It's an eclectic list of books and includes the usual Kate Chopin, Jane Austen, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood titles you would expect. But it also had some books I wouldn't have thought of right off the top of my head. One of those books is Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. Hosseini wrote The Kite Runner, which was excellent, but A Thousand Splendid Suns is whatever comes after excellent. The friendship of two women is central to the story and there is a section in which a woman desperately tries to get medical aid in a country that forbids male doctors from touching female patients that will have you reaching for a checkbook to donate to Doctors Without Borders.
I wouldn't have chosen Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials for the list, even though there are so many female characters in it. But then I only read the first book in the series, which seemed to me all set up without real thought into the practicalities of having daemons with you everywhere.
But I digress.
I started thinking about how I would define a "feminist book" and ran across an interesting book review of a novel called I Know Not Why. The critic enjoyed the book--she said it was like an episode of Gilmore Girls in novel form. The whole focus of her blog is feminism and she describes herself as fiercely feminist but not in a man-hating way but
in a "Wouldn't it be awesome if we all were treated equally?" kind of
way.. (Her name is Rhiannon and you can find her blog here.)
And that made me think about how different generations define "feminism."
I was born in between the generations in terms of feminism. I didn't burn my bra, I simply never wore one. I remember my mother reading The Women's Room and being, as they say in the south, "all fired up." (My father was an Army lawyer who specialized in Civil Rights laws and women's issues, but I don't think he ever made so much as a bowl of soup for himself. On the other hand, he sent all his uniform shirts to the laundry so she didn't have to waste her time ironing them.)
Back when I was a baby feminist, admitting to reading romance novels would have been as shocking as well--whatever the most shocking thing you can think of would be. I would have lost my membership card.
Nowadays half the writers I know write romance novels (check out Christine Pope's Bad Vibrations) or have Smart Bitches, Trashy Books on their Google navigation page. In today's geek culture, smart is sexy and you can be both intelligent and beautiful. And strong also. (I just realized--there's no word you can use when you want to say "both" but you have three items--"thirth?")
So what was feminist fiction for my mother is not feminist fiction for me, or for my 12-year-old niece, or for my 30-something friends who never had to deal with a boss patting them on their head and calling them "Sunshine." (Yes--I was working at Los Angeles Magazine and the then-owner of the publication did that. I was 22 and looked younger and he called me that because he couldn't remember my name, and it just made me want to bite his hand off. Because as you've probably been told--feminists have no sense of humor.)
But as current politics shows us, we've still got a long way to go, baby. And you know, that Equal Rights Amendment? It never passed.
So what constitutes feminist fiction? Money Shot by Christa Faust and Carrie by Stephen King and anything that celebrates women or treats them like human beings who have more on offer than their lady parts.
What are your picks?
P.S. If you're interested in non-fiction, check out the Ms. Magazine readers' list of the top feminist non-fiction books here.