Sunday, June 15, 2014

Books My Daughter Should Read, Part 2

Easter 2014
By Laurie Epps

My senior year of college, I learned that I'm a feminist. Now, I'm not going to give up my makeup, or shaving, or my dresses mind you, but I firmly believe that equal work deserves equal pay. I believe that a woman's mind works just as well as a man's, and that we should make a little room for each other.

If my life could be an example for my daughter's, I'd like it show them that they can do anything they set their minds to, and not to rely on a man for everything. I love men, don't get me wrong, but they're only human. Just as we'll do, men'll let you down and disappoint you. At times, we even disappoint ourselves. But my mom told me over and over again to have your own "go to hell" money. I didn't really understand all the nuances of that simple statement till my husband of close to twenty years abandoned us two years ago.

We've come a long way with feminism in a lot of ways, but not as far as we need to go. Our heritage of fighters from our moms to our grandmothers to even our great grandmothers paved the way. We've gotta take time to study those women who overcame those stereotypes and broke convention. The strong women who threw their reputation on the line to make an easier life for us. 

The following book list is from my recommended syllabus if I were going to teach a course in Women Writers. Please note that this list makes the assumption that you've read some of the preliminary reading in college such as: Mary Shelley Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women. Overwhelmingly, the theme of these books is: "You may control our actions, but you won't control our thoughts. Ultimately, the human spirit will persevere."

An Intro to Feminism: 
Survey of Suppressed Women from 1899-2004
Victorian Era Women aren’t represented in this course since the Victorians had a valorization of domesticity. Though towards the end of that era, the women began to search for their own identity, and began to redefine femininity.  Our readings will explore how women negotiate writing, child rearing, marriage, and their careers to break convection a claim the freedom to express their own ideas. We will be working from two traditional novels, a graphic novel, a short story, a play, and an essay. The course goal is to expose students to a wider range of women writers while strengthening skills of reading, literary analysis, writing, and presentations. As women, we are often encouraged suppress our thoughts, feelings, or deep desires within ourselves. This course familiarizes students with women writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries who write from a suppressed position, yet break social norms to claim their autonomy.
            In The Awakening by Kate Chopin she talks about suppression, feminism, and identity themes. The main character Edna is seduced by her new world living amongst the Creole’s in Louisiana. The Creole’s introduce her to some ideas about freedom of her sexuality, artistically, and as a woman. What Edna doesn’t realize is that this is merely entertainment for them. At the end of the day, they will return to their spouses and remain faithful. For them, their limitations are with risky flirting and dirty novels, no Creole would ever really do it.  
In Trifles by Susan Glaspel, she talks about suppression, ridicule, and minimization of female roles in society. Her husband terrorizes the main character Minnie Wright and societal rules will not allow her to act out in her defense. In a suspenseful play we will discuss this woman that acts out in passive aggressive ways to evade being under such oppression. However, the general attitude of shared by all men of the time was one of self-importance. Men belittle women’s efforts and make fun of women’s work, calling their daily task, “trifles.” The general attitude of the men caused the women to form ranks and form friendships. In truth, they aren’t as observant as the women are, and in the end, the men are revenged. 

In A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, she challenges the reader to consider the inequality of the sexes, and then consider the invisible barriers women faced in her day of seeking an education. Many would argue that Virginia Woolf had the opportunities to her that she did because she was of a higher social class than most. For as women, we are expected to hold everything all together in regards to hearth and home. Forbidden to us were our own thoughts and opportunities to better ourselves. We’re going to talk about why this is considered to be such a profound and fundamental piece that it’s still required reading to obtain a liberal arts degree today.
In “To Room Nineteen” by Doris Lessing she reminds us that women are expected to eagerly accept their suppression and bondage if they are going to have any kind of normal life. Of course, for a lot of women this can lead to disenfranchisement, and sometimes, eventual mental breakdown. Women are largely defined by their relationships, and we’ll talk about the cost of inhibiting the human spirit within every woman. 
In Persepolis by Marjorie Satrapi we’ll talk about a girl coming of age while being identified as her parents daughter. Set against the Iranian conflict of the 1970s, a little girl imagines that she is a magnificent prophetess. By examining a graphic novel we’re not only able to see the tensions that are erupting in Iran to escape the great Persian Empire, but it gives the author the freedom to tell her own childhood story with powerful frankness. 
In Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi is about a professor who taught Western Literature in the early days of the early days of the Islamic Revolution. After being kicked out of the University of Tehran for teaching her subject, and worst of all, being a woman, Azar Nafisi unveils the burka’s of her students in a Western Literature book club in her home. We’ll laugh and cry with these women who are more like western women than we’d ever of thought possible and how fight with them to regain grasp of their own ideas and identity under patriarchal suppression.
Join me on this journey to overcome the battles that we all face trying to gain our autonomy. Societal expectations in check, we can be heroines in our own epic adventure. This should be a fun and empowering introduction to feminism, and give the student time to reflect on our victories as women that were laid out by the feminists before us. 

Laurie Epps is a recent graduate of Anderson University majoring in Creative Writing. Already Laurie is most published as a feature article writer, essayist, and poet.  A seeker of beauty, her is dream is to travel the world one day and tell the many stories of those she meets. Columns include: Monday Morning Book Club, and Thoughtful Thursdays, a column dedicated to the fine art of poetry.

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