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Book Review: Wolfpack by Abby Wambach

Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts

13 May 2019

Book Review: Everything Grows by Aimee Herman

A lot of books show up at my home that go unread - to be given away or on the never-ending TBR pile. Thankfully something about Everything Grows urged me to read it and now. And that is exactly what this books does to your heart - it plants into your heart and tears it apart as it blossoms.

Aimee Herman gives us the tale of Eleanor, a teen in 1993 (This GenXer is still floored each time she reads a book that is nostalgic for her own high school days and LOVES it. Even if it is hard to read "historical fiction" for that time.) whose bully has recently taken his own life just months after her mom attempted to do the same. At the prompting for her English teacher, Eleanor journals her way through the months after the bully's death, exploring not just their relationship, but also her relationship with her mother, and most importantly herself.

There are definitely places in this book where I felt it was a bit unrealistic, but it works in the end. It all works. 1993 was a huge year for me. I am the same age as Eleanor's sister, who struggles through her first year of college. Every step along Eleanor's journey was deeply felt due to both superb writing, but also personal flashbacks.

I am not sure how this would go over with someone who has survived their own attempt to take their lives, so please consult someone. I do know that this book is full of hope as Eleanor wrestles with what suicide means - is it giving up? Is it giving in? Why? Why not? This book is also about queer youth, as signaled by the rainbow button on the cover. According to the Trevor Project "suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24 and LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth." From everything I know of LGB youth and young adults, I would like to think this book is a welcome addition to their lives as it is affirming not just for one's identity, but for the really fucked up ways we all stumble through figuring out that identity.

As a parent, I appreciated the insight into the teen mind. As I get older, I lose the finer touch of my memories. Aimee Herman reminded me of all the drama that happens in our minds and hearts. And why sometimes the best thing a parent can do it simply say, "I love you. I accept you." and the shut the fuck up.

I was going to give this to a parent who spotted me reading it at soccer, but I think I'm going to walk this over to our Gender and Sexuality Center over my lunch break.

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

30 April 2019

Marvel-ing at Grief

Spoilers Ahead

Spoilers head for Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse and Avengers: Endgame.

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When Stan Lee died many fans were quick to point out that his legacy is much more than just comic book characters, but the messages that those characters endear to us. He spent years reinforcing those messages on his Soap Box. It is with his words about the power of love in mind that I outline that Avengers: Endgame is a film about grief masquerading as an action flick. Grief is everywhere in the film - appropriately since it takes place in a post-snap, post-apocalyptic universe. The grief of Thor is central to this lesson, but is the one most undercut by humor.

Avengers: Endgame begins with Hawkeye losing his family to Thanos' snap. And this snaps something in him causing him to become a vigilante. Rhodey reports to Nat of his slaughter of Mexican gang members. Nat finds him in Tokyo after his latest slaughter. We first see Thor upset because he did not go for Thanos' head, allowing Thanos to complete the snap. He makes sure not to repeat that mistake by beheading Thanos to stop his holier-than-thou speech about why the snap was good, blah, blah. After Tony is saved, he is so upset about the snap (most likely because of Peter Parker) that he collapses. Of course Tony is always upset about something, so grief or Tony? Your guess.

Five years after the snap, Steve Rogers runs a grief support program encouraging others to move on. Then he remarks to Nat that they can't move on. When it is time to get the band back together, Bruce/Hulk and Rocket find Thor in a deep depression - he is heavily drinking, staying in his home, and gaining weight, presumably due to over eating (the fact he is a god is to be ignored). Whereas Steve & Nat identify that they are stuck in grief and regret, Thor's grief is played off as a joke.

The first time I saw Avengers: Endgame the entire theater gasped at Thor's beer & pizza belly. I know I did. It was shocking especially compared to the scene in Infinity War where Thor's perfect body is compared to Peter Quill's non-Godlike body. And it should be noted that while his body was perfect, Mantis does say Thor is filled with grief. Back to Endgame...On my second watch, I paid attention to how Thor's belly is framed and lit to highlight it as a gag instead of a manifestation of his grief.

Later on when Thor is discussing the Reality stone and how he needs to time travel back to Asgard, he starts to mourn the loss of Jane as a girlfriend, his mother, and ends before getting to losing his father, brother, Loki, and Asgard itself. But when he gets to Asgard he is overcome with emotion at the sight of his mother on her deathday.

Rocket rightfully does some truth telling - how he is not the only one who lost something from The Snap. That they have a job to do and if they do it, they can put things right. I even accept the slap! But what I don't accept is how the slap played as humor. Rocket dug deep into his own trash-filled soul to give some tough love. Maybe the humor was there to take the edge off the heavy moment. We'll return to this idea later. 

As mothers are apt to do, Frigga can see his pain in his face. She counsels him that even he is like everyone else in terms of failing, but that doesn't mean he stops trying. Frigga even gives him direction by telling him to be who he is, not what he is expected to be. That's some real mom truth-telling there! To cap off the scene Thor summons Mjolnir and when it arrives he exclaims, "I'm still worthy!"

Thor's journey through grief and embodiment as a pot belly is played off as a joke. Compare this to how Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse handled Peter B. Parker's grief and depression. Yes, it was played off as a joke at first, but Peter B. offers up some hard truths to Miles about #ThatSuperheroLife, marriage, and how sometimes heroes don't get the happy ending we assume they do. His longing for a second or third chance with Mary Jane is palpable. Which is why I bawled when he showed up at her door at the end.

Given that the target audience for superhero movies is still young men and boys, Marvel has an enormous opportunity to normalize grief for a population that is obviously struggling with their emotions. When men experience mental health issues, including grief and depression, they are more apt to lash out than women. In fact they often lash out at the women in their lives.

Violence by men and boys is a national epidemic. Gun violence. Intimate partner violence. Sexual violence. All are disproportionately inflicted by boys and men. I for one do not believe that it is because men and boys are somehow inherently terrible human beings, but our society warps them into ignoring their feelings AND tells them that they way to get things out is to lash out at others. This is royally fucked up.

What if Rocket had hugged (I know, hard for our fave trash panda to hug our fave Norse god) instead of slapping him, or after slapping him, much like the hug that Tony gets to give to his father and Peter Parker? We get a taste of this empathy when Bruce/Hulk talks to Thor in New Asgard.

Can you imagine the impact on the young men and boys sitting in theaters around the country and the world if Thor's depression and grief had been given the same weight as Tony's death? Grief makes us all feel weird. We don't like to talk about grief. After my mom died, I had a few people in my life tell me to get over it so I could move on with my life. We don't know how to deal with grief, so we tell people to get over it or make awkward jokes. I don't think we needed Thor to end up with a grief counselor, but more acknowledgement of his losses and less jokes and body-shaming would had been awesome. Especially in light of the overwhelming sense of grief everyone was carrying throughout the movie.

If Stan Lee's legacy is a catalog of superheros that inspire us to be our best selves, why not include being inspired to talk about our grief and understanding that eating a salad will not resolve our depression-weight-gain.

20 April 2019

Book Review: Wolfpack by Abby Wambach

https://www.facebook.com/support.womens.sports/photos/rpp.138406009565377/2046455138760445/?type=3&theater

Less than a year ago, Abby Wambach took the stage at Barnard's commencement and gave a speech that shook many, including myself, to the core. Her speech went viral and I made the above image in order to share the highlights of her speech. Earlier this month Abby released the speech in book form.

Wolfpack: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game is short (less than 100 pages) but is much more than just her speech. You get a peek into how the speech came together and why she said everything. And because the book is short and is an expanded speech, it moves quickly. I feel that it moves with the same ferocity that Abby use to move down a soccer field. And you might find yourself cheering as she takes you through the story.

Abby has always been one of my favorite players. The way she ran amok on the pitch was exactly the way I felt I played sports. Never caring how you looked and giving it your all. Leaving it all on the field. When she retired from soccer, international and US soccer were looking for their next leaders. I was sure that the way Abby talked about gender issues that she would head off to an Ivy League school, get her MBA, and come back to run US Soccer. I'm still hoping that will happen one day. US Soccer needs her fire and someone to give attention to the girls program. But after retiring from soccer, Abby appeared to struggle with reentry into ordinary life. Her arrest for driving while under the influence was her public low-point. In her memoir, Forward, she is honest with her struggles with addiction and other ghosts in her life. Perhaps speaking her truth allowed her to exorcise the demons and restart her life. She has even started her own leadership training program, Wolfpack Endeavor.

I finished the book the same day I received it (Monday) and immediately assigned it to my 15-year-old-soccer-playing daughter.  Now I did this while she was on Spring Break and needed to finish a research paper. "It's less than a 100 pages, it reads quickly, and you will have it done by Friday." She had it done by Thursday.

If you are burned out on leadership or inspirational books, I strongly suggest you pick up "Wolfpack." Not only is it a quick read, but it distills so much of what great leadership looks like without fluff. Is that ain't quintessential Abby Wambach, I don't know what else it is. There are citations, there are studies quoted, but Abby gets right to the point and moves on. Us powerful majestic goddesses do not have time to read 300 pages of why we need to have demand the fucking ball. So get yourself a copy and maybe even one for your BFF, daughter, or goddess-in-training.

Please purchase your own copy of Wolfpack from Powells or Indiebound and support Viva la Feminista.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy from a publicist.  

19 January 2019

Review: The Folded Map Project on stage (Collaboraction)


Chicago is a segregated city. When Martin Luther King Jr brought his nonviolent work to Chicago he was struck by a rock and remarked, "I have seen many demonstrations in the south but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I’ve seen here today." The shorthand manner to discuss our segregation is to note that the Northside is where you find White Chicagoans and the Southside is where you find Black Chicagoans. The Northside is where you find all the resources whereas on the Southside you find vacant lots and high crimes.

There have been countless attempts to bridge this divide. One of the most recent and ingenious is the Folded Map project. Simply put, who lives at 6400 North and 6400 South and how are their lives different or similar.

Now comes a stage production of the project brought to us by Collaboraction. This production is part of a larger "Encounter" series that runs through January 27th. There are in fact only 2 more times to see this particular piece: Wednesday, January 23 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, January 26at 7 p.m.

The piece was moving, but also left me wanting more. Much more. "Folded Map" is far more an origin story of Tonika Johnson and the project itself. I really wanted to hear more about what Johnson had learned from the conversations and if those on the Northside had made changes in the way they go about their lives. 

In one sense it is easy to fold the map of Chicago from Englewood, the most dangerous neighborhood if all you know of it is from the evening news, to Rogers Park, home to aging hippies and the heart of Chicago's progressive community. It should make it easier for the project, especially the stage production to ask those with more money, influence, and privilege what they will do to ease the differences we see through the project. Because it left the "what next" conversation centered on sharing ones love of gardening I felt unfulfilled. 

That is not to say that the origin story is itself a bad story. In fact it is a fascinating story of one woman's family that started in Englewood, moved to Uptown, then back. It is a case study is why it is worth the two-hour commute for some students in order to have a high school experience that prepares you to be a UN ambassador. It is heartwarming, touching, and extols the power to art to not only be a medium for storytelling, but as community building.

In the end, I strongly encourage you to see the remaining two shows. I hope that Johnson and the rest of the crew continue to evolve this piece that can help cut through the divides, both physical and mental, that keep us apart and Chicago from being the city it can be It has a companion piece, A Great Day (in the Neighborhood), which is a fantastical romp through a creative mind. 

Catch "Folded Map" on Wednesday, January 23 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, January 26 at 7 p.m. 

Disclaimer: I saw "Folded Map" through a press pass. All opinions are my own.

04 September 2018

Rose Tico and Kelly Marie Tran are the role models we need

Rose Tico emerged from "The Last Jedi" as the breakout character. Who would have guessed when we saw her zap Finn that so many people would fall in love with her passion for life and dedication for the resistance? Considering that Finn gets under my skin as an annoying brat, ME!!

A few weeks ago Kelly Marie Tran wrote a kick ass op-ed in the New York Times about the online harassment that pushed her off Instagram, as well as the importance of Rose Tico to nerds of color:

...the same society that taught some people they were heroes, saviors, inheritors of the Manifest Destiny ideal, taught me I existed only in the background of their stories, doing their nails, diagnosing their illnesses, supporting their love interests — and perhaps the most damaging — waiting for them to rescue me.
And for a long time, I believed them.

Bomber Command
Tran sums up harshly and eloquently why nerds of color need heroes that look like them. I guy came over to my office the other day to fix my phone and he saw my Wonder Woman swag everywhere. "You know she's Latina right?" I told him yes and he just went on and on about how much he loves Wonder Woman because she is Latina. "She's one of us!" Of course we're really talking about Linda Carter as Wonder Woman is really more Mediterranean with her Greek mythology background. And I wish I knew this about Cater when I was a kid running around in my Underoos. BUT I'LL TAKE IT!

Resistance Fighter
But for kids today, especially Star Wars fans with Asian heritage, sisters Rose and Paige Tico are here to serve as inspirations through two young reader books.

I highly recommend these books for Star Wars fans who are super into the details. The nerdiest parts of both books are the detailed plans for a ships, weapons, worlds, creatures, and people. For me, right now, that's more detail than I need! But I know for many fans it is exactly the details they are looking for, especially for kids of color to get engrossed in zoology or engineering.

What I loved about the books is that they are both presented as if pieces of their diaries. The stories move along as part inner dialogue, part reflection. It made their stories feel accessible and real. Of course my favorite part was Rose dragging of Finn for trying to escape. I've never yelled "Hell yeah!" to a young reader book before.

Seriously though, the way Jason Fry situates the Tico Sisters' passion for justice in an idealism that would had been candy for me as a young person especially in this political moment.

If you have a young Star Wars fan who has signed up for the Resistance IRL, get them Resistance Fighter and Bomber Command.

Disclaimer: These books were sent to me from a publicist in return for an honest review that was then prompted by Kelly Marie Tran's amazing op-ed. 

02 April 2018

Review: How to Love the Empty Air

How to Love the Empty Air How to Love the Empty Air by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the 15 years since I lost my mother, I have yet to read something that so beautifully and tragically embodies what it means to lose your biggest supporter.

I do not normally read poetry, but Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz's writing makes me want more. When her collection ended I did not want it to end. It was part because I wanted her to continue painting my own sorrow and because I wanted to read more of her art. It took me a few days to finish this book because the poem that is set at her mother's deathbed was so vivid, I wanted to sob...and well you don't do that when you are in the car. From there on out I read the book while holding my breath and tears streamed down my cheeks. And yet, also with a slight smile on my lips.

The smile was because for once, finally, I felt like someone truly knew the path I have been walking. Even the dates seems to line up to my own journey. The big difference was Cristin had to work through her grief as she prepared to get married while I grieved while pregnant.

I know I may be identifying too much to be a good reviewer, but this book blew my mind while simultaneously breaking and mending my heart. This is the book I have wanted to write the past 15 years. I consider it a gift that a review copy found its way to me. Thank you, Cristin.

View all my reviews

24 March 2018

Review: The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of all the books that I have read about motherhood, "The Fifth Season" is in my top five. It feels impossible to write this review without spoiling this magical journey N. K. Jemisin gifted the world. But I'm giving it a try!

The world we find feels familiar to us, yet at the same time so far in the distant future. It is at once sometime long ago and just down the road. The women we meet along the way make up the bulk of the protagonists. Each are flawed in their own way - some are young enough we forgive them and hope they grow out of their weaknesses, others leave us wondering what led them to the place we meet them.

Holding it all together is a race towards the end of the world and two characters wrestling with the role of motherhood. As I said earlier, the manner in which motherhood and mothering is tackled in "The Fifth Season" is contemporary and accessible, all the while occurring on a planet ready to collapse onto everyone.

Life is the only reason why it took me so long to read this page-turner. At 449 pages, it seems intimidating, but at the conclusion you will want more. Thankfully there are two more books in this series.

View all my reviews

09 January 2018

Review: Home

Home Home by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WOW...What a second chapter to Binti's story. It was a delicious mystery as to how a headstrong young woman would return home from her first year of university with her alien friend. She returns home a changed person (as we all are after being on our own for some time!) and faces the ramifications of her tight knit family and community. I said "Binti" would be great for someone heading off to college. Now I say get "Home" and place it on your child's bed to greet them when they come home for the summer.

View all my reviews

16 October 2017

Book Review: Feminist Icon Cross-Stitch: 30 Daring Designs to Celebrate Strong Women

www.runningpress.com/book/feminist-icon-cross-stitch/anna-fleiss/

As the days get shorter and the air gets crisper a lot of us start to move into homebody mode. Part of this for me usually means getting crafty. And that is why I was excited to get a copy of Feminist Icon Cross-Stitch: 30 Daring Designs to Celebrate Strong Women by Anna Fleiss & Lauren Mancuso.

The patterns are pretty easy, so if you have never done cross-stitch before, most of these are totally doable. And you can choose from bad ass ladies such as Frida, as seen on the cover, and Sojourner Truth, Billie Jean King, and Simone de Beauvoir. Each pattern comes with a quick bio of each icon too! So you're learning something while taking some self-care time to craft.

If you are new to cross stitch you might wonder, what do I do with them when I'm done? OMG! You can keep it simple and put them in a frame. Or you can get frames that are ornaments to hang on your Christmas or Yule tree. You can get hand towels with cross stitch fabric included so you can hang Cleopatra from your oven. The possibilities are endless. There are even patterns of some of our current feminist sayings like "Nevertheless She Persisted" and "The Future is Feminist".

Photo of inside cover & good sample of patterns
This is definitely a great gift idea too, because as the days get colder, the closer we get to gift giving season. And if you do office gift bags you must get this. Now to hit my fave craft store and get some new DMC floss.

Please purchase your own copy of Feminist Icon Cross-Stitch from Powells or Indiebound and support Viva la Feminista.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy as well as a swag tote bag from a publicist.

30 June 2017

Review: Despicable Me 3


Thanks to an invite from the publicity team, I took my 13-year-old daughter and her friend to a special screening of Despicable Me 3. We really loved the first movie. My daughter was Agnes for Halloween that year. The second movie fell flat for the overly racist stereotype of El Macho. I STILL SEE YOU, BENJAMIN BRATT!

The theater was packed with families, many in Minion t-shirts, and kids who did not any of the sugar they were about to ingest from the concession stand. Since it was a special screening the organizers kept trying to get our attention for giveaways and rule announcements. Nope. The kids were too excited to shush for a free t-shirt.

So the movie... This movie was better than DM2, but still far from the magic that made Despicable Me the franchise we keep going back to. As I said, I took my teenage daughter and while she liked it, it was clear it wasn't a home run. It was a hit with the younger kids we were surrounded by. They laughed, giggled, and danced in their seats.

THINGS I LIKED
  • Agnes steals the movie again. She was used perfectly to remind us of why we fell in love with this family. From her yard sale scene to the unicorn hunt, Agnes is the epitome of adorable. 
  • It was odd that it seemed like Margo had matured while the character clearly did not age. But her maturity with stepmom Lucy was sweet. 
  • The ending with Gru & his long-lost brother was nice and parents with more than one will use it in vain attempts to stop arguments. 
  • Lucy saves the day.
THINGS THAT BUGGED ME
  • Lucy spends most of the movie stumbling over her role as a mom. She is the experienced super spy, but gets pigeonholed into the mom role. 
  • The Minions get sent to prison. While there were some cute scenes, given this moment in US history, prison comedy is hard to laugh at, especially when I'm still not sure why they got locked up in the first place. 
  • Balthazar Bratt is the big villain, but was only there to give us Gen Xers a fun soundtrack. Ya know who they should have gotten to play the evil child star? Jason Bateman. Remember how much of a brat he was on Silver Spoons? Now that would had been awesome casting. 
  • Lucy making Margo do something to relieve a boy of public shaming. Yes, it seemed like a nice gesture, but I felt it sent too much of a message that girls should do whatever it takes to make a boy feel better. And then it back fired with an engagement, thus allowing Lucy to display her mama bear skills and win Margo's love.  
So go see the movie. It's not terrible, but it's a good decision on a hot steamy summer day. And it's a great decision for smaller kids who giggle at fart jokes.

Three Stars for everyone over 10
Four 1/2 Stars for those under 10

Disclaimer: We bought our own snacks from the concession stand!

21 June 2017

I'm finally ready to talk about the Wonder Woman movie...


Goddess knows that I had to see the movie at least two times before I could truly sort through all my feelings. Sitting in the theater the first time was like an out of body experience. I was there and knew I was there, but it didn't feel like it. I was somehow disconnected from the emotion of being there. Perhaps because my brain was taking a zillion notes a second. The second time...omg...the second time was overwhelming. First we got to the theater after the movie had already started - 2 minutes, that's ok. But when we got into the theater it was packed and we couldn't find seats. OMG! Where would we sit? Thankfully my daughter spotted three seats in row two. After we sat down it dawned on me...the theater was sold out in the second weekend. YES!!!
AUDIENCE REACTIONS
I found it odd that in both viewings there was little applause or cheering as in other eagerly anticipated movies. It was almost as if we were all stunned that we were actually at the Wonder Woman movie. That said, watching the movie the second time was a thrill because I did get to hear gasps and oohs at places where I knew the good stuff was still to come. The worst was hearing a little boy ask whomever he was with near the end of the movie, "Where's Steve?!" The best was the little girl who dance-punched her way through the credits at the end. She's who the movie is truly revolutionary for...she'll grow up never knowing any difference.
Why I Didn't Cry at the Battle Scene
I've read a lot of comments online about women crying during the Amazon battle scene. Most say it is because they had never seen such a battle. And I'm all...






See also Ripley, Sarah Conner, and a host of other kick ass women from TV and film. Yes, yes, yes...it is different to see a magnificent Amazon battle scene on the big screen with all the money that allows. The whole scene was breathtaking. But as someone who consumes scifi media, the woman warrior battle scene isn't earth shattering to me. Beautiful? Yes. Again, that doesn't mean I didn't love it, cause anytime I can see Amazons charging on horseback down the beach is a good day.



Steve Trevor
Call me a traditionalist, but Steve Trevor is supposed to be the damsel in distress. I kinda liked how ditzy he was in the TV show. But I get why plotwise he needed to know exactly who she was. We get a bit of Steve as damsel in the alley scene, but as Michi Trota at The Learned Fangirl points out, his punch at the end is only necessary to maintain him not being saved by Diana. Also until Ares shows up, Trevor is pretty sure the woman he's falling in love with is crazy. The fact he keeps talking about 'dropping her off at the front' told me that he thought she was delusional. He's getting credit for following her lead, but I am not totally sold that he truly believed in her. He shifts towards belief when he coordinated the others into helping her catapult into the church steeple. All that said, I did like Steve Trevor. I am just not buying all the chatter about him falling in line behind her. Also like Michi, I was upset that it was his death that made Diana realize the extent of her power.
Love
When Diana proclaimed that love was the answer, I let my skeptical side come out. "Oh come on...really? Wonder Woman gets the love will conquer all line?" But after reading some reviews, sitting on it, and seeing it a second time, love is the answer. Love for humanity is what motivates Diana to leave the safety of Themyscira. Love for humanity is what has her jump at the baby on the street. Love for humanity is what propelled her to walk across "No Man's Land." By the way, great hat tip to Lord of the Rings. It also accurate to her origins as amplifying women's goodness.

Women of Color
The critique of where the women of color existed in Themyscira. The first time we see one is as Diana's nanny bringing up images of mammies. This is a legitimate critique. But when I saw the film the second time I tried to pay attention to where the Amazons of color existed. I took the scene where Hippolyta is interrogating Steve Trevor as a meeting of the Amazon Senate. And there are a lot of Amazons of color. Some speak up, and yes are interrupted, but they are shown to be valued for more than just their strength. While I agree with most of the critiques, I do want to give a bit more credit. For me the entire Themyscira scene was done far too quickly. We could have skipped the Pretty Woman scene and add more time on Paradise Island.


In the end...
I really liked the movie. I have a feeling that I'll grow to love it as I rewatch it over and over. I'll find new things to love and new things that make me twitch my nose. Maybe I'll figure out what everyone seems to see in Steve.

What I do know is that Wonder Woman rose to the challenge to kick major ass at the box office. Luckily Patty Jenkins signed for two films so she'll get to bring the same vision to Diana in the sequel. As of this moment she's brought in $438.5 million in the US alone and $300 million overseas. Wonder Woman is set to break records that perhaps might force Warner Brothers to give us all the stupid movie promotions we were robbed of like cereal and ice cream. We will have Wonder Woman ice cream next time, right?!
But was it feminist?
SIGH...This is the question that kept eating at me during the first viewing. Does saying it is feminist mean I don't care that women of color weren't featured more prominently? Or that same sex love was only suggested not screamed from the top of a Themyscira cliff? Does it mean I am ok with the fact Etta Candy was given such a poor role? I don't think saying this movie was feminist means it is perfectly feminist. It had a lot to be desired, but it did give us a tale of a strong, smart, and loving woman who acted with an eye towards peace and justice. A woman who loves ice cream, babies, and kicking ass.

Yet at this moment when feminism needs to mean something, I hesitate to call everything feminist. Within our capitalistic society it seems like it is a feminist act to buy a ticket or three to Wonder Woman, but is it really? In Andi Zeisler's book, We Were Feminists Once, she argues that we can not buy our way to liberation. But this movie makes it clear that war is bad without framing even the Germans as evil. Diana wrestles with the source of humanity's urge to destroy itself which aligns with my feminism - the belief that people are inherently good, but misguided by fear. Cue Yoda.

So is the movie feminist? Kinda. There are definite feminist themes, but perhaps instead of focusing on stamping the entire film as feminist, we keep analyzing the film as to which scenes were feminist and which were not. Let's use this film to talk to the young girls in our lives about being ready for a fight, hoping it never comes, but kicking ass when necessary. That may be exactly how to balance the pacifism of my feminism with the reality of our world. Maybe.

If you haven't seen it, go....then come debate with me. 

11 June 2017

Book Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor is a novella that at first is a scifi adventure, but in the end is the perfect gift for a recent graduate. I swear it was fate that had me read this book during graduation time.

Binti is book one in a series that eagerly awaits its third volume. Binti is a young woman gifted with a combination of mathematical, engineering, and diplomatic skills with the tried and true eagerness to know more than her hometown. And with that framing comes her family's insistence that she stay put and follow tradition. But we meet Binti as she makes a run for her chosen path and into the great unknown world of university.

As the only one of my sisters to leave home for university and having worked on a campus full of first-generation university students this story hit home like a dagger. Binti's awkwardness at traveling alone, being an only, and negotiating space where "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" does not hold true is something many readers may feel deeply.

This is a scifi, speculative fiction story. One where the settings seem normal except for the fantastical technology that is ordinary to our hero. Binti also stumbles into violence that can be too much for younger readers, but should be ok to most teens.

Many have said that speculative fiction allows us to explore our current issues in a different universe. Binti certainly does this. Okorafor takes the almost-trope of a girl breaking out of her family and delivers to us a fresh and innovative tale of her discovering courage and belief in her abilities.

This book is a must for anyone who feels like they were a pioneer in their own lives, whether you were the first in your family to go away to college or the first X in your company. This is not a fish-out-of-water tale, rather how the fish got everyone else in the ocean with her. 

[ Order your a copy at Powells or IndieBound ]

Disclaimer: I bought this book myself.

02 April 2017

Review: Abortion: Stories Women Tell

According to the CDC,  664,435 legal abortions were performed in 2013. The Guttmacher Institute states that in 2014 1.5% of women aged 15-44 had an abortion. On average 1 in 3 women will have had an abortion over the course of their lifetime. This makes abortion or pregnancy terminations one of the most common surgical procedures, but most likely the only medical procedure that requires armed guards to ensure the safety of professionals performing them. The virulent attacks against reproductive justice - including medically accurate sex education, birth control, and abortion - has resulted in an atmosphere of fear. Fear that providers are assassinated in their churches or homes. Fear that providers being harassed outside their own homes. Fear that loved ones won't understand. This has resulted in silence.

And this silence has resulted in people worrying if their decision to abort means they are terrible people or if the fact they valued the lives of their children over their pregnancy means they are terrible parents.

In Abortion: Stories Women Tell these stories are here for consuming. We hear from women who have had abortions and now work in clinics to support other women. Women who regret their abortions and who are now those harassing women outside of clinics perpetuating abortion stigma.

For me, the most touching scenes are with those who chose adoption. The debate over abortion is often pitted against having one and not having one as if carrying a pregnancy to term is easy. But pick up an adoption narrative and one will know that allowing your child to be adopted is a tougher choice for many people. In fact in one scene the mother of a young woman admits that she could not be with her daughter as she gave birth because she needed to keep an emotional distance in order for the adoption to take place. That young woman made a decision to carry her pregnancy to term and her mother could not find the strength to be at her side as she gave birth and let her child join a different family. That is heart-wrenching. That pain is often ignored when anti-abortion advocates and law-makers scoff, "Just give it up for adoption!" as if it was as simple as dropping off a bag of donated clothing.

Abortion: Stories Women Tell beautifully highlights how abortion rights, especially in light of waiting periods, is a class issue. Considering how in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election pundits waxed on about the Democrats returning to economic issues and dismissing race and "identity" politics, few of those economic Democrats are running to include reproductive justice under the economic tent. Keeping the economics of "choice" out of the framing of our political agenda leads to not only Democrats throwing reproductive justice under the bus, but allows for upper class white women to think they are safe even if they vote for Trump. It also leads to the young white woman we meet who organizes against abortion even though she had zero personal experience with someone who had one. I bet she has a friend who had one, but can't trust her enough to reveal themselves.

This is not an easy documentary to watch. It is emotional and you will most likely cry and scream at the TV. I'm holding back tears as I write. But this documentary is one you must watch, especially for those in the mushy middle of the debate and don't have a friend who has outed themselves as having had an abortion. Tracy Droz Tragos, the director, does not pass judgement on those who fight to make abortion harder to access, but the humanity they provide to the women who do choose abortion is fiercely feminist and pro-reproductive justice.


premieres on HBO
Monday, April 3rd at 7 pm Central

******

In light of the class issues discussed in this film and my longtime activism to support those who choose abortion, I am asking you to please donate to my effort to support the Chicago Abortion Fund who financially assists those seeking to terminate their pregnancies. Thank you! 
******


26 March 2017

Review: Ovarian Psycos on PBS

In the fifth grade a few of my friends & I wanted to feel connected. We decided to always were jean jackets and call ourselves a gang. Of course our teacher stepped in and said it was ok to want to band together, but not call ourselves a gang. She never fully explained it, or I have forgotten, but it was clear that as working class kids, most of us Latin@, that calling ourselves a gang was not cool.at.all. But while we couldn't call ourselves a gang, we still stuck together until we grew apart. Nevertheless I would continue to want to organize my groups of friends into tight circles.

That is why when I watched Ovarian Psycos I was emotional. While my working class upbringing is far from the life we see in this new documentary, that sense of wanting to create your own family struck me to my core. What we get in this documentary are tales of young women seeking to strengthen their community by banding together, riding their bikes around LA, and being bad ass. Ovarian Psycos is a tale of love and determination. I highly recommend this documentary.     

Ovarian Psycos is a documentary about a new generation of young women of color from the Eastside of Los Angeles who are confronting injustice, building community, and redefining identity through a raucous, irreverently named bicycle crew: The Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade. Produced and directed by Joanna Sokolowski and Kate Trumbull-LaValle, Ovarian Psycos premieres on Independent Lens Monday, March 27, 2017, 10:00-11:00 PM ET (check local listings) on PBS.

20 March 2017

Book Review: Body Horror by Anne Elizabeth Moore

http://www.curbsidesplendor.com/books/body-horrors-essays-on-misogyny-and-capitalismDisclaimer: Anne & I are friends. Not just social media friends. We've been in each others homes, have shared food & drink, and all that jazz. I continue to be honored to call her a friend.

Anne Elizabeth Moore's autopsy of our culture's obsession with bodies and how they define more roles than you can imagine is pure art.

Knowing that Moore fits the definition of a feminist may make you scoff at the revolutionary manner in which her latest book, Body Horror: Capitalism, Fear, Misogyny, Jokes, focuses on the body and gender roles. Yes, feminists are at the forefront of critiquing body image and our cultural obsession with perfection, but Moore stands at the front of that movement. WAY IN FRONT. So far ahead of the curve that some of the essays will leave you pondering, "What was Veronica thinking? This has nothing to do with feminism or bodies?" Then you'll turn a page and get smacked with what I'm talking about.

Moore opens many of the essays (most which were previously published, but updated for this collection) with personal stories, especially of her growing list of chronic diseases and near death experiences. Her reflections of her mortality and how once close friends abandoned her will draw you in. The sympathy you feel is a grand trap she sets that ensnares you faster than your favorite roller coaster drops your stomach. Before you know it her death bed musings turn into a lesson on the politics of table-to-farm restaurants, living wages for fashion models, and pondering the feminism of horror movies. One moment you question how people can abandon a friend in need (if you are said author's friend you wonder if you have done enough and realize you have not.) the next you are trying to find something in the world that is not controlled by big business.

The outrage over the current administration's budget cuts especially towards arts and the elderly creates an image that everyday people value art. That we value people for their own sake. Yet Moore's essay on people's reaction to her decision to not reproduce gives us a peek into what people really value. Time and again she is clearly told that her art and contribution to our collective intellectual knowledge base is not enough. Her contributions to humanity can only be calculated by the number of humans she produces. As the mother of an only-child, I feel for this as I have been accused of robbing the world of more amazing feminist-minded persons as if having children was as easy as making a photocopy of my fabulous teenage daughter.

What that essay does is actually scarier than tell people who do not have children that they are not contributing to humanity. What it does is call into question HOW we reproduce creative and kick ass people like Moore. Her parents were not creative public intellectuals, yet she is one of the best GenX will ever have. Moore's essay actually reopened my fear that my daughter will grow up to reject everything that I taught her. It questions the power of parenting in creating the next generation of anything. In the time of test prep and helicopter parenting, this essay is scary as fuck and liberating, if you have the courage to embrace it.

All that from her recollecting that one time a friend wouldn't let go of the fact she decided she did not want to gestate a human being in her uterus.

That is why you should get a copy of this book. Moore not only pushes us to question capitalism, but even ideas that make us secure in our progressive bubble when we brunch at the hip organic cafe and buy local. Don't get me wrong, she does not make you want to give up the resistance. Rather she demands that you question if you really need one more "Nevertheless, she persists" tee and Facebook algorithm generated coffee mug. Two questions I ask myself almost daily. She pushes you to value the work of not just the woman who made your t-shirt on the other side of our planet, but also the model who sold it to us. Moore connects the dots that you did not even think were on the same page. And if we are going to resist, we might as well go all the way.

[ Pre-order your a copy at Powells or IndieBound ]

Second disclaimer: I received a review copy from the publisher.

14 March 2017

Review: America Issue 1


America Chavez, aka Miss America, finally has her own stand alone series and if you missed the news I wouldn't be surprised. While America's arrival has been a hit especially in the feminist and LGBT media, if you went to Marvel.com and tried to find any news, you'd find yourself on a character page that doesn't have an icon yet.

Maybe this reflects a hesitancy to fully embrace this bad ass queer Latina superhero? In the first issue we get to meet America as she kicks ass, kisses her girlfriend, punches Hitler, and has a horrible first day at college. I legit cried when I saw that she is attending Sotomayor University. I mean, THIS COMIC!!

Go ahead and click on this section of the map to read the motto of S.U. I need a hoodie from this school.

Why should you pick up a copy?

Because it is a moral imperative. America is part of the growing Marvel universe that looks like the world. She also looks and acts like a young Latina ready to be on her own, complete with the swagger and attitude of a young person. Alas, keeping with the trope that one must rise above without parents, America has lost her mothers. Marvel is working on representation in relation to our superhero and her creators and it matters, so buy a copy.

Outside of supporting representative media, it is a great first issue. While I am a comics reader and have been consuming a lot of Marvel since Thor was reborn as a woman in 2014, I am not super familiar with America's backstory. Which can be good when a comic is relaunched like this. There is enough backstory and current story that left me wanting more. Plus America reminds me of so many of my Latinx friends that I can not wait to see what she does next.

Go buy a copy from your local comic book store or buy a digital copy from Marvel.

Disclaimer: I bought my own copy and get no kick back for telling you to buy this comic.

15 February 2017

AMERICAN MASTERS "Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise"

Credit: Ron Groeper
The first feature documentary about Maya Angelou, American Masters – Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, premieres nationwide Tuesday, February 21 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) during Black History Month as part of the 31st season of THIRTEEN’s American Masters series. PBS Distribution will release the film on DVD the same day, with additional bonus features, and on Digital HD February 22.

Most people know Angelou as a writer, but this documentary showcases all of her geniuses in literature, speaking, acting, signing, and dancing. The best part of a full-length documentary on Maya Angelou are the moments when she is reciting a poem while footage of the world runs.

This documentary is touching, but most importantly it is funny. Angelou's laughter rings throughout the film. It wraps around your heart like a warm hug...just the type of hug we need during these dark times. Seriously though, for progressives and feminists, these are dark days. Days when we lose hope than we can imagine before we even finish our commute to work. Days when we feel extra guilty of tuning out the world in fluffy and stupid pop culture. But watching this documentary will reground you in the belief that justice will prevail. Angelou does not promise us a happy ending, but her words, her breath, fill you with hope. Even when she speaks of dark times! I do not know how she does it, even years after her death.

Catch it. DVR it and save it for viewing when you lose hope.

Disclaimer: Thanks to PBS for letting me preview this documentary in order to review it for VLF.

27 December 2016

Review: Hidden Figures (book) by Margot Lee Shetterly

I am a nerd in many different ways. I love math. I went to Space Camp for my 40th birthday. I could go on, but I think I have established my nerd credentials. Thus when I heard this book came out and a movie, I could not wait! I picked up this book at Powell's Portland airport store. Let me tell you,  Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly is a beautifully written book about the collision of race, gender, and science in the USA from World War II to the late 1960s.

Hidden Figures tells the stories of a number of African American women who found themselves working on engineering projects during World War II and through the 1960s space race. Oh, I should add that they were doing all of this in Virginia too.

As someone who has spent her career working to diversify science, technology, engineering and mathematics, these type of stories are not new to me, even if the characters are. There are so many hidden figures in the annals of the history of science we could write books for a generation. No, what is most compelling about Hidden Figures is how effortlessly Shetterly connects the dots between what is occurring in the government labs during the space race and what is happening in our society writ large.

All those sticky notes are places I wanted to quote to you, dear reader. Alas, that might border on copyright infringement.

In the prologue, Shetterly sets the stage with the fact that "growing up in Hampton, the face of science was brown like mine." This is so important to the overall story. The author grew up in a community where people of color did science, so no big whoop! Can you imagine the choices her generation were able to conceive because of this fact? Goodness. But as she untangles the threads of the stories, she begins to craft a new vision of where she came from. One where Black women as mathematicians were not only recruited, but due to discrimination a smart business move for the government agency that would become NASA. And yes, despite the professionalism that one would give to a government mathematician, the burden of working hard and long hours to offer one's children a "better life" was just as real for these women as the women who labored in homes and factories.

Time and time again Shetterly balances the progress happening in the research labs with how stuck Virginia and the rest of the country were in terms of race and gender relations.

In relation to African Americans fighting in World War II, she writes:
The system that kept the black race at the bottom of American society was do deeply rooted in the nation's history that it was impervious to the country's ideals of equality. 
In relation to using education as a force for social advancement:
The Negro's ladder to the American dream was missing rungs, with even the most outwardly successful blacks worries that at any moment the forces of discrimination would lay waste to their economic security.
Shetterly never lets the readers forget the larger social forces at play, even as our heroes make leaps in mathematical theory. The reality is that they are Black women in the South in the 1940s to 1960s. No amount of heroism allows them to escape that gravitational pull. The desegregation of schools was a huge issue at the time of these women's fantastic accomplishments, but Shetterly writes:
As fantastical as American's space ambitions might have seemed, sending a man into space was starting to feel like a straightforward task compared to putting black and white student together in the same Virginia classrooms. 
One especially touching and brilliant example of the two worlds these women were living in was when Mary Jackon's son wins the box car derby.
Mary knew that her son was a ringer; the two of them had been building to win. Brain busters' kids were supposed to come out on top in a race like this, even if the brain buster was a woman, or black, or both.
Shetterly shares many women's stories with us in 265 pages. You may get overwhelmed by the number of stories as well as the emotions that come along. But keep track. Their stories have been hidden so long that Shetterly could have written a whole book on each woman. Maybe she should for children to read along with their biographies of Glenn, Armstrong, and Lindberg. Because these women may never have gone into space or set foot on the moon, but they are no less part of our history of exploration and American exceptionalism.

Buy a copy from Powells or IndieBound. And go see the movie! I can't wait to see it myself.

20 December 2016

Eight Great Feminist Books for Last Minute Gift Giving

I've read quite a few great books this year, but haven't had time to write up proper reviews. Honestly I have a few half-written ones, but I wanted to make sure you have some recs for a last minute run to your local feminist or indie bookstore. So let's get to them...Note all book links are affiliate links so I do get a little something if you buy the book through those links. Which is much appreciated!

Forward by Abby Wambach is a difficult walk through this legend's life. Abby is my favorite player in recent years. I was so eager to read this and while I did not walk away from it not loving her, but rather it changed the temperature of my fandom. Her honesty is brutal in ways that are endearing and off-putting. Abby is forthright with the privileges she has held since childhood from being a star athlete, but also the burden of being a younger sibling of a star athlete. The way she talks about the Brazilian national team and Marta is so dismissive I had to put the book down for a bit. Abby's struggle with addiction is humbling and that comes across throughout the book. In the end I left the book admiring her more, but in a more humane way. Not as the greatest soccer player ever, but as someone who went through a lot of crap to accomplish her dreams. Buy a copy from Powells or IndieBound.  

Threadbare: Clothes, Sex & Trafficking a comics report from the Ladydrawers and Anne Elizabeth Moore is A+ feminist killjoy. Disclaimer...Anne is a friend of mine & I'm friendly with many a Ladydrawer. What Anne & Co do with Threadbare is connect our addiction to cheap cute clothes with the global epidemic of low-wage work that disproportionately impacts women and human trafficking. See...feminist killjoy. Now you say you only buy second hand clothes to reduce the money going into the pockets of big corporations and reduce our environmental footprint? Sorry, you fall into this vicious cycle too. This book is a must read for the feminist fashionista in your life as well as every well-meaning feminist who wants to save women in the developing world. Buy a copy from Powells or IndieBound.  

In what I dub the natural partner to Threadbare is Andi Zeisler's (another friend!) We Were Feminists Once. Andi digs deep into the current pop culture moment feminism is having. For awhile it seemed hard to get through a profile of a pop star or actress without someone asking her if she was a feminist. But what does that mean when feminism is hip and cool? Andi outlines how it ends up watering down feminism and what it means to be a feminist. What does it mean to consider an act of feminism to be consuming Amy Schumer and wearing cute feminist tees? Can we buy our way into a feminist future? Spoiler....Nope. Again, feminist killjoy at its finest. Buy a copy from Powells or IndieBound.


Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner? by Katrine Marcal is a must read for every feminist who skipped economics class because it sounds hella boring and/or intimidating. I admit that I would never had taken econ if it wasn't mandatory for my masters degree. I found it frustrating as hell because we had to suspend reality while talking about supply and demand curves or how if you don't like the benefits at a job you just get a new one. What is especially frustrating about economics is how women's caregiving is lost in all the equations and valuations. Marcal painstakingly, yet in an accessible way, walks us through modern economic theory and points out its flaws in regard to women's work. The title comes from the fact that Adam Smith, who wrote foundational works in economics, lived at home and was able to do all that thinking and writing because his mom took care of him. Buy a copy from Powells or IndieBound.  


This hunk of snark is brought to us by the geniuses at Reductress. How to Win at Feminism is a handy dandy guide to feminism as if written by all the people who don't understand feminism. But way funnier. During these frozen days of winter and depressing post-Trump days curl up with this book to remember all the victories we have had and all the work we still have to do. Buy a copy from Powells or IndieBound.

I really do have a much longer review to be published for Powered by Girl by Lyn Mikel Brown, but let's do this quick hit first, eh? This book is a must read for anyone who works with girls, especially in leadership programs. Girl Scout Leader? Yup. Camp Leader? Totally. At times the book gets a bit repetitious, but considering how few people think that girls can leader, you do need to repeat the message a few times. Buy a copy from Powells or IndieBound.


Another book written by a friend. Dear Princess Grace, Dear Betty by Alida Brill is a sweet look at the life and struggles of a woman who is equally a fierce feminist and a hopeless romantic. What is so wonderful about this book is that you feel the full passion of Alida searching for true love without feeling like she is trying to fill a void like most "looking for Mr. Right" stories. She's not looking for the missing piece or to fill a hole. She simply believes in love and wants some...while also demanding women's equality. She balances both sides of the story in a way that will make you reexamine how you view Second Wave feminists (I mean, if you only know it through history books of course.) Buy a copy from Powells or IndieBound.

If you haven't heard about Unsportsmanlike Conduct already, you obviously aren't watching ESPN because Jessica Luther has been on countless times since its release. In Unsportsmanlike Conduct, Jessica (another friend!) painstakingly breaks apart the problem of sexual assault and college football. It is not just an epidemic or one of too much drinking. Then she puts things back together in a logical and creates a playbook for every campus to follow in order to better address campus sexual assault and athletics. When she was in Chicago for a reading, I told her that I was truly impressed at the delicate dance she performs at calling out the racism that both makes white women the perfect victim and the often-African American football player the perfect perpetrator AND the misogyny that also invalidates women's rape accusations. Buy a copy from Powells or IndieBound.

Happy gift giving season, everyone!! 

Other great feminist books I read this year:

17 November 2016

Book Review: 2nd Edition of Beautiful You by Rosie Molinary


Six years ago an inspiring daily mediation on self-love was released. Recently Rosie Molinary released an updated edition of Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance.

From my initial review of the book:

Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance by Rosie Molinary is a self-help guide for those of us who don't like self-help guides. Beautiful You is a book of 365 daily life prompts that not just asks you to reconsider how you see yourself, but to push you to try new things (stop apologizing: ever notice how many times you start things with "I'm sorry but...") that help you readjust how you view yourself, the world and how you connect to the world.

In the new edition there is obviously a new cover, but also a new introduction, a new acknowledgments and then about 50 posts were either updated or replaced. Rosie's favorite new post is Day 362. Rosie gave me the scoop on the new edition.

When approached by Seal Press to revisit her book for updating she discovered that a few passages no longer spoke to her or she realized she approached the topics differently. Overall, what she realized in her own self-acceptance work is that so much of our pain is really the result of a lack of awareness of our own self-worth.
If you value yourself, you don’t hurt other people. And if you value yourself, you don’t hurt yourself. We want so much to be heard and seen and understood, and the reality is that the very first person we need that from is ourselves. If we can begin to see our own worth, the world expands for us.
I wrote Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance to give people a tool where they could collect all the evidence of their worthiness. This isn’t a book where I tell readers to believe in themselves. This is a book where the readers become the writer and compile all the proof- which is already inside of them- of how very worthy they are. My hope is that the book provides readers with a journey into a relationship with themselves that is not adversarial and that is life changing.
To get your own copy please purchase from an indie bookstore or Powells.com.

Disclaimer: The only payment I received was the copy of the book.

Disclaimer

This blog is my personal blog and is not reflective of my employer or what I do for them.
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