Book Review: The Wrong Way to Save Your Life by Megan Stielstra

Review by Julia Brown.

Megan Stielstra’s collection of essays The Wrong Way to Save Your Life (Harper Perennial, 2017) sets out to document personal stories of fear across the span of the author’s life. She writes about being a child, having a child, and postpartum depression. She writes about being a college student, teaching college students, and teaching college faculty. She writes about gun violence, fires, and the political climate. She writes about deer hearts and the human heart. Expertly weaving together a series of interconnected stories, Stielstra, a creative nonfiction professor at Northwestern University and author of Once I Was Cool, captures readers’ attention with vivid details, relatable narratives, and a raw honesty that permeates the entire collection.

32600746Stielstra opens with a short essay that explains how this collection came to be, and introduces some of the stories to come. From the beginning, Stielstra remains hopeful, saying, “I want to believe we’re moving forward as a society and this surge of bigotry and violence is the final kick and scream, a last-ditch effort to hang onto the white patriarchal systems that favor the privileged. If we’re going to make it we have to look at the fear” (10). She examines this fear through her own experiences as a young woman who dealt with objectifying employers, her conversations about race with her best friend, her journey of learning that her writing is political, and the human heart.

In exploring the human condition, Stielstra asks her father, a retired school administrator and a hunter, to send her deer hearts to dissect-something she had only done in a high school science course. By learning about the heart physically, Stielstra posits that she might learn something about the heart metaphorically. She details text message and Facebook conversations about the hearts, conversations began over drinks with friends, and admits that she is unsure of the significance of the hearts and what questions the dissections will answer. Stielstra does gain insight from the self-admittedly odd endeavor, stating, “Ever since I started this thing with the deer hearts, everyone wants to talk about meat. About butchers. About dissection and hunting and organ donation and blocked arteries and invasive surgery—our battered aging bodies, so beautiful and mortal. I love these stories, how one opens the door for another” (46). The deer hearts open doors to Stielstra’s accounts of her father’s heart disease and her fears surrounding his health, as well as doors to difficult discussions of gun violence and gun laws. While Stielstra was in college, her high school science teacher brought a gun to school and murdered an administrator, whom she feared might be her father. Though Stielstra’s father was not on campus at the time of the shooting, her initial fear leaves her questioning her own general safety and the safety of her loved ones. Continue reading “Book Review: The Wrong Way to Save Your Life by Megan Stielstra”

Book Review: Reproductive Justice by Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger

Review by Anna Clutterbuck-Cook

Activist Loretta J. Ross (Co-founder, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective)  and historian Rickie Solinger (Pregnancy and Power) have co-authored an introduction to the concept of reproductive justice as “a contemporary framework for activism and for thinking about the experience of reproduction” (9). In stepping outside of the pro-choice/anti-abortion dichotomy and narrowly-defined notion of reproductive “rights” and “choices,” reproductive justice theory and practice asserts that our individual decisions about whether and how  to bear children — and our parenting of those children — are profoundly shaped and constrained by the political contexts in which we live. Since the early 2000s, the labor of those in SisterSong and their allies has transformed how activists on the progressive left think and talk about abortion rights and reproductive health; even if you are not aware of the roots of this movement, if you support access to abortion you have likely encountered and adopted the language reproductive justice to articulate and defend your position.

9780520288201Reproductive Justice: An Introduction (University of California Press, 2017) provides an excellent and accessible history of reproductive justice as both a set of ideas and as political practice. They begin with a tour of reproductive experiences in American history — experiences shaped by race, by class, by age, sex, sexuality, and gender identity. Those interested in a more in-depth examination of this history can look to Rickie Solinger’s previous work as well as the endnotes for further reading. Chapter two turns specifically to the ideas that drive reproductive justice activism: the importance of storytelling, intersectionality, human rights, and a recognition of the ways systemic oppression constrains individual agency. “At the heart of reproductive justice,” the authors write, “is this claim” that:

All fertile persons and persons who reproduce and become parents require a safe and dignified context for those most fundamental human experiences. Achieving this goal depends on access to specific, community-based resources including high-quality healthcare, housing and education, a living wage, a healthy environment, and a safety net for times when these resources fail (9).

Chapter three considers what is required for human beings to manage their fertility and what it means to reframe fertility management as a fundamental part of human agency, a human right for all people. When we understand reproductive agency as an inalienable human right, we can more clearly understand how structural and social inequality and oppression shape individual reproductive lives. The right to parent is equally important in this landscape as the right not to parent, and reproductive justice activists bring our attention to the myriad ways that women and other individuals capable of gestation and birth have been discouraged or coerced into infertility or separated from their children. Poor parents, parents of color, indigenous parents, parents with disabilities, young parents — women in certain communities are coded as bad mothers and policed in or prohibited from their mothering. Chapter four considers these injustices, and what might be done to address them as a society. The epilogue brings in voices from six women-of-color-led organizations that are doing reproductive work on the ground in the United States today. Continue reading “Book Review: Reproductive Justice by Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger”

Book Review: Politics of the Pantry by Emily E. LB. Twarog

Review by Emily J.H. Contois

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a housewife as “a married woman in charge of a household.” Politics of the Pantry: Housewives, Food, and Consumer Protest in Twentieth-Century America (Oxford University Press, 2017) questions this interpretation of housewives as tied to the home, conservative, traditional, and solely family-oriented. Politics of the Pantry is the first book from Emily E. LB. Twarog, Assistant Professor of Labor Studies and American History in the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She examines how mostly white working class women utilized “housewife” as a political identity that recognized domestic expertise, fueled local activism, inspired national movements, and launched the political careers of multiple women. Arguing that “domestic politics as a political strategy highlights the inextricable links between labor, community, home, and the market” (2), Politics of the Pantry tracks the rise and fall of the citizen housewife, particularly through activism on issues of food price, quality, and safety.

35259276Twarog begins with the meat boycott of 1935. Throughout the twentieth century, consumers organized around meat more than any other food, as it strongly symbolized class status, American identity (particularly for immigrants), and masculinity. Politics of the Pantry next examines price controls during and after World War II, efforts led by women’s labor union auxiliaries, which leveraged a confluence of resources from organized labor and New Deal government agencies. Subsequent chapters address the postwar period (when many labor unions removed support for women-led consumer organizing) and the rise of the Cold War, a period during which women’s political activism faced strong opposition. Concluding with the consumer protests of the 1960s and 1970s, Twarog addresses the suburbanization of meat boycotts and how “housewife” was eventually rendered “a dirty word” (111) and an enemy of the feminist cause, resulting in a “set of lost allies” (8). She writes:

A marriage of domestic politics and the 1970s women’s movement…created an environment in which women were seen as more than housewives. The flip side of this progress, however, was the end of an era of the citizen housewife and collective action of behalf of domestic politics. This was particularly true as a wave of conservatism swept through the country giving way to a reframing of the housewife as an ambassador of conservatism and traditional family values (110-111).

In addition to challenging the accepted history of “housewife” as a sociopolitical identity, Politics of the Pantry asserts that the suburbs “were not bubbles of complacency and homogeneity” (80), nor were they full of inactive, fretful housewives trapped by “the problem that has no name.” Similarly, supermarkets were neither a housewife’s paradise nor a location of leisure, but rather a public space for socializing, protest, and testing women’s political voices (82). Continue reading “Book Review: Politics of the Pantry by Emily E. LB. Twarog”