I’ve been on a big nonfiction kick lately.
Inside: What Is Obscenity?: The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and Her Pussy, We Were Feminists Once, Shrill
What Is Obscenity?: The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and Her Pussy
Rokudenashiko — a pseudonym that means “good for nothing girl” — is a Japanese artist who was arrested because on her computer she had a 3D-printer file of a plaster mold of her vagina, which she was using to create art pieces and distributing to Kickstarter backers. Her arrest made international headlines, and over the past several years she’s been in and out of jail and in and out of court fighting the charges of obscenity, which are extra absurd in a country that holds a festival celebrating penises. This book is a graphic-novel memoir that explores how and why she started making the art, the complete ridiculousness of the arrest and her time in jail, and the failure of the justice system to understand how the internet works. And misogyny! Lots and lots of misogyny.
Rokudenashiko is an absolute delight. She just has such an amazing attitude about the whole thing and her sense of humor makes the book wonderful even though the subject matter is pretty serious. In fact, I’d be shocked if her magnetism wasn’t a contributing factor to her arrest. She just makes you want to have tea with her. Her story about how amusing it was to force the increasingly uncomfortable arresting officers to say “vagina” over and over while taking her statement was incredible. But most of all, it’s a reminder that we’re only one step removed from this — I’m 100% sure there are people in the US who would support Japan’s vaginas-are-obscene laws. Rokudenashiko was asked in an interview I read whether she’d consider leaving Japan to pursue her art, and her response was that her repeated arrests just make it clear how much she’s needed in her home country. More than anything else about her, her bravery shines through in her work. It’s on sale on Amazon right now, so go check it out.
We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrl to Cover Girl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement
by Andi Zeisler
If I were going to write a book about the current state of feminism, it would be this one. Zeisler chronicles both the history of the commercialization of the women’s lib movement over the last century-plus, explaining both how and why it got to today’s watered-down, anything-is-okay-if-you-want-it-to-be pseudo-movement. She deconstructs the influences capitalism and Western hyperindividualism have had on a movement that’s supposed to be examining oppressive systems, but has become synonymous with justifying choices we can’t explain in words other than, “But I wanted to!!!” She also looks at how the increased sexualization and hyperfeminity in recent years has left behind gender-nonconforming women, trans women, and nonbinary identities in favor of passing out cookies to the women who perform femininity the best.
While the second half of this book was a lot of me nodding and going “yes yes this is good” the first half about the history of the movement’s co-opting by media and the intersection of feminism and media criticism was really fascinating. The idea in the 1980s and early 90s that feminism was “over” and the deliberate way in which it was pushed by major industries was infuriating, but also kind of hopeful — we got over that hump, so we’ll get over this one, too. Zeisler asks us to make the decisions we want, but to always ask ourselves, all functions of the culture we grew up in, exactly why we are, and what could be done via activism to eliminate those outside influences.
by Lindy West
Last but definitely not least is Lindy West’s memoir about what it’s like to be large, both in personality and body, in a world that requires women to be very small. So, so much of West’s exploration of struggling with her body was like reading about my own life (full disclosure: am fat, still not okay with it, working on it). But she’s funny and witty and her writing is just a delight. This book ending up feeling so personal to me, not just because I empathized with her experiences, but because she got through them to the other side and just completely owns herself and her body and her life. I wish I’d had this book when I was like 15 and wondering why I was a size 10 but everyone else got to be a 0 and trying to figure out what was wrong with me. The only answers I had then were the ones society gives: you’re a bad person, you’re morally deficient, you have no value. I think this is an important book, in that it’s really the first time — even as an adult — I’ve seen someone spell out the answer as something different: nothing. Nothing is wrong.
There’s a significant chunk of the second half of the book that deals with West’s time as a comedian, and the misogynistic horror that is the comedy industry. She has been a hugely vocal critic of rape jokes, and I thought her examination of punching up/punching down was super solid, and her willingness to lay into comedians like Patton Oswalt for being complete and utter dickwads about being asking to not lol at violence against women was soothing. She also tackles online harassment, since basically any woman who goes online nowadays has to deal with that.
West also did some cool interviews with Feminist Frequency, so you should check those out too! (Also let me know if that link doesn’t work, it’s a weird one.)