An editor and journalist gathers 22 essays from a diverse group of contemporary women writers about the nature of modern female rage.
Catapult contributing editor Dancyger creates a cathartic space for both well- and lesser-known writers to express the various ways in which their anger has manifested in their lives. The opening essay, Leslie Jamison’s “Lungs Full of Burning,” sets the tone for the rest of the book. For years, Jamison took pride in being “someone who wasn’t prone to anger” until she realized that the sadness she often felt was really a manifestation of a rage society would not let her own. Monet Patrice Thomas follows Jamison with a discussion of how society considers angry black women to have “an attitude” and how, in general, they are allowed to feel only one emotion: fear. Reclaiming anger—and an abused body—is at the heart of Rios de la Luz’s essay “Enojada,” which details her experiences with sexual molestation suffered at the hands of her mother's boyfriend. In “On Transfeminine Anger,” Samantha Riedel describes the rage she felt as a gender-confused boy and then in the early years of her trans womanhood, when she railed against “the forces of misogyny and transphobia” only to end up hurting people she cared about. Destructive as anger can be, Reema Zaman shows how it can also liberate. Zaman depicts the moment she stood up to her bullying husband and told him, “I was born for life beyond you.” In “The Color of Being Muslim,” Shaheen Pasha talks about her rage at “the suffocating expectations of others,” both within and without the Pakistani American community, who saw her as being too Muslim or not Muslim enough. Powerful and provocative, this collection is an instructive read for anyone seeking to understand the many faces—and pains—of womanhood in 21st-century America.
An incisive collection of writing about how women’s anger “doesn’t have to be useful to deserve a voice.”
A popular young writer tackles a host of cultural movements in her debut collection of essays.
In these nine stunning pieces, New Yorker staff writer Tolentino seamlessly melds together journalistic social criticism and revealing personal essays. To varying degrees of intimate context, she places herself within each narrative, reporting on broad social currents while revealing very specific encounters. Among the many topics the author explores: the expansive influence of the internet and social media; the increasing social pressure to optimize our interests and aspirations at all times (especially for women); the alarming proliferation and increased tolerance of scamming; societal, somewhat idealized traditions such as marriage and, more specifically, weddings. Tolentino recounts her experience with reality TV and reflects on her teenage identity when she appeared as a contestant in Girls v. Boys: Puerto Rico. “Reality TV had not yet created a whole new type of person,” she writes, “the camera-animated assemblage of silicone and pharmaceuticals; we hadn’t yet seen the way organic personalities could decay on unscripted television, their half-lives measured through sponsored laxative-tea Instagrams and paid appearances at third-tier regional clubs.” She also recalls favorite literary books from her past, assessing the heroines’ varying plights in guiding her current feminist leanings. While offering razor-sharp commentary on the underbelly of our culture, she can also appreciate its attraction. Furthermore, she acknowledges her particular conundrum, having established her niche as a writer by staying in tune with cultural trends: “I don’t know what to do with the fact…that my career is possible in large part because of the way the internet collapses identity, opinion, and action—and that I, as a writer whose work is mostly critical and often written in first person, have some inherent stake in justifying the dubious practice of spending all day trying to figure out what you think.” Tolentino offers a millennial perspective that is deeply grounded, intellectually transcending her relative youth. She brings fresh perspective to current movements in a manner similar to that of Joan Didion in the 1960s and ’70s.
Exhilarating, groundbreaking essays that should establish Tolentino as a key voice of her generation.
A behind-the-scenes look at the Harvey Weinstein case as told by the two New York Times journalists who broke the story.
When Kantor (The Obamas, 2012) and Twohey published their 2017 article series implicating Weinstein in a 30-year-long sexual misconduct scandal, it garnered worldwide attention, earned the news outlet the Pulitzer Prize, and briskly vaporized the Hollywood film producer’s career and reputation. In vivid, cinematic fashion, the authors describe the risky investigation from its first probing telephone calls and emails to the challenges of obtaining recorded interviews. Despite episodes of self-doubt, an avalanche of testimonials from victimized women started pouring in. Kantor and Twohey focus on the details of how they doggedly procured sources, chased leads, and obtained enough concrete evidence to blow the case open. As the attestations began to accumulate, so did the trouble, including calculated interference and intimidation from a supposed Weinstein-hired Israeli intelligence organization, which attempted to sabotage the entire endeavor. The authors also examine the nature of wealth and power and how the corruption of privilege infected Weinstein, Miramax, and his expansive web of malefactors, which included employees, publicists, and the corporate machines aligned alongside him who overlooked his reprehensive behavior and supervised his confidential settlements to the women he abused. The authors chronicle the early testimonies from Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd as well as an initially reluctant Rose McGowan, who accused Weinstein of raping her and labeled his notorious behavior “an open secret in Hollywood/Media.” The journalists’ work helped ignite the burgeoning #MeToo movement and inspired a massive cultural sea change, but they also acknowledge the grueling work ahead, as evidenced in the book’s concluding chapters featuring Christine Blasey Ford, who shares her personal insights on the steamrolled Supreme Court appointment of Brett Kavanaugh. Both admirable and suspenseful, the narrative is a fitting testament to the power of persistence and dedication in exposing critical crimes.
Keenly executed, exemplary spadework dedicated to justice for all women caught in the crosshairs of privileged power.
After 14 years, a survivor of rape chronicles her interviews with the man who assaulted her, a former friend.
Inside the swirling “zeitgeist” of the #MeToo movement, Vanasco (English/Towson Univ.; The Glass Eye, 2017) decided not only to write about the experience that still gives her nightmares, but also to include the perspective of the person who raped her. Over emails, phone calls, and in-person conversations, the author interviewed her former friend, Mark, and tried to make sense of his inexplicable betrayal as well as her own ambivalence toward him: “I doubt I’m the only woman sexually assaulted by a friend and confused about her feelings,” she writes. At every step of this harrowing process, from deciding how to approach Mark after years without contact to transcribing and interpreting their conversations, the author scrutinizes her own motivations, her compulsive caretaking of Mark’s discomfort during their discussions, and the lasting impact of the trauma that he caused her. Perspectives from Vanasco’s friends, her partner, and her therapist also figure heavily into the narrative, emphasizing how crucial it is for survivors to have wide networks of support. With deep self-consciousness, courage, and nuance, the author reveals the inner universe of her survivorship and interrogates the notion that rapists are two-dimensionally evil. A friend of Vanasco’s reflects, “how can someone who seems so harmless or acts so well or is so intelligent be capable of committing what is understandably kind of an evil act and how can it happen?” Though the author does not exactly answer these questions through her interviews with Mark, her engrossing, complex, incisive testament to the banality of violence is not a desolate narrative. Instead, Vanasco invites her readers to understand the complicated humanity involved in both causing and experiencing harm, leaving the limits and possibilities of accountability and healing as urgent, open questions.
An extraordinarily brave work of self- and cultural reflection.
“This is the story about women and age in America,” writes New York Times op-ed columnist Collins (As Texas Goes…: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda, 2012, etc.) in a jaunty survey of women’s lives from Colonial days to the 21st century, focusing on the ever changing designation of what counts as old age.
Colonial society valued usefulness, no matter what a woman’s age, and in the 1920s, any woman older than 19 was considered past her prime. Dispatching the 18th and 19th centuries in a handful of chapters, Collins looks at the 20th century decade by decade, enlivening her history with portraits of a wide variety of significant women—for example, the legendary African American stagecoach driver Mary Fields, who was “past fifty when she moved to a Catholic mission in Montana, where she helped out by hauling supplies”; Frances Willard, who wrote a bestseller about learning how to ride a bicycle at 53; and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who published an article about divorce reform two weeks before she died at 86. Some women Collins profiles in her abundantly populated history faced growing older with equanimity; others saw aging as “a problem to be solved through personal effort” that included diet, exercise, cosmetic surgery, and hair dye. In the early 1900s, actress Lillian Russell “announced she was getting in shape through a regimen of rolling over 250 times every morning.” Some women—like activist Jane Addams and Labor Secretary Frances Perkins—defied social expectations by entering business and politics; others believed that women’s place was in the home. During periods of economic stress, especially the Depression, women who worked were condemned for taking jobs away from men. In the 1960s, however, when fewer workers were available because of the low birth rate of the 1930s, more opportunities opened up for older women. As Collins sees it, there was never a time when women’s aging wasn’t controversial and, for some, troubling. But, she adds, “we’re teaching ourselves how to get old in the best way possible.”
A collection of essays, some journalistic, some critical, some memoiristic, all marked by the author’s distinct intelligence.
In “Mark My Words. Maybe.” an essay not included here, Jamison (Director, Graduate Nonfiction Program/Columbia Univ.; The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath, 2018, etc.) recounts getting Roman playwright Terence’s quotation Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto ("I am human, nothing human is alien to me") tattooed on her arm. That apothegm, which also served as the epigraph to her first collection, The Empathy Exams (2014), is put to the test in her latest book. Whether encountering a boy in a wheelchair in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, or a pushy woman on a layover in Houston, the author wonders at the limits of empathy. In “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order To Live Again,” she recounts her interview with a man who claimed he was “not a gun nut” even as he handled two guns and left “a collection of bullets spread across his comforter” for her to find: “Had I been foolishly unwilling to acknowledge that some people were alien to me? Did I need to identify with all the gun-loving men of this world? Was it naive or even ethically irresponsible to believe I should find common ground with everyone, or that it was even possible?” Jamison’s other main intellectual concern is the exploitative role of the journalist. In “Maximum Exposure,” she offers a sympathetic portrait of the photographer Annie Appel, who must ask her subjects, “Can I take this moment of your life and make my art from it?” The common cause she finds with the journalistic skepticism of Janet Malcolm and James Agee is odd, though, considering how many of her essays begin as reporting. Jamison thinks and writes so elegantly, the subjects that serve as many of her jumping-off points risk feeling superfluous to the real business of her essaying. Still, as with nearly all of her writing, this one is well worth reading.
A commendable essay collection by one of the leading practitioners of the form.
Sociology and personal experience blend in a concise collection of essays about contemporary black American women.
These essays are distinguished by the fact that McMillan Cottom (Sociology/Virginia Commonwealth Univ.; Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy, 2017, etc.) is clearly dedicated to including the whole range of her being, from the detached academic who rigorously footnotes each of the essays to the emotional first-person narrator of the experiences of sexual abuse and societal exclusion. As a “black woman who thinks for a living,” the author describes herself as caught in the middle of some invisible battle, accused by one editor of being “too readable to be academic, too deep to be popular, too country black to be literary, and too naïve to show the rigor of my thinking in the complexity of my prose.” From this position—uncomfortable for her but stimulating for readers—McMillan Cottom takes aim at a range of targets. “In the Name of Beauty” makes the controversial case that a black woman cannot by definition be beautiful, because “beauty isn't actually what you look like; beauty is the preferences that reproduce the existing social order. What is beautiful is whatever will keep weekend lake parties safe from strange darker people.” In “Dying to Be Competent,” the author takes the horrifying story of the death of her premature baby and extrapolates to discuss the consequences of assuming that even the most educated and wealthy black women are unable to manage their lives properly. “Black Is Over (Or, Special Black)” dissects with sardonic zeal the tendency of colleges to choose students from Africa or the Caribbean over black students from the United States. “When there is only room for a few blacks there is a competition for which black should prevail,” she writes. Throughout, the meshing of the personal and political and the author's take-no-prisoners attitude make these essays sizzle.
A provocative volume bound to stir argument and discussion.
An impassioned anthology of the author’s evidence-based pleas to alleviate climate change.
In her latest book, Intercept senior correspondent Klein (Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies/Rutgers Univ.; This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus the Climate, 2015, etc.) presents pieces, some of which have been updated, from 2010 to 2019. Whether revised or not, most still resonate; the masterful, newly composed, 53-page introduction alone is worth the cover price. What separates Klein from many other advocates for a Green New Deal is her balanced combination of idealism and politics-based realism. The idealism shines through as she discusses the need for systemic change across the globe. The realism becomes apparent as she explains the huge obstacles to progressive policies put in place by elected politicians, private-sector corporate leaders, and omnipresent lobbyists, most of whom rarely care about the overarching public interest and can spend money at will to further their agendas. Throughout her urgent essays, Klein lucidly expresses her incredulity that huge swaths of humanity fail to recognize the critical nature of our current climate crisis. She believes that mass destruction will occur during many readers’ lifetimes, with their children and grandchildren suffering even greater losses. Alterations in individual behaviors—if enough individuals willingly participate—can lead to short-term alleviation, but long-term systemic change must follow immediately. The author’s most compelling extended example is the account of how 15-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden has influenced countless people to join in her advocacy. “Listening to Thunberg speak about how our collective climate inaction had nearly stolen her will to live seemed to help others feel the fire of survival in their own bellies,” writes Klein. The author also explores historical instances of systemic change to determine if the New Deal proposed by Franklin Roosevelt serves as the most appropriate analogy for the currently circulating Green New Deal. Klein wisely ranges beyond the U.S. and her native Canada when presenting evidence and explaining obstacles.
Another important addition to the literature on the most essential issue of our day.
Autobiographical essays reveal the challenges of a first-generation American.
New York Times contributing opinion writer Crucet (English and Ethnic Studies/Univ. of Nebraska; Make Your Home Among Strangers, 2015, etc.), winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Prize, among other awards, makes an affecting nonfiction debut with a collection of essays that explore family, culture, and her identity as a Cuban American. Her parents, Cuban refugees, named her after a beauty queen in the Miss USA pageant. They believed that “you give your kids white American names so that their teachers can’t tell what they are before meeting them,” and so they have a better chance at avoiding prejudice. For Crucet’s mother, “her ideal daughter was a white girl because she had long internalized the idea that as Latinas, we’d be treated as lesser, that we were somehow lesser. And she just wanted better for me, which meant: whiter.” Because she grew up seeing Cubans who worked as doctors, police officers, and teachers, she did not realize, until she went to college in upstate New York, that mainstream American culture looked predominantly white. As a light-skinned Latina, Crucet often made a deliberate choice not to reveal her racial identity. In college, when she read Nella Larsen’s novel Passing, she “first recognized this trespassing as an act in which I had sometimes found myself but didn’t yet know how to define” and first noticed that whites “who misread me as also white” sometimes showed “the kind of pervasive racism usually reserved for white-only spaces.” Among the “white-only spaces” she sensitively examines are Disney World, “grounded in whiteness and heteronormative gender roles”; college classes, where white professors and white students singled her out “as the official Latinx ambassador”; the process of planning a wedding to a man who came from “a white monolingual American family”; and a cattle ranch in Nebraska, where she signed up to work with the hope of learning something about the culture of her prospective students at the university.
Thoughtful, deftly crafted reflections on race and identity.
Journalist and video blogger Plank's spirited first book addresses the problems men face in trying to live up to outmoded concepts of masculinity.
While the author considers in passing the effects of what she calls “toxic masculinity” on women who often experience its unfortunate side effects, her main emphasis is on the men whose lives it damages. Writing in staccato bursts and frequently citing experts she has interviewed as well as written sources, Plank makes the case that what we consider masculine traits are socially determined rather than innate and that men at this point in time may be more limited by gender expectations than women are. “We updated what it means to be a woman, but we didn't update what it meant to be a man,” she writes. For example, she suggests, women are beginning to feel free to express anger, while men are less apt to express fear or sadness. Women can comfortably wear the kind of clothing traditionally reserved for men, while men don't have the luxury of wearing women's clothing without comment. At the heart of the male dilemma, writes the author, is the “male shame spiral” in which men feel guilty about not being able to live up to the traditional macho ideal and then feel increasingly ashamed because they have to hide their feelings. Plank intersperses her longer chapters with short sections she labels “amuse-bouche,” most of which introduce men who are defying conventional definitions of masculinity. At times, she can be glib and given to metaphors that try to be folksy. “Freedom is like pancakes at IHOP: you can't run out,” she writes. While persuading the target male audience to read the book may be a challenge, those who take the leap will find plenty to think about.
A canny appeal to the self-interest of men in reforming gender roles.