society but Ellador wants to learn more about the world and convinces Jeff to take her and explore.  Despite Van making his best efforts to explain the rest of the male-led world, there are are still many aspects that Ellador finds are to accept.

There are many positive aspects in this novel and it was much more readable than Moving the Mountain, having read more like a piece of fiction with philosophical and politic aspects rather than just an essay with a loose storyline. I appreciate some of the views the author had on how to run a society, especially her views on animals and equality. However, being a mother is still the main aim and purpose for a woman in this novel. So for all the advanced ideas that Ms. Perkins had she still missed the mark on that one. I mean, she does admit that motherhood is not for everyone yet motherhood and children are practically the religion of this society of women. She also has a clear stance on abortion and the use of negative eugenics that I don’t particularly care for. This book, however, is still poignant at pointing out the faults within the patriarchal society that is still relevant today.

I enjoyed how Jeff and Van came to undo the preconceived notions about women and how they progressed to mutual respect, love, and admiration for the women in this society and how their relationships developed. While Jeff and Celis’ relationship was not as successful as Van and Ellador’s, Terry’s hostile reactions and mistreatment of Alima was predictable and showed how damaging some patriarchal beliefs are to men’s sense of self and entitlement. Overall, this is still an important and essential feminist read.

 

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of “We Should All Be Feminists…””

4/5 stars.
ebook, 32 pages.
Read September 20, 2018

I can’t recall how I found this short essay but I’m really glad I did. I have often a wondered what exactly feminism means today? Especially in this volatile political environment. How can we as women explain our situation to the many men (and some women) who still don’t think that it is a relevant position to take a stand on in the present day? Well, I think the continued awareness and prevalence of rape culture, that a misogynist is the American president, how toxic masculinity is creating more and more troubled men, and the potential uproar over women’s basic rights in first world countries and all over the globe is more than enough time to consider how important feminism still is. This essay is important, so much so that I wish I could casually hand a copy of this to nearly everyone I know.  Essays like this should be required reading in high school and universities everywhere. 

“Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.”

How do you persuade people to understand a point of view? You explain how your point of view will benefit them and to not attack them for their current views. Chimamanda finds this wonderful balance between stating facts firmly to diffusing difficult aspects of feminism with grace and humour. She discusses the marginalization of men and women and the archaic beliefs that shape this discrimination, while also recognizing that we’re all unconsciously shaped by our culture so it’s easy to get caught up in what’s perceived as normal. Feminism is here to help us dismantle the beliefs that no longer benefit us in society, and that’s for both men and women. Feminism is not something to be feared, as many men do, as there is a history has a prevalence of fearmongering when it comes to women empowering themselves and others. 

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. “

In end, people will believe what they want to believe. You cannot move people like Trump and those who follow him, but for the rest of us that want better for humanity and are constantly trying to understand and improve, this essay is a wonderful, pervasive and persuasive read. 

“A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: We must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.” 

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

“Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 238 pages.
Read from June 3, 2018 to June 5, 2018.

It is hard to imagine a book considered so scandalous that is was banned for decades; this book, Chopin’s masterpiece, did just that. It was published in 1899 and from then on it has struggled to get away from the banned book realm even though it’s included on most essential feminist reading lists. Chopin is considered one of the author’s that helped in ushering 20th-century American feminism.

This Victorian novel gives a shockingly honest account of identity and infidelity from a woman’s perspective. The protagonist is trapped in a stifling marriage. She has fulfilled the role that society has put in place for her but she realizes that the life she is living is not truly her own. Following her passions, she takes in a lover and begins to make her own choices about what she wants to do with her life in accepting herself as she truly is. She begins to question how women seem to ‘belong’ to men rather than to themselves. She even distances herself from her own children as her insights begin to weigh on her further.

“…but whatever came, she had resolved never again to belong to another than herself.”

The popularity of this novel comes not from its relevance in the history of feminism but the fact that many women can still relate to the protagonist, to a smaller extent, when it comes to themselves and the choices they have to make as women. Spoilers ahead… The main controversy today comes with how the protagonist ultimately abandons her children, a choice unforgivable to nearly any modern mother. However, taken from within in context, the protagonist was never given a choice about having children. She had to. She was married, there was no birth control and it was expected of her that she would be a mother as that is the only thing of value given to women in that timeframe. The protagonist may be rich, coddled and spoiled but she does love her children. The problem is that she feels she was never given a choice in the matter when it came to becoming their mother.  Does that mean she gets to revoke her responsibilities as a mother? No, but she did anyway. This brutal honesty is what continues to make this novel so scandalous.

Readers have attacked the protagonist for her selfishness and her inability to stand on her own two feet despite the choices she eventually makes. All valid. I don’t disagree but again, what makes the book so potent is that the protagonist’s feelings are not unique, in that women all over the world know to some extent what is or what it might feel like to be in her shoes even if they would never make the same choices. Spoilers ahead… The protagonist’s demise is tragic, as her turmoil is so intense that she believed suicide was the only option for her. Suicide, with its intentions, is not in and of itself a selfish act as sufferers do believe that they are doing the world and their loved ones a favour in making the choice to relieve their suffering. The dynamic between empathy, shock, disbelief or disagreement as well as tragedy, whether for the protagonist, her children or both, are what continue to make this book so exceptional. Accompanied by Chopin’s eloquent writing, it’s no surprise the impact this novel continues to have.

“But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult! The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamouring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.”