When I was in college, I enrolled in a class called “Psychology of Women.” At the time, I had only had one long-term relationship, it didn’t work out, and I suppose I thought that taking this class might help me in future relationships.
I made no assumptions about who else would be enrolled in the class, but I was definitely surprised on the first day of the semester when I was one of just three men in a class of fifty. My first instinct was: maybe this class wasn’t meant for men, and maybe I should transfer to another class. But I soon decided that, as a guy, being uncomfortable would be a good thing and that this would be a valuable experience. Besides everything I learned as part of the curriculum, I also learned the value of being quiet and listening. It’s a great way to learn about other perspectives. I remember thinking that it was a shame that more guys didn’t take the class.
Over the past few years, society has begun to reckon with the issues of sexism and its consequences. Let’s be real: this can be scary for some men. Even if you want to do your best, you don’t know what you don’t know. You might have some people in your life who can explain feminism (it’s not that scary!) and sexism (it’s always wrong!) to you. But if you want to do some research on your own, here are some books that you might want to check out.
Men Explain Things To Me (2014) by Rebecca Solnit: Ms. Solnit has written over twenty books and even more essays on a number of topics, including Irish history, Yosemite National Park, Apple (the company), Alzheimer’s and tortoises. Men Explain Things To Me is a collection of essays; the title essay, “Men Explain Things To Me,” is a story about a 2003 party that she attended. The host of the party learned that Ms. Solnit was an author, and in their conversation, he summarized a book he had read a review of. During his summary, he ignored Ms. Solnit’s friend’s efforts to clue him in. She was trying to explain to him that Solnit actually wrote the very book he was explaining to her. And that is how the term “mansplaining” came to be. Men Explain Things To Me is filled with personal but unsentimental essays from the female perspective.
You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (1990) by Deborah Tannen: “I just don’t ‘get’ women” is probably a bad way to look back at a conversation that you’ve had with a woman. Another approach is to try to understand what the woman you were talking to was trying to express, or why it was important. In this book, Georgetown University linguistics professor Deborah Tannen looks at the differences in the ways that men and women communicate, to help increase our chances of bridging the communication gap.
Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman (2016) by Lindy West: This collection of essays has been adapted into a Hulu show called Shrill, starring Saturday Night Live star Aidy Bryant. The New York Times called West “One of the most distinctive voices advancing feminist politics through humor. Her essays have helped to influence attitudes about body image, comedy and online harassment.” As the Times wrote, the book looks at the effects of humor. “Aesthetic excellence and being a good person are mutually exclusive only to the lazy and insincere. We could keep laughing through ‘edgy’ jokes about race, rape, S.T.I.s and fat people, for instance, but why should we if the jokes aren’t funny, and the laughs only prove to someone, somewhere, that they are unlovable?”
We Should All Be Feminists (2014) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The title may be off-putting to some, and that’s part of the point. Feminism has gotten a bad rap. So to be clear, feminism isn’t about hating men, it’s about achieving gender equality. We Should All Be Feminists is a book-length essay adapted from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s popular TEDx Talk. Her definition of feminism is based on inclusion and awareness, and she exposes discrimination and institutional sexism that marginalizes women.
Hey Yeah Right Get A Life (2001) by Helen Simpson: A group of short stories that center around suburban women in London. As The Irish Times wrote, “Hey Yeah Right Get a Life is a sharp, funny and unflinching articulation of the price society extracts from women who become mothers. Simpson’s stories explore in unsentimental fashion not just the consequences of parenthood, but also how these consequences differ for fathers and mothers.”
The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood: This novel has been adapted to a popular but harrowing Hulu series. Set in a near-future New England, a very patriarchal, totalitarian state called Gilead has overthrown the United States government. The main character is a woman named Offred, a “handmaid.” Handmaids are forcibly assigned to produce children for the “commanders,” “i.e. the ruling class of men. When they resist their system — or even try to gain any individuality — the punishment is harsh. As Atwood wrote in an essay in the New York Times in 2017, The Handmaid’s Tale is fiction, but she tried to eep it based in some kind of realism: “One of my rules was that I would not put any events into the book that had not already happened in what James Joyce called the ‘nightmare’ of history, nor any technology not already available. No imaginary gizmos, no imaginary laws, no imaginary atrocities.” In the same essay, she addressed the question of whether or not The Handmaid’s Tale a “feminist” novel: “If you mean an ideological tract in which all women are angels and/or so victimized they are incapable of moral choice, no. If you mean a novel in which women are human beings — with all the variety of character and behavior that implies — and are also interesting and important, and what happens to them is crucial to the theme, structure and plot of the book, then yes. In that sense, many books are ‘feminist.'”