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[#RapplerReads] Lessons on power, as told by women

Giselle S. Barrientos

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[#RapplerReads] Lessons on power, as told by women
From the fictitiously bizarre to the historically bitter, these female-authored books are about finding the power to navigate challenging situations

Editor’s note: #RapplerReads is a project by the BrandRap team. We earn a commission every time you shop through the affiliate links below.

When it comes to understanding power, the woman’s point of view is perhaps more nuanced because of a long history of being deprived of it.

For centuries, women have grappled with ludicrous expectations – from being a perfect wife or mother or lady, to even trivial things like smiling more often. Thankfully, women have fought long and hard to bring female empowerment to what it is today – cognizant of the past, unyielding in the present, and hopeful in the future.

For National Women’s Month, we round up the team’s book recommendations of female-authored works that can empower any kind of reader. There are stories of loud, revolutionary power, where women stand firm against tyranny on varying scales. There are also stories of the more introspective power of acknowledging the reality of a female experience, warts and all. 

These many forms of self-ownership and strength are illustrated in these books, which you can put on your reading radar this March.

How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future by Maria Ressa

For people who know Maria Ressa, they understand that it’s always a mix of personal and political with her. With all the attacks being thrown against her, personal have become political and political, personal. Courage is not something she simply puts on, it is something that is already deeply embedded in her and is at the core of everything she does, including her recently published book, How to Stand Up to a Dictator.

Reading it felt like a rollercoaster ride. I won’t spoil it for you but pages 93 to 95 will always be emotional for me. There were chapters about the Rappler newsroom that felt so surreal, reading it was like reliving those terrible events. Maria also talked about disinformation and how it operates, but I liked her personal stories the most. It was like talking to a friend, getting to know them and the experiences that shaped who they are today.

As a journalist who has experienced covering war and terrorism, she has definitely seen the worst in people. So, I’ve always wondered how Maria does it – stay hopeful. But of course, even if I were drunk, I wouldn’t ask her that question. 

But after reading How to Stand Up to a Dictator, I’d like to believe I finally got the answer.

– Jaira Roxas, multimedia producer

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home by Tembi Locke

You may be familiar with From Scratch because you’ve seen or watched the limited series with the same title on Netflix. That romantic, heartbreaking series starring Zoë Saldana and Eugenio Mastrandea is based on a true story. 

Amy Wheeler or the author, Tembi Locke, in real life, was in the middle of an exchange program in Florence, Italy when she met Saro Gullo, a Sicilian chef. Like every budding love, their early days – when it was just them two – were filled with romantic, fairy tale moments. But as their relationship grew more serious and their lives intertwined, Tembi and Saro seemed like they were destined to face one hardship after another. From Saro’s traditional Sicilian family who wouldn’t approve of a Black American wife, Saro’s struggles as an aspiring foreign chef in Los Angeles, and the biggest and most heartbreaking of them all, Saro’s bone cancer that forever changed the course of their lives.  

Locke’s memoir is an ode to every woman who had to endure misfortunes and tragedies all while fulfilling her demanding role as a wife, mother, and daughter. While From Scratch can be a tearjerker, there are pockets of heartwarming moments sprinkled throughout the chapters that you can find comfort in. 

– Marj Handog, BrandRap editor

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

I remember this quote floating around the internet that reminded me of this book: “I support women’s rights and wrongs.”

Three Women by journalist and author Lisa Taddeo is a decade-spanning retelling of the lives of three women and the nuances that come with taking control of their sexual and emotional lives. Taddeo spent over a decade with the subjects in order to understand their lives in this reportage-turned-narrative story. There’s Lina, a suburban mom in a failing marriage; Maggie, a high schooler groomed by her teacher; and the successful Sloane, who discovers that she may have a fetish for other people having intercourse with her loving husband. 

The stories you read in Three Women will not be where the women need to be saved, or even the ones doing the saving. Taddeo turns the idea of a feminist book on its head by presenting real women’s struggles – without glamorizing or making it a blood-thirsty revenge story. 

While there is great worth in being someone’s mother, daughter, sister, or niece, it’s just as vital to read real stories of women beyond being associated with men and not taking on the role model persona. Three Women goes beyond seeing women as literary Mary Sues or damsels in distress. After all, we can be flawed and confused while still being brave enough to take control of our narrative.

– Saab Lariosa, BrandRap content producer

Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Women by Renee Engeln

In the past, I’ve been guilty of buying into the upkeep of eyelash extensions that were out of my budget – all because I’ve been told that my bare face looked too masculine without it. As much as I appreciate a good beauty routine in the name of self-care, that was a period where I had to take a step back and ask myself who I was really doing it for. 

In a society that hyperfixates on women’s appearances and where today’s media images convey that the most important thing a woman can be is beautiful, award-winning author and psychology professor Renee Engeln breaks down how the cultural obsession with beauty disrupts our ability to live happier, freer, and more meaningful lives.

In Beauty Sick, she uncovers issues ranging from diet culture, body shaming, to the sexual objectification of women that sends out a harmful message that women exist to be looked at. 

While there isn’t a direct solution yet to put an end to the beauty sickness “epidemic,” she suggests how we can be more mindful of how we allow the pressures brought by unrealistic beauty standards to distort the way we think women are supposed to look.

In the age of social media, this timely read sends a challenge to focus less on what women look like and reinforce the idea that one’s character matters vastly more than the weight we put on outward appearances. That being kind, funny, creative, or compassionate inner qualities which don’t need you to look a certain way, but reveal who you are as a person are just as worth being recognized and celebrated for.

– Tricie Gonzaga, content strategist

Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina

In a riveting account of her two-year sentence in a penal colony reminiscent of Gulag labor camps, artist-activist Maria Alyokhina displays her irreverent courage to say no in the face of the Russian prison system’s inhumanity.

Riot Days reveals the harrowing circumstances of prisoners in Putin’s criminal system, where they were forced to work 12-hour shifts, bathe only once a week, and sleep in ice-cold cells with holes in the wall patched up with cheap sanitary pads and bread crumbs. Women were forced to expose themselves to guards in a routine that prisoners have called Naked Thursday. In one instance, Alyokhina was threatened with solitary confinement for not folding her blanket correctly. 

“Once you betray yourself, even a single time, you can’t stop. You become another person, a stranger to yourself. You become a prisoner. And that means you have been defeated. They will truly have deprived you of your freedom,” wrote Alyokhina. Despite its grim backdrop, Alyokhina’s story also shows how choosing her dignity despite all odds can become an all-powerful, revolutionary act – and that power can create ripples of change across the world.

– Giselle S. Barrientos, BrandRap senior content producer

Bliss Montage by Ling Ma

Ling Ma’s new short story collection, Bliss Montage, has a perfect title. It’s a panoramic view of what it’s like to live an existence fixated on all sorts of stimulation and yet feel alienated. Feeling alone. That’s ultimately what this book underscores: Feeling alien in one’s skin, estranged from one’s heritage, and outcast from partaking in one’s representation. The best stories in the collection echo this, as in “Office Hours,” where a film professor yearns: “It is in the most surreal situations that a person feels the most present, the closest to reality.” 

Throughout, Ma ushers the reader to wild (read: hilarious) situations, from a mansion full of ex-boyfriends, an oddly romantic hookup with a Yeti, and a strange pregnancy that nudges a woman to travel homebound.

– Armando Dela Cruz, head of brand integration

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

“I can fake being an extrovert” is what I told myself for years because I exist in an industry where being confident and outspoken matters. “You can’t tell stories if you’re not willing to do the talking” is another line I used to think out loud. The words confidence and communication have taken new forms for me as I began to better understand the nuances of the words. Confidence doesn’t always mean being loud and outspoken; but it can mean straightforward and decisive. Communication, or communicating, doesn’t have to be confrontive or assertive, but needs to be transparent or honest.

Susan Cain’s book helped me appreciate being an introvert (or my tendencies to be introverted as introversion and extroversion exist on a scale and are not exclusive of each other). It helped me understand that introverts too can be successful.

What I appreciate most about this book is that Cain shares stories of undeniably successful people who identify as introverts. And by undeniably successful, I mean that whatever your notion of success is, you can’t refute the fact that they have greatly thrived in whatever field they chose to be in. Some notable personalities Cain mentioned are Abraham Lincoln, Steve Wozniak, Barack Obama, Gandhi, and Bill Gates.

Cain, in my opinion, was really able to capture the introverted spirit in her book. She also proved that introversion, though constantly pictured as a less likable trait, has its own unique set of advantages. Awkwardness can be an asset, y’all.

If you identify as an introvert and feel like you have a hard time navigating through life, this book might be for you.

– Julian Cirineo, BrandRap senior content producer

May these stories inspire you to find power within yourself. – Rappler.com

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