The best books about what it's like being female in a sexist society

Chris Wind Author Of This is what happens
By Chris Wind

Who am I?

I started keeping a journal when I was fifteen. Ten years later, I had the raw material for Fugue, a portrait of the artist as a young woman (I had read Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) that ends in celebration, rather than suicide (I had also recently read Plath's The Belljar). It did not get published. Thirty years later, I had so little, far too little, to celebrate.  The portrait had become one of relentless frustration and persistent failure, despite my continued effort ... so much effort ... And so I wrote This is what happens, dedicating it to all the passionate, hard-working, competent women — it's not you. 

I wrote...

This is what happens

By Chris Wind,

Book cover of This is what happens

What is my book about?

How is it that the girl who got the top marks in high school ends up, at fifty, scrubbing floors and cleaning toilets for minimum wage, living in a room above Vera’s Hairstyling, in a god-forsaken town called Powassan? 

Tracing the life of one woman through three juxtaposed voices—the fresh, impassioned protagonist speaking through her journals from the age of fifteen; the sarcastic, now-fifty protagonist commenting about the events of her life, occasionally speaking to her younger self; and the dispassionate narrator—the novel will resonate most with older women, but it is younger women, and men, who most need to read it.  Because this is what happens

The books I picked & why

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Golden Handcuffs

By Polly Courtney,

Book cover of Golden Handcuffs

Why this book?

Although this novel focuses on the world of investment banking, I list it here because it shows the difference between being a female working in finance and being a male working in finance; like This is what happens, it shows the impact of sexism on one woman's professional life, her dream, her ambition, her failure to achieve the former despite the latter.

I read it quite a while ago but was reminded of it while reading recently about the recent Martin/Nicole thing (wherein they switched email addresses, so Martin experienced what it was like to be Nicole for a couple of weeks) ("Folks, it sucked" was his summary).  

Girl, Woman, Other

By Bernardine Evaristo,

Book cover of Girl, Woman, Other

Why this book?

I've just started reading this book and already I love it.  Like my own, it shows what it's like to be female ... the insults, the exclusions, the limitations ... with a badass attitude, an acute awareness of and an unapologetic exposure of the sexism we have to deal with every frickin' day ... "perfect slave girl material one director told her when she walked into an audition for a play about Emancipation / whereupon she walked right back out again."

Why So Slow?: The Advancement of Women

By Virginia Valian,

Book cover of Why So Slow?: The Advancement of Women

Why this book?

On occasion, most notably in a personal letter to Valian, I have described This is what happens as a fictional version of her book. She covers sexism at home, sexism at work, the effects on ourselves, the effects on women in the professions, on women in academia... It was, is, very gratifying to have one's experience validated!

The Authority Gap: Why Women Are Taken Less Seriously Than Men-And What We Can Do about It

By Mary Ann Sieghart,

Book cover of The Authority Gap: Why Women Are Taken Less Seriously Than Men-And What We Can Do about It

Why this book?

I have just finished reading The Authority Gap, and it's a stunning (in both senses of the word) collection of the facts, the relentless statistics, over and over, that support the anecdote that is This is what happens.  

Written by a journalist rather than an academic (Valian), it is comparatively easy-going, but still hard-hitting. I am recommending it to everyone (including, especially, men).

Women of Ideas: And What Men Have Done to Them

By Dale Spender,

Book cover of Women of Ideas: And What Men Have Done to Them

Why this book?

Feminist theorist Dale Spender wrote, in Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Them, “We need to know how women disappear….”  Although she spoke of women who disappear from the historical record, all too many women seem to disappear from any sort of public life as soon as they leave high school: so many shine there, but once they graduate, they become invisible. What happens?  

Marriage and kids is an inadequate answer because married-with-kids straight-A boys are visible.  Everywhere. Even the straight-B boys are out there. So what happens?

This is what happens.

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