An incredibly engaging collection of essays, and one of the most important non-fiction YA reads of the year. Buy it for every teenage girl in your life. Buy it for every teenage boy in your life. Buy it for every teenager who doesn’t conform to the gender binary. Hell, I know many, many adults who would benefit from the messages contained in this diverse celebration of feminism. I know I did.
One thing that really struck me about this anthology is that there really is something for everybody. While it starts out explaining some of the basic feminism concepts, there’s also plenty of material for those of us who are more widely read on the subject. From fat-acceptance and body positivity, to intersectional feminism in terms of class, race, sexuality and disability, we are treated to a range of contributors from all walks of life who share their thoughts and experiences.
Here We Are is also beautifully-designed in a scrapbook format, with colourful page borders, comics, illustrations and hand-lettering to liven up your reading experience. Apart from the essays, there are also lists, song lyrics and poems. The contributors range from celebrity activists such as Laverne Cox and Amandla Stenberg, to authors like Courtney Summers, Nova Ren Suma and Malinda Lo, as well as prominent voices within the young adult publishing industry.
The book is split up into sections, each focusing on a topic such as relationships, pop culture, physical/mental health, and gender and sexuality. I don’t have the space here to examine each of the 44 contributions in detail, but suffice to say, they are interesting, insightful, inspiring and ultimately hopeful.
The contribution that really resonated with me was the essay entitled “The Likeability Rule” by Courtney Summers. In it, she discusses the way we react to ‘unlikeable’ female characters in fiction, compared to so-called likable ones, who are somehow seen as more deserving and whose stories are much more palatable. This too, in contrast with unlikeable male characters, who are often praised for their emotional complexity while girls are demonized for it.
It’s critical we examine the kinds of standards we hold fictional girls to and consider how it reflects in the way we treat real girls, and most important, what kind of emotional impact that has on them. What are we saying to girls when we cannot accept difficult, hurting female characters as being worthy of love because they are difficult and hurting?
Another gem that really spoke truth to power was Mikki Kendall’s “Facets of Feminism,” which emphasizes the importance of inclusive feminism; feminism that incorporates women from all walks of life, and feminism that responds to the specific needs of a community, rather than a one-size-fits-all movement.
In any narrative about the way feminism truly functions, you should expect to see people with different needs working toward different goals. There’s only a problem when the more powerful groups inside feminism work against those with less power.
What really struck me about this collection was, as mentioned, the scope of the subject matter contained. It’s a very accessible book for teenagers, using simple language to explain some of the more academic concepts, and is interspersed with FAQs about feminism. But due to the range of voices and experiences depicted, it’s a fantastic resource for us older folk as well – with thought provoking commentary on topics often not covered (or covered enough) by mainstream media outlets, feminist or otherwise.
In short, I can’t recommend this book enough.