“Here We Are” is a scrap-book of reflections on 21st century feminism by 44 essayists, poets, comic book writers, bloggers and fiction writers. Some of the essays are by well known authors, like Roxane Gay’s practical “Bad Feminist: Take Two” and Mindy Kay’s wonderful “Don’t Peak in High School,” both of which deserve to become classics for high school girls. Two young adult fiction novelists (including Courtney Summers, whose “All The Rage” I’ve reviewed on these pages) discuss rape culture in serious, caring conversations. Wendy Xu includes a charming comic about her self-discovery as an Asian woman. Her comic and many other offerings concern intersectional feminism: the crossing of feminism and disability, race, and sexual orientation. Every offering – each one thoughtful, intelligent, and pleasantly free of ideological language – is short enough to be read in a few minutes, making the book a wonderful collection for girls seeking a way forward, but also as a jumping-off place for discussions in classrooms and at home.
So what is feminism? Suzannah Weiss offers a cogent history of the term and movement – along with an acknowledgment that the term still raises negative feelings in her short history: “What Does ‘Feminism’ Mean?” The feminism the book encourages is a journey shaped by “the people and the world around us.” Addressing girls between 13 and 18, it offers feminism as a path to self-knowledge in which there is “no right way and no wrong way. There are no dead ends. The journey is always changing … influenced by our own experiences and perspectives.” It is, in other words, more than a transcendence of gender norms; it’s a way of being true to oneself and not permitting stereotypes of femininity, race, religion or body shape to define you. A girl who has read these stories, essays, and comics, and sung the songs offered as suggestions has been repeatedly encouraged to believe in herself. If she can do that, she will be well equipped for an adult world in which she will face issues of job inequality, discrimination, and the difficulties that attend being a mature, working woman.
As I read through it, my first reaction was, “Where was a book like this when I was in high school, even college?” Nowhere. Feminism as I encountered it in college and grad school was pretty militant; and even later, when I took my daughters to my office when I was on a fellowship in 1984, my feminist colleagues made it clear that appearing with my children – in fact, even admitting I was a mother – made me a disgrace to sisterhood.
It’s a wonderful relief to know that my granddaughters will have this book to read when they are of an age to read it. Funny, intelligent, sympathetic, encouraging, this humane collection offers a feminism open to everybody. No teen library (including teen home libraries) should be without it.
Laura Stevenson lives in Wilmington and her most recent novels, “Return in Kind” and “Liar from Vermont,” are both set on Boyd Hill Road.