Weekend Picks: 4 Books With Strong Female Characters

Feminism as a literary expression is not a new concept. Women have found their voices in fiction, non-fiction, and modern story-telling. Literature is a sphere where women can think and do under their own conditions and terms. Although today's literature still has a fair number of sexist works, the feminist genre takes up more space on the bookshelves every day. Today, the center of the literary world can be the female experience and more women of all ages telling their stories in their own individual ways.

Eileen Myles, I Must Be Living Twice

Myles must be one of the most frank and fearless of America’s living writers. In 1992, she ran for president as “openly female”, and is currently a poet who is idealized by the new feminist generation. Everything she writes is a recommended read.

“already I know it will hurt this is the hurt country” 

Eileen Myles’s prose and poetry are a blend of fiction and reality, her childhood memories, her dreams when she was a teenaged girl, and descriptions of the landscapes she has known combined with mesmerizing energy and vividness.

I was drunk on water reading
a loud poem/s due to the library tomorrow like an assignment I enjoyed
a forced marathon I read them aloud with the confidence of someone role-playing
the poet who wrote them a.k.a. I was Eileen Myles tonight
my button-up shirt half unbuttoned because I got distracted on the route to my closet to change
for the futon where I folded up and read

I Must Be Living Twice is a selection drawn partlye from Myles’s previously published work, with a set of new poems as bold as the earlier ones. Her unappologetic attitude and literary voice, fueled with intellect, make it hard not to push the readers out of their comfort zones. Her inspiration for writing is also located in New York City, filled with radical life stories.

“Why shouldn’t 
I have always
known be the
very best there
is. I love you
from my
starting back
there when
one day was
just like the
rest, random 
growth and
breezes, constant
love, a sand-
wich in the
middle of
a tiny step
in the vastly
path of
the Sun. I
squint. I
wink. I
take the

Myles can definitely make you want to be a poet yourself. This volume deserves to be on your reading list (and actually be read) due to its magnificent portrayal of womanhood and the treatment of women in everyday life.

Mona Eltahawy, Headscarves & Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution

As a Egyptian-American journalist and commentator, Eltahawy analyses the situation of just standing back and watching while so many women are being abused. The reason for abuse itself can be anything, from mental issues, to religion. Mona Eltahawy attacks both Middle Eastern and Western liberal attitudes, often leaving the readers shocked.

“Misogyny has not been completely wiped out anywhere. Rather, it resides on a spectrum, and our best hope for eradicating it globally is for each of us to expose and to fight against local versions of it, in the understanding that by doing so we advance the global struggle.” 

She came to her true prominence in the time of Egypt’s Arab Spring, in 2011. She was sexually assaulted and beaten in Tahrir Square by the security forces. They broke her arm and hand. She refused to stay quiet, so she wrote an essay on the misogyny of men in the Arab world. It was named “Why Do They Hate Us?”, and she submitted it to Foreign Policy magazine. It provoked massive debates and a firestorm of controversy. She then decided to expand the essay, thus writing the book.

“Why do those men hate us? They hate us because they need us, they fear us, they understand how much control it takes to keep us in line, to keep us good girls with our hymens intact until it’s time for them to fuck us into mothers who raise future generations of misogynists to forever fuel their patriarchy. They hate us because we are at once their temptation and their salvation from that patriarchy, which they must sooner or later realize hurts them, too. They hate us because they know that once we rid ourselves of the alliance of State and Street that works in tandem to control us, we
will demand a reckoning.” 

It makes it clear that the situation with Arab mysogyny has exploded, and it prompted thousands of posts on the website, and numbers of interviews on TV and radio. 

In Headscarves and Hymens, Mona Eltahawy takes her strong argument a lot further than might be expected. She explains that after the Arab Spring began, all the women from the Arab world had two important revolutions to firmly undertake: one fighting against the oppressive regimes of men, and another fighting against an entire economic and political system which treated women as its least worthy citizens.

“The most subversive thing a woman can do is talk about her life as if it really matters.” 

Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala

This memoir can stand as an inspiration to all the young girls who are figuring out what they should do – or can do – in this world. Yousafzai is the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize recipient. When the Taliban were taking control of Pakistan’s Swat Valley, a girl named Malala spoke out. She refused to be silenced, and fought for her right to an education.

“Let us pick up our books and our pens,” I said. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” 

Why is she ever more memorable and extraordinary? On October 9, 2012, while riding in a bus from school to home, she was shot in the head at point-blank range. She is a hero, a miracle.

“I told myself, Malala, you have already faced death. This is your second life. Don’t be afraid — if you are afraid, you can’t move forward.” 

“I don’t want to be thought of as the ‘girl who was shot by the Taliban’ but as the ‘girl who fought for education.’ This is the cause to which I want to devote my life.” 

I am Malala is a remarkable story of a family which was uprooted by global terrorism, of a fight for girls’ education, of a father’s encouragement of his daughter, and of brave parents who tendered a fierce love towards thir daughter.

“In Pakistan, when women say they want independence, people think this means we don’t want to obey our fathers, brothers, or husbands. But it does not mean that. It means we want to make decisions for ourselves. We want to be free to go to school or to go to work. Nowhere is it written in the Quran that a woman should be dependent on a man. The word has not come down from the heavens to tell us that every woman should listen to a man.” 

Malala, at sixteen, became a global symbol of peaceful protest.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

Adichie examines the concepts of race, nationality, and gender, and how they play out in England, America, and her native Nigeria.

“Racism should never have happened, and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.” 

“Oppression Olympics is what smart liberal Americans say to make you feel stupid and to make you shut up. But there IS an oppression olympics going on. American racial minorities – blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Jews – all get shit from white folks, different kinds of shit but shit still. Each secretly believes that it gets the worst shit. So, no, there is no United League of the Oppressed. However, all the others think they’re better than blacks because, well, they’re not black.” 

The story starts with Ifemelu, a young woman who leaves behind her home country, her family, and a boyfriend called Obinze. She doesn’t have a single idea about what she will encounter. In the years that follow, Ifemelu will navigate gender and racial politics, finding her place and identity, and never being able to completely forget the lover she decided to leave behind.
Fifteen years later, Ifemelu and Obinze meet in a newly democratic home country, Nigeria.

“She rested her head against his and felt, for the first time, what she would often feel with him: a self-affection. He made her like herself. With him, she was at ease; her skin felt as though it was her right size. It seemed so natural, to talk to him about odd things. She had never done that before. The trust, so sudden and yet so complete, and the intimacy, frightened her. But now she could think only of all the things she yet wanted to tell him, wanted to do with him.” 

The book examins the question of race, particularly in America, as well as the issue of immigration. It talks about different experiences comparing being black in Africa and in the USA. Adichie creates a perfect blend while going from one culture to another, from Nigerian to American, to English and Francophone African.

“If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.” 

She is an extraordinary writer who has gifted us with an entertaining and at the same time emotional story structured around very real characters.

Photo: Shutterstock

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