What Book Was Your Feminist Awakening?

For Novel Gazing, send us your stories about reading your way to revolution

Novel Gazing is Electric Literature’s personal essay series about the way reading shapes our lives. Submissions for Novel Gazing are open through November 15.

This isn’t the Novel Gazing prompt I was going to write.

We were going to do something a little spooky, in honor of what is usually a time of encroaching darkness and meditations on mortality. But the real scary stories this season haven’t been about witches or hauntings. They’ve been about powerful men who exploit their positions for sexual gain. Forget Freddy and Jason—this year the bogeymen are Harvey, Leon, Lockhart, Mark, Kevin, Bill, and (lest we forget) Donald.

In the last few weeks, we’ve been saturated with horror stories about the physical and psychological burdens influential, compassionless men can visit on the people they think they control. I’m not going to ask you for more of those. Instead, let’s talk about the books that helped you see a better way. What stories made you realize that something was wrong with this culture’s attitude towards gender, or beauty, or sexual entitlement? What stories showed you how to name the injustice, and how to fight?

Maybe you read about an abusive relationship, and reluctantly recognized yourself. Maybe you encountered a male villain so utterly vile that he could only exist in fiction, and then realized that you’d known him all along. Maybe your favorite heroine seemed untouchably strong and that helped you to be strong too. Maybe a book or a show or a mythological monster (little self-plug there) was the puzzle piece that snapped the big picture into focus, that taught you it was okay to be angry or ambitious or sexual or celibate or fat or loud or unfeminine or too feminine or any of the things a masculinity-dominated culture doesn’t want you to be.

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These could be explicitly feminist books, but it’s probably more interesting if they aren’t. (And as always, they don’t need to be books at all; film, television, and even games will do, as long as they’re narrative media.) Feel free to write about your first encounter with Judith Butler, if you can do it with wit and heart that will travel beyond the ivory tower—but even more than that, I want to hear about your experiences with Jessica Fletcher or Honoria Glossop or Susie Derkins. If you’d like inspiration, try this beautiful essay Electric Literature recently published about Carmen Maria Machado’s “The Husband Stitch,” or maybe this Tumblr post about Susan Pevensie that reliably makes me ugly-cry.

Essays should not be longer than 4,000 words or shorter than 800, and payment is $60 per piece. Submissions will remain open through November 15. And because I know someone’s going to ask me, of course non-women are welcome to submit their work.

Are you exhausted from the last few weeks and also the rest of your life? #Metoo. Let’s compile a reading list for getting through this together.

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