Here’s what I thought No Stopping Us Now was going to be: ways in which older American women have been awesome and examples of them being awesome, defying stereotypes of women of a certain age being boring and invisible. What it actually was: a chronological history of how older women in America have been sidelined and excluded, with the few exceptions that have defied the systematic discrimination of both sexism and ageism.
I found that I couldn’t adjust my reading attitude to compensate. I just didn’t want to read the ways society has sidelined older women throughout history. So I started skimming, only reading closely when the examples of older women being taken seriously as whole people were mentioned. And then I was fine. But I couldn’t read the full book as it was written.
Startup is Doree Shafrir’s inaugural novel. It was written before the Me Too movement made its way into the national consciousness, but it describes a myriad of the ways sexism influences women’s workplaces and lives. To wit:
- Sabrina, a formerly stay-at-home mother, getting back into the workforce and getting little to no support from her husband, Dan.
- Katya, who works for Dan, doesn’t realize that her boss is flirting with her because she’s so heads down working harder than any other person in the book.
- Isabel, Sabrina’s boss and younger than her, had a casual affair with the founder of the startup they both work at. Once Isabel is over it and the founder isn’t, she gets fired.
I worked at Amazon when it was coming out of its start-up mode in the late 90s and I can tell you that a lot of the ridiculousnesses that are described in the book rang true to me. Work parties that border on the inappropriate? Poorly thought-through inter-office relationships? A blind spot when it comes to work-life balance? Work attempting to become your life? It was lovely to see all of these things satirized in a novel full of rich characters.
Startup isn’t a great novel – it is a first one – but it is a light-hearted one that takes on some serious issues. I look forward to her next book.
The Pearl that Broke Its Shell is about women in Afghanistan. There are two interwoven stories: Rahima, a young girl who pretends to be a boy before becoming a 13-year-old fourth wife of a warlord, and her great-great grandmother, who does many things to not die while trying to get a bit of autonomy.
All the women in this book sort-of escape from the shackles of Afghani life. If you can call death or drug addition or getting forcibly married to someone who doesn’t beat you escape. It’s more like coming to terms with what you can do with where you are. Escape seems like too bold a word.
All sexism (and all racism) is, at its core, economic. It’s one group denying another the ability to earn enough money to live in the ways they want when they want. Controlling your labor. Standing in the way of you owning your own business. Refusing you health care so you can’t work. It’s vividly illustrated when you talk about Afghan society, it takes work on your part to see it here in America too. Policing what women wear. Pressuring men and women to be married and/or have children. Women fighting each other instead of supporting each other.
You can read The Pearl that Broke Its Shell and congratulate yourself that at least America isn’t that backwards or think that at least all of its main female characters end the story at peace. But mostly, I just felt unsettled.