Riding the momentum of the Women’s March Global initiative and the #MeToo movement, three new non-fiction books about feminism and gender equality bring the conversation to a teen audience.
What Makes Girls Sick and Tired, by Lucile de Pesloüan, presents a sparse snapshot of sexism around the world – in arty zine style. Each page, accompanied by a stark, graphic-novel-style illustration, addresses an obstacle faced by girls and women: “Girls are sick and tired when men who cook and do the shopping are praised for being modern, while for women it’s just considered normal”; “Girls are sick and tired of contraception and abortion being women’s issues, and that society can prevent them from having both.”
The book succeeds in its focus on inclusivity, tackling everyday indignities as well as broader social issues, such as violence against women and rape culture. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide anything more than a brief line or two about what girls are sick and tired of, and thus comes across as a simple airing of grievances. Apart from a single, positive note at the end calling for solidarity, the book feels bleak and lacks context and depth.
For a deeper read, Monique Polak’s I Am a Feminist offers a comprehensive exploration of the varied issues faced by today’s girls and women, as well as efforts being made to address those concerns.
The book begins with an introduction to feminism and why it matters, followed by a quick history of the movement and all its waves. In subsequent chapters, Polak not only addresses key issues of inequality and oppression but also offers many examples, first-person anecdotes, and helpful suggestions from experts to assist readers in navigating these matters in their own lives.
Polak speaks to her readers directly in a relaxed, relatable, conversational approach. In a chapter on appearance and objectification, for example, she explores the impact of social media and cautions the reader, “Next time you catch yourself searching the Web and feeling inadequate, stop!” She follows up with strategies for print and digital media literacy.
Each chapter highlights the efforts of people who are speaking out and fighting gender inequality in all its forms, such as the women who wore black on the red carpet at the 2018 Golden Globes to protest sexual harassment in the workplace and Eleanor Wheeler, a teen activist for girls and women with disabilities. Overall, I Am a Feminist is an excellent grounding in what it means to be a feminist and a testament to the power of the movement to change things for the better.
Rather than tackling feminism as a whole, Robin Stevenson’s My Body My Choice zeroes in on the single issue of women’s ongoing fight for abortion rights around the world, documenting its history while also exploring what the future might hold. For a heavy topic, the book is both arrestingly visual – peppered with photographs, illustrations, and comic strips – and dynamic in tone. Sidebars offer inspiring quotes and candid observations from other activists and authors. Stevenson also highlights the work of young activists in mini profiles, including Maddy Rasmussen, who, as an 18-year-old in Des Moines, Washington, created the Safe Place Project, a website with an interactive map of all the abortion clinics in the U.S.
The book is thoroughly researched and thought provoking, offering in-depth information balanced with first-person accounts, including stories of women who have had abortions themselves. At a time when reproductive rights are being challenged in many areas of the world, Stevenson concludes with a call to action: “Hard battles have been fought, and it is up to all of us to protect the ground that has been gained. When basic rights are threatened, it is vital that people speak up and resist.”