Review: Here We Are edited by Kelly Jensen

here-we-areThe Premise: Kelly Jensen has collected together the work of 44 people on the subject of feminism, and their thoughts come in the form of (mostly) essays, cartoons, poems, letters to their former selves and conversations, among others. “Let’s get the feminist party started!” proclaims the back cover, which tells you something about the lack of poe-faced grandstanding to be found here.

Thoughts: I was approved to read this through NetGalley, but ended up buying my own copy because of the scrapbook-style of the book; visually, it’s rather lovely, with its jaunty orange colour scheme and beautifully scrawled fonts. It’s just one way in which the overall feminist message of Here We Are comes through a prism of positivity.

The book is divided into sections on topics like Relationships, Culture and Pop Culture, and Confidence and Ambition; it’s easily navigable and something a reader can happily dip in and out of – in fact, such an approach is probably preferable in terms of processing each individual contribution. Within the sections, regular FAQ pages pop up, considering such issues as “can men be feminists?” (the answer: yes, obviously) and “is it sexist to point out genders?” This pages are useful ways to highlight some of the key questions in 21st century feminism.

Some of the essays here will be familiar to certain readers; one piece, for example, comes from Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, while Mindy Kaling also contributes a chapter from her Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Some of the contributors were familiar to me; Courtney Summers, the author of All the Rage, features both in essay form and in conversation with Laurie Halse Anderson, and the singer Matt Nathanson is one of only a couple of men to feature. On the whole, though, Here We Are, introduced me to a range of new and engaging voices, particularly in the case of Brandy Colbert’s pieces on the importance of black female friendships. I also really enjoyed the poetic contributions to the book, Shrinking Women by Lily Myers and  Somewhere in America by Zariya Allen, both of which eruditely expose important issues. The section entitled A Guide to Being a Teenage Superheroine is very funny and incisive too.

What I particularly liked about Here We Are was the way in which it makes feminism approachable and relevant, linking it to all aspects of a young girl’s life. It’s also clear in its message that everyone benefits when gender equality is achieved, and that this equality must also be intersectional. Here We Are is particularly powerful when covering the experience of trans people, people of colour and those with disabilities, and, even in encompassing so many diverse voices, never shifts from its message of inclusivity. The book really highlights that there’s no set version of feminism to which everyone must subscribe; I liked how so many of the writers used the phrase “my feminism” to refer to their own specific beliefs.

In Conclusion: Here We Are is one of those rare books which looks beautiful and packs a punch, and it’s obviously particularly relevant now; in many places, these concerns never went away, and the recent women’s marches show increasing concern about issues which perhaps have not seemed as pressing up to now. The book manages to educate and inspire thought without haranguing; the approach taken to the material is spot-on. I recommend it, and congratulate Kelly Jensen on putting together something so effective.

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