baby’s first feminist reader

There are some reads that I believe every budding human being would do well to have under their belt. This blog post is about them.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

I wrote a bit about this here and here, but never gave the read a good once-over. It was among the very first books about feminism or gender identity that I ever read, and it completely changed how I saw my experiences– often painful experiences– growing up female. Actually it was surprising for me how much I related to this book, which was written in the mid 1940s. I think a good goal for humanity would be to make the book irrelevant, but we’re a long way from that. Certainly it has its shortcomings– the goal of economic independence which she calls for is good but not enough, for instance. But there isn’t a better place for baby to start, in my opinion.

The Whipping Girl by Julia Serano

After I read The Second Sex, I floundered for a while in a state of confusion about femininity. My budding human mind was all like, Ugh, women, throw off your shackles and reject all of that woman stuff, like being passive or caring or romantic or sensitive to others’ feelings. I was becoming unwittingly anti-woman, by judging women who aligned with my notions of femininity as dupes in their own subjugation, rather than questioning what’s so bad about femininity in the first place. And then I read The Whipping Girl and my budding human mind became a lot less judgmental toward myself and others.

Have you wondered why masculinity is always “natural” and femininity is always “artificial”? I didn’t, until I read this read. My favorite of-the-moment example of masculinity being strictly natural is the Dove commercial for MAN soap that explains to men that their “manhide” can dry out with other soap, you know, like how the cowhide of your manly work boots can dry out. Don’t worry about using womanish soap, men– if you refer to your skin as your “manhide” you still pass as a man, which is a short skip, hop, and jump away from a cow.

Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale by Maria Mies

This little read is actually about the role of patriarchy in enabling capitalism to develop and then take over the world. But her chapter Social Origins of the Sexual Division of Labor is, in fact, mind blowing in its gender analysis. She lays out object-relations of women and men with their bodies/ with nature, of hunters/ gatherers with nature, of pastoralists with nature, and of farmers with nature, in a completely provocative way which rings true to me each time I read it. A taste:

They [men] cannot experience their own bodies as being productive in the same way as women can. Male bodily productivity cannot appear as such without the mediation of external means, of tools, whereas woman’s productivity can.[…] Without tools man is no MAN.(pg 56-57)

She also rightly points out that people have shied away from exploring the “origins of unequal and hierarchical relationships in society in general” (44), albeit without shying away from trotting out Man-the-Hunter to explain all sorts of trivial things about Men These Days. And that is a sorry state of affairs, but one that anyone who reads her book will not experience quite so much within their own heads.

Manhood in America by Michael Kimmel

If baby is like me, reading so much about life on the losing side of the War of the Sexes will make you wonder what it’s like on the winning side. Answer: not great. Patriarchy harms us all (except capitalists, I guess), and that is the lesson we get from Kimmel in this excellent read about the first sex. Just as it’s tough having to pretend all the time to be the perfect woman, it’s tough pretending to be the perfect man. So this read gave me a new-found appreciation for the struggles in being a man (more specifically a white man, the focus of this read). But just to be clear, they’re the struggles that a thinking human being can reject, for the price of some social acceptance [like: “I reject the idea that I have to be homophobic and avoid any physical intimacy with men”]. Struggles for people on the losing side of gender or cultural or ethnic wars don’t go away if they just change their mindset: even if I personally reject the idea that, because I’m a lady, I must be incapable of doing things with tools (which I’ve done recently!), people at the bike shop are still going to listen to men who know less about bikes than to me. Well, it’s a little example of a larger phenomenon, but you get me.


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