Interview with Stephanie Staal (and Giveaway Winners!)
March 17, 2011
Posted by on
Back on February 22nd all four of us (Amy, Ana, Emily, and Iris) reviewed Reading Women by Stephanie Staal and told you about a fantastic giveaway. Today we are back with our interview with Stephanie Staal.
- One of the most interesting things about Reading Women is the fact that you read so many different feminist texts and take away something from all of them. If you had to pick the one that resonated with you the most, though, what would it be, and why? It’s so difficult for me to pick just one book, since I had quite a few favorites, each one resonating with me in a different way. But I suppose if I had to choose the book that, upon re-reading, left the deepest impression, I would say Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Stumbling upon her book when I did – as a relatively new mom – only to discover that I was relating to it in a way that I hadn’t as an undergrad served as a wake-up call. In college, I had viewed The Feminine Mystique as a work anchored to a very particular place and time – post World War II, white, middle-class suburbia. So it was somewhat of a shock to find myself, over a decade later and over four decades after Friedan published her book, identifying with some of the women she describes. Ultimately, re-reading The Feminine Mystique forced me not only to think more critically about the issues I was facing in my own life by placing them in a larger context, but also to appreciate the ways in which the world has changed since Friedan’s day.
- You mention in the afterword that there were several texts from the syllabus you couldn’t include in the book for reasons of space – if it had been possible, which are the ones you wish you could have included the most? I actually have rough chapters on Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers, Nella Larsen’s Passing, Angela Y. Davis’ Women, Race & Class, and Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class all sitting in a desk drawer – and there are even more books I would have included!
- Your reading of feminist texts was often quite different from that of the younger students in your class. What most surprised you about the younger generations’ take on the material? There was often quite a diversity of perspectives and opinions in the class, so I was a little surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reception to pornography when we covered the subject in class. Obviously it’s a complicated topic, with too many nuanced arguments, whether pro or con, to cover in just one class or in a few sentences here. But for whatever reason, I sensed a real discomfort among the younger students with expressing any critique of porn at all, as if being anti-porn meant being anti-sex, and that I found disturbing. We are clearly still faced with the challenges of articulating female sexuality in a culture of predominantly sexist, mixed messages, and I think these challenges can be especially difficult and confusing for young women. As the mother of a daughter, I often worry about the negative influence of hyper-sexualized images of women, and I was definitely bringing that sensitivity into the classroom.
- Clearly, you learned a lot about both feminism and yourself throughout the course of this project. What is the lesson you learned that is most applicable to your day-to-day life? In the book, I mention a quote from one of my professors that has stuck with me. She urged us to “tell the unexpected story,” or, in other words, to question the prevailing stories about women’s roles by finding new and creative ways to re-tell them; many of the authors I read provided inspiration in this respect. Revisiting feminist texts, and seeing the progression of feminist thought over time, reminded me how much these bold and enterprising women had accomplished over the past centuries – while at the same time revealing what work remains to ensure social, political, and economic equality. I was very fortunate to have the privilege and opportunity to take this personal journey through the feminist canon, engaging with feminist theory as an individual endeavor, but the practice of feminism must also involve the everyday effort to improve the lives of all women. And this is probably the most important lesson I have taken to heart.
- On our blog, a group of book bloggers are reading a list of 14 feminist text which we discuss together. Do you have any tips considering that our approach to the books (both scholarly and related to our every day life) is quite similar? First off, I absolutely love your blog – the discussions, the comments, all the background information on the books. For me, I found that learning about an author’s life – as well as about the social milieu in which she or he was writing – really enriched my reading experience and deepened my understanding of the material. On the other hand, I tended to shy away from reading contemporary scholarly or academic articles interpreting the meaning of a work for fear of being swayed too much in my own analysis. And since you are taking an approach that is both personal and scholarly, I would encourage you to explore the random trails of thought and memory that open up as you read, because they often lead to interesting places.
- At the end you talk about repeating the experience in another few decades. Do you think you really will? I hope so. In fact, I was joking with my daughter the other night that maybe we should take it together, when she goes to college – now how fascinating would that be!
Thank you to Stephanie for taking the time to answer our questions. We all had a great time with the book and coming up with the questions and hope that you have enjoyed her responses as much as we did. For more information on the book you can check it out on the Public Affairs website. You can also check out Stephanie’s site.
Now, the part that you’ve all been waiting for… giveaway results! What with the multiple entries for participants I (Amy) counted a total of 45 entries. I used random.org to choose the 5 winners and they are:
The winners have been contacted and if they don’t respond within a week new winners may be selected. Thank you to all who entered and congratulations to the winners. And thank you as well to Public Affairs for providing the books for this fantastic giveaway!