During this fractious, politically polarizing time, many young women may be feeling confused, angry and unsafe as hard-won rights — especially regarding reproduction and their own bodies — suddenly come under fire. “Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World” is a pithy, accessible guide where young people can find support and answers to their questions, from what does feminism mean to how to be a real-life superheroine.
The book’s editor, Kelly Jensen, a former librarian best known for her work for the Book Riot and Stacked blogs, has brought together diverse voices and styles — with essays, graphic narratives, poems and artwork representing a variety of experiences and perspectives. Forty-four writers, performers and artists explore feminism as related to gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and popular culture. The contributors discuss everything from body image to self-esteem and ambition — and they do so with compassion, humor and brio.
In a thought-provoking essay, Roxane Gay cuts through stereotypes of feminism to own the “woman I would like to become;” in another piece, Ashley Hope Pérez dismantles the stultifying “nice girl” image. Rafe Posey, a trans man, and Mikki Kendall call for a feminism that encompasses a broader range of color, class and sexual orientation. Many contributors share personal journeys, including Kaye Mirza, who writes about being a Muslim and a feminist, and TV producer-actress Mindy Kaling on her youthful work ethic.
Short, lively pieces — FAQs about feminism and lists of suggested books, women scientists — and artwork are interlaced throughout. Tyler Feder reimagines an iconic historic image as “Intersectional Rosie the Riveter,” with women of different races, body shapes and physical abilities. Pomona Lake’s photograph, “Judgments,” reflects our tendency to typecast women, from “matronly” to “whore,” based on their clothing.
Comics artist Liz Prince and novelist Sarah McCarry address their youthful feelings of misogyny in a culture where men are valued over women. This mistreatment can operate at an unconscious level in girls and women across society, and the book is missing an essay that unpacks this issue on a larger scale, as Sady Doyle did in her 2016 book, “Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear . . . and Why.” Certainly, girls can slut- and body-shame one another to a vicious degree, perhaps little realizing how this fortifies the patriarchy and minimizes them all.
But that is a small request of this generous, informative guide. Toward the end of Jensen’s powerful interview with Laurie Halse Anderson and Courtney Summers about their books and rape culture, Anderson states: “Finding the courage to speak your truth is one of the most difficult lessons for teens to learn.”
This timely anthology offers words and role models to help young people to do just that, as they chart their own course.
Mary Quattlebaum is a children’s author and reviewer of teen fiction for The Washington Post. She teaches in the graduate program in writing for children at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Edited by Kelly Jensen
Algonquin. Age 12 and up. 240 pp. Paperback, $16.95