HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD
edited by Kelly Jensen
Algonquin Young Readers, 218 pages
reviewed by Kristie Gadson
Feminism. It’s an ideology that has long been approached with trepidation, met with both skepticism and controversy. There have been countless articles, papers, films, and books exploring and defining the concept. However, Here We Are is more than a series of essays on feminism. It’s a collection of stories, blog posts, comics, drawings, and interviews featuring an array of different voices – each more unique than the last – describing what feminism means and how it plays a role in our lives. Each page encourages readers to think about how they, as individuals, can relate to a belief that strives to unite us as a whole.
“The people and the world around us shape our individual path to feminism…The journey is always changing, always shifting, and influenced by our own experiences and perspectives.”
The book is structured like a scrapbook, having a combination of calligraphy, designs, and doodles drawn across the pages, accenting each chapter. Not only is this visually appealing, it creates a sense of comfort that softens the intensity of the subject matter. Through its playful design Here We Are creates an atmosphere that fosters openness and spares judgement – in a way, the book itself functions as a safe space where readers can embark their own experience.
Forty-four voices all come together to share their perspectives on multiple aspects of feminism: what it means to them, how they came to accept it, how they identify with it, and how they advocate for it. However, what sets this book apart from the rest is its inclusion of a kaleidoscope of narratives that show “…the truth about feminists: they come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.” It succeeds in offering an intersectional view on feminism by including the stories of men, disabled women, both transgender men and women, and women of color.
In Matt Nathanson’s essay “Privilege” he expresses his frustrations about benefitting from a system that devalues not only women, but those who don’t fit into the category of “white” and “male”. He takes issue with the fact that his daughter, while acknowledging that she also has privilege, has “a set of hurdles in place that [he] never had…she is heading out into a game that is fixed.”
Angie Manfredi’s “The Big Blue Ocean and My Big Fat Body” explores the negative effects of body shaming and how society views body type as a standard of worth. Through feminism she came to accept that being fat doesn’t mean that anyone isn’t deserving of love or acceptance.
Amandla Stenberg’s “Don’s Cash Crop My Cornrows” looks into the damages done by the appropriation of black culture, specifically when it comes to black hair. She points out how hairstyles like cornrows, originally used to keep black hair neat and away from the elements, were ridiculed and seen as “ghetto” on black people but were later seen on high-fashion runways and music videos, rebranded as “urban” because they were worn by white models and musicians. She begs the question “what would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?”
Kaye Mizra’s “Faith and the Feminist” reveals the politics surrounding a Muslim woman’s decision to wear her hijab, how cultures with a lack of understanding feel the need to label the practices of other cultures “backward” or calling their women “oppressed.” Mizra comes to terms with her personal choice and how the right to choose is indeed a feminist act.
Through exploring their vulnerability, struggles, and triumphs the book offers a more human view of feminism through the lens of these individuals and their personal circumstances.
As I poured over the pages, connecting with every image, essay, and story, I found pieces of myself scattered throughout the book. I saw my desire for inclusion in Brandy Colbert’s “In search of Sisterhood.” I relived my gender-normed past in Sarah McCarry’s “Girl Lessons.” My activism was re-ignited in Mia and Michaela DePrinces’ “Feminism is as Feminism Does.” Although my experiences are my own, I believe that any reader who picks up this book will develop a personal connection to, at least, one of these stories. Readers can challenge and expound upon their current views of feminism, allowing them to add to the ever growing, ever shifting dynamic.
Here We Are shows that feminism isn’t a monolith. It’s a collection of experiences, stories, and narratives that contribute to the betterment of all. This collection succeeds in getting the conversation started and it’s left up to the reader to finish it.
Kristie Gadson is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor’s in English. But, formalities aside, she knew that children’s books would become her passion when she found herself sneaking into the children’s section of Barnes & Noble well after she turned eighteen. She is a strong advocate for diverse children’s books, and writes diverse children’s book reviews on her blog The Black Sheep Book Review.
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