The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith – 10,000 years of agriculture and what do we get, but an ecologically unsustainable diet in vegetarianism that is, who knew, warming the globe and eradicating topsoil. Beautifully written and horrifyingly thorough, especially in its exploration of how vegetarianism damages our bodies, The Vegetarian Myth has distilled for me a far greater, and worser, understanding of what I shovel into my mouth. In drawing political correlations to the dominator model of masculinity, of hierarchy, Lierre Keith has bridged a gap for me that helps me process food in an entirely new way: the entirety of my excursions into raw foodism and veganism and vegetarianism, my criticism of meat consumption has been limited in scope to factory farming, and I never once questioned that the alternative wasn’t better, but far worse for the world, for the animals, and for myself. I want to know more.
Pornified by Pamela Paul – With more than 100 exhausting cases examined regarding the ramifications of pornography in the lives of otherwise ordinary people, Pamela Paul has written a damning, brilliant body of research that strengthens my resolve against the sex industry. Because of my own experiences with the dissolution of pornography and the disgusting narratives it sells, I initially had very little interest in exploring the downward spirals of others. But Pornified exceeded my expectations; weaving in with tales of ordinary men who trickle from BDSM and downwards into child pornography and out with women internalizing harmful body ideals, it reminded me just how endemic the whole enterprise is. Before I read a word, I already believed that it was imperative to build a resistance to pornography, but in Paul’s writing, I have an endless number of starting points to convince others.
Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine – If you look through my copy of Cordelia Fine’s extensive report on neurosexism, you’ll find stretches of underlined text so long you’ll wonder why I didn’t just dog-ear the entire book. Full of jargon I still don’t understand yet entirely accessible, Delusions of Gender takes to task the internalized belief that biology plays a role in determining gendered behaviors; that is to say, that males are naturally masculine and females naturally feminine. Gender bias feeds gender science which validates gender bias, with our implicit biases at odds with explicit behavior. Cultural and social triggers, dramatic and subtle, reinforce gendered behavior, and that behavior, in turn, justifies and normalizes and validates the implicit and explicit gender assumptions and beliefs of other people around us. It’s an insane, never-ending cycle that continuously produces problematic, harmful ideas and sexist science. It blew my mind.
Gail Dines @ Institute of Education – I had the pleasure of speaking with Gale Dines last month after her brilliant presentation at Earth at Risk 2014. Dines, the author of Pornland, is an energetic, contagious, and uncompromising voice in the resistance against misogyny; if anyone has the ability to convince men that there’s a problem with pornography, it has to be her. Shortly after the conference, Gail gave a keynote at the Institute of Education in London, and in under 40 minutes manages to paint a horrifying narrative of a world of two feminisms, the racism implicit in pornography, and a little bit of Miley Cyrus.
Father-Daughter Incest by Judith Lewis Herman – In detailing intensive clinical studies of forty interfamilial rape survivors, Judith Herman examines and eviscerates the patriarchal through line that the majority of sexual violations of children have in common. Father-Daughter Incest is convincing in its thoroughness, pinpointing the damaging consequences of biblical theology, highlighting the horrific marginalization of abuse that men have had on the scientific community, and unrelenting in its disturbing and straightforward testimonials from survivors and professionals in the mental health and legal industries. This is an exhausting work, its brisk 218 pages challenging and incredibly upsetting. Herman’s work is a lot of things at once, but is particular strong in articulating the damaging implications of patriarchy and how we can work to prevent interfamilial rape from occurring as commonly as it does.
The End of Gender: Revolution, Not Reform – Try as I might have, my little conservative hometown did a number on my thinking. I was no more impervious to social influence than I was to leaving the house for school every morning. That my ideological and emotional resistance to masculine socializing might have nothing at all to do with my brain being warped and entirely to do with some internal recognition that gender was fucked up is of reassurance (again, I’ve been just as susceptible to internalizing my patriarchal environment as anyone, lest anyone accuse me of believing I transcended my upbringing). In a little under 40 minutes, Rachel Ivy, a member of Deep Green Resistance, unpacks both liberal and radical interpretations of gender in a way that leaves my head spinning and the flashbacks coming in droves – particularly the ones where I avoided the girls’ aisle at the toy store at all costs. I digress; this video is amazing and worth your time.
FELT directed by Jason Banker – This film is a ficticious take on the life of artist and social misfit Amy Everson. Weaving her real-life experiences into a narrative about crafting control over male domination, Jason Banker has in FELT a moving, frightening warning of the consequences of rape culture and female subjugation. Just a few days after the film’s premiere, Amy took home the Best Actress award at Fantastic Fest 2014, and used the moment to express her gratitude for those who have shared their experiences and have spoken out against misogyny. That a woman who has had her experiences denied time and time again had an opportunity to share her story in a film is rare enough, but that she was able to step up to a stage and speak with grace inspires me. Amy also happens to be the love of my life, and I could not be more proud that her voice is resonating with people as it has.
Pornland by Gail Dines – Characterized as “the world’s leading anti-pornography campaigner”, Gail Dines contextualizes porn like no one else can. Pornland traces the history of the pornification of society, aggressively and exponentially increasing since the battle between Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler, and makes a convincing argument about the effects it is having. In describing the world as an un-consenting test subject to a massive sociological experiment, wherein porn is so pervasive that its deadly consequences seep into just about everywhere we go, Dines makes a brilliant case against the landscape of pornography.
I Want a Twenty-Four-Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape by Andrea Dworkin – For all the fuss I’ve heard about Andrea Dworkin within the feminist community, I realize that until this speech, I had never read any of her work. This is an impressive talk she gave to about 500 men at the National Organization for Changing Men in 1983. It is a demand for men to directly acknowledge patriarchy, take to the streets, and end the inhumane misogyny of rape. All the way through it is absorbing, with palatably articulated anger and specific instructions for ways that men can take on her challenge: that for 24 hours, males do not rape females. Why is there controversy embedded within Dworkin’s history of activism when what she desires is so simple? Why is this not required reading for high schools? How is it possible that, after giving this speech, one of the 500 men actually physically threatened Dworkin? If you ever get into a #NotAllMen discussion, throw this in their direction to see what sticks.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg – According to Time Magazine, Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operator Officer of Facebook, is one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In Lean In, she informs the reader of the rampant sexism against female ambition, barriers that prevent the advancement of women in the workforce, the insistence that women cannot both work and raise a family, and ceaseless encouragement for women to “lean in” and prove patriarchy wrong. The philosophy here – that by seeing women in high places, empowerment will inevitably trickle-down to the bottom of the hierarchy – does little to address the inherent flaws in our system; it’s more of a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!” mentality that’s pushed here. While Sandberg is an impressive self-identifying feminist, I hope that her next work is less appeasing and more aggressive. UPDATE 11/14: Actually, it’s more of a “I’m fine, so fuck you” mentality. I’ve changed my mind on this book; on one hand, I do appreciate the consciousness-raising, but on the other, who is she trying to convince? Females? This is feminist in name only.
Misogyny Reloaded by Abigail Bray – I can’t shake this manifesto from my mind. Abigail Bray is absolutely relentless from cover to cover, determined to make you feel the ugly, pervasive misogyny that drips from the sexist hierarchy of patriarchy. It never stops, moving viciously from the mainstream acceptance of snuff porn all the way to the casual normalization of rape jokes. It is aggressive in exposing the mainstream “girl power” and “sex positive” movements for what they are – gross, unsophisticated mockeries of feminism. Misogyny Re-Loaded is a major wake up call for people to rise up against the sadism embedded in our militarized violence. It provokes simultaneously defeat but also an insistence to maintain resolve in challenging sexual fascism. It’s a radical feminist movement in and of itself. I’ll be revisiting this if ever I become stagnant in my activism.
Allies in Healing by Laura Davis – I admire and love this book. Through her question-and-answer format, what Laura Davis does best is help in normalizing questions and alleviating concerns that inevitably arise in relationships with survivors. Nothing, be it dissociation or therapy or sex or triggers, is off-limits here. Allies in Healing is focused primarily on partners of survivors, and makes it clear that, as with all relationships, balance is necessary, and both partners matter equally. The journey of being with a survivor can be very challenging at times – but making the active choice to stand beside them while they heal can be exponentially rewarding in both depth of connection and in truly getting to understand one another. It was through this book that I was able to learn more about both my partner and myself, and I look forward to sharing this book with other couples in the future.
Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy – This is an amazing assault on our image-based raunch culture, wherein females are increasingly internalizing a patriarchal definition of attractiveness and objectifying themselves in mass droves, from girls who have Gone Wild to “lipstick feminists” – all under the pretense of empowerment. Female Chauvinist Pigs – the rare women who have succeeded in male-dominated fields not by embracing feminism but by playing by men’s rules and objectifying women themselves – make up the brunt end of the argument in this book. I’m still trying to figure out the difference between Second and Third Wave feminism, and along comes an entirely new line of thought from Ariel Levy that opens up chasms in which I realize I have a lot more to learn yet. UPDATE 11/14: The difference between Second and Third Wave feminism is the difference between this book (Second) and Lean In and Full-Frontal Feminism (Third). I prefer Second.
Healing from Trauma by Jasmin Lee Cori – Junk science and conversational smart talk had polluted, for me, a clear understanding of what trauma actually is: a body’s physical, mental, and physiological reaction to one or a series of distressing or disturbing experiences. It’s real, and I never understood just how deeply trauma can seize one’s sense of control. Jasmin Lee Cori has successfully found a way of distilling entire textbooks-worth of physiological studies into just a few hundred pages, in addition to providing valuable, actionable plans to resetting the nervous system, increasing self-regulation, mastering traumatic symptoms (such as dissociation), and coming to terms with what’s happened. Healing From Trauma validated for me that trauma can come from matters big or small, physical or verbal, harmful or perceptively dangerous. It’s essential reading and has made me second-guess my capacity for empathy considerably.
The Invisible War – In what institution does it come to pass that, in 2010 alone, out of an approximate 19,000 sexual assaults, only 244 convictions are processed? As per Kirby Dick‘s The Invisible War, the United States military. This documentary, weaving into the lives of dozens of veterans screened positive with sexual trauma, is a demand for the Armed Forces to not only acknowledge their horrific impartial judicial system, but entirely change their handling of the ways in which survivors are dismissed while their assailants advance without hinderance. It’s this film that reminds me that the systematic “slut shaming” of females goes all the way to the top: survivors are frequently expelled from the military when reporting their assaults. Though it ought to be necessary, it’s unlikely this film will be screened by military recruiters.
Big Porn Inc. edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray – 34 experts on the porn industry go into great detail about the damaging ramifications of its practice. Big Porn Inc. explores pornography with amazing scope; essays purvey a bleak reality of what our legislated porn economies have imprinted on the world, including the childification of sexuality, the pornification of children, the sexualization of interfamilial rape, the normalization of rape, and a relentlessly detailed account of the lives of the women, men, and children entrenched within. There’s simply no justifiable way to endorse or look at pornography once you get through this horrifying, and very impressive, body of work.
Miss Representation – White, thin, big breasts, thin waste, not very bright, and very attractive. This is how the media likes its females, and Miss Representation, a documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, explores how this limited portrayal of women is both damaging to social consciousness and leaves young women and men without well-represented positive female role models. It was pretty eye-opening for me; in terms of disparaging female representations in the media, I had never thought beyond actresses (Rosario Dawson and Geena Davis are interviewed here), but the conversations here range from Condoleezza Rice to Katie Couric, Nancy Pelosi to Gloria Steinem. The Representation Project is a great starting point for feminist critical analysis of media, and best of all, is responsible for The Representation Test.
Full-Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti – I tend to advocate for the limitations of the ignorant; people don’t know what people don’t know, and until then, it’s best to communicate with patience that their ignorance is potentially damaging and / or oppressive. So when my girlfriend threw at me, “You don’t know what feminism is,” I knew that I was obliged to learn more. Amy was right; my impression of feminism was limited to what I had learned from men. A few months later, she picked me up a copy of Feministing founder Jessica Valenti’s powerful piece on the importance of feminism in the lives of both women and men alike. This is an excellent place to begin for newcomers to sex equality. UPDATE 11/14: I can only introduce this book as a very basic, compromising take on what feminism is. Feminism is not, as Jessica Valenti insists, a movement of individuals. One does not simply get to define what feminism means to themselves and go from there. To quote Gail Dines, that’s a “I’m fine, so fuck you” mentality that sustains oppression. Collectivism is what’s needed. This book is not that.
I-20: The Sex Trafficking Superhighway – I watched this documentary by The Wellhouse, a non-profit organization in Birmingham, Alabama, as I was undergoing a major shift in attitude and opinion towards the legalization of prostitution. I-20: The Sex Trafficking Superhighway only reinforces my disgust for having been so wrong. When you support prostitution, thus supporting impunity for brothel operators and pimps, you support slavery that comes in the form of sex trafficking. This runs a little over 20 minutes, but in the short run time you’ll gain a slight understanding of the disturbing trafficking that occurs in the Southeast of of America, Interstate 20 being the route of transporting victims between Texas and South Carolina. The testimonials from survivors – some coerced financially and others forcefully imprisoned by their “boyfriends” – makes me sick to stomach and is a reminder that everyday activism is necessary.
Not a Choice, Not a Job by Janice G. Raymond – This brilliant piece on the global sex industry changed my life. Until I read it, I was completely uninformed about what an economy supporting prostitution means in practical terms. Previously a major supporter of “sex workers” on the grounds of empowerment, I had never considered that the industry is an obvious and disturbing violation of human rights, commodifying women and children in a buyer’s market that systematically strips them of their agency, health, and lives. Janice G. Raymond comes under a lot of scrutiny for her controversial work as an activist, but Not a Choice, Not a Job is a masterpiece that is essential reading to expose and challenge the myths of the international sex trade.
The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti
Are Women Human? by Catharine MacKinnon