What to Read When Our Country Is Ruled by Sexual Predators


This past month has been a harsh lesson in how pervasive rape culture remains in our country. Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault by at least three women. The President of the United States claimed that, if it was “as bad as she said,” Christine Blasey Ford would have reported her assault earlier, and likened Ford’s allegations to those of the many women who have accused Trump of sexual assault—dismissing these women’s claims and framing men as the victims. Many of us shared our own experiences of sexual assault on social media with the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport, furious and determined to bring about change. I re-watched Anita, the Anita Hill documentary, and read stories about Hill’s testimony and treatment by the Senate following her accusation against Clarence Thomas. I felt certain that, nearly thirty years later and with the recent incarnation of #MeToo, it would have to end differently this time. What would it mean if it didn’t?

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation has been a cruel reminder of how, in spite of all the work done to dismantle patriarchal systems of power, those systems still remain very much intact. It’s both unsurprising and hard to believe we’re here. To find something resembling hope in these dark times, I’m turning to the work of feminist writers who examine and dismantle rape culture, and push back at the white supremacist patriarchy that’s brought us to where we are today. Filled with smart, beautiful, painful words of resistance, these books remind us of where we’ve been, where we’re going, and the effort it will take to get us there.


The Marginalized Majority: Claiming Our Power in a Post-Truth America by Onnesha Roychoudhuri
Reading this book has been the closest I’ve gotten to feeling hopeful amidst the abysmal hellscape of American politics. Roychoudhuri takes cynicism to task, showing us that every social movement toward change in this country has been long and full of blunders and yawns, rather than the seamless and inevitable triumphs history books paint them out to be. With an astute intersectional lens and careful analysis, Roychoudhuri reminds us that we are the majority and that we always have power—no matter how hopeless things might seem.


How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
Forty-one years ago, the radical Black feminist group known as the Combahee River Collective wrote a statement articulating ideas about intersectionality and identity politics that remain vital to present-day feminism. In this 2017 book, three of the original Combahee authors, along with #BlackLivesMatter co-founder Alicia Garza and others, show how relevant the work of the Combahee women is to present-day struggles, from the fight for reproductive rights to the movement against police violence. Kimberle Crenshaw—the law professor who coined the phrase “intersectionality” in 1989—wrote a piece for the New York Times last month just before the Kavanaugh hearings about how our culture failed to learn the importance of intersectionality from the Anita Hill’s testimony. Kavanaugh’s appointment is a reminder of these failures, and that we must continually look at how race, gender, and all forms of oppression and privilege intersect as we continue to strive for social justice.


What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by Sohaila Abdulali
Drawing on her own experience as a survivor, as well as on research and her work as the head of a rape crisis center in Boston, Sohaila Abdulali’s forthcoming book approaches the complex topic of rape culture with care and insight. Abdulali does the important work of placing the current #MeToo movement within a global context, and tells “the larger story of how societies may begin to heal.”


Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man by Thomas Page McBee
McBee’s second memoir takes us on an exploration of what it means to be a man through the author’s account of being the first trans man to box in Madison Square Garden. Amateur investigates the connections between masculinity and violence, deconstructing the gendered behaviors and actions that our society explicitly and implicitly condones. This book is a must-read for parsing through the many layers of toxic masculinity and white privilege in American culture that allowed Kavanaugh to be seated on the Supreme Court.


Tender Points by Amy Berkowitz
“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.” This was Christine Blasey Ford’s striking response when asked what she remembers most from her assault. One aspect of Ford’s account that was so stunning and heartbreaking—and which made it even more maddening to see that account dismissed and mocked by people who purport to be our country’s leaders—was Dr. Ford’s fluid and clinically insightful expertise on how trauma lodges itself in our memories and bodies, unmistakably shaping our psyches. By mapping the trauma of sexual assault’s impact on the brain and body through the “tender points” used in medicine to discuss fibromyalgia, Amy Berkowitz’s book-length lyric essay weaves together personal history, pop culture, and discussion of the patriarchal nature of Western medicine to illustrate the connections between trauma, gender, and chronic pain.


Fade Into You by Nikki Darling
For every teen boy making sexually demeaning jokes about girls in his high school yearbook, there’s a teen girl carving “Fuck. The. World.” into her arm with a safety pin. Nikki Darling’s debut novel Fade Into You follows the life of Mexican-American high school junior Nikki as she skips school with her friends, experiments with drugs, and figures out who she is alongside the everyday horror of being a teen girl. After watching so many members of our government make excuses for Kavanaugh’s teenage behavior at the expense of the young women he hurt, it feels therapeutic to spend time with Fade Into You’s bold female narrator. This book serves as a reminder that teen girls are strong, brave, complex, and vitally important.


Split by Cathy Linh Che
Che’s debut poetry collection explores its speaker’s experiences of childhood sexual assault against a backdrop of her parents’ stories of the Vietnam War and immigration to the US. “I want to be part / of the world again.” Che writes, “But here, I lie / on my back.” With sharp, visceral language, these poems do the difficult but vital work of charting transgenerational trauma, its effects, and possibilities for healing.


I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On by Khadijah Queen
Each poem in Khadijah Queen’s collection is a narrative of the speaker’s encounters with male celebrities while living in Los Angeles, exploring what it’s like to live your life while operating under the male gaze. In our present moment, as women’s stories are shouted down, torn apart, and mocked mercilessly, there’s something especially satisfying about reading poems wherein small daily acts of self-expression through fashion are given the same weight as being told by a famous man to smile, or cat-called, or far worse. In the poem “Edward Norton Just Stared,” Queen writes, “he said you are gorgeous I smiled he got off the escalator at the top level still on the phone I was 36 in a black turtleneck and salt-and-pepper curls and just starting to not be sad or afraid.” In other words, the woman as object as subject gets the last word; she gets to define her own narrative.


The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks
This feminist classic should be required reading for all men—and everyone else, too. With her signature bold, frank, and incisive writing style, bell hooks lays out a blueprint for changing how men learn to experience and express emotion in our patriarchal culture. In this historical moment when conservative, powerful men are claiming the language of victimhood at the hands of feminist progress, this book offers necessary insight on how men are in fact deeply damaged by patriarchy, and offers a better way for people of all genders to more fully experience their lives.


Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly
Women’s anger is having a moment right now, and for good reason. Soraya Chemaly’s essay collection is one of several books released this year that focuses on female rage, along with titles such as Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad and Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage. In her blurb for Chemaly’s book, Gloria Steinem writes, “How many women cry when angry because we’ve held it in for so long?” Rage Becomes Her shows us how women’s and men’s anger are treated differently in our society, and how women can—and must—use our rage as fuel for social change.

Marisa Crawford is a New York-based writer, poet, and editor. She is the author of the poetry collections Reversible (2017) and The Haunted House (2010) from Switchback Books. Her writing about feminism, books, art, and pop culture has been featured in Hyperallergic, BUST, Bitch, Broadly, Ms., and elsewhere. Marisa is the founder of Weird Sister, a website and organization that explores the intersections of feminism, literature, and pop culture. More from this author →