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WOMEN=BOOKS, the blog of Women's Review of Books, features our reviewers and book authors discussing issues raised in WRB articles, and women's writing and publishing. We hope you'll follow us, join in the discussion, and subscribe to WRB.

"They Were Not Divided": The Paying Guests and the Pleasures of the Text

By Marilyn R. Schuster

The pleasures of Sarah Waters’s texts are as varied as the genres she adapts to tellThe Paying Guests cover her stories: historical novel, police procedural, bodice-ripper, domestic drama. The Paying Guests has it all and then some.

Waters said in an interview with Tim Teeman in The Daily Beast that she wanted to learn more about the “nitty-gritty of domestic lives” in 1920s London: “what was going on in ordinary people’s lives.” Literary scholar that she is, Waters did her research. She read newspapers, diaries, letters, court records, and novels. Like other Waters admirers, my attention was drawn to the rich historical detail (from the meat-safe to the cosh used to bludgeon rats and other vermin) and absorbed by the pacing, from the excruciatingly slow development of the romance to the page-turning police procedural and trial. In the first part of the novel, dutiful daughter Frances Wray’s numbingly repetitive daily chores, her loneliness and longing born of sacrifice, along with reminders of the Bloomsbury life she could have had with Christina, her ex-lover, build slowly to the explosion of desire for “paying guest” Lilian. In the last part, the fast paced plot-turns (all, in retrospect, painstakingly prepared in advance) engage our full attention even as we witness the slow erosion of trust between the erstwhile lovers.

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She's Just Like Me!

By Rebecca Steinitz

 

Reviewing Roz Chast’s graphic (in both senses of the word) memoir of her parents’ decline, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, I was struck repeatedly by the uncanny impression that she was writing about my family. Not my parents, who are blessedly healthy (thank goodness, knock wood), but my grandparents, one set a Jewish couple in Brooklyn; and the other that odd couple in Washington Heights, my grandmother and my legally blind uncle, fifteen years older than my father, who lived with my grandparents his whole life and played the role of third parent to my father and extra grandparent to me and my sister.

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Po-Biz

By Robin Becker

 PO-BIZ is an irregular, occasional blog post on new books of poetry I’ve read and found noteworthy. Given the number of poetry collections published each year and the diminishing number of review outlets, I’d like to make WOMEN=BOOKS a place for short, pithy commentary. A second blog post focusing on another five books will appear early in 2015.

 Viral, by Suzanne Parker

            The suicide of college student Tyler Clementi (1991-2010) occasioned thishttp://alicejamesbooks.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/1961/08/Parker_VIRAL-cover-FINAL-HR-small-200x308.jpg collection of poems, and Parker’s decision to write from a range of perspectives (Clementi’s, his parents’, his tormentors’) deepens our understanding of the effects of cyberbullying. The unrepentant speaker of “Because” offers thirteen couplets to explain his actions. In one, he claims, “Because the eye exists to watch and I/ owned the rights to the technology.” Whose rights does our society protect and at what cost? Anyone interested in the intersection of poetry and social justice should read this book. The following poem assumes the voice of one of Clementi’s parents.

 

It Is Hard to Hate the World

but possible. When sleep first recedes

and you have not yet remembered God

opened his hands and let a boy

drop—despite the Sunday donations,

the commandments kept, prayers tattooed

against the teeth—when it is still

that half-death that is half-sleep

and he is crying for Lucky Charms

and your feet are already in slippers,

body rising to answer, then,

it is possible. Then, you are awake.

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History, Memory, and Slavery in New England

By Anne Farrow

 The following is an excerpt from The Logbooks: Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory published this month by Wesleyan University Press.

“Why are you doing this research?” my friend asked.

Farrow - Log Books C-300-XI looked at her lean brown face, lit by the glass lamps suspended over our restaurant table, and made what I did not recognize, then, as an excuse.

“New England’s relationship with slavery is a great story,” I said. “We’re journalists, we’re supposed to uncover stories of wrong and injustice.” I made my argument, or, as we called it in the newsroom, my pitch.

Liz looked at me for a long moment with the level, answering gaze I knew from having had her edit my stories at the newspaper.

“That’s not it,” she said. “When white people take up black stuff there’s always a reason. There’s always something there.”

I told her that I needed engaging work, having recently broken up with my long-time boyfriend. Studying my country’s tortured relationship with slavery and race prejudice made my own life, with its varied griefs and money worries, seem small.

She smiled at me as if to say, that’s not it, and picked up her menu.

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M.E.E. and Me

By Joycelyn K. Moody

             This year, my edited edition of Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge, by Frances Harriet Whipple, with Elleanor Eldridge, was published. Memoirs had long been out of print, and the journey to republication of this significant work about a free black woman entrepreneur, which first appeared in 1838, was a long one.

http://wvupressonline.com/sites/default/files/covers/moody_sm_rgb_.jpgI first encountered the Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge when I was given a copy by a special collections librarian at Penn State, where I’d gone for a job interview. It was January 18, 1991, the first day of the US invasion of the Persian Gulf, and the librarian was probably one of the few people on campus not distracted by the war that was playing and replaying on televisions everywhere. The librarian likely knew my areas of concentration were slavery, autobiography, and nineteenth-century African American women, and gave me the book as a lure.

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The Gender Wage Gap: It's About Age

 By Corinne T. Field

The gender wage gap remains a stubborn fact of life for working Americans. In 2013, median weekly earnings for women working full time were 82 percent of men’s, with Hispanic women earning only 62 percent and black women 69 percent of white men’s pay. Progress in closing this gap has stalled. One reason may be that we too-often overlook the particular needs of middle-aged and older women. The gender wage gap is to a large extent an age gap—a difference in how men and women are rewarded for experience accrued over time. To create more equitable workplaces, we are must focus future research squarely on the question of why women’s wages drop off relative to men’s after age 35.

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It's Our Earth, Dammit!

By Ellen Feldman

 MG 0363

I was heading down 53rd Street from the Museum of Modern Art and turned left on Sixth Avenue toward the International Center of Photography—but since the street was closed to cars, and cops were everywhere, I turned around. The Sebastiao Salgado exhibit could wait for another day. The People’s Climate March was coming right at me, and I jumped in.

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Trafficking and Patriarchy

By Kate Price

 Slavery, Inc.: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking , by the investigative journalist Lydia Cacho, stands out among a recent flurry of human trafficking books (including Human Trafficking, by Abraham Falls; Sex Trafficking: Reclaiming My Stolen Life, by Jenna Stanton; and Up for Sale: Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery, by Alison Marie). Chaco explores all aspects of this $32 billion industry with a depth few other authors have accomplished. She explores how the values of male dominance and control, on which our society’s institutions and business enterprises are based, manifest themselves in human trafficking, which is now the fastest growing crime in the world today.

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Fighting Against Sexual Harassers at Comicons

By Rachel Edidin

 

Comic-Con International 2014 Photo GalleryEvery woman I know who regularly attends comics conventions—cons—has a story. We compare them like trading cards while we talk about which parties to avoid, which editors have a reputation for getting handsy after a few drinks. These are the things we tell each other, take new kids aside and whisper in their ears: which cons will have your back if you report a harasser, which colleagues you can trust to walk you back to your hotel. We make plans, check in, watch each other’s drinks at professional events, watch each other’s backs on the con floor.

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Pussy Riot Comes to Harvard

By Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild

 A long line wended its way into the JFK Forum at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, past a lone demonstrator holding a sign on which pictures of Stalin and Putin surrounded the slogan, “Restore the Soviet Union.” Entry was by lottery; the place was packed with lucky winners and a few who managed to sneak in. When the two Pussy Riot women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina appeared, flanked by Tolokonnikova’s husband Pyotr Verzilov, and the moderator Jill Dougherty, they seemed dwarfed by the space.

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Rage Against the Machine

By E.J. Graff

Susan Faludi does not like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, not one little bit, no sir. And until I heard Faludi’s keynote speech at the Baffler’s conference Feminism for What? Equality in the Workplace After Lean In, held September 13, 2014, at John Jay College in New York City, I didn’t understand why there was so much rage against the Facebook CEO’s blockbuster business advice book for women.

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On LIfe's Enduring Mysteries: Love and Death

By Leslie Lawrence

A fascinating aspect of The Widow’s Handbook is that it has spawned a community. The printed book is enhanced by a website that includes discussions, videos, and listings of readings and events. Will this community grow into a movement that will raise consciousness about the stigma, social isolation, and financial hardships that plague widows (far more than widowers)? That remains to be seen.

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Five Books I Will Take to the Lake This Summer

By Trish Crapo

 LakeHuron-5054Ah, summer! Seems like the weather was only just warming a little at the end of May and here we are waist-deep in July. Fast-forward from the June bugs banging against the screens to clouds of lightning bugs sifting through the tall grass.

My husband is a farmer. Summer to him means growing and selling vegetables. It’s his busiest time of year. To me, summer means slowing down on my writing commitments if I can, finding a shady spot and a glass of iced coffee, and settling down to read.

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A Sister Lost and Found

By Patricia Kullberg

She rose up out of the Australian outback before women got the vote and overturned the entire system of understanding and treating polio. Her innovations spared untold thousands the worst crippling effects of the disease. She was brilliant and brash, though her credentials were sketchy. She was physically imposing, favored strings of pearls and huge, outlandish hats. She moved in a man’s world that deeply disappointed her and she made as many enemies as friends. In a 1952 Gallup Poll she was named America’s most admired woman. But, in accounts of history’s most famous nurses? You’ll never find her.

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On Behalf of the Night

By Maria Mutch

I want to testify on behalf of night, to say something about our neglect of the dark hours, how we fill them with artificial light as though the illumination were not, in the end, a kind of veil. We eradicate with light pollution the sprawl of stars and galaxies, treating our fear of the dark as something to be ameliorated. The images created by Canadian scientist Felix Pharand-Dêschenes, based on satellite data and showing Earth at night, are unsettling in part because they’re beautiful: it’s easy to see how, and where, we’ve become addicted to light.

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When Nordic Feminists Gather

By Cynthia Enloe

            “Swedish militarism.” It sounds like an oxymoron. So do “shredding the Scandinavian social safety net” and “right-wing Nordic voters.” But Nordic feminists were quick to disabuse me of my out-of-touch assumptions. They had come together acutely aware of the threats posed by their current conservative governments and by far-right nationalist parties, which did surprisingly well in May’s elections for members of the European Parliament (MEPs). It was alarm that stoked the energy of this June’s Nordic Women’s Forum.

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Afghan Women Speak Out

By Heather Hewett

 In April 2014, the poet-journalist Eliza Griswold and the photographer Seamus Murphy released a collection of poems by Afghan women interspersed with photographs of Afghanistan called I Am the Beggar of the World. Griswold spent several years collecting landays, an oral form of poetry popular among Pashtun women, which she then translated. The translated couplets were first published last year in Poetry magazine. As I wrote in a review for the feminist group blog Girl w/ Pen,

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The Tension of Opposites Grown Tall As Trees

By A. J. Verdelle

Maya Angelou, who passed from among us this month, led a life of stunning accomplishment, and of opposites. She was both a name-changer and a game-changer. Young Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Johnson, spent a large part of her childhood in the rural and segregated South. She went mute at age seven, entering a trauma-induced silence after being raped by her mother’s boyfriend. For five years, Marguerite spoke not one word. Living in the rural and separated South at that tender and tragic time quite possibly saved Maya Angelou’s life; in crowded and anonymous cities, children who do not speak and are black are often shunted into contexts in which learning is unlikely and escape is improbable. But mute Marguerite was sheltered and encouraged by her loving grandmother, and was nurtured intellectually by a beloved teacher, Mrs. Flowers.

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Money, Justice, and Bail

By Jean Trounstine

            I met Zoe Giannousis on a wintry evening at the community college in Lowell, Massachusetts, where I facilitate my Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) program. Along with Zoe, there were eight women, all struggling with court issues, family conflicts, and the dark well of abuse, addiction, and crime. In CLTL they gather with a judge, two probation officers, and me for a reading group—an alternative sentencing collaboration between academia and the courts that began almost 25 years ago, and that has now spread across the state and the country, and across the Atlantic to England. For the next fourteen weeks, as a condition of probation, they dive into animated discussions of books including Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Ann Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.

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Jimmy Carter Discovers Women

By Gwendolyn Beetham

Distrustful of powerful white men who suddenly take up the “women’s rights’ torch,” I began Jimmy Carter’s recent book, A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, with no small amount of skepticism. When I was informed of his 1977 remarks following the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Hyde Amendment that “life isn’t fair,” my skepticism turned to outright doubt. Several times while reading the book it was easy for me, as a feminist and long-time women’s rights advocate, to get lost in what Carter doesn’t do. But the truth is: this book wasn’t written for us. A Call to Action is just that: a call to those not currently versed in, or even aware of, the myriad, egregious violations of the rights of women all around the world, every minute of every day. In tone and content, the book is aimed primarily at men, including religious leaders and those in other positions of power. And when it comes to reaching that particular audience, the former president makes an excellent interlocutor.

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Sarah Parker Remond: An African American Woman in Nineteenth-Century Europe

By Marilyn Richardson

 sarahparkerremondsittingSarah Parker Remond (1824-1894), a daughter of the most prominent African American family in Salem, Massachusetts, sailed for Liverpool, England, in the fall of 1858, a period when the outlines of an all but inevitable war between the states were growing clearer. Remond had agreed to undertake a speaking tour, describing the horrors of American chattel slavery as part of the campaign to consolidate British antislavery sentiment by arguing the ethical and economic case for British support of the Union.

Between 1859 and 1861 Remond delivered 45 lectures in seventeen cities and towns in England, three in Scotland, and four in Ireland, all to considerable acclaim and extensive press coverage on both sides of the Atlantic. When visa problems threatened her ability to travel to the continent, the dispute was played out in the press. A southern bureaucrat at the American legation refused her the document on the grounds that she was not a United States citizen. Following considerable publicity, Secretary of State Lewis Cass intervened and granted her the visa and “in case of need… all lawful aid and protection.”

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New Stories by Octavia Butler To Be Published

By Debra Cash

She described herself as an outsider and “a pessimist, a feminist always, a Black, a quiet egoist, a former Baptist, and an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.” Octavia Butler’s distinctive blend of science fiction, Africanist imagination, and gender-fluid storytelling, sometimes classified under the genre of Afrofuturism, may have kept her outside the literary mainstream. Nonetheless before her unexpected death after a fall in 2006, when she was just 58, Butler had received the Hugo and Nebula awards for her achievements, and had been recognized with both a PEN Lifetime Achievement Award and a MacArthur “genius” Fellowship.     

Merrilee Heifetz, Octavia Butler’s longtime agent, has uncovered two unpublished Butler stories among the manuscripts, correspondence, school papers, notebooks, photographs, and other materials held by the Huntington Library in California. In June, Open Road Publishing will be releasing these tales as an ebook titled Unexpected Stories.

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Madly for Adlai: Reflections for Commencement Season

By Clarissa Atkinson

220px-Adlai Stevenson 1952 campaign posterI cast my first vote for Adlai Stevenson in 1956 and worked in his campaign, knocking on doors, stuffing envelopes, and typing names on index cards—the 1950s version of Big Data. You have to be old to have voted for Stevenson or even to remember him, but you might recall what your parents or grandparents had to say. They probably had strong opinions. Stevenson was a hero to a certain cohort, perhaps because he differed so dramatically in outlook and style from most politicians of that era—Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, John Foster Dulles, Joseph McCarthy. To another cohort, though, he was a pinko liberal or even a Communist, as well as an egghead (I think the term was coined for him, a balding intellectual).

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Resisting Induction

By Mary S. Hartman

 In her recent book Joining the Resistance, Carol Gilligan offers a blunt take on our current political paralysis. The core problem, she says, is an ongoing twenty-first-century commitment to patriarchy in a country that calls itself a democracy. “In a patriarchal family or religion or culture,” Gilligan writes, “power and authority descend from a father or fathers, and human qualities designated masculine are privileged over those gendered feminine.”

Gilligan argues, however, that we now have a unique opportunity to act, since men as well as women are finally recognizing that our country’s future as a democracy depends upon undoing the ways we persist in patriarchal behavior, parceling out by gender what are in fact shared human qualities, such as assigning the attribute of care to women and that of justice to men. She writes,

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National Poetry Month with the Afghan Women's Writing Projec

By Lori Noack

There is an Afghan poet, a woman, whose face I do not know. She sends drafts of poems and essays to her online writing workshop, and in a matter of days, readers like me—more than 7,000 miles away—peek into her home and her heart. We do not know her face but we know her sorrow, translated by these words into a visceral expression of lament:

 

I am knitting blue wings into my dress,

sewing sparrows in its sleeves.

I draw a sky of smoke on my scarf.

The evening news reports that Anisa,

who escaped from her house,

was stoned. She loved Hakim,

wished to marry him.

He was stoned with her.

My little boy cries. I am hungry,

run to the kitchen,

cook my heart...

 

(from Honeymoon in the Graveyard by N.)

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Writing About Breast Cancer: From Books to Blogs

By Ellen Leopold

 It’s easy to forget that women’s writing about breast cancer is of relatively recent vintage. But until the 1970s, the disease was the exclusive province of medical men—and their textbooks. The first women to portray the patient’s perspective, to write about their own experience, were established writers and public figures before they took up the disease, with credentials persuasive enough to overcome their publishers’ reluctance. Rose Kushner (Breast Cancer: A Personal History and Investigative Report) was a Washington Post science writer; Betty Rollin (First, You Cry) an NBC correspondent; and Audre Lorde (The Cancer Journals, 1980) a well-known poet. These writers transformed their personal stories into public platforms. Brandishing their own case histories as cautionary tales, they helped to introduce radical changes in both the perception and management of the disease. Today’s widespread use of breast-conserving surgery, for example, is at least partially attributable to the refusal by some of them—and, in increasing numbers, their readers—to undergo radical mastectomies.

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Do You Have Any Magic?

By Julene Bair

In my dream, a little girl stands in a dim room beside a row of women. The women, dressed demurely in cardigans over dark shifts, sit erect in straight-backed chairs, their hands folded in their laps. The girl moves from woman to woman, asking, “Do you have any magic?” Each in turn smiles indulgently at the girl. “Oh my! Why no, dear.”

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History Written As Beauty: Incarcerated Women Write

By Sarah W. Bartlett

 

Norajeanartwork1Those of us who survive here

by reading scars,

finding faults

before they open up and swallow us

 

talk gingerly. We learned early

to whisper, tiptoe, skirt

our way around.

—Norajean

Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility

South Burlington, Vermont

(artwork by Norajean)

 

 

Co-founded by Sarah W. Bartlett and Marybeth Redmond in January 2010, writinginsideVT uses writing as a tool for personal reflection and growth among women prisoners while creating a community of trust through weekly groups. Four years later it remains a staple at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington, Vermont, the state’s sole prison for women.

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Queer Commie Radicals

By Bettina Aptheker

Reviewing the recent book, Passionate Commitments, by Julia Allen, which provides critical biographies of Anna Rochester and Grace Hutchins, was a greatapthekerpullquote pleasure. Having grown up in a Communist family in New York in the 1950s, I knew Hutchins—a founder of the Labor Research Association and an economist who particularly focused on women worker—when I was a child; and Rochester’s many books and pamphlets, including Rulers of America, Why Farmers Are Poor, and The Populist Movement in the United States, were prominent on my father’s bookshelves.

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Notes from a Literary Citizen: AWP 2014, Seattle, Washington

By Robin Becker

 I began attending the Associated Writing Programs annual conference for creative writers, teachers, and publishers about thirty years ago. In 1984, I was teaching at MIT, and the annual trip to AWP meant a chance to glimpse my writing heroes and hear them read their work. That year, the conference was held in Tempe, Arizona, where I was thrilled to see the poets Adrienne Rich and June Jordan danced together at one evening party.

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New Sappho Poetry Discovered

By Meryl Altman

Women’s Review of Books readers who follow Sappho will want to know that Oxford’s Dirk Obbink is publishing two newly discovered fragments from her poems, which have surfaced from a privately owned papyrus,sapphopullquote2 previously unknown to researchers. If your Greek is good, or if like me you’re fascinated by the artisanal scholarship that deciphers, authenticates, and dates such things, you’ll want to read the draft version of Obbink’s article for the Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik (ZPE); for a more accessible account, see his article in the Times Literary Supplement (February 15, 2014).

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Calling All Poets!

Women’s Review of Books Poetry and Contributing Editor Robin Becker will be considering poetry submissions in May and June, 2014. WRB generally publishes a pair of poems by a single poet in each issue. Please mail up to three pairs of poems (six poems) to:

 

Poetry Submissions

Women’s Review of Books

Wellesley Centers for Women CHE

Wellesley College

106 Central Street

Wellesley, MA 02481

Please enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope of appropriate size

and postage. Do not send email submissions.


 

My Favorite Holiday

By Margaret Randall

 International Women’s Day, March 8, is my favorite holiday. Every year I write a brief tribute—to remind my friends and also myself how much women everywhere give to resist oppression and sustain life. Usually I focus on a group of women whose ordinary heroism was particularly noteworthy since the previous March: South African or Palestinian women. The desperate women of Syria and Sudan. Women in prison. Women right here in the United States, who face every sort of degradation. This year I want to honor our scribes, the women in so many different parts of the world and throughout history who, often against incredible odds, have told our stories and kept history alive. Not just women’s history—everyone’s. I want to narrow my focus to women who tell our stories—in dozens of different ways. If our stories are not preserved and told, we cannot know who we are. And if we do not know who we are, we will never become who we want to be: healthy, creative, brilliant and compassionate peace-making contributors to society.

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Disability Rights: Where We Are Now

By Carrie Dearborn

If you are twenty-something in the US, chances are good that you know more about disabilities than your elders did at the same age. You’ve been around people with disabilities, (PWD) and manners toward us have changed. For instance, you ask a PWD if she or he needs help before pushing right in and doing whatever you assume the person needs.

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History Lost and Found

By Susanna J. Sturgis

 I began my Women’s Review of Books review of Margalit Fox’s The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code with a question: “How can something once so well-known become so lost?” Riddle tells the story of the decipherment of Linear B, an ancient script lost to history until Sir Arthur Evans excavated the palace at Knossos, Crete, in the earliest years of the twentieth century. It focuses on the crucial contribution of Alice E. Kober, a professor of classics at Brooklyn College. Within a few years of her untimely death at age 43, in 1950, Kober’s name and work had virtually disappeared from the record.

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How the New Farm Bill Hurts Women

By Janet Poppendieck

 The Agricultural Act of 2014—or the Farm Bill—signed by President Obama on February 7 cuts $8.6 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) over the next ten years. Like almost anything that harms poor Americans, the cuts to SNAP will hurt women and children most. Among adult SNAP recipients, more than three-fifths are women, and among older adult participants, almost two thirds are women. Taken together, women and children are nearly four-fifths of all participants. Thus the cuts disproportionately affect women, both as recipients and as parents.

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"Dona Elena" Wins the Cervantes Prize

By Rosario Rodríguez de Hall

In November 2013, Mexican author Elena Poniatowska was informed that she had been awarded the Cervantes Prize, said to be the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in the Spanish language. She will officially receive it on April 23, 2014, during a ceremony at the Universidad de Alcala de Henares.

Having written my doctoral dissertation on Poniatowska’s 1988 fictionalized autobiography, La ‘Flor de Lis’ (which is not yet translated into English), I am often asked why Poniatowska is not well known by American readers. In response, I retell an anecdote that the author herself shared with the public at a literature conference in Puerto Rico in 2010, where Poniatowska was receiving an honorary doctorate. She had been fired by her agent in the States because, according to the agent, she did not answer emails promptly. Poniatowska tried to explain to the agent that, in her neighborhood, there are frequent outages in Internet service, so sometimes it was impossible to read or respond to email. In fact, Poniatowska and her former agent inhabited two different worlds, of infrastructure and of culture: while the agent had urgent marketing issues, Poniatowska was contending with more immediate problems, as do other Mexicans.

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"A Tangled Ball": Homophobia in Russia

By Elizabeth Wood

 Homophobia in Russia today brings together so many issues and trends in Russian history and society that in Russian it would be called “a tangled ball,” sputannyi klubok. First, there’s the problem of sex and ambivalence about sex. Then there’s the problem of difference of any kind. Then there’s the problem of visibility and public display, especially visibility and public display of sex and difference. Then there’s the problem of sexuality as a field of state regulation—which is related to the resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church. Finally, there’s the general problem of “archaization”: the retreat, by an otherwise modern society, to a premodern or neotraditional mindset.

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Russia's Antigay Law: Where Did It Come From?

By Valerie Sperling

 In the run-up to the Sochi Olympics, Russia’s federal law banning homosexual “propaganda” drew considerable international attention. In June 2013, the now-infamous law passed Russia’s lower house of parliament by a vote of 436 to zero, with one abstention, before being signed into law by President Vladimir Putin. It outlawed the distribution or expression of information that portrayed homosexuality and same-sex relationships in a positive light, or that equated them in value with heterosexual relationships, and that did so in such a way that minors could be exposed to this information.   Curiously, the law did not refer to “homosexual” propaganda, but to that for “nontraditional” sexual orientation. According to one of the sponsors of the law, Elena Mizulina, the reason that Russia’s lawmakers didn’t use the term “homosexual,” was that even uttering it somehow “involuntarily propagandizes” homosexuality.

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The History of Russian Sex

By Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild

            Homophobia makes strange bedfellows. Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson and hypermale Russian President Vladimir Putin share a gay-panicked commitment to so-called traditional values. Robertson spouts his neo-Confederate beliefs—which also include racism—basing them on Biblical discussions of slavery and “traditional values.” I won’t go here into the neo-Confederate nostalgia for the happy slave days, completely belied most recently by the film Twelve Years a Slave. But what about those “traditional marriage values”?

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Publishing: Is There Anything Left to Save

By Carole DeSanti

           Here we are at the beginning of 2014, having just experienced a tumultuous year in traditional book publishing. The old reliable ways are besieged by unremitting surges of change, amid a whirl of arguments about copyright; the dollar value of the written word; and in what form, under what terms, books should be created, curated, read, shared, rewarded. Some ask whether the book itself is on its way out.

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Teaching Inside Out

By Martha Saxton

The most engaged and curious students that I teach gather in the visiting room of the Hampshire County Jail and House of Corrections. We meet there because half of the students are incarcerated men. They, along with an equal number of male and female “outside students” from Amherst College are registered for one of several semester-long courses for credit from the college. Together, we have studied the history of our criminal justice system, an introduction to human rights, and last spring, American wars since 1945. With the help of some ice-breaking exercises, rules of respect that the class creates, and small group work organized so that everyone gets to know and learn from one another, the class quickly coheres. The outside students stop imagining danger, and inside students stop worrying about intimidating college students.

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The Third Pillar of Slavery

By Stacey Patton

            As higher education continues its march into a corporatized future, with 76 percent of its workforce now composed of low-paid adjuncts who often call themselves “slaves,” there is little discussion about the connection between the history of actual slavery in the US and the growth and wealth of some of the nation’s best colleges and universities. That connection might seem strange, since institutions of higher education tend to be viewed as bastions of liberal and progressive thought, and humanitarian ideals. But the archives of history reveal a different truth: slavery and the slave trade provided the foundations for the rise of higher education in North America.

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Doris Lessing: An Appreciation

By Roberta Rubenstein

When Doris Lessing died on November 17, 2013, at the age of 94, she was justifiably celebrated as the Nobel Prize-winning author of The Golden Notebook (1962). A ground-breaking work of fiction in both form and content, the novel anatomizes the complex life of Anna Wulf, a writer, single mother, and political leftist living in London during the 1950s. A decade before the women’s liberation movement that would soon gather force, Anna aspires to live her life both emotionally and intellectually as a liberated, “free woman.”

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Nice Girls Still Finish Last

By Martha Nichols

Let’s talk about anger—belly-down, no-holds-barred rage—the kind of anger expressed by seventies feminists once dubbed “bra-burning kooks” and “women’s libbers.” Lynn Povich’s 2012 The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace (now in paperback) has all the hallmarks of an epic battle of the sexes.

Unfortunately, her book is oddly muted, told from the perspective of a “pre-feminist” who seems caught between the thrill of working for a big magazine and the evidence piling up before her. It’s framed as a history of the first gender-discrimination suit filed against a major media company, complete with helpful explanations for those who’ve never encountered the phrase “male chauvinist pig.”

 

 

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Feminism and Feminine-ism

By E.J. Graff

            There’s feminism, the movement—and then there’s “feminism,” the imaginary version. The first, as Women’s Review of Books readers know, is a broad and contentious political movement. Based on ongoing and constantly debated analyses of how women have been structurally disadvantaged in a host of ways, feminism aims to remove or ameliorate those disadvantages through various kinds of political action—pressuring colleges to respond differently to campus rapes, say, or helping women close the wage gap both by changing the workplace and changing our attitudes, to name two of my faves. “Feminism” is a media creation based on half-truths and misunderstandings, made up partly of caricatures invented by people hostile to the real thing, ad campaigns trying to sell something under the gauzy rubric of liberation, and lazy media commentary that assumes “feminism” is just the girls’ version of the American ideology of individual fulfillment and “having it all.” Maybe I shouldn’t call it “feminism,” even in quotes; we could call it “feminine-ism,” since it’s a ramped-up vision of femininity with a dollop of “career” on top, the idea that women merely need to add more public achievements and voila, we’ll be equal. Yeah, right.

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Hijab Hysteria

by Ruthann Robson

BurqaThe legal policing women’s headscarves is rooted in a mélange of sexism, xenophobia, religious bias, and racism. Unlike the niqab (veil), hijab as sartorially expressed by the headscarf does not obscure the face. While the niqab can raise concerns about identification and anonymity, which may be rational in some situations, such as a trial in which the identity of a person is a central issue, the headscarf evokes anxieties of a less logical sort.

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Free Pussy Riot!

By Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild

UPDATE: December 23, 2013

Throughout the world, pardons are a way for those in power to emphasize their control and show their magnanimity. Just over 100 years ago, in 1913, celebrating the Tercentenary of the Romanov Dynasty, Tsar Nicholas II freed selected political prisoners. In Russia’s current back-to-the-future moment, Vladimir Putin, his power apparently consolidated, has decreed the release of the most high-profile political prisoners of his reign, Mikhail Khodorkovskii; the Pussy Riot protestors Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova; and the Greenpeace activists. His motives could be connected to the upcoming Winter Olympics; his recent foreign policy successes with Edward Snowden, Syria, and Ukraine; his vanquishing of internal opponents—or all of the above. But the reasons he gave for the freeing of Khodorkovskii and the Pussy Riot protestors, at least, were noticeably gender inflected. In both the Pussy Riot and Khodorkovskii cases, Putin, the hypermale, claimed he acted as the protector of mothers and motherhood. In the case of Khodorkovskii, the Russian president claimed to be responding to appeals from the imprisoned oligarch’s mother, who is ill and being treated in Germany. Condemning their “disgraceful acts,” Putin released Pussy Riot members Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova because they are the mothers of small children. What awaits the Pussy Riot women and other Putin opponents after the Olympics, as well as gays and lesbians affected by the current antigay campaign, remains to be seen.

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What Would Elsa Do?

By Ana Isabel Keilson

Oisteanu One of the advantages of being a graduate student at an “evil empire” university—one of those increasingly corporate institutions with a big endowment, lots of real estate, anti-union policies, a big business school—is that I can travel often to Europe on the company dime. Last March I found myself in Paris as I sat down to write a review of Body Sweats: The Uncensored Writing of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. A fitting place, I thought, to consider her life and work. Paris: the cradle of the avant garde, of Dada, of poetry, performance, and modernism in the twentieth century. Digging back deeper into time, Paris as the symbol of revolutionary efflorescence in the face of dusty and impotent monarchy. Paris as moveable feast. Paris as canvas for the painter of modern life.

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Doris Lessing in Women's Review of Books

Doris LessingWhen we heard the sad news of the death of the Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing, we were motivated to look back on articles on her work in Women's Review of Books. Ann Snitow reviewed The Story of General Dann and Mara's Daughter, Griot, and the Snowdog in the November/December 2006 issue of Women's Review of Books; and more recently, Roberta Rubenstein reflected on the fiftieth anniversary of The Golden Notebook in September 2012.

 

The Intellect in Action on Twitter

By Martha Nichols

If it seems to you that every other book released these days involves a Facebook executive, you’re not nuts. Picking up on the current publishing trend and our cultural fascination with online living, the New York Times Book Review’s “#tech@life” issue (November 3, 2013) explores the impact of social media on literature.

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"It's Because She Wrote Too Much"

By Jan Heller Levi

In 1990, Poets House in New York sponsored a panel discussion on Muriel Rukeyser , with Jane Cooper, Galway Kinnell, and Sharon Olds. There were questions from the audience afterward. We all were, in different ways, baffled about why she wasn’t more recognized, why all but one of her books was out of print. At some point, someone from the audience piped up, “I think it’s because she wrote too much.” Some assessment, I thought. Who says that about Walt Whitman? Thomas Hardy? Allen Ginsburg? John Updike? Stephen King? (They do say it about Joyce Carol Oates.)

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Looking Outward, Looking In: Black Men's and Black Women's Memoirs

By Audrey Kerr         

In her autobiography Straight, No Chaser: How I Became a Grown Up Black Woman (1997), the journalist Jill Nelson asks a question that crosses my mind whenever I read black male-authored autobiographies: what makes it possible for “black men [to] think they can be born and raised in a culture that has profound contempt for all women, and places black women at the bottom, and escape unaffected?” as Nelson puts it.

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Sisterhood Is Powerful in the Senate

By Glenna Matthews

An article in the New York Times of October 15, 2013, in the midst of the government shutdown, caught my eye: "Senate Women Lead in Effort to Find Accord" its headline announced. Over the next few days there was more reporting about the role played by women senators in ending the crisis over the debt limit and the government shutdown, including a major article in Time magazine, "Women Are the Only Adults Left in Washington."

"Wow!" I thought.

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Zombie Stories for Women

By J. Goodrich

If we believe the popular US media, the feminist movement is a zombie. We have been invited to several of its funerals during the last decades, even earlier, but not to baby showers to celebrate its happy rebirth. It must be the case, then, that the feminist movement is barely buried before it claws itself out of the grave, moving dirt aside and grasping air with its skeletal hands, only to die yet another zombie death.

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Pleasure and Principle: Thoughts on "AIDS in New York: the First 5 Years"

by Felicia Kornbluh

I cried all through the New-York Historical Society’s recent exhibit, AIDS: The First Five Years-but not for the reasons you might think. Walking through the museum gallery lined with photos and documents, and viewing the accompanying exhibit of photographs of infants with HIV/AIDS, I cried because both exhibits omitted the sexually revolutionary feminist and gay politics that preceded the epidemic: it was as though those politics had been exterminated. I cried because it occurred to me that our recent victories-the increased recognition of same-sex marriages, the trouncing of many invidious incursions into women’s reproductive autonomy-are only tinny echoes of the big brassy demands of our predecessors.

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WRB Featured Photographer Zanele Muholi Wins Carnegie Fine Prize

Photographer Zanele Muholi, whose photographs of LGBTI South Africans were featured in the September/October issue of Women's Review of Books, has won the prestitious Carnegie Fine Prize for emerging photographers.

Keep up with women's cutting edge artistic and scholarly work with a subscription to Women's Review of Books!

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I Had a Safe, Legal Abortion

By Janet Golden

In June I submitted my review of three books about abortion and reproductive politics—Crow After Roe: How “Separate But Equal” Has Become the New Standard in Women’s Health and How We Can Change That, by Robin Marty and Jessica Mason Pieklo; Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, by Sarah Erdreich; and Reproductive Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Rickie Solinger—to Women’s Review of Books. In the weeks that followed, many states began to enact new laws restricting abortion, and the House of Representatives passed a ban on abortions after twenty weeks. There has been broad press coverage of these laws. Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’s filibuster of the Texas antiabortion legislation got worldwide coverage—and now she is thinking of running for governor. The media give us interviews and editorials from reproductive rights supporters and opponents, along with footage of protests and counterprotests. They portray abortion legislation as a form of political jousting—but it is much much more than that.

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Legalizing the Girlfriend Experience, Criminalizing the Victim

by Anne Gray Fischer

Raids to shut down sex-trafficking operations often result in the arrest or deportation of the “rescued” victims, and this past July’s installment of Operation Cross Country, the FBI’s series of nationwide stings, was reportedly no exception. Due to a lack of adequate housing and social supports—which weren’t secured in advance and apparently weren’t a priority in this massive sting—the trafficked youth will likely end up detained, charged with prostitution, and incarcerated. The adult sex workers who were rounded up in these sweeps, ineligible for the FBI’s faint gestures toward rescue, were sent directly to prison. Operation Cross Country 2013 proved to be one more example of the triumph of state surveillance and incarceration over social welfare structures.

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Justice Sotomayor Votes Her Conscience

By Ruth Rosen

Justice Sotomayor Votes Her Conscience

By Ruth Rosen

In Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World (2013) which I reviewed for Women’s Review of Books (September/October 2013), the Supreme Court justice reveals many of her most deeplyheld values, including her embrace of affirmative action and racial and sexual diversity, and her unwavering commitment to a society governed by equality under the law. So how has she voted in that hotbed of the Supreme Court, which includes such conservatives as Anthony Scalia and his allies?

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Photographer Carrie Mae Weems Wins MacArthur Genius Grant

By Amy Hoffman, Editor in chief, Women's Review of Books for WOMEN = BOOKS

Posted on September 25, 2013

We are very proud to note that the photographer Carrie Mae Weems, whose work was featured in the September/October 2007 issue of Women's Review of Books, has won one of this year's MacArthur Foundation genius grants, which gives recipients $625,000 over five years, no strings attached.

Here's the link to our article, from the Women's Review of Books website.

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JSTOR Database is Now Available for Individuals

By Amy Hoffman

Editor in Chief

Women's Review of Books

You may not know that for the past several years, an archive of Women's Review of Books, going all the way back to our first issue in 1983 (but excluding the past three years), is available through the nonprofit web database, JSTOR. The only problem has been that the JSTOR database has been available only to people who have access to an academic library. Now things have changed! Through its Register and Read and JPASS programs, individuals can gain access to JSTOR articles. Looking for an old review? Check it out!

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Welcome to WOMEN=BOOKS

By Layli Maparyan for WOMEN = BOOKS

Posted on September 23, 2013

As the new executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, the parent organization of Women’s Review of Books (WRB) I am proud to congratulate WRB on the reintroduction of its blog, WOMEN=BOOKS. WRB is a strong historical pillar of WCW’s identity and social mission, and as WCW thinks ahead to its half-century mark, now a decade away, I imagine with great excitement how WRB will travel that journey as part of this collective movement.

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The Return of WOMEN=BOOKS

By Amy Hoffman, Editor in chief, Women's Review of Books for WOMEN = BOOKS

Posted on September 23, 2013

Back in 2010, Women’s Review of Books (WRB) Contributing Editor Martha Nichols took me out to lunch to share with me a great idea that she had: what WRB needed, she said to me over our salads, was a blog. Martha is an early adopter; I, to put it mildly, am not. The word itself sounded ugly to me: blog, bleh. Blogs were less prevalent than they are now; I didn’t see why we needed one, and it seemed like a lot of work, especially since I felt that I was already running as fast as I could to stay in the same place (as the Red Queen tells Alice).

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