Recently: Essays on Feminism, Gender, Race, and Identity

Without realizing it at the time, I've been on a bit of a kick with essay collections lately--especially those related to feminism, gender identity, and race--and particularly the intersection of the three.

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Feminity, by Julia Serano: While not technically billed as a collection of essays, Julia Serano's Whipping Girl reads like a series of related, but distinct, pieces on gender, sexuality, and trans rights. Her writing moves between the personal and the academic, with her personal experiences both pre- and post-transition coloring her academic accounts of gendered and trans experiences, and her academic research supporting her personal anecdotes. Highly recommended, though the collection as a whole can be a bit dense, and so I'd recommend planning to take it slowly so as to be able to digest all that Serano has to offer.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West: Again, West's book is not technically billed as a collection of essays--but it reads like one, and hence, here it is on this list. Lindy West is, per her publisher's bio, a "writer, editor, and performer whose work focuses on pop culture, social justice, humor, and body image." That's a lot to be at once, but Shrill is a testament to each of those descriptors. The pieces here are heartfelt and humorous, covering everything from movies and television to fat-shaming and reproductive rights. A++, highly recommend, be prepared to laugh and cry and sometimes do both at the same time.

You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, by Phoebe Robinson: I came to Robinson's essays without knowing much about her previous work (she's perhaps most recognizable as one of the co-hosts of the Two Dope Girls podcast, or her appearances on various late-night shows). The essays here vary in both subject and tone--and, in my opinion, quality. All deal variously with race, gender, pop culture, or some combination therein, and Robinson is an excellent--and hilarious--writer across all of these subjects, though I personally found her writing at its best when dealing with race and gender, not pop culture. At times, her inclusion of hashtags, LOLs, and other asides started to take away from the seriousness of her subjects (I listened to this one on audio, so this style was perhaps more pronounced than it might have been in print), but overall, there were pieces here I enjoyed, and some pieces that felt tedious or aimless. This could well be a product of my own pop cultural illiteracy, however, and Robinson is both smart and funny, so: Recommended, but with a grain of salt; I may have enjoyed this more if I'd taken it in smaller doses, rather than in large sittings.

Bad Feminist: Essays, by Roxane Gay: This one was a re-read for me, and I'm so glad to have revisited it (this time on audio, excellently narrated by Bahni Turpin). Gay's essays, like Robinson, vary in subject and tone, though all are loosely based around some definition or understanding of feminism. Gay also writes extensively about race and sexuality, including her experience of sexual violence and her outrage at the language and culture of sexual violence we face today. There are a lot of pop culture references here, but I found that as a generally pop culture illiterate reader (I've seen less than a handful of the movies she references, for example), Gay's argument still shine through bright and clear. Highly recommended, and excellent in both print and audio formats.


Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think? And what other essay collections would you all recommend?

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