Celebrating International Women’s Day 2015

International Womens Day 2015 Books

Happy International Women’s Day! Every year on March 8th, International Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements while advocating gender equality. I think days like these are so wonderful because while we have made great progress when it comes to gender equality, there is still so much to be done. (And I’m still in shock when people tell me that gender inequality doesn’t exist…)

So, in honour of International Women’s Day today, I’ve chosen some of my recent favourite reads to celebrate! These in some way or another have touched me and inspired me. I realize as I’m typing this now that I should have included Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, so let’s pretend that her book is pictured.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The first thing I loved about this book was its packaging. It’s so small and compact that it would be perfect as a small gift (and it totally should be given away as gifts). I also love that it’s so cheerful and bold with its colour choice. It really demands attention, and for a rightful reason. On to the content: this is actually an adapted essay by Adichie, who originally presented it as a TEDx talk. Adichie shares personal anecdotes and defines what feminism means to her. She doesn’t shame anyone for not recognizing gender issues; she merely explains (very eloquently) how they exist and why we should be paying more attention. One of my favourite passages:

“The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.” (pg 34.)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

There is a reason why The Handmaid’s Tale is hailed as a classic. This haunting dystopian novel shows us a world where there is no freedom – even those in the ruling class are required to follow strictly defined roles. Handmaids are chosen to be reproductive machines, while Wives are simply housewife figureheads. Commanders are supposed to have relationships with their Wives but mere relations with the Handmaids. This is a society that is so constricted by their prescribed gender norms that hardly anyone is happy. If you haven’t read this yet, I’d strongly recommend it.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

This is an upcoming title from Random House but I loved it so much that I thought I’d give it a shout out here. The story follows Anna, an American expatriate living in Switzerland with her banker husband and three children. As the novel’s title suggests, Anna is a housewife. She is completely dependent on her husband and his family. She doesn’t know how to drive, and thus relies on trains or someone to drive her when she needs to go anywhere; she has limited grasp on German (and even more limited handle on Schwiizerdutsch), requiring her husband to help her with paperwork; she doesn’t even own a bank account. That she is a housewife almost defines her, except for her secret life away from her family. I highly enjoyed getting to know Anna – not as a housewife but as a deep, complex person – and I can’t wait to chat about it more when it officially comes out.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Moving away from fiction, I wanted to feature two memoirs that I have loved recently, the first one being Not That Kind of Girl. It is no secret that I admire Dunham. She is not afraid to be different – in fact, she flaunts it – and she continues the trend of letting us in on her thoughts and feelings in her memoir. She doesn’t claim to know everything, yet she offers sound advice from time to time. Something that has stuck with me:

“Here’s who it’s not okay to share a bed with: Anyone who makes you feel like you’re invading their space. Anyone who tells you that they “just can’t be alone right now.” Anyone who doesn’t make you feel like sharing a bed is the coziest and most sensual activity they could possibly be undertaking. Now, look over at the person beside you. Do they meet these criteria? If not, remove them or remove yourself. You’re better off alone.” (pg. 20.)

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Like Dunham, Amy Poehler is another public figure I adore. I love that she is so committed to promoting rising female talent (Broad City, Upright Citizens Brigade, Smart Girls at the Party, anyone?). The fact that she has such a strong friendship with another female – Tina Fey – just makes me so happy. To me, Poehler exemplifies the fact that you don’t have to step over everyone’s toes to get to the top. Why not do it together and show that successful women are not exceptions to a rule? There were so many wonderful bits in Yes Please that I shared my favourites in this post. The “currency” tip is my absolute favourite.

So there you have it! If you’re looking for something new and inspiring to read this International Women’s Day, I hope my list proves to be as thought-provoking for you as it was for me.

Are you reading any female-centered literature this International Women’s Day? Do you have any book recommendations for me? (I need to find my copy of bell hooks’ Feminism: From Margin to Center…)

Things I Learned from Amy Poehler’s Yes Please

Things I Learned from Amy Poehler's Yes Please

I would call myself somewhat of an Amy Poehler fan, though I knew next to nothing about her participation in the Upright Citizens Brigade (both the sketch group and theatre), her recurring roles on Saturday Night Live, or her work with Smart Girls at the Party before reading her memoir Yes Please. I was, however, familiar with her work on Parks and Rec prior to reading the book and have always admired how she seems to really care about promoting other women’s work, especially when it comes to up-and-coming comedy groups (Broad City, anyone?). So to say I had high hopes for Yes Please is a slight understatement, but I am thrilled to tell you that I was not disappointed.

On Monday, I mentioned a new feature I was working on for my blog. Well, I’m excited to say: this is it! I was inspired by the many things I learned from Yes Please and so I thought I would pull my favourite lessons from it to share with you all. Without further ado…

1. Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier. (p 21)

One thing I love about Amy is that she is not known for being conventionally beautiful. Instead, she’s loved for her sense of humour, her contributions to the improv world, and her writing. That is her currency. I find it so inspiring that there’s such a strong voice encouraging woman (and anyone, for that matter) that looks aren’t the only important thing. You can also be smart, hardworking, and funny. What’s my currency? I haven’t quite landed on it, but thanks to Amy, I feel like I’m closer to figuring it out.

2. Treat your career like a bad boyfriend. (p 217)

In this section of the book, Amy goes against the grain a bit. Instead of pushing the idea that “as long as you really want it, you can get it!”, she advocates “practic[ing] ambivalence.” She writes, “…your career is a bad boyfriend. It likes when you don’t depend on it. It will reward you every time you don’t act needy. It will chase you if you act like other things (passion, friendship, family, longevity) are more important to you” (p 225).

As someone who is just entering the “looking for a career” stage in my life, this is very interesting to me. I have always really wanted things. I wonder how things would change if I switched up my thinking a bit.

3. You can travel back and forth by living in the moment and paying attention. (p 280)

This was a more abstract chapter, but the stories Amy shares when explaining what she means when she says time travel is real convinced me that she’s right. Perhaps it’s not real in the physical sense, but emotionally, yes. This chapter taught me to live in the moment and pay attention to every small detail, whether they’re happy or not. Remembering the little things gives us our time travel wings – and once you get there, it’ll be magical. (In fact, writing this blog post and re-reading parts of the book has brought me back to this past Christmas, when I was snuggled in bed reading those words for the first time, feeling absolutely content and peaceful. Time travel is real. It really is.)

Yes Please was more than just a celebrity memoir for me. Yes, I found out more about Amy Poehler’s history and rise to fame, but I also learned valuable lessons that have inspired me in many ways. The points I shared here are just small samplers of the wisdom Amy imparts. I hope it moves you to give this book a chance so you can laugh and learn from it like I did.

Are you a fan of Amy Poehler? Have you read Yes Please? Did you learn anything new today (bookish or otherwise)?