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review 2016-11-21 13:49
Freedom from Fear by Aung San Suu Kyi
Freedom from Fear - Desmond M. Tutu,Michael Aris,Aung San Suu Kyi,Václav Havel,Desmond Tutu

Oh, the feels. There's just too much here and during this time. I'm trying to keep this to a review and will post the book inspired rant later. Please bear with me, there will be crossover. This book is amazing and really showcases the struggle and strength of a founder of democracy for her country. This is one of my Reading Nobel Women books. Aung San Suu Kyi was the recipient of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

 

My feelings about what I was reading alternated based on the current US political scene. I was reading it during the last presidential debate and while I was watching the states turn red on election day. I'd rather not get into American politics, but there were some serious concerns on both sides of the aisle and here and some outrage in the aftermath that made reading about student protests in another country and almost 20 years ago that much more relevant.

The book begins with a foreword by Aung San Suu Kyi's husband, Michael Aris. He explains a little of their history together and what had been happening since her struggle for democracy began, it's the personal side that includes that her children had not been able to see her for years on account of it.  As someone who works in a "masculine" field and has been married to an at-home dad for six years, I cannot adequately explain how much I adore Aris's support of his wife and the way he never alludes to feelings of emasculation. A woman's struggle and strength does not inherently emasculate her husband. It just doesn't. I love how compiling this work and editing it must have allowed him to feel close to her despite all the things that were keeping them apart at the time of its writing.

He then explains the format for the book.  It is broken in three parts. The first are the works about Burma that she wrote before her political involvement. They give the reader a good sense of Burma and how much she loves and appreciates her country. They also get cited quite a bit later, so it helps to have read these works. The next part is her political writings that are mostly by her as well, but some are about her and written by others, such as the acceptance speech given for the Nobel Peace Prize that was given by her son.

It was this part that first made me think about the democracy that we have here and what we want here and what our ideals about democracy really are. It's easy to look at the long history of US democracy and lose the ideas of a founder. This book helped me out with that a little. At worse, it just changed my thoughts about what was going through their minds. There's the bits on the military and how it should (and in the US does) stay out of politics. Aung San Suu Kyi's party was consistently harassed by the military and denied the authorization to assemble but the demonstrations stayed peaceful. It was interesting to see the way she used the presence of the military at her demonstrations as an opportunity to reach out to rather than criticize them.

The last part are the writings in appreciation of Aung San See Kyi's movement and her character. One is written by a personal friend, which was an interesting touch. Another seems a bit more objective but still focuses on the way her involvement changed the movement that had already been there, the way she led them into unity and how she maintained a platform of peaceful protest for democracy over crowds that could have easily gotten violent.

The whole book is a beautiful testament to her strong leadership and character is a proponent of peace and democracy in her country. It recognizes that her position was merely advantageous in the beginning but acknowledges that it was her personal strength and ability that got the country to where it needed to go. It is not a memoir, which was what I had read about previous laureates. I love memoirs, but it was interesting to change it up in that this is part of the body of work that she was given the award for rather than her personal experience through it.

It was also a timely read, as mentioned before. It gives good insight into the mind of a revolutionary striving for democracy in a country that has never had it. The inspirational nature of her writing works to make me want to work on improving upon our own democracy and how it works, to get more involved.

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review 2016-10-27 19:39
Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do about It by Kate Harding
Asking for It: Slut-shaming, Victim-blaming, and How We Can Change America's Rape Culture - Kate Harding

 I knew this would be an informative book, but I didn't expect to enjoy it this much. It's the kind of book that should be read and analyzed and discussed in classes and prevention training sessions everywhere. 

 It's been on my TBR since about the time it was published but I just now got it together to read it. I usually hate talking about rape, particularly when I'm already talking about feminism. For years, I had viewed rape and abortion as the only two things feminists talked about and I hated that. That was when I was still in the primary target age and it terrified me to be reminded that often. As I've embraced the label of feminist in recent years, it's taken me a while to be okay with talking about rape. It took a while to find my voice in it, but this book would have helped me do that sooner.

See, I'm only slightly younger than the author, so I remember those times in the '90s when it almost seemed like people cared. I remember ingesting all the messages from television and schools that almost made it seem like it wouldn't have been my fault, except that everyone knew it really would have been because it's always actually about how not-cautious and unprepared the victim was. No one was saying yet that we should just teach people not to rape. No one was using the word consent, not around me.

Just as Harding contends, the landscape is changing now and it's changing in a beautiful way. The generation that is coming up now is amazing in its embrace of that the victim didn't invite it, couldn't have invited it. Harding writes beautifully about the problems we've seen in recent decades and the amazing things that were happening around the writing of the book and the things that look like they are on our horizon.

She writes with an entertaining style that was both friendly and firm. She does not let us delude ourselves about the world we live in but she does provide hope and paths to new understandings. Rape has been talked about and taught about one way for so long that changing the conversation isn't going to happen immediately, but her book is another in a line of books that are changing the conversation from "why was she there" "what was she wearing" to "why did he do that". But she doesn't miss the opportunity to stand up for men and that they can be victims too, of each other and of women. She doesn't miss the opportunity to talk about the fact that there are lots of men out there who are perfectly great and respectful partners that don't rape. But there are those who do and we aren't calling them out near enough.

There's lots of information in this book that I had before but there is lots that I didn't. Everyone should read the book, talk about it with others, and analyze it along with the world around them. It's important to talk about rape and consent.

Something not mentioned in the book, but that I would like to add to the conversation is that it is never too early to talk about consent because it is a part of everything at every age. We've been using that word in situations with my son since he was about 3 years old (he's six now). It came up when he expressed that he didn't like being squeezed when we hug him. Instead of using the kind of language that is usually reserved for children of this age, we made the conscientious decision to use the word consent. Hugs must be consented to each time and the appropriate level of squeeze is negotiated throughout. There must be enthusiastic consent to hug any one at any time and that is reinforced with visitors to our home. Or tickle. Or wrestle with. Or touch. Or smooch. Or help him in the bathroom. Or call him by any nickname. Or label him in any way.

I feel like part of the problem with talking about what affirmative consent is and looks like is that we reserve it for discussing sex. That may be too sensitive a topic to start with and it's definitely too old for them to just be learning the concept. By then, we have waited until they've gotten used to being able to touch without asking for it and being touched without giving it. We have waited until they have determined that we can't be that serious about it because they've already done so many things they weren't allowed to do. So we started using consent early.

Pick up this book. Read it. Talk about it. Talk about consent. Use it in everyday situations. Don't miss an opportunity to increase your knowledge of rape culture and your ability to be a part of changing the conversation and helping the next generation improve things.

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review 2016-10-13 18:03
In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park
In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom - Yeonmi Park

I appreciate Park telling her story and including how hard it was for her to do so. It can be something that we miss sometimes when people write memoirs that not everyone has a story that they are comfortable with everyone knowing. Sometimes we have things that we'd rather keep hidden about ourselves and Park definitely relates that feeling. She includes the shame she felt at different times and her paths to overcoming it and the times when she didn't. She gives us her story so that we can understand the plight of those who share her circumstances but that often go unheard. 

I appreciate that she didn't get into the gory details. She discusses being raped and beaten (sexual violence being the most prominent trigger in this book), but she doesn't go into detail about how it happened. It's selfish of me to appreciate that but I do. This is not a comfortable book to read, but it's a necessary one and I get the impression that she didn't want to relive the details any more than I wanted to hear about them. But this didn't keep her from sharing what happened, she just laid it out there.

The other thing to appreciate about this is that when we hear the way violence happens, we sometimes miss what it is. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it's possible to describe a beating or rape without using those two words and I feel like books that do that can miss something very important. They miss that these terms are used for actions that happen in a multitude of circumstances and are not designed for use for the perpetrator. Park says that she was raped and we don't miss it underneath the coercion that was used against her. The ability to name what has happened to you and not just describe the way it happened instead is powerful. It erases any idea that it could have been something else. It makes it clear to the reader that there is no question as to what happened and that the way it happened is less important than that it happened. To me, it was pretty powerful way to approach discussing that part of her story. 

I appreciate that she doesn't out others or tell their stories.

I appreciate that she admits to having mixed feelings about people in her life, even those that trafficked or helped her. 

I appreciate describing the unusual relationship she has with religion between her North Korean upbringing and the missionaries she met. 

I appreciate the in-depth description of what it was like to live in North Korea as a child and all the ways that she was taught to think and to be a loyal subject.

It's odd to say that I liked a book about such topics but Park made it easy to read and relate to. While it would be better to live in a world where these things didn't happen anymore, I appreciate that this book is out there to give an understanding of what it is like to go through all of this, to have to live with it and to try to get beyond it. It is essential for us to understand that this happens and how it happens in order to begin to work to eradicate it. Park knows this and even explains that this was a driving force behind her writing the book. So, yeah, I like the book. It's written well and it's important for us to read.

I wouldn't recommend it for high school or young adults because of the content, despite that she was in this age group during most of the book. I'd recommend it for anyone at or above college age, especially those who are working to understand the way the world around them works. In Order to Live is for feminists who wish to reach out internationally and for aspiring human rights activists. It is for missionaries and aid workers who will probably run into women and girls who have been trafficked. 

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review 2016-05-31 18:00
Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Fundamentalism by Karima Bennoune
Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism - Karima Bennoune

This book is a needed reminder that the people who live under the rule of fundamentalists don't get near the support they need. They are the first line of defense against fundamentalism, the first people who suffer on account of it and the last to be freed from its horrors. These are the people this book is about. It is their fight and their struggle and their voices raised to be heard. They need to be heard.   

 

Unfortunately, the book doesn't leave me with the feeling that there's anything concrete I can do to support these people who are actively fighting against fundamentalism every day. It also doesn't leave me feeling like all attempts at outside support have been blunder after blunder, though. Outsiders have helped some and hurt some and made no difference at all some. That we can't do much to help them doesn't mean that we can forget them. They fight Muslim fundamentalism at its root. We can't let ourselves be fooled into thinking that fundamentalism is the only thing happening in and coming out of these countries.

 

We also can't become so complacent that we fool ourselves into thinking that there aren't other kinds of fundamentalism that we should be weary of or that we aren't susceptible to it. Fighting and resisting our own types of fundamentalism in the US can help the people in this book and others. As Bennoune repeatedly makes clear, both Far-Rights need each other to carry on. The more we can do to deplete ours, the less fuel we will give theirs.

 

I first heard of the book from the TEDtalk that the Bennoune gave in 2014. I'm a big fan of TED and the talk introduces the book well. If you're on the fence about the book, check it out here.

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text 2016-04-08 23:00
Femme Friday - My Next 5 TBR Memoirs
I Have Iraq in My Shoe: Misadventures of a Soldier of Fashion - Gretchen Berg
In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom - Yeonmi Park
The Argonauts - Maggie Nelson
Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family - Najla Said
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness - Kay Redfield Jamison

I have a soft spot for memoirs. Not just memoirs, but memoirs of regular people. I love to learn about the many lives that are out there and reality tv just doesn't do it. Memoirs are personal accounts of the things that people have been through. I've read a few already, but even those are mostly from people who are famous (or were by the time the memoir got into my hands). There is a lot more to the human experience than we see on a daily basis, so the next five memoirs that I've chosen to read (though they will be scattered among other reading in the coming months) are about people and experiences vastly different from my own. Here they are: 

 

  1. I Have Iraq in My Shoe: Misadventures of a Soldier of Fashion - Gretchen Berg  I have had this book on my TBR list for a long time. The title just called me in the middle of the book store. I have a bit of a weakness for stories about acclimating to new areas and cultures and this seems like a fun one. 
  2. In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom - Yeonmi Park  I also saw this a little while back. It popped up in my Recommendations feed on one site or another and seemed interesting. 
  3. The Argonauts - Maggie Nelson  This is another one that popped up on some feed. The reviews that I read on it were mixed but the premise is enough to put it on my list anyway. It was living and loving someone who is gender fluid that got me. 
  4. Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family - Najla Said  I stumbled upon this one while looking for a book about Arab-Americans. I was checking the Heritage/Diversity months and discovered that April is Arab-American month which led me to realize that I had yet to read about any real Arab-Americans. I say real because I LOVE Kamala Khan, but she is fictional. 
  5. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness - Kay Redfield Jamison I don't know about you, but mental illness scares me. It is often poorly self-diagnosed and I rarely know people who seek treatment. Even in that rare instance, sticking to a regiment can be arduous, proving illness can be tough, and it takes a toll on everyone, not just the ill person. This memoir explores manic depression from inside and outside the institution that treats it. 

 

Do you read memoirs? What are you reading next? 

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