thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Hit the Books: The Best Feminist Reads of 2014

In books on January 6, 2015 at 9:04 am

Like a great white shark, you swim through the depths of a great book-ocean, hunting for prey. Already you have ambushed part one of Girls Like Giants’ best feminist reads of 2014. But your ravenous quest for cool things to download on your Kindle or check out from the library surges on unabated. You hunger for more.

We bow to your wishes, oh dinosaur of the sea! Here are five more books our contributors read and loved last year.

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit

“What if we only wanted openings,” asks Rebecca Solnit, “the immortality of the unfinished, the uncut thread, the incomplete, the open door, and the open sea?” This push to embrace the possibility of openings wrestles with the drive to closure in her newest book, The Faraway Nearby. It’s not an idle question, as the book shows Solnit reconstructing her difficult relationship with her mother as her mother descends into dementia and then death, and as Solnit herself battles cancer. Yet these obvious themes of ending and death do not sum up the book, which ranges widely and includes musings on Iceland, Frankenstein, writing, and an excess of apricots, as well as a bonus essay running throughout the book like a newsfeed on the bottom of each page. In assessing what is, for the individual, the ultimate conclusion, Solnit also considers the counter-ambiguity of a lack of closure—the meaning of the messy middle, the potential of beginnings. The Faraway Nearby is a beautiful book, best suited to contemplative periods, meditative moods, and a willingness to sail along with Solnit on her self-consciously jumbled journey. — Sarah S.

Long Division by Kiese Laymon

Long Division is a novel about growing up black and male in America. Its plot connects past and present, reminding us time and again that the violence of the Jim Crow era is much closer than some white Americans choose to believe. I worry that any description of Long Division’s beautiful and complex plotting will be off-putting and clunky outside of Laymon’s deft prose, but bear with me for a moment as the book is well worth a read. Part coming of age, part fantasy novel, and part indictment of fantasies of a post-racial America, the novel follows two young men named City—one, a real live character in the novel’s plot, and the other, the hero of the eponymous novel-within-the-novel, Long Division. As City furiously reads the novel, the plot weaves in and out of both City’s lives, sometimes seamlessly—names stay the same, plots twist and turn out of past and present and fact and fiction. We watch one City follow love through time travel, while the other City grapples with his sexuality.

Hit the Books: The Best Feminist Reads of 2014

In books, race on January 1, 2015 at 2:50 pm

BITCH PLANET LOGO 1Welcome to 2015! A new year means 365 days’ worth of opportunities to read great books written by people who are not dead straight white dudes. If you’re looking for a place to start, here are a few of the best reads that crossed Girls Like Giants writers’ desks, nightstands and Kindles last year. Be sure to check back next week for even more recommendations.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

The Vacationers is the first novel I read after finishing graduate school and moving across the country. It is the novel that saw me through a tough time where everything was stretched too thin and chaos and uncertainty ruled the day. Reading The Vacationers is particularly pleasurable when everyone you know is on luxurious vacations, yet you can’t afford a pedicure. Readers are quickly acquainted with a family whose operational dynamics are complicated yet intimately familiar. The heady intimacy I developed with the characters was the most pleasurable part of the novel. A close second was the sensory experience Straub offers to those for whom Mallorca is but a fantasy. This novel, better than any of the other vacation-themed novels I read in desperation this past summer (to compensate for my lack of a holiday), captures the warm, damp weight of exhaustion that follows excesses of sun, sand, and wine. This, combined with Straub’s wit and refusal to shortchange any of her characters, makes the story a keeper for me. - Chelsea B.

Bitch Planet, Pretty Deadly & Captain Marvel by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Two years ago, when her reboot of Marvel’s spacefaring superhero title Captain Marvel was launched, barely anyone had heard of Kelly Sue DeConnick. It’s safe to say that 2014 belonged to her. KSD’s Carol Danvers, the game protagonist of Marvel, dropped the thigh-high boots and the “Ms.”, started going by “Captain,” traveled back in time to retcon herself a more feminist origin story, and joined up with the Guardians of the Galaxy (in the comics). Not to mention the recent announcement that DeConnick’s definitive run has inspired what will be the big M’s first female-led superhero film. 2014 also saw the completion of the first arc of DeConnick’s first creator-owned series—the surreal, supernatural western Pretty Deadly—and the beginning of her second, Bitch Planet. The last is a feminist reworking of 1970’s women-in-prison exploitation films: here, ‘noncompliant’ (NC) women are sent to a remote space station where their jailer—a giant, pink whore/nun hologram called The Catholic—attempts to rehabilitate them into normative femininity. Needless to say, our inmates are not going down without a fight. Bitch Planet is biting and timely and smart, playing out a little like Orange is the New Black meets But I’m a Cheerleader meets Django Unchained. (In space.) - Brian Psi

Unpacking The Beauty Vlogger Phenomenon

In Beauty Culture, body politics, fashion, feminism on December 3, 2014 at 7:37 am

Vera Hanson**

I stumbled upon the beauty vlogger phenomenon over a year ago. It was summer, and I was at home from college with way too much time on my hands. I remember watching my first Zoella, or Zoe Sugg, video and instantly being charmed. At 19, I loved fashion and was interested in makeup. But I was mostly stunned at how quickly I felt connected to a girl talking to a camera thousands of miles away in England. Over the next few months, I not only grew attached to Zoe’s videos, but I began watching other beauty vloggers, such as Tanya Burr and Sprinkle of Glitter, as well. With millions of subscribers each, they all have their own distinct personality, style of video editing, and personal story.

As a career, beauty vloggers share their passion for beauty via video blogging. This takes the form of makeup tutorials, clothes hauls, product reviews, and beyond. The videos are “all the same but slightly different,” according to Guardian writer Eva Wiseman. “A young woman talks to you from the edge of her bed … Piece by piece she will test the brushes, the lip glosses, and piece by piece she will make you her friend.” What’s distinctive about these women is how personable they all are. Watching their videos feels, at times, less about makeup and more about the relationship they’ve carved out with their audiences.

Today, these women are not just beauty vloggers but also entrepreneurs, building YouTube beauty empires one makeup tutorial at a time. Yet their widespread influence does raise questions. In recent months, I’ve begun to wonder about the cultural significance of this trend. What, if any, stereotypes about women and beauty culture do these vloggers engage with and perpetuate?

It would be easy to conclude that beauty vloggers are feeding into stereotypical images of femininity. Their videos are overgrown with pastel colors, they’re capable of talking about lipstick for over ten minutes, and sometimes it feels as if they’ve done more shopping in a week than most of us have done in a year. Yet that conclusion feels too simplistic to me, and it denies these women their agency. To shame vloggers for their interest in beauty and fashion is to undermine their contributions to a larger female narrative. More than that, the way they continue to contribute to an industry pioneered by women plays a large role in explaining why beauty vlogging, at its core, can actually be quite feminist.

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