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Home » The Vine

The Vine: April 6, 2007

Submitted by on April 6, 2007 – 11:07 AM53 Comments

Dear Sars,

I'm a feminist, and I love your "Yes, You Are" piece. I've even printed it out and brought it into classes when there have been debates about feminism and misogyny. But now I'm facing a big obstacle: my fifteen-year-old sister.

She and I have the same parents, and while I started identifying with feminism the moment I figured out what the word means, she somehow…doesn't.

 

She's talented, athletic, intelligent and just an awesome kid, but every time we talk she's so much more worried about the catty girls and the attention of boys than actual real achievement. I'm not going to try and tell her that she shouldn't worry about the typical high-school stuff at all, because I don't want to belittle her. But I'd like to find some resources on feminism, particularly for the teenage girl. Web sites are good, and our hometown has a really good library, so books should be fine too. I just don't want her thinking that teenage guys are more important arbiters of her self than, well, she herself is.

Sincerely,
Big Sister

Dear Sis,

When I look back at what influenced me at that age…I didn't do a lot of specifically feminist reading or research. I had feminist parents, and my high school gave us some pretty progressive reading, now that I think about it — we had a required women's-writing trimester, sophomore year, and everyone else read Macbeth, but we read The Bluest Eye.

And I had Sassy. I know how culty people get about that mag, but seriously, we had never seen anything like it before. Seventeen at that time sort of perpetrated the fiction that we didn't have any secondary sexual characteristics, or dark moods, or interests beyond nail polish that came in clever portable pen form (although it is kind of a pity that that technology wasn't more evolved). But Sassy was it, man.

Finding copies on eBay is practically impossible — people don't let their copies go, for good reason — and your sister might get distracted by some of the more hilarious anachronisms. But you might get her a copy of Bust (or the Bust book), and a copy of Bitch. That's probably a good start.

And keep talking to her. If she's knows that it's not just her who's having a hard time becoming who she is, that it's normal? That's the best thing you can do for her, is to give her that understand that she has a core worth and is taken seriously. That's what feminism is about, and it's also what loving people is about, kind of.

Group hug!

Okay, seriously. Readers: feminist resources. Books, mags, websites, online articles all welcome, but please confine yourselves to two resources total. Thanks.

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53 Comments »

  • Colin says:

    Heh. Every time one of my female friends says something like "Not to be all feminist or anything…" I point them to "Yes, You Are." Great stuff.

    I'm not currently up on my feminist literature, so I don't have a very good idea of all that's out there, but I second the Bitch recommendation and would like to add an addendum: Bitchfest, which is simply a collection in book form of essays from across ten years of the magazine's life. So far I've loved every piece in there, and it's a good way to plunge into the topic. If, you know, plunging's your style.

  • liz says:

    Bust is a great resource – it might be helpful to look through their book review section to find good reads.

  • Jenny says:

    The All Girl Army–http://www.allgirlarmy.org–is a good starting point, as it's a great feminist website built for young women (disclaimer: I helped start it).

    A subscription to Bitch is also a great idea, especially since it's more easily digestible than a book, and she'll probably pick it up out of sheer boredom if nothing else.

  • homeinkabul says:

    Can I reiterate how awesome Sassy was? It made such a difference in my life. And how sad I still am when they sold the HELL out.

  • mary ann says:

    I really enjoyed both The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order and Bitchfest.

    Listen Up: Voices of the Next Feminist Generation is a pretty easy, relatable read. The books that finally did it for my old roommate were cunt and Minding the Body.

  • Lily says:

    If you'd like to go the fiction/fantasy route, I highly recommend the Sword and Sorceress anthologies – there are over twenty volumes out, although some of the older editions are pretty hard to find. I started reading them around age 14/15, so they should be fairly accessible.

  • Brie says:

    Bust would definitely be good for a high school girl. It's girly and fun, and their book review section kicks ass.

    The Jennifer Baumgardner/Amy Richards book "Manifesta" might be worth a look too.

  • Kristin says:

    Oh, how I love bitch and Bust. Pass on the Guerrilla Girls website (www.guerillagirls.com). They just came to my campus, and I was fortunate enough to attend a personal workshop with them…they are psychotically amazing. And a great anthology of awesome, third-wave fem writings is Sisterhood is Forever, edited by Robin Morgan. It's a way to start.

  • Stephanie says:

    This past Christmas, I bought my 14 year old niece this book for Christmas. I don't know if she got anything out of it, but I read as much as I could before I wrapped it, and thought it was amazing.

    33 Things Every Girl Should Know About Women's History: From Suffragettes to Skirt Lengths to the E.R.A. by Tonya Bolden (http://www.amazon.com/Things-Every-Should-Womens-History/dp/0375811222/ref=sr_1_2/102-7689059-3827356?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1175881101&sr=1-2)

    It's written as a series of essays by various women, as well as exceprts from historical documents and pictures, covering the history of the feminist movement. It's a really great way to introduce a teen girl to the idea that women had to WORK to get where they are now, and we shouldn't take that for granted, and that there are issues out there that affect all women equally.

  • Stephanie says:

    It looks a little intimidating at first, but a big ol' copy of "Our Bodies, Ourselves" might be a good way to go. When I read it as a teenager I first skipped right to the good parts (i.e., the sex parts) but I stuck around and read the chapters on birth contol, choice, sexuality, and yes, feminism.

  • Beth says:

    I totally hear what this reader is saying, but it's essential to keep in mind how incredibly important a peer group is to a 15-year-old girl. I have two daughters, and I often talk to my husband about taking their feelings about friends and boys seriously and giving them the weight they deserve (at least in our daugthers' eyes).

    People change as they get older (duh), and little sister will come around when she gets out of high school and the size of her world multiplies.

  • Kelly says:

    To continue with the titular theme, I would recommend the comic compilation "A Bitch is Born" by Roberta Gregory.
    It's funny and silly and truthful and disturbing all at the same time. It follows "Bitchy Bitch", also known as Midge, through her childhood, her teen pregnancy and abortion, to her adulthood and coming to grips with who she is. It's the kind of thing a mom might not give a daughter but a sister should certainly give a sister. If she's not too embarrassed to read a graphic novel. It's about plenty of everyday things as well, so shouldn't come off as too preachy.

  • Noelle says:

    My god, I have alll of those books on my shelves behind me, what a nut. And the lastest Bitch.

    Another, aside from those mentioned, is "The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism". It sounds like a Ralph Reed phamplet, but it's great. I love Cunt (heh) and anything by Michelle Tea, for fiction.

  • jennifer putterman says:

    Along with Ourbodies, Ourselves (which my 15 yr old stepdaughter has appropriated from my bookshelf), Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom is good too.
    Also (and this might seem odd, but hear me out): Teenage Romance (or how do die of embarassment) by one of the Ephrons. My sister gave it to me when I was 15 or 16 and it made me see that it wasn't "just me". It's funny, wise, silly, poignant, painful… all those things that are hard to deal with at that age. It's out of print, but available thru amazon/powell's books I think.
    And I know you said only 2 things, but… young women should listen to more female vocalists. What they have to say/sing and simply hearing another woman's voice is really important for establishing femme identity, I think. Just my $.02.

  • Isabel says:

    If we're talking online resources, there are a ton of great feminist blogs, one of the perhaps hipper (heh) of which is feminist news/commentary blog Feministing (whose founder just came out with a book that might also interest Sis; haven't read it yet, but it's called Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters). They have a great mix of fun and serious, and their posts usually aren't quite as wordy as some other feminist blogs I read.

    Also, I have a sneaking suspicion this is out of print, but my aunt got me a couple years ago an awesome book by Hilary Carlip called Girls Speak Out (I think) that features the writings of teenage girls from all walks of life, from juvenile delinquents to riot grrrls (back when that was actually a movement of sorts) to teen moms to beauty queens to surfer girls to future homemakers of America. The chapter on girls who write zines in particular has a lot of stuff about girls being here for more than boys' approval.

  • Kristin says:

    Cunt by Inga Muscio. My friends and I discovered that book our jr year of high school and it passed through so many hands. My copy is well worn. Turned our worlds upside-down and really got us talking.

  • Michelle says:

    We had a similar dynamic in my family, and watching me freak out while my little sister disavowed feminism was a bit of a family spectator sport. However, eventually, when she was in university she came around.

    As for magazine recommendations (I remember Sassy!) – I've been buying Shameless http://www.shamelessmag.com/ when I can find it for my daughter.

  • Danielle says:

    Okay, so this isn't a book for your sister to read so much, but it's one that might help you better relate to where she's coming from so you can get past her defenses and talk about not needing boys' and bitchy girls' validation so badly. Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman is a great resource. It talks about the sociology and psychology of girls that age, why they seek the validation of her peers above all else, and the ways in which that desire gets teenage girls in serious mental and physical trouble. It has some great insights, as well as some strategies you can use to make your sister feel important, loved and grounded in an environment that tries to take those things away from her.

    Heck, she might even want to read it – it was the basis for "Mean Girls", and what 15-year-old worth her salt doesn't love Lindsay Lohan?

  • Annie says:

    I hear that http://www.scarleteen.com is a great resource about teen sexuality, and it's also run by Heather Corinna, who helped to start the All Girl Army.

    Along with the fiction idea, Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown were awesome.

  • sara says:

    Deal With It! is such a great book… a lot less intimidating/textbook-y than OBOS.

  • Gina says:

    Well, everyone else has already cited some of the more obvious sources, so I’ll go a different route: post-apocalyptic fiction. “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood is a fantastic read, and sometimes a teenager has to get angry about something before she can care about it, if that makes any sense. I read it in high school, and the sense of outrage it evoked got me actively interested in feminism, particularly over the issue of a woman’s right to choose.

    Another must-read is “The V Book” by Elizabeth’s Stewart. Dr. Stewart has outlined every aspect of the female anatomy, striving to make women more comfortable with understanding their bodies while rethinking what is “normal.”

  • Merideth says:

    Since sometimes fiction goes down easier you might want to check out the Amelia Bloomer Project at
    http://libr.org/ftf/bloomer.html

    The Amelia Bloomer Project was developed by the Feminist Task Force of the American Library Association's Social Responsibilities Round Table, and every year since 2002 they've put together a list that "that embody feminist principles" in fiction and non-fiction for kids and teens. For a 15 year old, check out the Young Adult listings.

  • Jennifer says:

    Sigh–Sassy, there was never another like you.

    I highly second the recommendation for the Bitchy Bitch comics. I was in the stage adaption a few years ago (see pics printed in one of the comics!) and Roberta Gregory is the sweetest, softest spoken woman ever, belieing her fabulous, not quiet in the least work. She'll also get you copies of her works "Anything That Moves" and other anthologies she's been in through Fantagraphics in Seattle.

  • Duana says:

    Not to be the suckup here, but….this website. Reading – especially in the Vine – about people whose boy or catty girl – problems can be solved by growing a spine will help her think about what she'd do in the same situation.

    That should be the gateway drug to 'Focus, Straight-Boy San' and from there she'll be addicted anyway.

  • Tara says:

    A good fiction selection for your sister (and you, if you haven't also read it) is Cat's Eye, by Margaret Atwood. It depicts the way catty female friendships start and evolve over time better than any I've ever read — puts them in perspective while also giving them the weight (as an earlier commenter put it) they do merit. The narrator also talks about her own complicated feelings about "sisterhood" given how terrible her female peers are to her at times, which may ring true for your sister at this point in her life. Most of all I think it could be great for her to read because the narrator is looking back on her childhood and adolescence from middle age; I always think now that it would have helped me back then if I'd known that period of my life would…end. Eventually.

  • Jessica says:

    I recommend "My Gender Workbook" by Kate Bornstein. It might be a little radical (Bornstein is anti-essentialist trans activist) but I think an intelligent, mature 16-year-old could still get a lot out of it, and the presentation is a lot of fun–lots of quizzes about gender identity, provactive questions to think about, cartoons, and anecdotes, and Borstein keeps the theoryspeak to a minimum.

  • Bloody Munchkin says:

    I just read somewhere that there's a book coming out called "How Sassy Changed My Life". I don't know the author, or publisher and I don't really have any experience with the source material per say (Sassy wasn't exactly easy to come by in my neck of the woods in New Mexico), it sounds like it could go far in that direction.

  • Brenda says:

    I have to second whoever said that she's fifteen, and giving her some time might do wonders. I was an idiot when I was fifteen. Shameless is great — as is Atwood, who was probably the first feminist writer I ever read* — but honestly, growing up will probably go much, much farther.

    *Handmaid's Tale is great, but The Edible Woman is also pretty impressive.

  • Chase says:

    It's maybe a little '70s and a little internationalist, but reading Cynthia Enloe's "Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics" my sophomore year in high school was made me start calling myself a feminist out loud.

    And I second Danielle's "Queen Bees and Wannabes" rec; it really puts those horrible "but the boys are being *mean* to me!" moments in context.

  • Ella says:

    I’m in the exact same situation with my younger sister. My first instinct was to give her specifically feminist resources, but I think that came off as a little preachy. When I was her age I was really into feminism, but my sister isn’t me, so she could have cared less about what I was saying and the message went right over her head.

    I changed my approach and started giving her books about interesting females that I thought would appeal to her interests. If your sister has any hobbies or sports, try finding stories about women who have excelled in those fields. Two books my sister has liked so far are Lynne Cox’s Grayson (especially great for athletic girls) and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. So while I may not be getting her fired up about wage inequality, I think that sharing positive stories about women with her is a good start.

  • Liz says:

    It's too bad not everyone can benefit from Sassy. I had collected the original run of Sassy and gave the whole kit and kaboodle to my niece who loved it. I even gave her my pink "I'm Sassy" button.

    Did exposure to such radical ideas about femal empowerment make her a sister doin' it for herself? I don't know. Perhaps she'll tell me when she gets out of med school.

  • Renee says:

    I, like at least one other reader, have brought "Yes, You Are" into a college environment. I've been teaching it for a few years now. So, I'm on board with the person who passed it along to the younger sister.

    For a teenager, I might take a look at Guerilla Girls' Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers: The Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes, because it's funny and easy to relate to for a wide range of young women, as is typical of them. Also, Emily White's Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut is surprisingly accessible for a younger reader.

  • Douglas says:

    Heartless Bitches International (http://www.heartless-bitches.com/) goes a bit overboard sometimes, but it's a good read, and links to "Yes, You Are," which is how I found TN in hte first place.

  • magpie says:

    The most influential factor in my early life as a feminist was solid friendships with other young women. I too read Sassy religiously – and idolized the Indigo Girls, Ani diFranco and other artists who had a lot to say. So my two suggestions: encouraging strong friendships and hooking your sister up with artists who share a positive, empowering message.

    Oh – and, of course, setting an example is a great start. Sounds like your writer is already doing that.

  • MaggieCat says:

    I cannot recommend this essay by Heo Cwaeth highly enough. An amazing outline of the preconceptions of feminists, why those ideas are false, and why 'feminist' shouldn't be considered a pejorative.

    For a broader look, I'd suggest Official Shrub.com Blog. Not only is the blog fabulous in itself, it has so many awesome links almost anyone is guaranteed to find something that's a good fit for them.

  • evil_fizz says:

    I second Our Bodies, Ourselves. I had my mother's original version which is a lot more graphic (at least in terms of the pictures) than the updated one. But there's still something essential about the "Oh, so *that's* what that is," realizations.

    Feministing and Salon's Broadsheet, their blog devoted to women's interests.

  • Sars says:

    Seconding the Satrapi suggestion; she's amazing.

    And I actually contributed to that Sassy book, ages ago, and didn't know what became of my essay (still don't). It may not have made the cut but I'd still love to see the book. I think Marisa Meltzer of Bitch is doing it.

  • Jessa says:

    I loved Fresh Lipstick, a book on the history of feminism and fashion/beauty. For me, it helped to come to terms with being a feminist (and a proud one!) and also loving being a girly girl at times. I wished I had it at 15! It shows how fashion and beauty can be a statement for YOU, not anyone else!

    This may be a bit weird, but I always loved Christopher Pike books because his female characters were always so badass. He knew how to write tough, real girls. I particularly liked the "Remember Me" trilogy. There's aso The Eternal Enemy, if I recall correctly, that has some greek mythology thrown into the mix. I love the protagonists of these books!

    The "Yes, You Are" essay, for the record, is awesome. I used it in my senior year of college for a term paper on feminism. My professor loved it!

    Oh, and Liz? I am so jealous. Your niece is one lucky girl! Bust is the next best thing, so pass it along!

  • Judi says:

    Big Sister could also take an alternate route, and find some sites about her sister's interests that have feminist slants, and/or are at least written intelligently. I discovered TWoP through the official "Buffy" forum, and the writing there TOTALLY whipped my brain into fighting shape. And through TWoP, I discovered Tomato Nation, Pamie, and other awesome sites. I would never have read Margaret Atwood for fun if it hadn't been for "Buffy," basically. So, working with her current interests might be a good way to go.

  • Mara says:

    i have to say, that i was just like your sister growing up, but didn't have anyone pointing me in the right direction. (maybe it had to do with the fact that snow white was my hero, and my otherwise-wonderful mother always told me that every man i met was a potential husband.) anyway, some pieces of powerful writing helped shape me.

    first was the awakening by kate chopin. it's much more subtle than some other feminist literature, but it makes some strong points.

    a couple of years ago, i read a book called cunt by inga muscio, which was FANTASTIC. it's a manifesto, and some of it is a bit radical, but at the same time, the woman's got a point. i was so moved by this pretty little book (seriously, it's ADORABLE), that i went onto amazon.com and bought copies for my sisters, my mom, and six of my closest girlfriends. i still lend it out all the time. also, she has a section called the Cuntlovin' Guide to the Universe which has lots of other helpful resources. (her website is http://www.ingalagringa.com) good luck!

  • Tesca says:

    Sword and Sorceress? Hee! While I actually think it's very much not feminist (rape came up in several of the stories between my 2 volumes; women run around wearing barely anything in the stories as well as the stupid covers; women and men almost always fall into hetersexual stereotypes), it _did_ act as pr0n for me as a young teen. But then, that also involved me totally skipping the stories to go right to the sex… You know, if your sister likes fantasy/geek lit, Lynn Flewelling is totally brilliant. She's got two excellent series- the one pertinent here is the Tamir trilogy (starts with Bone Dolls Twin).

    Women's history was very important to me when I was growing up as well as to me now (I'm actually a gender historian because of the whole mess). In school and in university, one isn't taught the reality of past relationships between the sexes, particularly when you're talking economic and political roles. I remember feeling incredibly angry and frustrated that apparently for thousands of years women never did a single thing besides pop out kids and wait for men to rescue them from themselves. I remember the anti-feminist arguments with men (and boys) throughout my life where the absence of women in the historical record was used as "proof"…Try giving your sister something like this site: http://www.guide2womenleaders.com/Womeninpower1540.htm It will give her hope and inspire her no matter what she plans to do with her life. It will also give her the evidence she needs to develop her own opinions about what women can and can't do (and should/shouldn't).

  • mandy says:

    One of the best feminist books I've read is Kiss My Tiara by Susan Jane Gilman. It's honest, funny and constructive without resorting to man bashing. My friends have all passed around copies of it and love it. As an adult I got a lot out of it, but I think a 15 year old would also be able to identify with much of the content. There's a website to check out a bit more about the book: http://www.kissmytiara.com.

  • Deanna says:

    She should check out http://www.allgirlarmy.org. It's a good community for girls who are dealing with the same problems but looking at them from a feminist perspective. The writers are 13-23, I believe.

  • just-a-girl says:

    I am about o get booed off the website, I know…but I am 43, pretty fearless, and have raised a 23 and 17 yr old daughter so far and am working on a 13 year old step, and I think everyone is over emphasizing a bit. My philosophy growing up was that ANYONE can do ANYTHING. It worked for me, and it has done pretty well with my kids so far as well…I have never felt it necessary to look at things as I am female so I am denied…it has always been 'If I want something bad enough I Will Get It!' The postings recommending setting a personal example as well as the ones recommending Spending Time are right on! As for literature, any book, website, or magazine with the theme of rising above adversity should be inspiration. Personally as a white female in the 70's – 80's, baseball biographies, Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, and the biography "The Other Side of the Mountain" about skier Jill Kinmont were inspiring to me. At 15, boys and mean girls ARE important to girls…just because she is not quoting Steinem does not mean she is destined to living in a trailer park with her 5 kids at 20.

    Big Sis, I did not mean to turn this into a rant. But don't worry so much about finding the right book to shape Little Sis' life at 15. Spend time with her, expose her to the lives of inspiring people(be one yourself!), and bite your tongue a little; you'll be amazed at how well she turns out – just like you did!

  • Pix says:

    Women Who Run With The Wolves has got to be my favorite book that relates to this. It contains a bunch of fairy tales, and analyzes each one from a feminist viewpoint…which is sort of mindblowing, at least it was when I was that age.

  • Kristin says:

    Also, I know you're specifically looking for books/magazines, but music can be a great way to introduce people to ideas without it being so preachy and out-there. Ani DiFranco is the obvious place to start, particularly her more accessible, pop-y pieces.

  • Pave.Gurl says:

    Frankly, the thing that worked best for me – and it took me years to ID as feminist – was something I had read when I was about six. It was a little book that I probably got from Scholastic book clubs, and in it it said something to the effect of "feminine = anything done by girls; masculine = anything done by boys."

    Many years later, I realised they were probably talking in stereotypical roles, but I always interpreted it as "I'm a girl, therefore it's feminine." And I think that shaped me much more than the feminist rhetoric I grew up hearing and had much more impact on me than all the books I could've read.

    Of course, I am from the Sassy generation too, but I will say that was about the extent of my feminist readings until college, when I got into bell hooks and The Feminist Papers. I think I would've thrown any of the suggestions here out the window before that 'cos I would've thought they were too… something. Grasping isn't right, but I certainly wouldn't have been very interested in them at 15.

  • Alyson says:

    Oh, Sassy! *dreamy sigh*

  • mcm says:

    I was a little older than your sister – probably 18 or 19 – but I remember really connecting with Adios, Barbie, which featured essays about body image by women who seemed to be my peers. Unfortunately, it's no longer published under that name (I'm pretty sure Mattel sued or something), but I believe the same collection is now published under the name Body Outlaws.

    Also? Just keep leading by example. That's what always did it for me – knowing cool, slightly older women who were proud to be feminists.

  • Gleemonex says:

    God bless Sassy …

    The book that changed my life, which I read freshman year of college — as one reviewer said, it made me feel "militantly on my own side," and is funny as hell besides: Cynthia Heimel's "Sex Tips for Girls."

    http://www.amazon.com/Sex-Tips-Girls-Cynthia-Heimel/dp/0671477250/ref=sr_1_11/104-1142639-3345537?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1176229357&sr=8-11

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