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How To Be A Woman—APW Book Club Meetups

This weekend, we met up all over the world to discuss Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman. Tomorrow I’m going to tell you more about what I thought about the book, what the San Francisco meet-up made me ponder, and have a full online discussion about all of it. But this morning, what I will tell you is that I was stunned/amazed/thrilled/horrified/delighted about how many of you really grappled with the word Feminism and owned it, or began to own it. Sometimes I forget that not everyone identified as a Strident Feminist starting in the fourth grade, earning the ire of their very conservative fourth grade counterparts. So I forget, that with Feminism being largely out of the public discourse in the last… (holy crap, twenty years? Who else remembers 1992 as the Year of The Woman? I was vigorously making Year of The Woman collages for my seventh grade projects, upsetting my teachers, like a good Strident Feminist growing up in conservative poverty)… we need to discuss it more than ever. Because it’s that discussion that keeps us moving forward. So hats off to you Caitlin Moran, for making us laugh, making us think, making us get together, and yes, making us drink a few beers. We’ll be back tomorrow with much more, but till then, a few of the 30 worldwide meetups:

New York

The New Yorkers met up at a wine bar to discuss Moran’s book. Shaelyn had this to say about their meeting:

Our group universally enjoyed the book and was excited to discuss it. Early in the afternoon, one of the attendees asked, point blank, who at the table identified themselves as a feminist. Every hand shot into the air, and we erupted into laughter. I found it refreshing at a time when I often have to convince my female friends that they are, indeed, feminists, that we had a table full of the self-identified. Most of us had called ourselves feminists for a long time, but the book has encouraged some of us to say it louder and prouder in our daily interactions—even if we sometimes would need to veil it in Moran’s genius that’s-rather-uncivil technique.

We talked a lot about the different phases of our lives we had moved through, and how being a (budding) woman as a teenager felt different than it did now, as adults. Most of us felt that we failed, daily, at “being a woman,” on some level, but that it was okay. A lot of this conversation drifted towards weddings, and how their importance has changed as couples marry later, as more people pay for their own weddings, and as women’s roles have changed and continue to evolve. We felt that, on a personal level, weddings were women’s faults, but that we also had to consider the greater forces at work—those forces that kept women from doing much worth talking about for millennia.

Boston

Lauren Writes:

When Kelly started taking pictures of the wine bottles in my kitchen, one of the Boston ladies said to a newcomer: “Meg called Boston ‘wholesome’ after the first book club, and we’ve never been accused of that again.” The group spent at least a half hour mingling before we got our act together and circled up for book club, which was almost the best part—just meeting other amazing women who happen to live in the same town has been an incredible result of these gatherings. This time, there were over twenty of us crowded into my living and dining room.

When we talked about how many of us identified with Moran’s teenage years, someone asked “Was anyone here cool in high school?” Two people raised their hands—one said “I was cool for like half of sophomore year?” and the other said “I was really cool in my group of theatre geeks!” which we all agreed did not count. One woman raised an interesting point that maybe everyone finds the group they belong in all through life, in the way that people from The Kn*t are all getting together, which is why we all feel that we had a similar experience growing up.

The six-month-pregnant mother of our first APW baby spoke candidly about the fear and exhilaration that comes with an unexpected pregnancy (she had an IUD!?!?!) and bravely shared that abortion was a discussion topic when she and her husband found out. We spent a long time discussing the stigma against married women having abortions, and the Grey’s Antomy episode that recently featured a married woman who did not want kids choosing to have an abortion. We talked about wanting kids, and not wanting them, and what the means for our futures (good and bad). 

think our basic motto around feminism was summed up with this quote: “Everybody should do what they want, as long as it makes them happy. Except, like, murderers.”

Toronto

Chantelle wrote to us from Toronto:

Yummy food, great cider and beer, loud inspired conversation, overall a fun time was had by all. We probably unsettled the other diners with our loud discussions on pubic hair, porn, great books, underwear choices, career decisions, fertility and masturbation. We actually thought that it would be quite an achievement for APW, if, as a result of this gathering of women across the world, a group of us came together (pun not intended) and decided to start creating good female-centric porn. We ended off the night sharing a board of local artisanal chocolates and swapping info so we could share more resources on cool stuff that came up during the night… including a job offer of sorts between members so that a wedding ceremony can get translated from English into Italian while still retaining its gender inclusive feminist tone.

AMAZING book choice!

Benelux, Antwerp Train Station

Amanda and Fiona met in the Antwerp train station. Amanda wrote:

What we found the most relevant was how the book is inciting women to reclaim the word feminism and fight for it again. We discussed, how in my case, having a Mexican background, I would be scared to align myself as a feminist because of fear of all those negative connotations. Even though of course I was clearly spoiled with all the benefits of feminism and probably took things for granted. Sure I was always interested in reading about girls in history, Simone de Beauvoire, etc., but I would not say it out loud. Fiona is an anthropologist and she took classes on gender, so she would always consider herself one, though it was still a shock to see those figures, mentioned in the book

Washington, D.C.

D.C.’s book club had favors. Which. Is. Awesome. And according to Jenn, they also had way too many margaritas and a great discussion:

We discussed the book more than in previous book clubs, which was fun and different. People seemed on the whole to have really enjoyed the book (even the parts they didn’t understand due to amazing British slang.) We talked about whether we thought men bothered with the same “Am I a good woman?” questions women seem to perpetuate, and found we actually had a lot of disagreement on the issue. We did agree that the definition of “a good man” is changing rapidly, and thought they probably lack the same forum for discussion that women have. We also agreed that the subtlety of women, particularly when it comes to clothes/fashion/appearance, is our own fault, but we couldn’t decide whether the “solution” is to drop down to the level of the average man or to bring the men up to our level of “misery.”

When we got to the idea of weddings, we all kind of wondered whether Caitlin Moran has ever actually been to a fun wedding. Maybe we should invite her to an APW wedding, just to change her mind.

We talked a lot about the abortion chapter of the book, and a couple of people shared some personal stories which were beautiful and touching, and completely supported the idea that women can only benefit from bringing this topic out of taboo and into the open. We then lightened it up a little bit by passing out the party favors Christine had brought—tampons.

Los Angeles

{Los Angeles book club, by Jessica of Jessica Schilling Photography}

Katie (that’s her in the yellow sweater!) said of the LA book club (which, by the way, featured red velvet pancakes):

On the subject of not being good at being a woman: we all acknowledged the social pressures around traditionally women’s activities (householding, child rearing, social planning) and women’s images (bronzed, buffed, beribboned – especially in LA). One of us remarked that with the shifting of women’s roles, a complementary shifting of men’s roles is also required. If women can feel that they are failing at being women, it is no less true that men can feel they are failing at being men. And perhaps men aren’t given the same breathing room to discuss the implications for them of taking on more in the home, planning our weddings hand in hand with us, not being the sole or primary breadwinner, and basically meeting their partners halfway.

On “having some sexism at you:” several of us at the meetup work in male-dominated fields, and we all really loved the graceful and less inflammatory suggestion of saying that a sexist act or remark is not polite. It seems like a way to acknowledge that you’ve been wronged without getting anyone’s hackles up or getting dismissed out of hand. There were some scary stories in the group of women being passed over for work, being asked to bring coffee, and in general being given a hard time.

There was a difference of opinion in the group about the specific word “feminist.” Some among us thought that the word is so politicized it immediately provokes an “Us vs. Them” framework. Others agreed with Moran in her analysis: “a) Do you have a vagina? And b) Do you want to be in charge of it? If you answered, “yes” to both, then congratulations! You are a feminist.” The word just means wanting equal rights for women, not at the expense of men in some zero-sum paradigm, but just because we’re human and otherwise, it’s not polite. (See above.) I acknowledge the issue is complex, but it makes me so sad that only 29% of American women will identify as a feminist. That’s no kind of base for moving forward!

San Francisco

{San Francisco book club, by Emily of Emily Takes Photos}

San Francisco was too cool to send us a book club recap, though oddly it was HUGE (what’s up forty ladies showing up and not one emailing in a roundup! Next time!). But this Twitter conversation did happen between APW sponsors Elizabeth of Lowe House Events and Emily of Emily Takes Photos (Featured above. Pay close attention to what she’s wearing.):

Elizabeth: Emily dressed like the book. The group was so big we kept splitting into sub-groups. Beer was drunk, fun was had. Vaginas.

Emily: I dressed like the author. Next time I’ll dress like the book. (Probably not).

Virtual Meetup

{Virtual book club, Screengrabs proviced by Zan}

The virtual book club of not-so-centrally-located APW readers was a success, with Zan saying:

Representatives of Rural Living (Idaho, North Dakota, Vermont and Upstate New York) decided to convene a virtual book club via Google+. However, because we are an inclusive bunch we also had Rachelle of Houston (arguable not rural) joining the fun. It was a rollicking success, a good time had by all and the technology fully cooperated with us. Our significant others—in this case all males—hummed around in the background but declined to participate in Book Club. The Cowboy’s only comment on the book was, “Well, but isn’t this stuff we already know?” Right on Feminist Husband, right on.

And if you want more of the APW magic, go browse the pictures in the APW Flickr stream. And we’ll be back tomorrow to really dig in…

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