Recommendations for The White Male Feminist on His Desperate, Exhausting Hunt for More Books by Women
— D Arthur
I know a lot of feminists. Some of these feminists are even men! White men! These white male feminists are easy to spot too because they LOVE women. They went to THE Women’s March (check out his prof pic from January), they are listening to you, they are here for you, and they are fighting for the rights of their mothers, daughters, and sisters.
Recently, I was standing in the beautiful, natural light filled Brooklyn apartment of one of these aforementioned white male feminists, gazing longingly at the beautiful wooden bookshelf in his bedroom, as this avid reader is wont to do, and was greeted by shelf after shelf of Franzen, Foster Wallace, Eggers, Saunders, Orwell, Vonnegut, King, Hemingway, Chaucer! As much as these men love women, a large swath of them seem to suffer from this same affliction — bookshelves populated entirely with titles by (often white) men.
Some of them don’t know they’re doing it, but more and more I see these men reaching out to right this wrong! How brave! A U.S Department of Labor study shows that there are more women than men who are writers/authors, but they must be hiding or busy writing shitty books because some men CANNOT FIND THEM! SOS!
…Like this adorable, struggling man on OkCupid.
While we’re at it, let’s help this New York Times Editor on the hunt as well!
Here are some recommendations to help these fighters on their laborious journey!
- When on the subway, look around to see if any women on the train are reading books that appear to have been written by other women (look for pink and purple covers!! And flowers!!). Snatch the book directly out of their hand, and run out of the train without looking back.
- Eat a high heel and then check your stool sporadically, fishing out the pages of books by women one by one.
- Leave at the stroke of midnight and paddle swiftly through a river of menstrual blood, batting down the reanimated corpses of Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and Sylvia Plath, drink the painful potion of centuries worth of women’s tears, then wear the ring at the bottom of the cup. The next day your hand will rot and fall off, but your cup will runneth over with books by women.
- Find a field of vulvic flowers, digging up the roots with your hands, until you unbury the books hidden well underneath.
- Subscribe to the top secret listserv for everyone who identifies as a woman. If you scroll past all of the photos of meal prep, lipstick, yoga mats, and vibrators, there is always a riddle that you can answer that will lead you to a puzzle that upon completion will present you with a word scramble that when unscrambled provides the title of a forthcoming novel by a woman.
- Run up to every female identifying person on the street, grab both of their cheeks in your hands, stare into their eyes, and scream, “GIVE ME YOUR WORDS.”
Wait shit, sorry, all of those suggestions are ridiculous. Why? Because they feed off of the ridiculous assumption underlying each of these otherwise well meaning asks by men — the notion that it is some sort of epic journey to discover quality work published by women, and that the key to that journey lies in the wisdom of women themselves.
I don’t condone theft. There are no secret caves. All women are not on the same listserv (although there are some wonderful not so secret online communities like Well Read Black Girl). And vulvic flowers should only be dug up to add a pop of color to a room. It’s not an arduous journey to find these books; it’s as simple as a Google search or a walk to the bookstore. Countless publications have lists specifically rounding up work by women, and there is even a twitter handle that posts recs daily (@Read_Women).
The lists above are not only staggeringly male, but they are also staggeringly white. Sam Sifton could throw Jen Agg a bone, but he couldn’t scrounge up a single author of color? White men reading books by white men and then writing lists of books written by white men begets more white men reading books by white men and then writing lists of books written by white men.
Ok but why is this all important? Reading books by traditionally marginalized or underrepresented populations may seem low on the “how to be an ally” checklist, but it really shouldn’t be. It’s a simple way to directly support and empower these groups. The more that this work is purchased, the more that there is a market for it, the more acclaim these authors receive, and ultimately, the larger platform they have. Plus, there is something incredibly valuable in understanding the perspectives of different kinds of people by consuming their art, reading their stories.
One of the more egregious aspect of this whole lazy white dude book fiasco, however, is the fact that you don’t even need to seek out these lists of books by women and lists of books by women of color to find amazing books by them. Anyone who pays even the teensiest bit of attention to the best books — this year or of all time — must be actively trying not to see the amount of amazing work being put out by women, especially women of color, if their list of authors is so notably lacking in these categories. Blinded by bias, unconscious or otherwise, these individuals are missing out on amazing work. Anyone can walk into their local bookstore and take a peek at the new releases, staff picks, best sellers, and find amazing work by women. Even Esquire, a publication directed at men, has a running “Best Books of 2017” that has women holding the vast majority of spots (many of whom are women of color).
Yes, it is important for allies to identify their flaws, aiming to be better, but too often allies — myself included — are really lazy about it. In ways both big and small, people tend to ask for help from the exact people they are trying to help. If these white men really wanted to find more books by women and authors of color they could do so incredibly easily. The real question that they should be asking is why are their lists so bloated with white men to begin with?
To close, I will do a bit of heavy lifting just this once, and I believe anyone who doesn’t read these books is missing out. Here is a small sampling of books by women that I have personally read this year that I would recommend (in no particular order):
- What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
- Difficult Women (Stories) by Roxane Gay
- The Leavers by Lisa Ko
- Woman №17 by Edan Lepucki
- One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
- We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge
- Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
- Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
- Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
- There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- Good Bones (Stories) by Margaret Atwood
- White Fur by Jardine Libaire
- Music for Wartime (Stories) by Rebecca Makkai
- All The Lives I Want by Alana Massey
- All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
- Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins
- A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett
- Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
- The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir
And there are so many more that are stacked high on my pile of books that I still have yet to read.
D. (Deanna) Arthur is a writer and comedian who lives in an apartment with her dog, her beloved roommate, and shelves on shelves on shelves of books written by amazing women (and men!).