men, masculinities and gender politics

Authors

“Dancing at the Shame Prom.” If you care about women, you should get this book!

 
When was the last time you read a book that you could not put down? 
 
(Because you will not be able to put this book down.)
 
When was the last time a book impacted your life?
 
(Because this book will have an impact on your life.)
 
When was the last time you read a book that made you laugh and made you cry?
 
(Because this book will make that happen.)
 
When was the last time you read a book that left you feeling cleansed, healed, and connected to others?
 
(Because this book will make you feel that way.)
 
When was the last time you had to pause in awe of the courage of the author you were reading?
 
(Because this book will make that happen.)
 
When was the last time you read a book that left you feeling that you had a better understanding of the experience of over one-half of humanity?
 
(Because this book will leave you feeling that way.)
 
When was the last time that you heard a story that you just knew you would never forget?
 
(Because this book is full of them.)
 
I need you to buy this book.  I have no financial connection to anyone involved in any aspect of producing this book.  I just need you to buy it.  Because I truly believe that this book is a rare instance where a work of art dances simultaneously in both the personal and the political, and clearly shows us how one is utterly inseparable from the other. 
 
But mostly I need you to buy this book because I have a young daughter.  And I want it to be required reading for every person who will interact with her.  Or with any young girl.  Or with any young boy.  Because among the book’s critical messages is this one:  How we treat each other matters.  It matters deeply.  And the shame we heap upon young people can become a prison that will stop them from becoming who they truly are.  It will stop them from exploring their amazing gifts.  And it will be a prison from which they will be lucky to escape – if they ever do.       
 
This book tells the stories that we need to hear.  It tells stories that heal us.  It is chicken soup for the feminist soul.  But not just for the feminist soul.  For all of us.
 
If you care about women, then you should buy this book.  If you want to understand women’s lived experience in modern-day North America, then you need to buy this book.  If you believe that stories of overcoming adversity and pain can help us to heal, then you need to buy this book.  If you want to learn about – or to teach about – gender in modern society, then you should buy this book. 
 
If you carry any shame – and who among us doesn’t? – or if you know anyone else who carries shame – you need to buy this book.   
 
A picture of modern womanhood… Okay, okay, so what’s this book about?  This book is about shame.  It is about, as the subtitle reads: “Sharing the stories that kept us small.”  And within these pages twenty-seven wonderful women writers share their stories.  The shameful stories that tried (unsuccessfully) to keep these women small.  These stories – and the stories of how the authors have struggled to overcome them —will pull you in.  You will resonate deeply with their messages of pain and healing.  And this will happen regardless of your gender, and no matter how “idyllic” your own childhood may have been.  (After all, who among us doesn’t have a troubled relative who has done bad things – who brought us shame?  Who among us managed to navigate through our formative years without encountering any messages that left us deeply embarrassed about who we are?  Reading these stories will help heal those hurt places. ) 
 
The stories include the shame of growing up with violent, alcoholic fathers.  With absent fathers. Of suffering molestation.  Of broken homes.  Of mental illness.  Of parental suicide.  Of being black in a world that prefers white people.  Of growing up poor in a world that equates having money with moral superiority.  Of being a Jew among the WASPs.  Of having a disability when the world wants you to be able bodied.  Of loving girls when you are supposed to love boys. Of having a dad who loves other men.  Of being used in the production of pornography.  Of suffering from body issues and eating disorders.  Of simply growing breasts.  Of always feeling like an outsider.  Of feeling like a fraud, an imposter.  Of dating (and sometimes marrying) the wrong men.  Of a husband’s infidelity.  Of being a bad daughter.  A bad mother.  Of having had a bad mother.  Not being able to be a mother.  Choosing not to be a mother.  Having an abortion.  Of being female in a patriarchal faith tradition that claims that even God is a man.
 
For men, too.  The stories that these women tell paint a powerful picture of their lives as they negotiated a reality that told them in so many ways that they were simply not good enough.  But even as a man I deeply resonated with these works.  For we men carry shame too.  And, in my opinion, we men are a lot less likely to acknowledge our shame or to know how to heal from it.  So reading this book has much to teach us, too.  About shame.  About healing.  And about being as brave as these women are – being brave enough to tell one’s story.  Because, as Laurenne Sala, one of the authors included in this book, writes:
 
“We’re all hiding until we’re honest.  And honesty frees us up to be who we are.”
 
 
…Painted by modern masters.   Another aspect of this work that makes this book so powerful is that the writing is amazing.  The women included in this book are a group of extremely accomplished writers, actors, musicians, teachers, and artists.  And their stories simply sing.   
 
(Sometimes when I read something, I find myself analyzing the author’s technique.  Kind of like looking at a large sculpture and wondering about the production process.  But not with these stories.  They simply swept me away – out of any analytical, intellectualizing stance.  These tales transcend.  These women writers make the act of publicly disclosing some of their deepest shame look easy.  They make these wrenching stories accessible.  They have opened their hearts and invited us in.  And the welcome is extremely warm.)     
 
It almost feels like a distraction to address the amazing quality of the writing itself.  (How much do we gain, really, by cutting up a work by Geogria O’Keeffe or Frida Kahlo?)  I think that in this case, the whole of each story – and the whole of the anthology – truly are greater than the sum of their parts.
 
If I had any problem with this book at all, it was with me.  It was with my initial temptation to compare some of the stories with one another.  But woman after woman, in story after story, wrote about the need for us to connect.  Not to compete.  That we are each amazing and wonderful and that it is in our connection with each other that we lose the shame, and connect with our common humanity.  And as to comparing the stories – what is the use of comparing rubies to emeralds?  Diamonds to sapphires?  Pearls to amber?  All are different.  And all are breathtaking.     
 
All I know is that the editors, Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter, did an absolutely amazing job of bringing this work into being. 
 
Women speak.  And to me, the most powerful thing about this book is the words of the women themselves.  Women writing their truth.  Women writing their shame.  Women writing their lives.   
 
At the end of each chapter, the contributors were given the opportunity to briefly state what they hoped readers will take from these stories.  Just as in the stories themselves, there are many gems here.   I will leave you with just three of these gifts to think about, to consider, perhaps even to meditate on -- as you reach for a credit card and order this book!  (http://www.theshameprom.com)
 
 
“I hope within these pages, within all these words, that it is made clear that we no longer need permission to speak our glorious truth.”  -- Amy Ferris, editor, Dancing at the Shame Prom
 
“Each of our lives is a miracle, every one of us is meant to be here, and we are all equally important cogs in the wheel  of life.” --  Hollye Dexter, editor, Dancing at the Shame Prom
 
“In our deepest shame, we are all just children hungry for love.  The hunger is wise.  Let it lead you home.”  Brooke Elise Axtell, author, performer, and founder, Survivor Healing and Empowerment