Emma Watson has started her own Goodreads feminist book club and the first book she chose to read is My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem. Watson’s efforts to make feminism into a mainstream conversation have so far been a lot more about pandering to men than the liberation of all women, but the idea of a globally accessible book club where feminist ideas can be discussed could be a useful step for the movement – if it’s done right and with intersectionality in mind.
One of Watson’s main mistakes with her #HeForShe UN Women campaign is that she, like many white feminists, assumes that sisterhood is already an existing concept between feminist women and that the principal problem is, somehow, that feminists have not extended an invitation to men to be a part of the movement. I could write at length at how insulting this is to past generations of feminists who have begged – and continue to do so – men for equality, but for the purposes of this essay I will focus on the issue of sisterhood and how a global feminist book club could move this idea forward.
I really like Kum-Kum Bhavani’s suggestion that “sisterhood has to be a goal, rather than a starting point.” The societies we inhabit are divisive in several ways: race, gender, class, disability – all of these identities and societal positions matter to how we see the world and how we see each other. If we see gender equality as a global issue that has to be achieved on a global level, those differences become even more complicated: how can I, a Brazilian woman, really understand what being a black woman in the United States is really like and what actions are needed for equality when I will never have that experience? In the same train of thought, how can an American woman really understand the nuances of Latin American machismo that I suffer with? Even if all feminist women agree on the urgency of gender equality, there are other dimensions that contribute to the subordination of women globally that will be incomprehensible for many of us. Not because we aren’t smart enough but because we are limited by who we are – but the good news is that we can become unlimited through reading and that’s why a global feminist book club could be so useful for a movement of gender equality.
The thing about books is that you can read someone else’s perspective and become completely immersed into an experience that is not your own. When you read about a different struggle from your own you start understanding things like privilege and the urgency of social justice. Whether we are reading fiction or non-fiction, reading is an act of escapism so anything outside of our own reality is game: and why not use this incredibly powerful aspect of books to educate people on gender equality and feminism? If this book club was intersectional, it would serve to educate people of all kinds about their own privilege and prejudices.
Reading these experiences and understanding them would hopefully bring women together and actually create a global sisterhood. Obviously, I can’t say that all women want equality or that all feminists have the same vision of equality but social media has a way of brewing solidarity. Twitter is a great example of this: while a lot of it is filled with violent misogyny and racism, the intersectional feminism part of Twitter can be full of solidarity and respectful discussion. Maybe I am soft but I believe in the good of people if we motivate it to come out.
It would also help in the dissemination and understanding of feminist ideas in general: I feel that intersectionality, for example, is often misunderstood as ‘oppression olympics.’ It sounds simple: the intersections of who we are construct our oppression. The classic example given by its inventor, Kimberlé Crenshaw, is that of black women, who are oppressed in a triple jeopardy of race, gender and class. Evoking the image of road intersections, Crenshaw argued that women is not a homogeneous group and that recognizing other types of oppression that complement gender oppression is important for the achievement of equality. This is just the beginning of decades of discussion about the idea of intersectionality: some scholars don’t even know if intersectionality is a methodology or a framework of analysis. How can this be untangled? How can oppression olympics be countered if we use intersectionality as a framework for gender equality? A global feminist discussion board sounds like a good start to me.
Of course, limitations will always be present: the issue of doing anything globally is that it might not be accessible for large swathes of the global population. Internet access is a major issue, as is language. Not everyone can speak English and anyway why should the language used be English? And is a book club really intersectional if we don’t consider other languages and cultures as part of this global movement? Maybe I am being a bit pedantic here, but equality isn’t just about me or you – it’s about everyone.
So is Emma Watson’s global feminist book club a path of solution to gender inequality? If I am going by her previous mentions of feminism and the first book she is reading, I would say it’s not. But there is something exciting about the idea of a global feminist book club, something about putting intelligent women and ideas of equality in one space that could result in something good and productive.