What the F I’ve Been Reading

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Listed below are some of my favorite feminist reads (mostly novels and poetry collections), lovingly labeled so because of their exploration of intersecting identities, admiration for women, and ability to emotionally affect me.

  1. White Teeth by Zadie Smith: What I liked about this book was its in-depth look into multiple characters’ minds through different generations. I personally felt like this book had a lot of feminist relevancy because of its exploration into multiple cultures and how they intertwine. Because it focuses on two families and is set in a modern-ish London (the book was published in 2001), readers get to see the perspectives of many different characters who are unique in their personalities, thoughts, and experiences. White Teeth is one of my favorites because Zadie Smith so excellently weaves the families together without anything feeling like a convenient artifice.
  2. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine: This book is a series of poems, often in prose style, that focus on the different kinds of racial aggressions experienced by black Americans. Often accompanied by startling images and pieces of art, the poems highlight the omnipresence of racism in everyday situations. Its attention to race is particularly important because of its emphasis on the need for intersectionality. The line that sticks out to me the most is “Because white men can’t/police their imagination/black men are dying.”
  3. Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates: I just really like this book because it’s centered around a bunch of badass teens weaponizing their femininity in order to be independent in the 1950’s. I thought the relationships between the women in this book and how they work together to be a new kind of family was powerful, even though many problems occur because of it.
  4. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: This book is one of my absolute favorites. As a heartbreaking portrait of a family struck by tragedy, it tells the story of a Chinese American family whose oldest daughter has just been found drowned in the local lake. The way in which Ng writes allows her to flawlessly switch perspectives, detailing the family’s history and each character’s struggle with their multipole identities.
  5. Jane: A Murder by Maggie Nelson: This is a hybrid poetry/prose/diary book that explores the murder of the author’s aunt in 1969 Ann Arbor. While the topic is a brutal one, the feeling that pervades the book is one of important woman-ness and the love between women and family members.
  6. A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar: This is another amazing book that explores sexuality, religion, and the intersection of identity. It’s a great “coming of age story” that follows Nidali, who is born to an Egyptian-Greek mother and Palestinian father, as she moves from Kuwait to Egypt to America and discovers herself along the way. While it has some heavy topics spread throughout, its tone is lighthearted, which is a combination that makes it difficult to put down.
  7. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf: A classic feminist manifesto. Goodreads describes the essay as “noted in its argument for both a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy.” Originally published in 1929, it discusses how women have been systematically excluded from writing spaces because they were denied the same educational exposure as men.
  8. Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter by J. Nozipo Maraire: This novel, written in the form of letters, feels steeped in the love between a mother and daughter across time. The chapters focus on different things ranging from gender inequality to colonialism and Zimbabwean freedom fighters to relationships within the family. The author is able to weave present-written letters with stories of the past and wrap them up as small lessons or anecdotes that are still relevant even though this book was written over twenty years ago.

Miranda Hency

Blog Editor, What the F Magazine

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Overstimulation

IMG_0434Overstimulated

by people and noise and faces and smells

and suddenly he appears,

drowning out the fast paced blur with his

Sharpness.

 

Overstimulated once more

but now all her senses are him.

As he leads her away,

she is unfazed and stumbles along.

After all, this is just a dream,

Right?

 

Wrong.

 

Because it was real and it happened.

And it was not nice and pleasant as imagined

in girlish fantasies of true love.

And it was not sexy and passionate as described

in cheesy romance novels read at the beach.

 

But it was real and it happened.

Though she tried to protest

though she wishes it hadn’t

though she will try to forget.

 

Wrong.


Sareena Kamath

Art by Erica Liao, Art Director, What the F Magazine 

And She Lived Happily Ever After

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As a little girl, all I wanted was to be Ariel. She had red hair, she loved the water, and she ended up with a gorgeous prince who saved her life. I had red hair, I lived on a lake, and I soon realized that all I wanted was a gorgeous prince of my own to save me.

***

In middle school, I found a prince with dark hair and olive skin. He played trombone and lived off of Life Savers mints. But he was raised in a family that never missed church and was well-educated on the Bible and their faith. My family and I never went to church. He was a Baptist and I was a “I don’t really know what to believe.”

We sat on a hill surrounded by blades of grass and warm sunshine as he taught me about how the world was created and what he believed. But while I obsessed over learning a religion so a boy could love me, he and his family decided that trying wasn’t enough for them.

***

My heart ached time and time again when the olive skinned prince or my beautiful best friend or any other peers showed me signs of doubt, disappoint, or distaste. My mom preached that you shouldn’t care what others think of you, but my feelings towards myself were built on the approval of others.

As I was tearing myself down brick by brick for not being enough, I became a mother figure to my group of friends: giving advice, a shoulder to cry on, any sort of comfort. I gave away my bricks to build up others.

***

I first became close to my high school sweetheart because I was setting him up with another girl. But when she found out that he was atheist, she was no longer interested. I was still a self-proclaimed “I don’t know what to believe,” so we hit it off and started dating.

We were a couple that you could spend time with and not feel uncomfortable around. We fit together like two puzzle pieces, building each other up with our own bricks, bringing our bricks together and supporting each other. Our friend groups started to merge, and we danced the night away at five high school dances. In the two years we were together, I was convinced he was my prince. He was ready to save me.

But as our relationship started to crumble from distance and stress, I couldn’t give enough bricks away from myself to rebuild our life together. After a period of on-again, off-again with this boy, I realized he wasn’t my prince.

***

My mom and dad were both born on September 20th, 1960. My mom had a crush on my dad in the ninth grade, they starting dating in high school, and they have been together ever since.

My parents went to the same college, but my dad transferred to a different school after just one year. My mother told me that she was thankful he did. She said that she loved him and always has, but she knew that if he would have been at school with her, she wouldn’t have ventured out to meet new friends, do new things, or done as well in school. She said that she missed him when he was gone, but she was able to grow as an individual instead of just grow as a couple.

My mom has been in a relationship with my father for almost forty years, but she is the most independent person I know.

***

I have learned a lot of new things in college. I’ve learned things through my classes: art history, design principles, anthropology. I’ve learned things through student organizations: I like to have control, organization is the key to life, loving what you do is important. And I’ve learned things through living on my own: I need alone time as much as I need time with friends, I can’t cook, I don’t need a prince.

Let’s say it again: I don’t need a prince.

I grew up wanting a mermaid tail and to breathe underwater and to be loved by a boy who would do anything for me. That was the ultimate goal. That was what would determine if my life was meaningful or not.

But my mother – a woman who is a vital part of the company she works for, a woman who would drop anything and everything to ensure I was happy, a woman who has been a committed wife for years – showed me that you don’t need someone else to make you happy. Happiness can come from your hobbies, your work, your family, your friends. You can build yourself with bricks from many different areas, not just a prince that hands them to you.

And if a prince comes, let him. He can have the dark hair that goes with my red, or he can have the awkward human legs that go with my mermaid-like swimming abilities. He can give me bricks and I can give him some too, but my life doesn’t need to be built on his bricks, because I have my own.


Paige Wilson

Assistant Art Director, What the F Magazine

My Eggs, My Body, My Choice

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When I was in kindergarten, someone started a rumor that if you eat the black watermelon seed, you will grow one in your stomach. I remember frantically looking around the classroom, trying to recall every bite I had taken, worried that I was going to grow my very own pink and green baby. I didn’t think that my bones could house another body, I didn’t think I could do right by that kind of responsibility.

Four months ago, I sat on the cold bathroom tiles at a local Starbucks, after abruptly leaving class because my body had been identifying all the signs of pregnancy. After riding the bus alone, and buying a pregnancy test alone, I set a timer and patiently waited as my thoughts raced for what felt like the longest three minutes of my life.

Two minutes and forty-three seconds,

how can I harbor another life? I can barely survive myself, I don’t even have meals on a regular basis and I swear to god the only thing I know how to cook are eggs. Eggs. Hard boiled eggs, yellow and white, and eggs that I’ve fried, the eggs that travel and live inside of me. These are my eggs and this is my choice.

Two minutes and ten seconds,

is the father going to stick around? Should he be here with me, should I have told him about this possibility? This is not the next nine months of my life, this is the next eighteen years.

One minute and thirty-four seconds,

the debate on abortion is not about religion, regardless of all the different belief systems, you cannot revoke a person’s right to their own flesh and bones despite your own personal moral code. The United States supports not only the freedom of religion, but the freedom from religion; and because it has the separation of church and state, you should not get to dictate what I do with my body.

One minute and three seconds,

I believe that if you do not have a period, do not ovulate or go through menopause, if you do not nourish a being that lives and grows, then you should not get to take away the rights of those that do.

Thirty seconds,

abortions are going to happen regardless of the laws we make, so I think we should focus on keeping it safe. If cis men could get pregnant, birth control would be in vending machines, but instead we have women who have to march for the rights to their own body.

Two seconds,

I have never been more excited to see that single pink bar, to know that I didn’t consume the wrong seed, that there is nothing fostering a world inside of me.

I believe that the debate on abortion is not about anybody other than those directly involved. A person should always have complete say over what happens to their own body. And although I’m not sure what I would have done, had that one pink bar became two, these are my eggs, this is my body, and it is my choice.


Sydney Bagnall

Layout Editor, What the F Magazine

Art by Paige Wilson, Assistant Art Director, What the F Magazine

God Forbid

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I was never allowed to be angry
or at least, I didn’t want to be
how could I tell myself that I was superior
if I was just like everyone else?
I used the bible as a weapon
and I wasn’t angry

and I wasn’t lost

“why do I still feel empty?”

God created the world in a week
while my perception of it changed more gradually
from an explosion to a new world
a bang, and then slow realization
bruised hands healing
a dusty bible on a bookshelf
I am selfish
and my thoughts are mine

God, has it been 4 months?
God, has it been 4 months?

In July, everything was different
or, it was that month that birthed a difference
the staircase was a new chapel
their kisses a prayer
and holding hands made it all worth it
they’re Sodom and I’m Gomorrah
and I’d ask for forgiveness but that would be misleading
because God, they’re worth it
my new communion
and maybe I should feel like something is missing
but it’s more like
something has been found

I’m still in church but my heart is 1,128 miles away
I am going to heal and
forgive myself
so no one else has to
how can I be forgiven
for something I’m not sorry about?

I am allowed to be angry now
I am a tornado in an empty field
I am an earthquake building
I am a slow fall of rain
I am in love
I want my voice to be a hurricane
my tears a rapid that takes everyone with me
I want my pain to be felt
because this time I am not the one repenting


Poem submitted by anonymous

Art by Paige Wilson: Assistant Art Director, What the F Magazine

On Sex Edith by Edith Zhang

When I was ten, I saw a penis for the first time

It was a diagram in my health textbook
I was innocent like a blank piece of paper
with the male reproductive system pasted onto it
because that’s what I learned in middle school.

But like most aspects of middle school, I tried to forget it all

Sex Ed was full of people asking questions like
Isn’t a wet dream just when you wet the bed?
How exactly do you put on a condom, not that I’m planning on using one, but like, how?

When I was eighteen
I went to a frat party
And somebody grabbed me from behind

Now I forgot most of what I learned in sex ed
But I think he had what is called a ‘boner’
But knowing what it’s called did not help me in that situation
Because despite
Acing every genitalia test we got
I’m no sex expert
I have slept with

Stuffed animals
Still order happy meals
Still get hit on by overachieving middle school boys
All I know is diagrams
And how to put a condom on

A banana

And that having sex makes babies
And I don’t want babies
But this feeling still is really appealing
And I don’t want to tell you to stop
Even though I know I’m going to regret it in the morning

That’s what happens when you hit puberty
Or rather, when puberty hits you
In the face,
With a hammer,
While screaming
I’LL EFF YOU UP

Your body changes and you feel awkward and sad
Or your body doesn’t change and you feel awkward and sad

When I was five
I thought porn was shorthand for popcorn
that horny meant
with horns
and balls were for pokemon

My best friend was the boy next door
We used to lie on his creaky old hammock swinging side by side, until we were synchronized, going through the back and forwards, ups and downs together
To a five year old that’s called marriage
Love wasn’t defined by kissing, grinding, dating, or sex
It was just having somebody to share snacks and trading cards with,
I think sometimes we forget that not everything changes when you get older
Sex isn’t necessary to make love
Slugs can have sex
And I think we’re at least more complicated than slugs

I love my friends, family, tumblr, cats, dogs, ice cream, Harry Potter, comics
If loving is so easy for me why is sex so hard?
Why did I feel so easy when he got hard?
Do I even want to do this?

I have so many questions
That I cannot ask a teacher
The only way to learn is to do it
When the time comes
I hope I’m mentally prepared

I won’t cheat
But mostly
I’ll be sure I’m ready



Edith Zhang
University of Michigan