Women We Read This Week

A gathering of some of the best pieces by women we’ve read this week.

Ruth Fowler’s “It Doesn’t Mean Very Much At All” in The Rumpus

In this brazenly honest and unapologetic piece, Ruth Fowler expresses her deep ambivalence towards feminism, both as a word and a movement. For her, feminism has consisted of women at the top–white, educated, middle-class, who spearhead the movement and hijack the word; and then, well, everyone else. Fowler relates the alienation she–a working-class sex worker–has always felt towards feminism in potent anecdotes and scenes that deepen her argument.

Although really, what it seems Fowler is arguing for is a richer, more nuanced discussion of what feminism is and has been. Whether or not one agrees with her stance, I firmly believe that feminism can only be strengthened by this kind of honesty and complexity. Fowler’s view of feminism is close to the one I was raised with–that it was something for “other” women–or as my mom once said, “Rich women fighting for the right to have poor women raise their children for them.” I don’t view the movement in this stark of terms, but I have struggled to hold its contradictions–to love my sex-worker sister without judgment or to have compassion for the wasting-away sexpats I’ve encountered. I really hope more pieces like this get written, published and read. — Lauren

Emily Rapp’s “What Not To Say To a Grieving Parent” in Role/Reboot

Those of you who follow Emily Rapp‘s work and blog may be aware that her son, Ronan, died last week of Tay-Sachs disease, just short of his third birthday. I don’t know Rapp personally, but I’ve looked forward to the daily photos of her son that she posted on Facebook each morning, and everything she has written about him, every beautiful, grace-filled sentence has moved me, saddened me, changed me in ways I’m not sure how to explain.

So I didn’t quite know how to react last weekend when she posted the news on Facebook that he had died. Any grief I felt didn’t seem rightfully mine; any comforting words I had didn’t feel like mine to offer. I’ve remained silent but have watched her Facebook page daily, reading some of her piercing, out-reaching updates — I miss my baby — and the posts of others, close friends and total strangers who have become invested in Ronan’s story and life without ever having met him. What does one say to a woman who is facing the aftermath of the worst of diseases, the most profound of losses? Or perhaps, more to the point, what does one not say? The potential for finding the wrong words seems so great at such times that I often choose silence. But silence isn’t enough. It may not needlessly wound, but it doesn’t ease the isolation of grief, either. To be human is to try to bridge the distance that separates us from another, to be a witness, to summon the courage it takes to look grief, head on, in the face. Here, Rapp gives us a look at what may be the wrong things — and, thankfully, a few right things — to say to a grieving parent. I’ll be thinking of you, Emily. — Simone

Longform Podcast with Susan Orlean

Okay, so I’m cheating a bit here with something I listened to instead of read–although you can read the transcript here–but this resonated so much that I had to include it. Orlean’s insights about the art and process of writing nonfiction clicked instantly and helped clarify that murky, stressful transition from research and/or reporting to writing. She described how, in the first half of the process, the writer is the student, and in the latter half, the teacher, which sounds woefully simplistic as I’m retelling it here but which has a clarion quality in the podcast itself. Really, this is why I became a writer: because I want to learn and learn and learn, about dolphins this week and Greek rituals the next, about the story of an exiled politician this week and a cow herder the next. And Orlean describes the way in which this learning process unfolds, gradually accumulating all of this information until “it’s almost like a sponge that’s over saturated. It starts flowing back out instead of being absorbed. And that’s the point where you are ready to be a teacher. And that’s when you know you’re ready to write.” — Sarah

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