Created by Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring
Published by Sasquatch Books (2016)
ISBN: 1632170574 (ISBN13: 9781632170576). Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
I must have borrowed this title a total of five times from the library before I finally found the time to sit down and read it. Brilliantly conceived and thoughtfully packaged, it is a gorgeous nonfiction book that gathers together 24 women, mostly from the US, who have devoted their lives to (1) build, (2) grow, (3) protect, (4) make, (5) tell, (6) lead, (7) play, (8) share their talents, skills, intelligence in their respective communities. Each of these numbered words reflect the eight chapter titles in the book, featuring three women per chapter.
The creators of the book, Chandler and Jessica, discussed their collaboration at the beginning of the book. Both are fascinated with narratives of women who were instrumental in shaping history; both are also into broadsheets (or broadsides), typography, and graphic design. By fluidly and seamlessly integrating these interests together, little did they know that a book like this will come about.
They also explained the rationale behind their selection of dead feminists who are featured in the book:
While it started slightly tongue-in-cheek – especially as many of the women we’ve profiled have themselves denied being feminists – we wanted to own the word feminist. By using it openly we want the term to stand for women who are independent, who speak out in defense of whatever they believe, and who live a life of purpose (and if their cause aligns with our progressive social and political values, it’s a bonus, but not a necessity). We embrace a literally broad definition of feminism, but an active version where we can move beyond ‘women are awesome!’ to a greater focus on equal rights and opportunities, everywhere, for everyone. (p. 4)
Given how there seems to be definitions that privilege some over others on the word feminism, I am glad how both O’Leary and Spring appropriated the word for their own purposes, and declared it to be so. Each featured women get three full page spreads, beginning with a two-paged condensed biography complete with photographs and relevant broadsheets published during their time, and the third page indicating the poster that the creators developed (and how they went about making it), inspired by the said woman’s life and contribution to society.
I appreciated the strategic and determined efforts to also include women coming from outside the US, UK, and Canada regions. At the time this post would have gone live, my family and I would have already been in the Middle East for a month. Hence, reading about Fatima Al-Fihri was illuminating for me.
In 859 she founded al-Qarawiyyin, which operated in a way similar to a modern university. Al-Qarawiyyin offered courses in grammar, rhetoric, logic, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, history, geography, and music – creating well-rounded scholars and attracting brilliant minds from around the world. Notably, women were not allowed to attend. One of the largest mosques in Africa and an educational center of the Islamic world, al-Qarawiyyin is considered the oldest university still in operation.
Evidently, there is much much more that I need to learn, discover, understand in this part of the world.
Another woman who caught my attention was Queen Lili’uokalani from the Kingdom of Hawaii. While she was quickly deposed with the help of the US marines, her life continues to be an inspiration, particularly among colonized people who are fighting for their sovereignty.
Most of these women were not duly recognized during their time, nor are they known by many people these days. It is the first that I am hearing of Sarojini Naidu from India, for example.
While a few of the names are already familiar to most, like Virginia Woolf, or Sappho, and Annie Oakley, a few did stand out as more than worthy addition to this compilation of historic heroines of living color. These women are, indeed, priestesses and goddesses in their own right.
#WomenReadWomen2019: United States Of America