Monthly Archives: March 2021

Calling Invisible Women, by Jeanne Ray

Clover stepped out of the shower one morning and started brushing her teeth. When she looked in the mirror, her toothbrush was suspended in midair. Otherwise, all she could see was the wall behind her. She was invisible. And not metaphorically.

Her husband was a busy pediatrician, and their son lived in his old bedroom after finishing a graduate degree in women’s studies, and neither one of them seemed to notice. She wore her usual bathrobe or outdoor clothes, and they didn’t skip a beat at her lack of a head or hands. Her best friend across the street, of course, noticed immediately and flew into a panic. Okay, so maybe a little metaphorical, after all.

One day, Clover was reading the newspaper’s classified section when she spotted an ad: “Calling Invisible Women.” There were others! They had meetings, and they knew what was causing it. They just didn’t know what to do about it. Good thing Clover hadn’t lost her investigative reporter instincts.

Jeanne Ray is the queen of the rom-com for older women. I read her Step-Ball-Change, Eat Cake, and Julie and Romeo years ago, and this novel came to my attention in connection with Women’s History Month. Her writing is light and humorous, but she jabs that stiletto point home about the real experience of most middle-aged and older women’s lives. Her perspective widens as the novel continues, and she deals with individual women’s private lives, the importance of community and friendship for women, age discrimination, and even Big Pharma. Quite a lot for a novel, and she does it all with panache and a giggle.

So travel along with Clover and her friends as they take on the world! Oh, but to be completely invisible for slipping onto planes and into corporate buildings, you’ll have to be completely naked. You’ll get used to it.

So fun and so fierce.

Disclaimer: I listened to a library downloadable audio of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Women’s History for Little Feminists

In celebration of the centennial anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, 2019 and 2020 saw the publication of a treasure trove of children’s titles. March is Women’s History Month, so this is a great time to gather up all of those books, as well as a few more. Here are two great feminist reads for kids, one that is a few years old and madly beloved, and one that is brand new and much-needed.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

One-stop shopping for women’s bios. This first volume of the series contains 100 one-page biographies of women who made a difference in the world, arranged alphabetically by first name. The book came into being through a Kickstarter program, and it has now been translated into 47 languages! The left side of each double-page spread has a quick summary of each woman’s life, while the right side has a full-page, colorful portrait with a quotation from the subject. All of the pictures are done by different artists, which gives the book exuberant variety. Some of the portraits are serious and classic, while others are almost caricatures. I had to laugh when I turned the page to the Brontë sisters. It is certainly a good likeness, but the artist put something a little spooky into their wide eyes that hinted at the eeriness of their writing.

The short biographies are not meant to be comprehensive, but rather to point out general facts and the reasons that the reader should care about this person. Hopefully, children will be especially interested in a few of these heroines and will seek out full biographies and other information about them.

Inspirational reading for little rebels. Princesses need not apply.

An Equal Shot, by Helaine Becker

Title IX went into effect when I was in high school. Yes, I am that old. Although it was passed in 1972, it was not explained in detail and implemented until 1975, and even after that, some organizations were slow to get on board. When we were buying a house in a small town in Georgia in the 1990s, I called the mortgage banker to get an update. He told me that he was communicating with David about it, and if I had any questions, I could ask my husband. These days, he could be fired for that, and I would throw a party on his front lawn.

But I digress.

This nonfiction picture book tells about the need for the law and how it has changed our country since its passage. The text is very simple, and it is accompanied by illustrations in pleasing colors by Dow Phumiruk. The artist portrays diverse groups of girls in the beginning as disappointed and dismayed that they cannot play on sports teams, but even in the protest march, there is no hint of violent anger. The history of our country’s discrimination against women is explained clearly and persuasively. I found it particularly telling when the girls are searching giant editions of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and realizing that women’s rights are not found in these great documents.

It seems that the battle for freedom never ends. We abolish slavery and end up with Jim Crow. We pass the 19th amendment, but women can still be fired from their jobs for getting married or becoming pregnant. Liberty takes constant vigilance. Becker frequently points out that Title IX has only 37 words; that’s all it took. The text of the law is written out on one of the last pages.

We often think of Title IX as the law that allowed girls to have sports teams, and it is, but its application is so much broader than that, even for men, who are now able to work in what were traditionally considered women’s jobs, such as nursing or flight attendants. The backmatter has a more detailed account of the bill’s passage, including important individuals who worked to make equality a reality for girls and women. The author also points out areas where there is still “More Work to Do,” such as pay discrimination, and she includes a list of resources for further information.

Essential reading for girls and boys.

Disclaimer: I read library copies of both of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Think Again, by Adam Grant

Black and white, red and blue, and scores of other binary choices; our world has drawn into camps. The sudden slowdown caused by the pandemic may be the best time in our lives to re-examine those opinions to which we cling with the greatest fervor, especially those we hold just because “it’s always been that way.”

Adam Grant is a professor at Wharton and a frequent TED talk presenter. In Think Again, Grant details the results of research that were surprising even to him. He has discovered that people who are willing to listen to opposing opinions and be flexible in their thinking are often the most successful. The book is divided into three sections: individual rethinking, business flexibility, and building organizations of lifelong learning. The very best academics are eager to listen to opposing opinions and are willing to admit that they were wrong. They are thrilled to find new insights. The most successful managers will readily unlearn and re-learn processes and strategies in order to keep their teams producing at the top level. Any group of people who remain curious and open-minded will grow and flourish, rather than becoming stale and rigid.

When I first heard of this new book, I was intrigued, since I am beginning what will be a few years of transition in my life. The book turned out to be somewhat more business-focused than I had anticipated, but it is an enjoyable read with many universal applications. Grant is a young father of three, and his illustrations include relatable stories of family life.

The ability to change his mind is why you know who Steve Jobs was, but you probably don’t know who Mike Lazaridis is, even though he was a smashing success before Apple made it big. Lazaridis and his colleague, Douglas Fredin, invented the Blackberry, the very first hand-held data device. When the iPhone came along, Lazaridis thought it was ridiculous to think that people would want to tap on glass instead of using a real keyboard, as on the Blackberry. Besides, no one would want to use a hand-held device for personal things; it was only meant for business emails– and that was the end of the Blackberry. On the other hand, Steve Jobs was happy with the success of the iPod for music and the iPhone for talk and text. However, when his team was enthusiastic about putting music on the iPhone, he agreed, even though it would mean the slow death of the iPod. The company he was building continued to expand as they stayed open to even more creative ideas, evolving and thriving.

Grant gives many other stories of success through flexibility. He devotes a section to persuading others to think as you do, and the key ingredient is listening more than we talk. That’s a tough one for those of us who love to talk! One of his discoveries concerning lifelong learning is that we do not necessarily learn best the way we enjoy the most. Study participants who were most comfortable and content listening to lectures did not always retain the information as well as they did when asked to perform experiments or conduct research and compile reports. In other words, venture outside of your comfort zone to learn new skills or fields of research.

It is encouraging to see books like Think Again being published at this critical time. Our culture has become reactionary to the point of violence, as we have seen over the past year, and it is time to take a step back, cool down, and listen. Our sources of information seem to lack any attempt at neutrality, so even our input is already tainted. It is so important to read beyond the headlines and to have real conversations with people with opposing viewpoints in order to understand one another’s thinking and to work toward peace and cooperation. On an individual level, we need to live a larger life, keep learning new things, and remain open to creativity and discovery. We can do so much better than this.

Disclaimer: I listened to a library audiobook of this title, read by the author. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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