Some people might say that the situation of modern women isn’t as bad as it was before, and on the surface level, that’s true. After all, women now have the right to vote. The matter of their education is not merely an option but a right. They no longer exist for the purpose of being married off by their families. And there are plenty of women who hold powerful positions in society. However, the roots of gender inequality run deep, and it often manifests itself in ways we don’t immediately see. Up ‘til this day, women continue to be oppressed by unrealistic beauty standards, victim-blaming, white feminism, and the societal pressure to marry and have children, so the fight for gender equality is far from over. This international women’s month, it’s important for everyone–not just women, to be educated about the different issues that women are facing, so here are 5 books to add to your reading list.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
“This society hasn’t changed one bit. People who don’t fit into the village are expelled: men who don’t hunt, women who don’t give birth to children. For all we talk about modern society and individualism, anyone who doesn’t try to fit in can expect to be meddled with, coerced, and ultimately banished from the village.”
Convenience Store Woman follows a character named Keiko Furukura, who has been working in the same convenience store for 18 years. She’s content with her job and her singlehood, but the people around her can’t seem to accept that. They keep pressuring her to either find a better career or settle down and have children, as if those are the only things that a woman can strive for. This mirrors the stereotypes that Asian women are often boxed into, as they are expected to either be an overachieving Dragon Lady or a meek housewife. This book is only 150 pages long, but it somehow manages to deliver impactful commentary on feminism and capitalism–bringing up how retail workers are treated like robots, and how unmarried women are seen as expired goods. However, it isn’t purely just social commentary. Keiko’s narrative voice lends a quirky vibe to the story, and her perplexed attitude towards life makes you laugh and also question the norms of society. You can read the full review here.
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self Delusion by Jia Tolentino
“It sometimes seems that feminism can imagine no more satisfying progress than this current situation—one in which, instead of being counseled by mid-century magazines to spend time and money trying to be more radiant for our husbands, we can now counsel one another to do all the same things but for ourselves.”
Trick Mirror is an essay collection that centers around how certain aspects of society lead us to self-delusion. It discusses points such as performative activism and how we always feel the need to broadcast our opinions online. It talks about how the millennial generation is easily fooled by music festivals, artisanal goods, and social media influencers. More importantly, it dismantles the idea of feminism by pointing out how it makes women want to spend money on sexist things like expensive exercise classes in the name of self care, how it makes it difficult to criticize problematic women without relating it to sexism, and how it defeats the purpose of equality by glorifying unconventional women and condemning those who are traditionally feminine. Overall, this book is an insightful critique that reinforces what you might already know while also pointing out things that you’ve never noticed before. It’s not the type of essay collection that repeats one point over and over again, and it tackles a wide range of topics that will surely be relatable for different readers.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
“We are taught assault is likely to occur, but if you dressed modestly, you’d lower the chances of it being you. But this would never eradicate the issue, only redirecting the assailant to another unsuspecting victim, off-loading the violence.”
Know My Name is an autobiography about Chanel Miller (an angliced version of her Chinese name Zhang Xiao Xia), and it details her experiences after being sexually assaulted by Stanford student Brock Turner while she was unconscious. Miller previously wrote a victim impact statement that went viral on Buzzfeed in 2016, and this book is where she finally sheds her anonymity. The book exposes the double standard of the justice system in dealing with sexual harassment cases, as Miller was constantly scrutinized and shamed while Turner (who is white) was hailed as a “promising young man” whose career Miller had ruined by taking the case to court. Turner would later only serve three months in prison. This book might deal with a heavy subject, but the writing was lyrical and riveting, which made it impossible to put down. Miller uses a lot of anecdotes and metaphors to help readers understand the extent of her trauma, and there were a lot of hard-hitting quotes sprinkled throughout the book. It’s definitely an important book for everyone to read since it helps us avoid the mistake of victim-blaming and blind judgment.
Girl, Woman, Other By Bernardine Evaristo
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Rape, Abuse
“What it was like when white men opened doors or gave up their seats on public transport for white women (which was sexist), but not for them (which was racist)”
Girl, Woman, Other is a multi-POV contemporary novel which follows the lives of 12 women–mostly women of color, who live in the United Kingdom. The multitude of characters means that the book touches on a lot of issues that lead them to be labelled as “the other,’ be it white feminism, homosexuality, or social class. There was even a particularly interesting chapter that shows you how feminism can be taken to an extreme to the point where it becomes radical. It reads like a collection of short stories at first, which range from mundane, to moving, to tragic, but most of the characters are very distinct from one another, and all of their stories intersect in a satisfying way towards the end. Evaristo has a loose writing style that doesn’t use quotation marks or periods, and it could be confusing at first, but once you get past that, you will be able to appreciate the beautiful prose and impactful quotes. This book teaches you a lot about the immigrant experience and the intersectionality of oppression without sounding too preachy, and even if most of it isn’t relatable to the average reader, it can be an insightful experience that also serves as a reminder to check your privilege.
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Abuse, and Miscarriage
“I would live your life so much better than you, if I had your face.”
“It’s basic human nature, this need to look down on someone to feel better about yourself.”
If I Had Your Face is a contemporary novel set in Seoul, South Korea, and it follows the story of four women who are trying to make their way in the world while grappling with sexism, classism, impossible beauty standards, and K-Pop idol culture, and the overarching theme above it all is the widespread obsession with plastic surgery. With the predominance of K-culture nowadays, most of us probably think that we have a clear picture of what their beauty standards are like, but this book introduces certain aspects of Korean society that outsiders have likely never heard of before. An example would be the “salon rooms,” which are exclusive clubs for wealthy businessmen. Finding employment there is highly competitive, but a character named Kyuri managed to do it, mostly because of her beauty that was a product of years of plastic surgery. However, instead of being respected for landing a difficult-to-attain job, Kyuri is treated like an object to appease the fantasies of rich men. This is just one of the many stories that If I Had Your Face follows, and even though it doesn’t exactly explore the issues in depth, it does a good job of introducing them to the readers and having them dwell on it even after finishing the book.