Category Archives: gender

Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang

IMG_8788A lovely friend mailed me this book when she found out that I would be moving to and working in Silicon Valley — and Brotopia (justifiably) terrified me. Emily Chang, a journalist and newscaster for Bloomberg, dives into the murky waters that is the oft-times described “boys’ clubs” of Silicon Valley. Chang brilliantly uses her connections as a reporter to land interviews (both on the record and off) with lots of powerful people within Silicon Valley. The author presents a history of Silicon Valley and the many ways that sexism and misogyny have been steeped into its being since its creation. By weaving together research, articles, and interviews with those involved, the reader will feel better able to understand the reality of the tech industry’s home. Not only does Chang deftly describe the history and current state of Silicon Valley (including its e(xc)lusive sex parties), she offers solutions for change, based on research and her impressions as someone who has been thoroughly immersed in exploring these issues for years. While pieces of Brotopia left me feeling disheartened, Chang’s final tone made me feel hopeful for change. 

This was an essential read for me, coming into Silicon Valley without knowing much about its roots, and also motivated me to prepare myself with resources and knowledge that would hopefully help me succeed in this environment. The book is accessible, well researched, and offers actionable suggestions for change. If you’re interested in understanding the context of Silicon Valley, I absolutely recommend this book. 

Publication Date: 6 February 2018 by PortfolioFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Emily Chang @twitter/web/TV show/Bloomberg

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I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux

image1 (9)I really thought I was going to go through all of 2018 only reading books written by women, but Michael Arcenaux’s debut I Can’t Date Jesus sounded too intriguing to ignore. Despite not reading any of Arceneaux’s work before, I really enjoyed reading his memoir essays. He’s a big shot in the journalism world, particularly known for writing from the gay and black POV, but you don’t need to know his previous work to dive into this! Arceneaux brilliantly writes about the tensions between his family, religion, sexuality, professional goals, Beyoncé, and beyond. I dug all of the Texas references (some of my favorites were deep cuts that people outside of Texas might not understand… but people read that kind of stuff all of the time about NYC, so don’t let that dissuade you) and enjoyed reading about his reflections upon how his experiences, both during youth and more recently, have greatly shaped the man Arceneaux is today.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Atria Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Atria Books or NetGalley.

Publication Date: 24 July 2018 by Atria BooksFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Michael Arceneaux web/@twitter/@instagram

All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister

IMG_8200Woof! It’s been a minute since I’ve blogged. A few life changes (exciting ones!) have been demanding my time and graduate school has been feasting off of my life outside of work time too. Thus, while I’ve still been reading, I haven’t been motivated to write reviews in a bit… until now! Here comes my review for All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister. 

I procured this little book nearly two years ago and while I was loving it, it was simply too bulky of a read for me to keep pace with for where I was mentally at the time. However, when I picked it up again, I dove right into All the Single Ladies and enjoyed the whole thing! This lovely little book consists of Traister situating single women within America’s history, culture, and society. This means that at times, it can feel like reading a socio-cultural textbook, which may be too heady for your interests (in definitely was for me two years ago), but if you parse it out instead of trying to read straight through in a handful of days, it’s a delight! 

Traister recounts historical moments and movements related to women gaining independence and sprinkles in lots of wonderful interviews about women claiming their piece of the pie and how partnerships (either romantic or friendship-based) can help or hinder their goals. Traister wonderfully captures a variety of women’s experiences across race, age, sexuality, economic resources, job interests, family dynamics, geographical location, and beyond. I especially loved her chapter on lady friendships (Chapter 4: “Dangerous as Lucifer Matches: The Friendships of Women”) because that is a topic that always makes me feel giddy, thankful for my amazing friends, personally empowered, and inspires me to continue watering my friendships with love and support. This chapter alone is everything that I had hoped Text Me When You Get Home would have been.

I thoroughly recommend reading this book, then sharing it one of your besties, and then showering each other in appreciation and support and encouraging each other to achieve your goals!!

Publication Date: 1 March 2016 by Simon & Schuster. Format: Hardcover.

Author: Rebecca Traister web/@twitter

Mini Review: You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

youcanttouchmyhairIf you’re not familiar with Phoebe Robinson yet, she’s a comedian and hilarious person who is one of 2 Dope Queens, Black Daria (Blaria), and as she refers to herself in this book, a cross between Miss J from America’s Next Top Model with a dash of Ta-Nahesi Coates. A lot of Robinson’s essays spend time discussing black hair, her own historically, and through memorable pop culture moments. The Not So Guilty Pleasures section of the book had the most laughs from me, along with her repeated references to some of the nonsense of Carrie Bradshaw and Sex and the City, whilst loving the show and constantly making fun of it simultaneously. I listened to You Can’t Touch My Hair as an audiobook, which was very entertaining because Robinson is great at using her voice to tell a good story; I’m not sure her written words would have jumped off the page in the same way her voice jumped through my ears and mind.

Here’s a lil’ snippet from the book, regarding Robinson wanting to f*ck Bono from U2.

“I have issues. We all have issues. We’re all like a year subscription to Vogue magazine. We’ve got twelve issues each. It’s fine.”

Publication Date: 4 October 2016 by Plume Books. Format: Audiobook.

Author: Phoebe Robinson web/@twitter/@instagram/facebook

 

Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship by Kayleen Schaefer

textmewhenyougethomeText Me When You Get Home‘s title is based off of how lady friends will often end an in person hang out by telling each other to “text me when you get home,” like a subtle “I love you” and acknowledgment of the potential for danger that lurks beneath any women’s experience moving from one place to another. As someone who does this regularly with my friends, I LOVED the premise of this book (anecdote: I also paid more attention to how my friends reacted to me saying this at the conclusion of our hangs while reading: women always responded positively, straight + cis men literally guffawed at the thought [unless they were related to me], men who weren’t straight or cis reacted less strongly than women, but still positively). Despite loving the premise of this book, I felt like something was missing from these essays detailing the histories of female friendships, how they currently exist, and what influences them. 

I’ve been paying attention to how this subject matter is covered for a while, so I was thrilled to see a formal gathering of everything related to girls’ and women’s friendships. Text Me When You Get Home compiles existing thoughts and dissects them further, but there are some important pieces missing. I felt like there should’ve been a better historical dive (such as exploring Victorian lady friendships in more depth than the brief description within the conclusion) or that there had been further explanation of how friendships did exist before the 1950s ideal of romantic marriages took over instead of detailing one example of letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto. I would have also liked more emphasis on how the rise of dating culture had an inverse effect on women’s friendships with each other. This piece is brushed upon a fair amount, but if there had been discussion about how these friendships HAD existed and then disappeared, it would have made this book a little stronger.
I was familiar with most of the media examples explored (except for the film Girls Trip, which I promptly watched on a flight after reading this book; do recommend!), so there wasn’t a lot of new information for me. This is probably why I found the book a bit disappointing because I’ve read similar thoughts expounded upon before. However, if this is your first time exploring the topic of lady friendships or you have found yourself newly enjoying your lady friends after casting off their potential previously, this is a great book for you. If you’ve been embracing the many wonders of close lady friendships for some time and recognize the special and multitude roles they fulfill in your life and love reading about lady friendships, both real and depicted in media, this might feel a lil redundant and late to the party. 
Kayleen Schaefer, the author, used to work on staff at magazines, and she describes her initial condemnation of superficial women’s magazines (and acknowledges this), but this felt a little odd to me. Her previous self thought it was trivial to read or write about things like women’s hair management, etc., despite writing about the same topics for a (now defunct) men’s magazine. Unfortunately, Schaefer doesn’t ever really assert that caring about these topics, from either a women’s or men’s perspective, shouldn’t be frowned upon and that maybe she’s still viewing topics of worth through a male lens. She does combats this slightly, but it felt like walking through molasses to get there: “I was undermining and dismissing my sex by not seeing us as complex people who shouldn’t have to conform to anyone’s standard of what’s cool or not,”  (p. 108; from Advance Reader’s Copy and may not be how this is worded in the published version).

What I liked best in Text Me When You Get Home were other people’s quotes (Judy Bloom, etc.), so I almost felt like this would’ve worked better as a colorful coffee table book with selected quotes from interviews conducted by the author about friendship on bright pages instead.

To reiterate, I do think this will be a good read for someone who is a novice in exploring lady friendships. If you’ve already been wading in the waters for a bit (literarily and with your own relations), it might be worth passing on this and finding a good long read instead. I read a really nice long read on the history of victorian friendships and the intimate letters that women used to write to each other, sharing a special closeness to their best lady friends that they didn’t with their husbands, but unfortunately I cannot find it anywhere. I did manage to find a nice long read by Megan Garber on depictions of female friendships in the media that I had shared among my friends when I first read it and now I share it with you.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Dutton via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Dutton or NetGalley.

Publication Date: 6 February 2018 by DuttonFormat: E-book ARC.

Author: Kayleen Schaefer web/@twitter/@instagram

Educated by Tara Westover

educatedThis memoir had an effect on me and I want to recommend it to everyone. Educated by Tara Westover is a memoir about family obligations, systems of control, and the power of education. It was a hard, but good read. 

Westover grew up in a strict, Mormon household in rural middle America with parents who had their own interpretation of Mormonism that they proselytized to their children and used to condemn others’ interpretations of divine faith, including other Mormons. The parents did not trust the government, which extended to not birthing most of their children in hospitals because they were part of the evil “medical establishment”,  not legally recording most of their children’s births until many years later, not immunizing their children or permitting them to visit doctors for care in favor of homeopathy, and not enrolling their children in schools for fear the schools would brainwash their children with nonsense. The denial of all of these things to their children, particularly access to an education as the children weren’t really schooled at home either, was a way to indoctrinate the children into the parents’ belief system, bound the children to their parents’ sphere of control so that the children may never leave, and limit the children from access to other ways of thinking that would allow the children to be able to question their family’s way of life. 

Westover’s tale highlights how important access to an education is as she details the life circumstances of her siblings — those who managed to be admitted to college, after secretly studying for standardized testing, went on to receive doctorates, whereas the others never received high school diplomas or GEDs and subsequently had limited job options and continued to be employees of their parents’ businesses as they had been since they were children. The memoir is broken into three parts, beginning with Westover’s childhood, transitioning into Westover’s teen years when she enrolls in an undergraduate program, and the last pieces include her venturing to another part of the world for education purposes and having her worldview expanded even more than her undergraduate experiences initially opened. While education definitely plays a central role in this memoir, a large part of Westover’s story involves controlling family dynamics, the emotional abuse that often rains down from the controlling heads of household, unfettered physical abuse that family members conveniently ignore or outright deny because acknowledgement of its actuality could challenge their pleasant forms of reality, and outright misogyny about a women’s place in the family and in the world that is shielded from question by religious morales. 

While Westover’s education granted her access to many things, it also created many conflicts with her family and led to estrangements from certain members. Becoming “educated” isn’t always cost-free and Westover’s story illuminates some of the challenges that can be associated with advancing oneself, whilst one’s family tries to hold them back. This was a book that I needed to read and I hope that it is enlightening for others. 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Random House via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Random House or NetGalley.

 

Publication Date: 20 Feburary 2018 by Random HouseFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Tara Westover web/facebook/@twitter

Hunger by Roxane Gay

hungerLike much of the literary world, I am obsessed with Roxane Gay and I LOVED her collection of essays that blended memoir, popular culture, and commentary on society, Bad FeministHunger: A Memoir of (My) Body dives more deeply into some of the pieces of Gay’s story that she alluded to within Bad Feminist.

The composition of this collection was different than a memoir I’ve read before: the chapters vary in length, some only a page long, as if they’re all of the thoughts Gay had while conceiving this book, some jotted in the notes app on her phone so as not to forget and then left in their brief form. Other short pieces signify emotions that simply have too much underneath them to be explored further.

This book is heavy and you should take your time with reading it and give yourself the space to unpack the things that have happened and persisted in Gay’s life. Her story will likely make you reflect upon your own life stories and you should give yourself the time to do so. Within Hunger, Gay details her trauma associated with a gang rape, which had been lightly brushed upon in Bad Feminist, how fat bodies often have trauma and stories underneath that people dismiss or assume the bodies are just in poor health out of choice, her challenges with romantic and sexual relationships post-trauma, with her body, and with her geographic location, and the ways that people assume large bodies are always indicative of poor health.

Hunger forced me to challenge some assumptions I didn’t even know I had about how people move through the world and some of the things people who are large are forced to consider that I simply take for granted (i.e., will the chairs at this restaurant be compatible and provide necessary support to my body?). While Hunger definitely made me aware of things I had previously been oblivious to, it’s also important to remember that the book is an account of one person’s experiences with a large, fat body and it shouldn’t be taken as how everyone with these bodies feels or what they want, an important point that Gay emphasizes throughout her work.

Speaking of her work, I haven’t read any of Gay’s fiction pieces yet, but maybe I should add Difficult Women to my 2018 reading list? Hunger makes me want to be a Roxane Gay completionist, something that I feel like is rarer and rarer for me to even consider pursuing while staring at my ever mounting To Read pile, but Gay’s writing encourages me to do so. If you haven’t read one of her works yet, pick up Hunger or Bad Feminist the next time you see them at a store or your local library!

As an aside, this anecdote is tangentially related to the book Hunger, but I’m going to share anyway. Last year, I was inspired by the podcast The Cooler to start a “long-distance book club” with a bestie. The idea revolves around you reading a book on your own, underlining your favorite bits that resonate with you, and then passing along the book to a friend who can reflect on your bits, add their own bits, and give you specific things to talk about when you catch up on the phone since sometimes long distance besties can get in the rut of not really talking about their lives. While I do this with my faraway friends, I also do it with two of my nearby friends wherein we read the book back-to-back and then have a coffee/beer date where we talk about the book, like a two person book club where you only have to buy one copy of the book. There’s something so intimate in seeing what lines specifically connect with a friend and it can be very revealing, especially with a book like Hunger. My friend and I shared Hunger and it ended up being a nice way to talk about very sensitive and personal topics without having to put all of the cards on the table. I do this with a lot of books, but the experience of sharing Hunger will always be a poignant memory for me.