The Imaginary Beings of the Feminist-Fueled Resistance


I’ve been working for a few years on an ongoing collage series entitled “The Catalogue of Imaginary Beings,” in which I build larger-than life portraits out of collage material. In the wake of the president’s State of the Union address, I have opted to turn away from my anger and frustration with the White House—and focus my attention instead on the inspirational, monumental and formidable women fighting for equality and leading the resistance.

We’ve seen and heard some powerful and brave women this year. I’m especially inspired by the 116th Congress, which is the most diverse Congress in American history.

That’s why I’m celebrating them with my newest portraits.

THE WOMEN OF THE WOMEN’S MARCH: I’ve made quite a few marchers and protesters in the past couple of years, and I continue to build these women out of other marchers and protesters. These marchers represent all of us. There are too many of us to ignore.

RUTH BADER GINSBURG: The venerable Supreme Court Justice and Super Hero has spent her career advocating for—and ushering in—victories women and girls.

DR. CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: The courageous woman who was brave enough to testify about her sexual assault—even in the face of threats against her life—inspired millions to rise up and resist the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

NANCY PELOSI: The Speaker of the House, which must be one of the toughest jobs in the world right now, wields a gavel like no other.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: One of two women elected in November who became the youngest representatives ever to serve in Congress didn’t take corporate money in her successful bid to unseat an incumbent—and never waivers on what she believes in.

ILHAN OMAR: This glass-ceiling-smasher is one of the first Muslim women and the first Somali-American elected to Congress, and the first woman of color to serve as U.S. Representative from Minnesota.

AYANNA PRESSLEY: The first black woman ever elected to Congress from Massachusetts isn’t there to play.

KRYSTEN SINEMA: The first openly bisexual member of Congress in the history of the U.S. chose to be sworn-in over a legal text that contained the Constitution instead of a Bible.

KAMALA HARRIS: The Senator who takes no guff—and asks the tough questions of Trump’s nominees.

ELIZABETH WARREN: The Senate voted to silence Warren when she tried to voice her objections during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing. (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, infamously complained that “nevertheless she persisted.”) Warren had to finish her objections in the halls of the Senate.

Johanna Goodman is an artist based in New York City. She graduated from Parsons School of Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration in 1992 and has been a freelance illustrator ever since. Her work has garnered awards from The Society of Publication Design, American Illustration and Communication Arts. Her clients include the Sidney Hillman Foundation, The Paley Center for Media, Le Monde, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Bust, New York Magazine and Smithsonian Magazine, among many others. ms. blog digest banner

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Picks of the Week: Gender and Justice Intersecting On-Screen


Picks of the Week is Women and Hollywood’s newest resource. We are often asked for recommendations, so each week we’ll spotlight the women-driven and women-made projects—movies, series, VOD releases and more—that we’re most excited about. Sign up for the Women and Hollywood newsletter at womenandhollywood.com to get each week’s pick delivered to your inbox.


Theatrical Release of the Week: Birds of Passage

Directed by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra; Written by Maria Camila Arias and Jacques Toulemonde Vidal

Based on a true story, Colombia-set Birds of Passage tells the story of the Wayuu, an indigenous group ravaged by the drug war. Kicking off in 1968, the epic is told in five parts and spans a dozen years. We witness Zaida (Natalia Reyes), a young woman from the revered Pushaina clan, performing an elaborate coming-of-age dance that attracts the attention of Rapayet (José Acosta), a poor orphan raised by his uncle.

The matriarch of Zaida’s family is unimpressed with her potential suitor, and demands a dowry that should prove impossible for him to deliver. But Rapayet figures out a way to fulfill the requirement: he gets involved in the marijuana business, forever changing the fate of the Wayuu tribe. Despite a high body count, the crime saga is anything but conventional.

A slow-burn, haunting story of family, honor, greed and capitalism, Birds of Passage is visually stunning and offers a fascinating look into the traditions of the Wayuu. (Laura Berger)

Read Women and Hollywood’s interview with Cristina Gallego.

Birds of Passage opens in NY February 13 and in LA February 15. Find screening info here.


Docuseries of the Week: “Lorena”

Lorena Bobbitt became a household name in 1993 when she cut off her then-husband’s penis with a kitchen knife while he slept. Her shocking attack—and the fact that her trial was televised—made her an overnight news sensation. A four-part docuseries, Amazon’s “Lorena” sees Bobbitt telling her side of the story, and exploring how so much of the racist and sexist news coverage surrounding the case—and tasteless jokes on late-night TV—often ignored or minimized the fact that she claimed her husband, John Wayne, physically and sexually abused her. Dismissed as a “hot-blooded Latina” and a “jealous wife,” Bobbitt had many witnesses corroborate her account of her husband’s monstrous behavior.

Cheesy and unnecessary reenactments aside, “Lorena” offers a powerful portrait of a woman pushed to the brink—and a nation wholly unprepared to deal with its epidemic of domestic abuse. The docuseries provides a helpful historical overview of what services and legal recourse were available to abused women at the time, or more accurately, the lack thereof. Hopefully the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements will encourage Bobbitt skeptics to view the case through a new lens, and encourage all of us to do more for the millions of women who continue to be affected by domestic abuse. (LB)

“Lorena” will stream on Amazon Prime beginning February 15.


TV Movie of the Week: “Kim Possible”

No matter your age, chances are you’ll find something to love in “Kim Possible,” a new Disney Channel movie that’s also a Gen Z update of the beloved early-aughts cartoon. Kim is no longer animated, but she’s still everyone’s favorite straight-A student/crime fighter.

If you watched the original series, you’ll get a kick out of Christy Carlson Romano’s (i.e. the voice of the animated Kim) cameo, and the film’s many Easter eggs. If you think young girls need more ass-kicking role models like Buffy Summers, you’ll probably be delighted to see Alyson Hannigan—yes, Willow!—playing Kim’s brain surgeon mother. If you enjoy multi-generational stories about women, à la “Gilmore Girls” or “Jane the Virgin,” you’ll be psyched when Kim (Sadie Stanley), her mom, and her nana (Connie Ray) team up to take down the bad guys. If your favorite characters tend to be villains, you’ll bask in Shego’s (Taylor Ortega) scenes—between her side-eye and acid tongue, she pretty much steals the entire movie.

Most importantly, if you’re someone who appreciates a nuanced coming-of-age tale—especially one about a young woman in the midst of a huge life transition—“Kim Possible” delivers. Give or take the gymnastics skills and spy gadgets, we’ve all been in Kim’s shoes: the beginning of high school is rough, and figuring out your identity as a teen can feel impossible. But Kim makes her way through one shitty sitch after another and comes out the other side more confident than ever. Plus, she saves the world. (Rachel Montpelier)

“Kim Possible” premieres February 15 at 8pm ET on Disney Channel and DisneyNOW.

Women and Hollywood educates, advocates and agitates for gender diversity and inclusion in Hollywood and the global film industry. The site, founded in 2007 by Melissa Silverstein, sets the standard, defines the conversation, fuels coverage and reinforces messages throughout the specialized and mainstream media to call for gender parity on a daily basis. Follow W&H at @WomenaHollywood and Melissa @MelSil.

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2019 Reads for the Rest of Us


The Feminist Know-It-All: You know her. You can’t stand her. Good thing she’s not here! Instead, this column by gender and women’s studies librarian Karla Strand will amplify stories of the creation, access, use and preservation of knowledge by women and girls around the world; share innovative projects and initiatives that focus on information, literacies, libraries and more; and, of course, talk about all of the books.


As a reader, I’m always surprised at how challenging it can be to quickly locate books written by women from historically marginalized or underrepresented groups. It’s not that the books aren’t being written—they just are often not afforded the same visibility as titles written by white women, and definitely not by white men.

As a librarian with expertise in gender, women’s and LGBTQ studies, I am uniquely equipped to find these titles—and have been on a mission to curate lists specifically dedicated to books written by women, defined broadly, with a particular focus on Black and Latinx women, women of color and Indigenous women writers; lesbian, bisexual, aro/ace, queer, intersex, transgender and gender non-conforming writers; international writers; writers who are disabled, neurodivergent, justice involved or living in poverty; or any number of other writers whose stories haven’t been as visible. (Including white ones and, at time, even men!)

I’ve been offering these new book lists and reviews on my website for the last year, and I’m now thrilled to offer this to more readers with Ms.! These are the 2019 releases about which I am most excited. And it might not look like the list you’re expecting.

In putting this together, I wanted to focus on titles that haven’t been included on other lists from Bustle, Nylon, O Magazine, The Millions, Book Riot, Publisher’s Weekly, etc. (I read them all! My favorite is by R.O. Kwon for Electric Lit.) There are some amazing books coming this year that you’ve already heard about that won’t be on this list—think: The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray, Magical Negro by Morgan Parker, Lisa See’s The Island of Sea Women, On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. While I can’t wait to read these, I’ve left them and other higher-profile books off the list to make room for those that I’m excited about but haven’t seen other places.

I plan to read and review as many of the books on this list as I can over the next year—and will share my thoughts with you right here once I do! I also hope to explain why, as a white woman, I find it absolutely imperative to read the work of women outside of my own identities. But those are future columns…


January

Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine

by Emily Bernard

In this volume, English Professor Emily Bernard includes twelve personal pieces about her lived experience as a Black woman—from growing up and attending university, to marriage and parenthood, and even the random stabbing that encouraged her to share her stories. Dr. Bernard’s belief in the regenerative power of writing is beautifully demonstrated in this memoir of essays. Emily Bernard is on Twitter @emilyebernard and Instagram @bernardemily.

A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland

by DaMaris B. Hill

At exactly the right time, University of Kentucky professor DaMaris B. Hill has written a powerful collection of poems examining the incarceration of Black women. Dr. Hill profiles women such as Lucille Clifton, Eartha Kitt, Ida B. Wells and Assata Shakur and, in poetry, demonstrates the multiple ways Black women experience being bound, hemmed in, fettered, imprisoned. I will be processing this book for a long time. Follow DaMaris Hill on Twitter @damarishill and Instagram @dr_digifeminist.

It Was All a Dream: A New Generation Confronts the Broken Promise to Black America

by Reniqua Allen

Writer, producer and journalist Reniqua Allen has published this timely critical examination of Black millennials in the U.S. who are caught between Civil Rights-era promises and post-Obama realities. Giving Black millennials much-needed airtime, Allen shares their stories alongside keen reporting of how they are playing the game by their own rules—and winning. You can find Reniqua Allen on Twitter @rnz1.

Thick: And Other Essays

by Tressie McMillan Cottom

Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick has already gotten a lot of play—and rightfully so—but I had to include it anyway because of how excited I am to read it. With this book, Dr. Cottom wanted Black women “to feel seen”, and by all accounts, they do after reading this book. Centered on the importance of Black women taking up and holding space—literally, figuratively and all ways in-between—Thick is one of the reads of the year. Follow Tressie McMillan Cottom on Twitter @tressiemcphd and on Instagram @tressiemcphd. See also: Thick the Book.

February

Borders of Belonging: Struggle and Solidarity in Mixed-Status Immigrant Families

by Heide Castañeda

I can’t think of a more timely issue to learn about right now than the struggles of immigrant families, especially when some members have legal status and others do not. In this ethnographic study, Dr. Castañeda explores issues imperative to the safety and health of these immigrant families and the strategies of solidarity they use to survive. Follow Heide Castañeda on Twitter @CastanedaHeide.

Them Goon Rules: Fugitive Essays on Radical Black Feminism

by Marquis Bey, out February 19

Dr. Regina Bradley called Them Goon Rules “a provocative and compelling interdisciplinary trans-­feminist read of American society and culture from a Black perspective,” and Dr. Kai M. Green said, “Bey demonstrates a distinctive radical vulnerability that can only be the result of working in and through a Black queer feminist lens.” If you enjoyed Unapologetic by Charlene Carruthers or Black on Both Sides by C. Riley Snorton, I think you’ll dig this one. You can find Dr. Marquis Bey on Twitter @marquisdbey.

We Set the Dark on Fire

by Tehlor Kay Mejia, out February 26

While not usually a reader of romance, I am excited for one featuring two powerful Latinx women fighting for agency in a fantastical world struggling (much like our own) with issues of immigration, equality and privilege. This YA debut is receiving rave reviews and I am here for it. Find Tehlor Kay Meija on Twitter @tehlorkay and on Instagram @tehlorkay.

March

Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story

by Jacob Tobia, out March 5

I am a big fan of memoirs, especially memoirs that have something to teach—and we have so much to learn about gender! Tobia shares their story in Sissy with candor, wit and sensitivity. Like Vivek Shraya’s I’m Afraid of Men, this is a book we really need. Follow Jacob Tobia on Twitter @JacobTobia and on Instagram @jacobtobia.

New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent

by Margaret Busby, out March 8

Over 25 years ago, Margaret Busby brought together essays from over 200 women writers of African descent in one landmark volume, Daughters of Africa. In 2019, she does it again with this companion of another 200 writers such as Roxane Gay, Nnedi Okorafor, Eve Ewing, Yrsa Daley-Ward and Edwidge Danticat. This book is over 700 pages and I can’t wait to dig into it!

On Intersectionality: Essential Writings

by Kimberlé Crenshaw, out March 12

It’s here! It’s here! The collection of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s writings that we’ve all been waiting for! Crenshaw’s collection of essays and “a sweeping new introduction” will cover over two decades of intersectional feminist writing—and be required reading. Follow Kimberlé Crenshaw on Twitter @sandylocks and check out her non-profit, the African American Policy Forum.

Malawi’s Sisters

by Melanie S. Hatter, out March 15

Selected by Edwidge Danticat, Melanie Hatter won the inaugural Kimbilio National Fiction Prize for Malawi’s Sisters. Inspired by the 2013 shooting of Renisha McBride, the book is focused on the grief and healing of a Black family after their daughter was fatally shot by a white man. Hatter has written a story that Danticat calls, “timely and well executed” and that’s enough for me. Follow Melanie S. Hatter on Twitter @mshatter1.

To Turn the Whole World Over: Black Women and Internationalism

Edited by Keisha Blaine and Tiffany Gill, out March 19

An impressive array of scholars and writers contribute to this volume examining Black women’s engagement internationally. Topics include travel, migration, the arts, politics, activism and more. With Dr. Keisha Blaine and Dr. Tiffany Gill as editors, this collection is bound to be thorough, critical and well-executed. Follow the editors on Twitter @KeishaBlain and @IAmTiffanyGill.

Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good

Written and gathered by adrienne maree brown, out March 19

adrienne maree brown follows her popular Emergent Strategy with this collection of essays focused on how to make activism more pleasurable and healing than stressful and unforgiving. Some of my favorite writers have contributed to this volume including Sonya Renee Taylor and Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Follow all three on Twitter @adriennemaree, @Sonyareneepoet and @alexispauline. (And don’t miss Gumbs in conversation with Ms. scholar and contributor Janell Hobson as part of the Ms. Black Feminist in Public series.)

April

The Affairs of the Falcóns: A Novel

by Melissa Rivero, out April 2

After the Falcóns flee Peru, the family struggles to make it as undocumented immigrants in New York City. In this important debut novel, Melissa Rivero tackles a challenging and pressing issue in accessible, vivid prose. Follow Rivero on Twitter @melissa_rivero and on Instagram on @melissarivero_.

The Body Papers

by Grace Talusan, out April 2

Grace Talusan’s The Body Papers is a challenging, candid memoir of finding meaning and hope in the midst of the challenges of immigration, racism, depression, abuse and cancer. As a fan of memoirs, I look forward to spending time with this Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing. Follow Grace Talusan on Twitter @gracet09.

In the Night of Memory: A Novel

by Linda LeGarde Grover, out April 2

In her latest book, Linda LeGarde Grover (Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe) revisits the Minnesota reservation of her previous novels and focuses on the younger generation of Ojibwe girls. This coming of age story brings together themes of missing women, family and community, complicated histories and collective wisdoms.

Holding the World Together: African Women in Changing Perspective

Edited by Nwando Achebe and Claire Robertson, out April 16

This collection of essays, edited by Dr. Nwando Achebe (professor at Michigan State University and daughter of Chinua Achebe) and Dr. Claire Robertson (professor emerita at The Ohio State University), includes an impressive list of contributors. Topics focus on the myriad of ways women across Africa wield power, act as agents of change and the challenges they face while doing so.

May

The Farm

by Joanne Ramos, out May 7

There’s been some buzz surrounding Joanne Ramos’ The Farm, but I couldn’t resist including it on my list as well. In this, her debut novel, Ramos presents the reader with a world where fertility commands a high price, in more ways than one. This is a story that inspires critical examination of notions of motherhood, immigration and capitalism, in gripping prose.

Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia

by Sabrina Strings, out May 7

With this book, Sabrina Strings presents readers with an historical examination of fatness, Black women and the stigma and fears surrounding fat Black women. Dr. Strings hypothesizes that fat phobia doesn’t stem from health concerns, as so often argued, but instead from a desire to control and oppress by gender, race and class.

June

My Seditious Heart

by Arundhati Roy, out June 4

Here’s another one I’ve been waiting for: a complete collection of Arundhati Roy’s nonfiction writing! At almost 1,000 pages, this volume is a monster. But so is she, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m just going to grab it, slowly make my way through it and chew and digest it, one bite at a time.

We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir

by Samra Habib, out June 4

In this candid memoir, Samra Habib explores family, queerness, faith, tradition, feminism and creativity from her perspective as a Pakistani Muslim. Follow Samra Habib on Twitter @therealsamsam and on Instagram @samra.habib.

If It Makes You Happy and Tell Me How You Really Feel

by Claire Kann, out June 4; by Aminah Mae Safi, out June 11

These are just two of the fantastic LGBTQ titles coming out in 2019. If you enjoy YA titles featuring diverse characters and contemporary coming-of-age themes, these are for you. Find the authors on Twitter @KannClaire and @aminahmae.

The Record Keeper

by Agnes Gomillion, out June 18

I read a few great dystopian novels last year such as The Book of M by Peng Shepherd and Suicide Club by Rachel Heng. This year I hope that books such as The Record Keeper will scratch my itch for unique speculative fiction. Follow Agnes Gomillion on Twitter @agnesgomillion and on Instagram @agnesgomillion.

The Stationery Shop

by Marjan Kamali, out June 18

Marjan Kamali has written an intense story of love and loss set in Iran, against the backdrop of the 1953 coup d’etat. It’s a grand saga spanning decades and countries, centered on a young couple in love. Will they end up together or will circumstances beyond their control keep them apart? Follow Marjan Kamali on Twitter @MarjanKamali.

The Travelers

by Regina Porter, out June 18

Regina Porter has penned this new American saga that spans the 1950s through the Obama presidency. Fans of character-driven historical fiction will enjoy this one. Follow Regina Porter on Twitter @ReginaMPorter and on Instagram @reginamporter.

July

Speaking of Summer

by Kalisha Buckhanon, out July 30

I don’t read many thrillers or mysteries but the description of Speaking of Summer piqued my interest. Critically acclaimed novelist Kalisha Buckhanon presents a story of a missing twin and the sister searching for her throughout Harlem. I’m eager to give this one a try. And I am in love with this cover. Follow Kalisha Buckhanon on Twitter @KalishaOnline.

August

A Pure Heart: A Novel

by Rajia Hassib, out August 6

Raija Hassib has written this gripping contemporary novel about two Muslim sisters who grew up in Egypt and then took very different paths as adults. When one sister is killed, the other uncovers continuous challenging questions in her quest for understanding and closure. Follow Rajia Hassib on Twitter @rajiahassib.

The Memory Police: A Novel

by Yoko Ogawa (Author), Stephen Snyder (Translator), out August 13

Acclaimed Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa has written a frightening new dystopian novel about state surveillance and strange disappearances. The description reminds me of Peng Shepherd’s The Book of M in which people’s shadows begin to disappear along with their memories. I’m intrigued by this book, written by a prolific author who has won every major literary award in Japan.

Trans Love: An Anthology of Transgender and Non-Binary Voices

by Freiya Benson, out August 21

This anthology includes essays about transgender love including familial and romantic love, friendship and self-love. Full of candid voices and stories, this thought-provoking volume is edited by writer and photographer Freiya Benson. Follow Benson on Twitter @scarlettraces.

September

Pet

by Akwaeke Emezi, out September 10

This is the book I am most excited for in 2019. If you read my review of Akwaeke Emezi’s debut adult novel, Freshwater, you would know that it was my top read of 2018. Emezi has a style all their own, filled with edges, curves and corners. While I await their second adult novel due out in 2020, I will devour this, their first YA novel, a tale of monsters and those who deny their existence. Follow Akwaeke Emezi on Twitter @azemezi and Instagram @azemezi, and click here to read the Ms. Q&A with Emezi.

Renia’s Diary: A Holocaust Journal

by Renia Spiegel, out September 17

For the first time this year, the diary of Holocaust victim Renia Spiegel will be published in English. Spiegel was a Jewish Pole who began her diary at age 15 in 1939 when she went to live with her grandparents after the start of the war. Spiegel wrote almost 700 pages before she was killed in 1942. Destined to become a new classic of primary Holocaust literature, the diary relates the life of a teenage girl during the Nazi occupation, in all its raw insights, candid emotions and aching fear. Not to be missed. Learn more at the Renia Spiegel Foundation.

High School

by Sara Quin and Tegan Quin, out September 24

A memoir by Tegan and Sara? Yes, please. That is all. Find Tegan and Sara on Twitter @teganandsara and Instagram @teganandsara.

October

In the Dream House: A Memoir

by Carmen Maria Machado, out October 1

This is Carmen Maria Machado’s follow up to her extremely popular Her Bodies and Other Parties. A memoir of an abusive relationship, In the Dream House challenges readers’ assumptions of safety, lesbian relationships, humor, abuse narratives and memoir. Follow Machado on Twitter @carmenmmachado.

The City We Became

by N. K. Jemisin, out October 8

This is the first book in a new series by N.K. Jemisin, best known for her speculative fantasy works but also last year’s short story collection, How Long ’til Black Future Month? I’m looking forward to getting in on the ground floor of this new series. Follow N.K. Jemisin on Twitter @nkjemisin.

Escaping Exodus: A Novel

by Nicky Drayden, out October 8

Fans of scifi and magical realism will be excited for this spacey standalone novel by Nicky Drayden. Escaping Exodus sounds like a fantastical, save-the-world adventure and I can’t wait for it to take me away! You can find Nicky Drayden on Twitter @nickydrayden.

Who are you excited to read this year? Tell me in the comments!

Karla J. Strand is the Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian for the University of Wisconsin. She completed her doctorate in Information Science via University of Pretoria in South Africa with a background in history and library science, and her research centers on the role of libraries and knowledge in empowering women and girls worldwide. Karla is working on her first book, a history of the Office of the GWS Librarian, due out in 2020. Tweet her @karlajstrand.

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Unfiltered: Why Jessica Abo’s Book is the Perfect Galentine’s Day Pick


“Social media is not the enemy,” Jessica Abo said at a recent gathering of Jewish women in Los Angeles. “Loneliness is the enemy.” In that moment, I sat up straighter in my chair.

As women today celebrate friendship for “Galentine’s Day,” our social media feeds are undoubtedly full of picture-perfect couples and love stories—and Abo’s calls to action to all of us to stop perpetuating the social media cycle of “compare and despair” and make room to “care less about what everyone else is doing and more about what’s good in [our own] life” is as timely as ever.

Lisa Niver and Jessica Abo.

Abo’s book Unfiltered: How To Be As Happy As You Look On Social Media, is a confessional and a revelation. “No one tells you staying positive is a mental exercise that should be classified as a marathon with its own medal,” she writes. “Have you ever noticed how quickly one negative thought can turn into a million? … The next thing you know, you’re on the express train to Negative City with no stops in sight.”

In Unfiltered, Abo opens up to readers about her career as an anchor, her experiences in philanthropy and her own quest to find love and offers worksheets and practical exercises to nudge us along on a journey toward fulfillment and happiness. Whether reader’s take Abo up on her advice to use the notokapp.com or partner with a friend to reach their goals; get inspired by her examples from Teachers Righting History, DreamJobbing.com or TED talks; her book will ultimately make you seek out the best next step for yourself.

One of my own a-ha moments came when Abo discussed her faith. When we met, she explained that she made sure a Menorah was included on the Five-Day forecast during Chanukah while she worked at one broadcast station. “He always had ghosts for Halloween, Santa for Christmas,” she said, “and I wanted to make sure Chanukah would be represented, too.” That small gesture led to a small shift in my own life: I have made an effort since our meeting to post about Shabbat each Friday. If I am in Los Angeles, I attend Shabbat services at temple, but it was not something I ever thought to mention on social media. Abo helped me realize how important it is for girls to see Jewish women in the media, and as adventurers and wanderers.

Abo’s perspective on rejection is also ripe for inspiration. “Sometimes being rejected from something good,” she writes in Unfiltered, “is directing you to something better.” I remembered then how disappointed I was last summer when I wasn’t selected for a three-month project on the East Coast—and that I was later invited on two bucket-list trips, which led to several great story opportunities, and which would eventually take me to the graces of Jane Goodall, Jean Michel Cousteau and Seth Godin. What I was available for by being rejected was much better for me. “Do your own thing on your own terms,” Abo urges readers. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there. Just keep going.”

I often think that my own advancement—and progress for our culture-at-large—is taking too long, but we all have no idea what the “right” amount of time really is. Abo’s focus on happiness, resilience and empathy similarly emerges and intersects, in part, from and with her activism. Her #SeeHer project seeks to lift up women in the media and entertainment; The Female Quotient’s Gender Equity Measurement tool is helping to increase the number of women in advertisements. But these days, her mission is to inspire other people to embrace life’s messy moments and share more of them.

“I launched #LiveUnfiltered as a way for people to join this movement,” she explained. “I would love to see more people post their real, unedited moments. Those are what remind all of us that we’re human and enable us to create more meaningful connections online and in real life.”

One mantra guides Abo and the readers through tales of her hopes, disappointments and successes: “We’re all a work in progress.” If you need a boost of you can do it, you need to buy yourself a copy of this book.

“Whenever you feel lost, remember this is temporary,” she writes. “Whenever you make a mistake, allow yourself to be upset but don’t let this setback consume you for too long. Whenever someone posts about their awesome office view, team, project or product remember you can have that sense of work pride too. Whenever you find yourself in a different place form your friends, remind yourself that outgrowing certain dynamics is part of growing up and life is not a race. Whenever you’re on the edge of breaking up with dating and everyone around you is getting engaged, married and having kids, stay in your lane. Whenever life crushes you with bad news or a new reality, honor your feelings. Whenever you see someone doing something inspiring, think about what keeps you up at night and look into what you can do around that issue.”

Unfiltered feels like a good talk with the one friend who can shake you out of a rut and get you back on track. This Galentine’s Day, I can’t think of a better book club read.

Lisa Ellen Niveris an award-winning travel expert who has been to 101 countries and six continents. Her website, We Said Go Travel, was read in 212 countries in 2018. Lisa has written for AARP, American Airways, Jewish Journal, Smithsonian and Wharton Magazine and is working on a book—Brave Rebel: 50 Adventures Before 50—about her most recent travels and challenges. She also talks travel on KTLA TV and on YouTube, in videos with nearly 900,000 views. In the meantime, you can find Lisa underwater SCUBA diving, in her art studio making ceramics or helping people find their next dream trip. 

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Menstrual Equity’s Red Carpet Moment


A notable outlier among the mostly-male nominees for this year’s Academy Award for Best Director of a Documentary Short is Rayka Zehtabchi, whose work tells a uniquely female story—one which emerged from a transnational feminist coalition fighting for menstrual equity.

Period. End of Sentence. tells the moving story of a quiet revolution taking place in a rural village outside of Delhi, India: In the face of stifling menstrual stigma that has persisted over generations, a woman-led sanitary pad business is shifting culture. Zehtabchi’s film chronicles the installation of a sanitary pad-making machine—and the subsequent empowerment women involved in producing and selling the menstrual products find as they become entrepreneurs and build feminist community.

Boys and girls alike face the camera in Period. and resist even saying the word. Women confess to viewers, with raw honesty, the lengths they went to in order to make do with dirty rags during menstruation before deciding to drop out of school. These stories echo the stark statistics around menstruation in nations like India, where between 25 and 57 percent of adolescent girls miss school or drop out altogether because of their periods and others even commit suicide to escape menstrual stigma. The negative impacts on girls lives—including financial dependence and an increased risk of forced child marriage and teen pregnancy—also extend to their national economies, which lose billions in GDP when girls step out of the classroom.

The woman in Zehtabchi’s Period. decide to confront these gender-based disparities head-on. They name their brand “FLY,” because they want women “to soar.” They go door-to-door selling boxes of pads at lower prices to reluctant customers away from the leering men who stare them down at large marketplaces.

For Zehtabchi, making the film was an opportunity to participate in the project hands-on—and complete a crash-course in documentary filmmaking. Zehtabchi has a background in short films, but had previously worked on narrative projects. She began the project by doing extensive research, and constructing an idea in her mind of where the story might lead. Once she was in India, helping construct the machine and forging relationships with local women, she found herself starting from scratch—and doing her best to tell their story instead.

Zehtabchi tells that story with prowess, weaving a massive movement into a stunning cinematic moment. The film is punctuated by humor, awash with optimism and constructed through stirring imagery and intimate glimpses into the inner worlds of women across the village.

“It’s a very beautiful process,” Zehtabchi explained to me on stage at an event hosted by Netflix in Los Angeles, where we discussed the film and fielded questions from Academy members in the audience. “It changed me as a filmmaker.”

The women featured most prominently in Period.—including Sneha, a young Indian woman who dreams of forging her own path as a police officer in New Delhi; and Gouri Choudari, chair of feminist organization Action India—came to the fore because of their own passion for the project. But their work was, in part, also enabled by the efforts of high school girls half a world away who only appear in the credits.

Members of the Girls Learn International chapter at the Oakwood School in Los Angeles raised the initial money needed to install the machine through vegan bake sales, yoga-thons and two successful Kickstarter campaigns. Their partnerships with Action India, which was founded in 1976 to engage in community-based work locally and insert Indian women’s voices into the feminist movement at-large; and the Feminist Majority Foundation, GLI’s parent organization founded in 1987 to advance women’s equality around the world, eventually led to Period.—and the launch of menstrual equity non-profit The Pad Project.

The young feminists at Oakwood knew from speaking to girls around the world that it wasn’t just the village of Hapur which urgently needed a dose of period pride, and they wanted to amplify the inspirational story they were watching unfold through their work. Switching gears, they became producers—and hired Zehtabchi, then a recent graduate of USC film school, to direct a film about their efforts.

Born in Japan and raised in Southern California, Zehtabchi was an unlikely but perfect fit for the project emerging from a transnational, intergenerational collective of feminist activism. Period. End of Sentence. screened across the U.S. at film festivals throughout the summer and fall of 2018 before being taken on by Netflix. For Zehtabchi, that’s a happy ending: “We wanted something short that people could share,” she explained, “which is why Netflix is a perfect home for it.”

The rest, as they say, will be herstory—and regardless of whether Period. lands Zehtabchi on the Oscars stage, she’s awed by what she and the village of feminists who made the film possible have accomplished. New pad machines are already slated for construction or in construction in villages beyond Hapur. Zehtabchi will remain involved with The Pad Project as a board member. And this week, Netflix viewers around the world will be able to stream the documentary and get involved themselves.

“You don’t often get to see change in real time,” she confided to the Academy members who gathered with us that night, remembering what it was like to return to Hapur six months after the pad machine was installed. “I’m so proud to have had the opportunity to tell this story.”

Join FMF, GLI and Netflix for a screening of Period. End of Sentence. and a Q&A with the women featured in the film and the student activists from Oakwood later this month in Los Angeles!

Carmen Rios is the Digital Editor at Ms. , co-host of TRIGGER HAPPY on Binge Networks and co-founder of Argot Magazine. Her work has also appeared at BuzzFeed, Bitch, Mic, MEL, Everyday Feminism and Autostraddle. Like everyone else in LA, she once had a podcast; unlike everyone else, she stays pretty zen in traffic. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

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The Ms. Q&A: What Alexandra Robbins Learned as an Undercover Greek


It’s been nearly 15 years since author and journalist Alexandria Robbins famously went undercover at an unnamed college to write Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities. The controversial exposé about collegiate women’s experiences in Greek life earned Robbins both critical acclaim (Pledged was one of five of her books to become a New York Times bestseller) and furious criticism (largely from Greek organizations, some of whom banned their members from reading the book).

Nevertheless, Robbins persisted in writing about unknown legends. The Overachievers: The Secret Life of Driven Kids landed her an interview on The Colbert Report; The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School was awarded a Goodreads Choice Award for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year.

Robbins has an intuitive way of foreseeing grit that her peers would do well to strive for. While other journalists shuffle after politicians and celebrities, stirring the gumbo pot of bewildering controversy, Robbins instead chooses to stand back—decoding the big picture before deciding when to zoom in, and pursuing not what might garner the most clicks but what contributes the most imperative knowledge.

Fraternity: An Inside Look at a Year of College Boys Becoming Men is born of that mold—but not in the same way as Pledged. That was a different era, a different lens. Fraternity, an unfiltered, candid examination of toxic masculinity in Greek life, is absolutely a product of the #MeToo movement—yet there are no villains or clear bad guys. Writing an anti-fraternity manifesto would likely have been an infinitely easier choice for Robbins, but it wasn’t the path she took. Instead, she sought successfully to weave hope from chaos.

Robbins spoke to Ms. about patriarchy on campus, going undercover in the Greek system and what it might take to reshape college culture.

Pledged is an infamous investigative exposé of the Greek system. Fraternity seems more educational and straight-forward. What motivated your approach?

I think both books are fast-paced stories that also happen to be educational and straightforward—and surprising, unexpected viewpoints that the public hasn’t heard before. (As of now.) The difference in the books is the way people perceive the subcultures.

In my work, I strive to represent voices that are not heard. When I wrote Pledged, the public knew little about sororities beyond their pearls and purity image, so it came across as an exposé. Today, the public knows little about fraternities besides what they see in the headlines, which misrepresent many of these undergrads.

I wanted to represent what it’s like to be a college guy today, from the point of view of the guys themselves. Because of the times, Fraternity is also a broader look at masculinity in America. Readers—whether they are students, parents, educators or just interested in a good story—haven’t seen this approach to this topic.

I had a journalism professor once refer to those kinds of characters—members of under-represented or misrepresented communities—as “unknown legends.” What draws you to them? 

I like that: “unknown legends.” As a storyteller, I prefer to tell the tales that people haven’t heard before. I try to write them in a way that both makes them root for the real-life “characters” and gives them useful information in the process.

In the case of Fraternity, readers will learn a lot about the pressures and mindsets of boys of all ages—and their thoughts about masculinity, which is particularly crucial to understand in today’s landscape. My favorite kinds of books are the ones you can’t put down because of the story and that you remember after reading because you feel like you’ve learned something important and helpful in the process. Like a smart beach read. So that’s what I strive to write.

How did you find Jake and Oliver, the two “lead” characters in Fraternity? How did you know that they were the right men to follow in this adventure? 

I was looking for good guys: intelligent, nice, genuine and committed to having a positive, healthy fraternity experience. Neither of their stories turned out how I had expected, and there were some unexpected twists and surprises during the year. I also wanted to follow guys who were self-aware and willing to share with readers even the intimate details about their lives. Jake was amazingly candid about not just his fraternity life, but also his quest to conquer his social awkwardness, and even embarrassing details about hookups.

Did you see anything in them that you saw in Vicki, Sabrina, Caitlin or Amy—your “leads” from Pledged?

Finding sources for Pledged was a bit of a scramble, because my plan to openly embed in a sorority house was derailed at the last minute by the chapter advisor. With Fraternity, I had much more time to get to know Jake and Oliver before their year-in-the-life stories began. With that said, I’m fans of all the “main characters” from both books. They are all good people whom readers like, and they were all willing to share everything about their college lives so that readers could get the full picture.

One reason why Pledged became so popular was the undercover method of reporting you used—but that approach would be near-impossible for a woman trying to cover fraternity life. What tactics did you use instead?

Fraternity is also a voyeuristic, fly-on-the-wall look inside Greek houses. It’s similar to Pledged in terms of the stories and secrets, though Fraternity had more unexpected plot twists.

I can’t go into details about the process, but suffice it to say that readers will feel like they’re right there with Jake and Oliver—and there’s a reason for that. I can add that there were some covert techniques involved in the reporting, and that the process took about the same time as it did for Pledged. The storytelling should read similarly, I think.

Do you believe that social media has had a significant impact on fraternity life overall? (Within the actual fraternities, I mean, not viral photos or videos of fraternity members doing problematic things.) 

I believe social media has had a significant impact on all students, whether or not they’re Greek. Social media can take up a ridiculous amount of time when students feel they have to constantly monitor their public image. And it heightens the distinctions between people who are going out often and people who aren’t, which can put pressure on students who think they’re not having the college experience they “should” be having.

Social media posts also exacerbate misperceptions—making students think that their peers are drinking more, hooking up more, and having more fun than they are. So that’s a negative. I’ve seen statistics that show that teenage girls use social media more than teenage boys; the boys are more likely to be gaming. Anecdotally, I’d guess that sororities are more likely to use social media to post selfies and pictures of events while the fraternities are using it more for private threads among brothers.

Do you think there will be as strong of a reaction to Fraternity as there was with Pledged? I worked as a Greek beat my freshman year, and even the most simple stories about fraternities led to about a dozen hate-emails and DMs from fraternity brothers. Have you prepared for possible backlash? 

So far, so good. I think Greeks will be pleasantly surprised by this book, because it’s not the caricature that’s typical of media coverage of these groups—both the stories and the information for parents and students are balanced and written from the perspectives of fraternity brothers themselves. As a broader look at campus masculinity, the book might spark healthy debates and discussions, but I don’t consider that a bad thing.

In any case, I’ve received hate mail before—and there’s not much I can do to prepare for it other than to respect that everyone’s entitled to their opinions, and that sometimes these issues can be polarizing. But the book makes clear that I’m pro-students.

What lessons about masculinity do you hope boys and men should take from Fraternity

The book is written for college and high school students, parents and general nonfiction readers, whether they like a good story or they want to understand more about masculinity today. It’s meant to have broad appeal so that it can be a tool to spark important discussions.

It’s crucial for everyone to understand the pressures, stereotypes and expectations that young men are dealing with in America right now. There are countless ways to be masculine, and an individual’s identity should not be wrapped up in how he or she fulfills a gender role. We need to let young men know that they should feel free to be who they are.

You can connect with Robbins on Twitter @AlexndraRobbins and learn more about her work at alexandrarobbins.com.

Austin Faulds is a student studying journalism at the Indiana University and a feminist-fueled filmmaker. Coffee, cats and punk rock are some of his favorite things.

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The Gender Gaps Shaping the Grammys


Awards season is upon us—and, along with it, much ado about persistent gender gaps in the entertainment industry. New research from the USC Annenberg Inclusivity Initiative serves as a powerful reminder that the Grammy Awards should be no exception—and that the music industry at-large has far to go to get to equal representation across lines of gender and race.

Staggering gaps in women’s representation across the music industry impact the Grammys—and shape culture. (James Munson / Creative Commons

Analysis by USC researchers of 700 chart-topping songs by 1,455 artists found that only 21.7 percent were by women—and only 12.3 percent of the songwriters and 2.1 percent of the producers were women. These numbers show that women make up a significant number of popular recording artists, even if they remain underrepresented—but that the people in control of their content are largely men.

Despite a stronger showing for artists of color—44 percent of the songs analyzed featured a non-white singer, and the recording artists with the most credits were Rihanna, the leading woman with 21 solo credits, and Drake, the leading man with 33—only four women of color producers were listed out of 871 total mentioned in the study. The numbers of songwriters, too, suffered from double-binds of racism and sexism: Max Martin, a white man, led with 39 songwriting credits; Nicki Minaj, who was the leading female songwriter, only had 18.

When 75 woman songwriters and producers were asked by USC researchers to name their biggest barriers to success, 43 percent reported that their skills were discounted by others in the industry. These gender gaps shape the Grammys: From 2013 to 2019, only 10.4 percent of Grammy nominees at-large were women.

The study’s authors outlined solutions that could help the music industry reach parity, including fostering all-female spaces and “creating environments where women are welcome.” The experiences of those same 75 women showed what impact that could have: 39 percent said they had been objectified, 28 percent said their ideas were dismissed and 25 percent said that they were the only woman in the room.

Gaps in gender representation across the music industry don’t just prevent women from advancing or achieving acclaim—they push them out of the studio. Time’s up on that kind of sexism. Instead, it’s time to demand action.

Ashley LeCroy is an editorial intern for Ms. and a passionate self-identified feminist who aims both to advocate and make space for the world’s most marginalized communities. Ashley is currently pursuing a dual degree in Political Science and English with a minor in Anthropology at UCLA—where she writes for FEM, the student-run feminist news magazine, and works on the Art Series staff for the Cultural Affairs Commission.

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Picks of the Week: Three Awkward, Activist, Women-Driven Coming-of-Age Stories Streaming Now


Picks of the Week is Women and Hollywood’s newest resource. We are often asked for recommendations, so each week we’ll spotlight the women-driven and women-made projects—movies, series, VOD releases and more—that we’re most excited about. Sign up for the Women and Hollywood newsletter at womenandhollywood.com to get each week’s pick delivered to your inbox.


Netflix Series of the Week: “One Day at a Time”

Created by Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce

Still from Netflix Series of the Week: "One Day at a Time" 

“One Day at a Time” accomplishes something that is beyond most sitcoms’ abilities: it’s joyfully entertaining and yet incredibly educational and pointed politically. In just the first two episodes of the new season, the Netflix series manages to talk about coming out, male privilege and toxic masculinity. (I didn’t want to watch them all at once—so I could spread out the joy.)

Over the first two seasons, Elena, the teenage daughter played by Isabella Gomez, dealt with her sexuality. She now is finally out. At a family funeral, she spots a cousin who she is convinced is gay and in the closet. Turns out that cousin has been out—and that the whole family even attended her wedding.

The second episode deals with the objectification of women: When mom Penelope (Justina Machado) discovers her son’s private Instagram page and realizes that his version of a joke is actually really hurtful to women, she not only teaches him about toxic masculinity, but brings her lessons to work and schools the sexist co-worker whose behavior has been rubbing off on her son.

Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce have created a gem of a show. “One Day at a Time” uses the specificity of one family of color in Los Angeles to examine the social issues affecting everyone. (Melissa Silverstein)

Season 3 of “One Day at a Time” will be available on Netflix February 8.


Short Documentary of the Week: Song of Parkland

Directed by Amy Schatz

song of parkland still

It’s been less than a year since 17 people died at the hands of an active shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida—but a lot has changed. The gun control movement has been reborn thanks to the teen activists who survived the shooting. There have been massive protests across the country calling on elected officials to put the public’s safety ahead of the NRA’s agenda. Following the events of February 14, 2018, there has been a palpable shift in the way our culture responds to gun violence.

In other words, beautiful things have formed in the tragedy’s aftermath. That’s the main idea of Amy Schatz’s new short HBO doc, Song of Parkland.

The film centers on Marjory Stoneman Douglas drama teacher Melody Herzfeld and her students, who decide to put on their annual children’s musical when the school re-opens. It’s an emotional ordeal, but a cathartic one as well. Herzfeld and her kids believe that the musical, “Yo, Vikings,” will bring some much-needed joy to the community—and they’re right. The show also allows them to express their grief and hope in a creative context.

A memorial for those who lost their lives on Valentine’s Day last year, a testament to resilience and art and a call to action, Song of Parkland reminds us that the personal is inherently political. It’s impossible to watch the Marjory Stoneman Douglas drama department stage their production and not think, “Why didn’t we protect them?” (Rachel Montpelier)

Song of Parkland will air on HBO February 7 at 7 p.m. EST and subsequently be available on HBO GO and HBO NOW.


Hulu Series of the Week: “PEN15”

Created by Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle and Sam Zvibleman

"PEN15" still

If you combined the early-aughts setting of Lady Bird; “Eighth Grade’s” honest, cringe-inducing depiction of middle school; and the surreality, comedy, and lovely central female friendship of “Broad City,” you’d get something akin to “PEN15.” Named after a schoolyard prank, the new Hulu series is about best friends Maya and Anna (played by co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle) navigating seventh grade in the year 2000.

And here’s the best part: Erskine and Konkle are both in their early 30s but are playing 13-year-old versions of themselves. However, the rest of their middle school peers are portrayed by actual adolescents. It’s weird, but it’s also kind of genius. Who among us doesn’t occasionally still feel like an awkward, clueless 13-year-old?

Also wonderful is “PEN15’s” frankness regarding puberty, and what it’s like for girls. Maya and Anna have a burgeoning interest in sex and thongs, but they also still enjoy playing with dolls and watching Ace Ventura ad nauseum. Even though they’re played by adults, these characters are recognizable, relatable and among pop culture’s best depictions of girls on the verge of womanhood. (RM)

All episodes of “PEN15” Season 1 will be available on Hulu February 8.

Women and Hollywood educates, advocates and agitates for gender diversity and inclusion in Hollywood and the global film industry. The site, founded in 2007 by Melissa Silverstein, sets the standard, defines the conversation, fuels coverage and reinforces messages throughout the specialized and mainstream media to call for gender parity on a daily basis. Follow W&H at @WomenaHollywood and Melissa @MelSil.

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The Ms. Q&A: How Reema Zaman Found Healing in Her Own Story


When Reema Zaman began writing the book that would become her fierce debut memoir, I Am Yours, she endeavored to assuage the personal pain and despair that emerged from her experiences with intimate partner abuse, sexual violence and anorexia. She thought that becoming the author of her own story would not only clear the path for her own healing, but perhaps provide healing for anyone else who needed it.

The “shared memoir,” in bookstores February 5, embodies a revolutionary act of compassion. Though uncannily timely and resonant in this era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, the lasting grace of I Am Yours resides in her exquisite and lyrical voice, at once tender and searing, that bravely seeks to portray the timeless complexities of the female condition and speak truth to power. Her writing—woven out of threads pulled from her Bangladeshi childhood; her struggles to meet impossible standards of beauty and perfection in her former career as model and actress; her painful wounds carved from emotional abuse and sexual violence; and her courage in reclaiming her life, and voice, as her own—unpacks fraught and complex themes with piercing precision and eloquence. 

Zaman has launched her literary career to the sound of widespread critical praise. “I was enthralled by this beautiful book,” Cheryl Strayed, celebrated author of the bestselling memoir Wild, said of I Am Yours, “from the first page to the last.” 

The chorus singing praises in anticipation of Zaman’s memoir is a testament to the transformative nature of her story and the aching beauty of her words—and for this installment of the Ms. Q&A, she spoke to another author, Melanie Brooks. Zaman opened up about the journey that became I Am Yours, the power of stories as agents of empathy and who she hopes hears her warrior cry.

Reema Zaman’s memoir I Am Yours explores her experiences with intimate partner abuse, sexual violence and anorexia.

The story that fills the pages of I Am Yours of your resolve to liberate your voice from its place of silence resounds with so many of the conversations that are dominating our current and unprecedented cultural narrative. Your courageous and unflinching portrayal of your experiences with sexual assault, an abusive marriage and anorexia are necessary and relevant. Did the themes inherent in this particular cultural moment influence your writing?

This book began as a response to my own spirit, not a cultural movement. I began the writing process in 2013, feeling that very few people would want to read of my experiences with trauma. When I researched agents in 2014, many of them specifically wrote “will not read about terrorism or rape,” so I had to figure out how to write about trauma in a way that could retain the reader’s attention.

In acting, we’re taught the two things that retain attention are comedy and beauty. I knew if I wanted to go deep, I couldn’t use humor as my audience retention. It had to be beauty. I learned to write poetic language because it helps the reader stay inside the pain with me, as I guide them through the dark ocean to reach the other side of healing, closure and strength. Beauty in any form helps soften the cruelty of life.

I started writing the book on November 28, 2013, and I was working on it until October 16, 2018, right up to the moment it went to press. Over these five years, I’ve evolved, society has evolved, so the manuscript evolved. From Trump’s election, to the #MeToo movement, to the Kavanaugh hearings, I’ve returned to the manuscript to become more deliberate and forthright about the political resonances of this personal story, to be more articulate in the topics I explore—healing and rising from sexual assault, navigating intimate partner abuse, understanding the disease that is anorexia and the social constructs that are tied to its roots, understanding patriarchy, understanding how a woman reclaims and uses the power of her voice. I’ve realized that although I didn’t ask for my experiences, I can serve this cultural moment in an impactful way.     

In I Am Yours, you allow your readers an intimate look at your process of reclaiming your voice and we become part of your writing journey in a meta way. Was talking about writing your story as you were writing it a conscious choice from the start?

Talking about authoring one’s voice felt like the perfect metaphor for a woman coming to life—especially with my background as an actress where all the words I ever spoke were the ones assigned to me. In my past life, I didn’t feel like a disembodied voice—I felt like a dis-voiced body. The call to action, Only I author my life, is pertinent to us all, but it felt vividly significant for myself, a woman who had been ritually silenced by so many forces.

To reclaim my body and my voice, I had to speak myself into being. It felt logical to parallel the journey of the writing process with my journey into independence. In memoir, there is a penultimate journey, and different memoirs will use different adventures as the spine of that journey. In Eat, Pray, Love it’s a geographic journey—Italy, India, Indonesia—or the Pacific Crest Trail in Wild, another physicalized journey.

I’d already gone through a physical adventure in my first 30 years—through the challenging terrain of Bangladesh, Thailand, New York—and the final act was one of homecoming. Homecoming to my mother and homecoming to my body and my voice. The most powerful homecoming and the most accurate metaphor would be writing this book. 

So much of your book’s beauty lies in its form. You shape it as a love letter to yourself—to your ever-present inner voice—and you offer your readers snapshots of pivotal moments in your life’s chronology that both nourished and starved her. Did the writing take that form initially? Were there intentional decisions that you made along the way to develop that structure?   

One of the huge accidental benefits for the book and for my voice is that I don’t have any formal training. I had never read a memoir with the intent, “Now I’m going to use this to learn how to structure my own memoir.” The shape of I Am Yours comes from that complete openness of having no preconceived notion of how one should structure a book if one wants to succeed.

I’ve kept a journal since I was 10 yours old, but it wasn’t until I was married that I began to write essays, daily, to make sense of the gaslighting in that relationship. The writing was my inner voice’s survival instinct, the words sent as its last dying gasps to stay alive. In my marriage there was less and less opportunity for me to speak. The more abusive he grew, the more insistently my inner voice began to write, my brain and my soul intuiting that by making sense of what was happening, I’d give myself the nourishment needed to stay alert. The writing gave me the strength to speak back to him, to strategically detach from that life, from that man. Typing those essays gave me self-esteem and a sense of solidarity, even if the solidarity was my voice and I on the page. It was enough. The page and my voice were the only friends I had.

I was 28 when he and I separated. I realized that as my writing had been so crucial in my freedom from him, perhaps, if I developed those words into a book, it could hold power for others. As an actress, to prepare for a role, I’d create a timeline of the pivotal events in a character’s life. This backstory of the character, with quintessential scenes from her childhood and young adulthood, wouldn’t be in the actual play but would inform my portrayal of her.

After my ex-husband and I separated, I mapped the timeline of my own life. Age by age, I went through my entire history, asking: how did I become this woman? On the page, I saw my truth: from girlhood to late twenties, the list of the formative wounds I had encountered in life that resulted in my silence, and the cruelties I had witnessed and sensed happening to other girls and women in my family, in school, on the subway, out in the world. I saw so clearly that the silencing of a person’s voice will result in a splicing between the authentic self and the inner wounded child.

At the bottom of the timeline I wrote: “I won’t be sliced any longer. I need to align.” It was a warrior cry for myself, my refusal to live as a narrative of pain. I realized this was the story I was born to tell: the silencing of a girl, the reclamation of a voice.

I kept that timeline in the final book–it’s the axis on which a woman’s life swings. From there, my daily assignment was to wake up and write, age by age. Today, “I am 3,” and I’d write that section to completion. Tomorrow, “I am 4.” The following day, “I am 5,” and so on. The book developed chronologically; I healed chronologically. I chose that simple, straightforward structure so that any reader can heal along with the narrative—the ages and wounds in their life that are similar to mine.

I wrote I Am Yours for anybody who has gone through something similar, and for people who haven’t gone through a similar experience but want to become more empathic and aware of what happens within that experience, so that we can evolve as a society. Publishing a book is a huge responsibility. The biggest goal and purpose of this book is to provide medicine: a call to action, an invitation of empathy, a healing balm.

You’ve published excerpts of this memoir leading up to its release, you’ve performed publicly some of its scenes, you’ve spoken to different audiences about its themes and content, so you’ve already received feedback from people who are reading or hearing your story and identifying with your circumstances. What have those responses meant to you?

It’s been incredible. I’m feeling a deep sense of connection and sense of place in this world from hearing how my words have been empowering for so many strangers—people who are no longer strangers because once you’ve read my work, we become family. To hear their loving praise gives me such pride and gratitude, and the affirmation that this is precisely what I was born to do. I’m so honored to serve others in their journey into their bravest, boldest self. To speak is a revolution. To know that my voice is now igniting others is the most profound fulfillment.

You are about to send your child into the world with the launch of I Am Yours on February 5th. Can you describe what this moment is like for you?   

The metaphor of a book being like one’s child is accurate, but for me, my memoir was also my parent. Writing this book helped me re-parent myself, and it was definitely the thing that kept me alive.

I Am Yours healed my anorexia—which is no small feat—and it gave me a new ability to live without existing inside a slow demise. Releasing this book into the world feels so right because I don’t need it anymore. It doesn’t need me anymore. That’s really beautiful. I’m a grateful, lucky conduit for this book. My job has been to carry it, protect it, give it all the nourishment I possibly can—and now I’m overjoyed to let it travel. It’s been an honor to be its parent and its child, and now I have to let it do the work it’s meant to.

My hope is it arrives in the hands of those who need it—to midwife them through their healing, to hold their hand as they navigate their trauma, to be their embrace through any heartbreak. To be their person in the dark.

That’s one of the final lines, and one of my favorites, in the book: “You have been my person in the dark. Perhaps I have been yours. How lovely that being human soothes the ache of being human.”

Melanie Brooks is a professor at Northeastern University, Merrimack College and Nashua Community College and a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in publications including the Washington PostCreative Nonfiction, the Huffington PostModern Loss, Hippocampus, Bustle and Solstice Literary Magazine, and she is the author of Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma. Melanie is completing a memoir, All the Things I Couldn’t Say, about the lasting impact of living with the secret of her father’s HIV status. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband, two children and yellow Lab.

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The post The Ms. Q&A: How Reema Zaman Found Healing in Her Own Story appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.



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Picks of the Week: Complex, Female-Led Stories Come to Life in “Russian Doll” and “Daughter of Mine”


Picks of the Week is Women and Hollywood’s newest resource. We are often asked for recommendations, so each week we’ll spotlight the women-driven and women-made projects—movies, series, VOD releases and more—that we’re most excited about. Sign up for the Women and Hollywood newsletter at womenandhollywood.com to get each week’s picks delivered to your inbox.


This Week’s Pick: “Russian Doll” (Series)

Created by Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne and Amy Poehler

Like Groundhog Day and Happy Death Day before it, Netflix’s “Russian Doll” sees its lead character re-living the same day over and over. Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) can’t escape her 37th birthday celebrations alive. She gets hit by a car, falls down stairs and finds death lurking behind pretty much every corner. The gifted video-game engineer is determined to find the bug in the universe’s code that brings her death—and re-birth—day after day.

A surreal story about mortality, morality and what it means to be human, “Russian Doll” reveals layer after layer in each 30-minute episode. Hilarious and tragic by turns, creators Lyonne, Amy Poehler and “Sleeping with Other People” writer-cum-director Leslye Headland go far beyond “Russian Doll’s” gimmicky-sounding premise and take it to unexpectedly deep and dark places.

The series is a great showcase for Lyonne’s talents—she also co-wrote “Russian Doll” and directed an episode. (All eight installments are helmed by women. Joining Lyonne behind the camera are Headland and her “But I’m a Cheerleader” director Jamie Babbit.) Plus, “Orange Is the New Black” fans will be happy to see that some of the multi-hyphenate’s cast-mates from the prison dramedy have come along for the ride. (Laura Berger)

“Russian Doll” premieres on Netflix February 1.


This Week’s Pick: Daughter of Mine

Directed by Laura Bispuri; Written by Laura Bispuri and Francesca Manieri

Sometimes it’s hard to watch, but Daughter of Mine is a film filled to the brim with empathy. The story centers around a girl about to turn 10, the woman she believes is her mother and the biological mother who just wasn’t ready for parenthood. Laura Bispuri’s second narrative feature explores love, maturity and desperation—and refuses to judge any of its characters.

Tina (Valeria Golino) has raised Vittoria (Sara Casu) pretty much since her birth, when Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher) gave her up. Tina and Vittoria are incredibly close, but things aren’t perfect: Tina’s entire identity is wrapped up in her motherhood and Vittoria has no friends. Angelica is a free spirit who’s always short on money and is as passionate about life as she is volatile.

Facing the prospect of leaving town due to a cash flow problem, Angelica decides to get to know Vittoria while she still can. Vittoria is quickly smitten: she sees Angelica as the fun, worldly older sister she’s always wanted, a person to have fun with who isn’t her mom. As Vittoria and her birth mother grow closer, Tina feels more and more threatened—and frightened she’s losing her daughter. Angelica, however, becomes more and more maternal toward Vittoria, but she knows deep down she doesn’t have the capacity to raise a child.

The best part of Daughter of Mine is that there is no hero or villain. Instead, Tina, Angelica, and Vittoria are all just human. As you watch the emotional desires and needs of these three characters collide, you wish there was some way both mothers could have Vittoria. And you pull for Vittoria to receive the stability and care she requires and the friendship she craves. There’s no right answer, and that’s why Daughter of Mine sticks with you. (Rachel Montpelier)

Read Women and Hollywood’s interview with Laura Bispuri.

Daughter of Mine opens in NY and LA February 1. Find screening info here.

Women and Hollywood educates, advocates and agitates for gender diversity and inclusion in Hollywood and the global film industry. The site, founded in 2007 by Melissa Silverstein, sets the standard, defines the conversation, fuels coverage and reinforces messages throughout the specialized and mainstream media to call for gender parity on a daily basis. Follow W&H at @WomenaHollywood and Melissa @MelSil.

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The post Picks of the Week: Complex, Female-Led Stories Come to Life in “Russian Doll” and “Daughter of Mine” appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.



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