Writing in Independent Australia at the end of last year, Professor Jones stated: “However impressive a man’s feminist credentials may be, he can only ever understand misogyny at a theoretical level. He can never actually experience the gendered abuse faced by women and to that extent, is disqualified from telling women how they ought to respond.”
He also stated that “… feminism is home to a dynamic range of female views on how to achieve meaningful equality. For genuine male feminists, if indeed we accept there is such a thing, the greatest badge of honour is simply that the women you encounter consider you an ally in this worthy project. This is the place that progressive gents should be proud to stay in.”
We approached a selection of local feminists who have varying opinions on how to achieve meaningful equality and we asked them some to choose books from our shelves that they’d recommend to 16-year-old girls (and boys), books from a recent list in The Guardian newspaper that we’d culled from our shelves.
Recommendation one was an essay by prize-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (Half of a Yellow Sun) and is from her celebrated 2012 TED talk We Should All Be Feminist. Beyoncé paraphrased some of the talk in a song that pointed out that “we teach girls to shrink themselves to make themselves smaller. We say to girls — you can have ambition, but not too much.”
Her book has been adopted by education authorities in Sweden and will be given to all 16-year-olds, regardless of gender, in the hope that they will also realise that “feminism is about justice” and that “females should be able to live in a world where they are not constrained by gender roles and where genders are truly equal”.
A couple of our feminist advisors voted for Nobel Prize winner, Toni Morrison’s slim novel, A Mercy. Although it is a story about the bondage of slavery in the US and the Americas, it can be extrapolated to be about the grim reality of suffering and bondage. Of slaves, both black and white; of indigenous populations; of servants; of women of all races who live at the mercy of men; of children; and of the mind.
As Hilary Mantel says in a review of the book, Morrison describes it as going to the root of what humanity is, what society is: “In this barren universe too many do not reap what they sow, but rather what some stranger has sown.”
An outspoken feminist friend suggested King Kong Theory by French author Virginie Despentes, a book that has caused volatile debate between feminist reviewers since it was published in 2006. The first line in the book is certain to grab hold of a lot of readers: “I am writing as an ugly crone for the ugly ones: the old hags, the dykes, the frigid, the unf***ed, the unf***ables, the neurotic, the psychos, for all those girls that don’t get a look-in in the universal market of the consumable chick.”
A coming-of-age book that explodes common attitudes about sex and gender and explores how modern beauty myths should be rebelled against, King Kong Theory aims to allow all teenage girls to acknowledge the bloody heart of rebellion beating in their breast; the rebel wanting to make her own choices and definitions about her own rules for life. Not a being who blindly accepts conformity and who acknowledges that making mistakes is a far better choice.
Our non-European feminist brought up the term “intersectionality” and used writer Gayatree Devi’s words to describe it as: being the wrong race, the wrong colour, and a girl, and thus regardless of where you live you can be exploited by the more powerful race, the more powerful colour, and men.
Devi used the 1999 novel In Search Of April Raintree by Beatrice Culleton Mosioner about two Metis (people of mixed first nation and European ancestry) in Manitoba, Canada, as an empathetic, but violent introduction to this universal woman’s dilemma. It grabbed her attention as a teenager.
From our shelves the other three advocates suggested Coonardoo by Australian, Katharine Susannah Prichard; The Color Purple by American Alice Walker and The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler as literature that had heightened their appreciation of intersectional feminism.
Truong is an avid reader and runs Bookworm (44 Chau Long, Ba Dinh, Hanoi) and Bookworm Weekend (6 Lane 1/28, Au Co, Tay Ho, Hanoi). For more information on go to bookwormhanoi.com