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Health and Wellness

Invisible Women
The Seed
The Vagina Bible
Why We Can’t Sleep

Invisible Women

“Most of recorded human history is one big data gap.” By that, author Caroline Criado Perez is referring to gender data gaps in particular: to the “silences” that are everywhere in a world where the lives of men are oft seen as representing all of humanity while those of the other half of the population are still, in many ways, “an absent presence.” Her new book, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, shows how a lack of representation trickles down into decisions that affect everyday life – from the size of smartphones and piano keyboards (which are designed for the male hand), to public transit planning and chilly office temperatures.

The Seed

The delivery room was crowded the day Alexandra Kimball’s son Charlie was born. On one side was Mindy, the surrogate who’d just delivered the baby, surrounded by her own husband and mother. On the other side, Kimball and her husband, Jeremy, held Charlie, a “many-mothered child” who counts the couple, as well as Mindy and Anne, an egg-donor, as the reasons he’s here. In her new book The Seed: Infertility Is a Feminist Issue, Kimball mines the judgment and fear that persist around those who turn to assisted reproductive technology and surrogacy – with women appearing to be one another’s harshest critics. The author spoke with The Globe and Mail about the ways women fail each other on this front, and about the possibility of looking beyond sci-fi fertility treatments to humanize those struggling to conceive.

The Vagina Bible

Obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter has styled herself as the world’s most steadfast defender of women’s vaginas against dubious products, untested science and nothing short of “the patriarchy.” Gunter, born in Winnipeg, shot to prominence in 2017 when she waged war on Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness franchise for women, known for peddling iffy treatments including vaginal steaming and $91 vaginal jade eggs for “empowerment.” Readers of Gunter’s new book The Vagina Bible won’t find many Goop smackdowns; the OB/GYN has widened her crosshairs. Women’s health, she argues, has been vastly underserved by their physicians, their partners, predatory marketers, dangerously ill-informed cosmetic surgeons and the culture at large. With The Vagina Bible, Gunter hopes to give women their combat armour.

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Why We Can’t Sleep

When Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963, she discovered a “problem that has no name” afflicting middle-aged, middle-class American housewives. Their lives felt claustrophobic, empty and purposeless. This discontent, of course, triggered a revolution. Now, decades later, the American journalist Ada Calhoun has probed the 2020 version of this, which instead sees fortysomething, middle-class women up in the middle of the night, overwhelmed by a deluge of pressures, from the 24/7 work world and persistent financial strain to harried marriages and high-demand parenting norms. Or else the challenges of navigating life without a partner or family life. In the New York Times bestselling Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, Calhoun names the nameless.


Sexuality and Relationships

In the Dream House
I Hope We Choose Love
Three Women

In the Dream House

I Hope We Choose Love

Two new books, In the Dream House and I Hope We Choose Love, look at queer intimate partner abuse from different angles. In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s memoirs about her relationship with a woman that slid into a nightmare of psychological torture. This is the relationship the author was in while studying at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, writing stories that would become her debut collection, Her Body and Other Parties. Machado’s two books together form a powerful commentary on trauma, all the forms of violence women are subjected to and the stories we tell around that violence.

The question of what LGBTQ communities are to do with situations of abuse is the subject of the essays and poetry in Kai Cheng Thom’s I Hope We Choose Love. Thom’s book, subtitled A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World, takes a wider perspective than Machado’s, noting the preponderance of abuse among LGBTQ people. For all the ways queer community imagines itself as a social-justice utopia (“Queerlandia,” as Thom dubs it), it is rife with this lateral violence. “In queer community, we already know why our people die: we are killed by homophobia and transphobia,” Thom writes. “What we do not know is why we hurt each other – physically, psychologically, and sexually.”

Three Women

Three Women is Lisa Taddeo’s first book, and it’s a whopper – not so much in length, but in time invested and advance praise heaped on it (Elizabeth Gilbert called it “the In Cold Blood of women’s sexuality.”) The book was an eight-year odyssey, prompted by Taddeo’s reading Gay Talese’s 1981 survey of American swingerdom, Thy Neighbor’s Wife, which left her wanting to know more about the women in the book and their desires. Three Women documents, in the most microscopic detail, the very private inner landscape of sexual desire experienced by a few individual women.


#MeToo

Catch and Kill
Had It Coming
Know My Name
Whatever Gets You Through

Catch and Kill

Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators details his Harvey Weinstein investigation for The New Yorker. The tale is a publisher’s dream – a behind-the-scenes dive into what happens when noxious Hollywood power collides with big-media indifference. But Farrow did not write Catch and Kill to only tell the world what his and Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s work in The New York Times already detailed. Farrow is also, even mostly, occupied with shining a light on all those who protected Weinstein. Those who ignored him. Those who went out of their way to look the other way.

Had It Coming

Globe and Mail reporter Robyn Doolittle writes in the introduction to her new book Had It Coming: What’s Fair in the Age of #MeToo that it would be cathartic to write a book about why women are feeling such fury in the wake of #MeToo, but “it’s been done.” It’s true that literary treatises by Rebecca Solnit or Rebecca Traister and others have that ground well covered. And it’s also true that perhaps readers want fewer confessions or emotions, and more solutions or in-depth explorations. Doolittle explains that she won’t shy away from the “tough questions” and offers us a glimpse of what women really say when they’re talking to their friends. Read an excerpt.

Know My Name

For sexually assaulting an unconscious stranger behind a garbage dumpster during a frat party, Brock Turner got the kid-glove treatment from the criminal justice system, ultimately spending just three months behind bars – a case that would inflame millions of observers a year before #MeToo blew open. It was cruel math for the 22-year-old victim, Chanel Miller, known publicly only as “Emily Doe” throughout the trial. “My poisoned life, three months,” Miller writes in her powerhouse memoirs, Know My Name, which follow an exacting and ferociously smart 7,000-word victim-impact statement, which she read aloud to Turner in the courtroom. Know My Name is one of the most urgent artifacts to emerge in the wake of #MeToo, a scathing indictment of every institution that sexual assault victims encounter – the courts, college campuses and the media – “all the people enabling a broken system,” Miller writes.

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Whatever Gets You Through

Whatever Gets You Through: Twelve Survivors on Life After Sexual Assault, a new essay anthology edited by Canadian writers Stacey May Fowles and Jen Sookfong Lee, feels at once victoriously cathartic and maddening in its familiarity. Those who already have conversations about sexual assault will read the book’s varied accounts and likely not undergo a transformation of politics – because we already know. Those who fall into the category of knowing sexual assault exists somewhere out there, but not really caring about it, should be mandated to read this book, its contents a comprehensible venture into what is felt by many, but rarely permitted the time and room to be told without translating for doubt and palatability. The anthology’s editors spoke with The Globe and Mail about how women “learn to adapt to a trauma that attaches itself to them.”


Culture

Disfigured
Trick Mirror

Disfigured

“Why, in all of these stories about someone who wants to become and be someone else, was it always the individual who needed to change, never the world?” This is one of the fundamental questions Amanda Leduc poses in her latest book, Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of three, Leduc, an avid Disney lover, underwent multiple surgeries at the age of four. This was followed by a wheelchair, her classmates initially curious about the different girl with different legs. But it wasn’t long before this curiosity faded and was replaced by rejection. Now the communications director of The Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), Leduc investigates the intersection between disability and her beloved fairy tales, questioning the constructs of these stories and where her place is, as a disabled woman, among those narratives.

Trick Mirror

Only The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino could, in one deep-dive essay, effortlessly move from lunch to life under advanced capitalism – incorporating, along the way, market-friendly feminism, overpriced athletic leisurewear, the internet, skyrocketing productivity, the pleasure – and absurdity – of barre class and the phenomenon of the “fast-casual chopped-salad chain.” Thus, the genius of the young Canadian-born writer, whose debut collection of essays is called Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion.


More Reading

Joan Didion looms large over a wave of talented female essay-writers

How female authors are rewriting the happy ending

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