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What we read at the WFA

Employees of the Women’s Fund Armenia share books they have read recently or are currently reading.

Gohar Shahnazaryan, co-founder

  •  Laura Silberstein-Tirch – “How to Be Nice to Yourself”

This everyday guide to self-compassion is teaching us how to be compassionate with your feelings, thoughts, actions and simply live a compassionate life. Training our minds in compassion can transform our lives. Self-confession is the ability to mindfully turn our caring and supportive nature toward ourselves and our own struggles. According to the author, this book is about how you can develop self-compassion to help navigate your life with greeted awareness, mindfulness, and kindness for yourself and all you encounter in your life. 

  •  Sandra Lee Bartky – “Sympathy and Solidarity” and Other Essays

The book is devoted to the discussion of various forms of oppression, namely, exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence. The author looks at these forms of oppression from her own experience, “personhood”.

Armine Markosyan, head of communications

  •  bell hooks – “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre”

In the prologue of the book, the author mentions that “the value of feminist writing must be determined not only by the way a work is received among feminist activists but by the extent to which it draws women and men who are outside feminist struggle inside.”  So this book is an attempt to engage all those left in the margins as “to be in the margin is to be part of the whole but outside the main body.” 

Much feminist theory emerges from privileged women who live at the center, whose perspectives on reality rarely include knowledge and awareness of the lives of women and men who live in the margin. As a consequence, feminist theory lacks wholeness, lacks the broad analysis that could encompass a variety of human experiences. hooks claims that feminism must become a mass-based political movement if it is to have a revolutionary, transformative impact on society. Many women do not join organized resistance against sexism precisely because sexism has not meant an absolute lack of choices. They may know they are discriminated against on the basis of sex, but they do not equate this with oppression. 

Under capitalism, patriarchy is structured so that sexism restricts women’s behavior in some realms even as freedom from limitations is allowed in other spheres. The absence of extreme restrictions leads many women to ignore the areas in which they are exploited or discriminated against; it may even lead them to imagine that no women are oppressed. Feminism is a struggle to end sexist oppression. Therefore, it is necessarily a struggle to eradicate the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels as well as a commitment to reorganizing society so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires. 

When feminism is defined in such a way that it calls attention to the diversity of women’s social and political reality, it centralizes the experiences of all women, especially the women whose social conditions have been least written about, studied, or changed by political movements. When we cease to focus on the simplistic stance “men are the enemy,” we are compelled to examine systems of domination and our role in their maintenance and perpetuation․ Sexist oppression is of primary importance not because it is the basis of all other oppression, but because it is the practice of domination most people experience, whether their role be that of discriminator or discriminated against, exploiter or exploited. It is the practice of domination most people are socialized to accept before they even know that other forms of group oppression exist

Yelena Sargsyan, project assistant

  • Farida Shaheed – “Great Ancestors: Women Asserting Rights in Muslim Contexts”

There is a stereotype that in Islamic societies there is no fight for women’s rights. This stereotype underestimates women’s role in history, who fought for centuries to restore the role of women in the Islamic world.

The work of Pakistani sociologist and feminist activist Farida Shaheed’s “Great Ancestors: Women Asserting Rights in Muslim Contexts” is relevant in the context of establishing historical justice. The book shows how women in the Islamic world have struggled for centuries to assert their rights, starting from the first generation of Muslim women (immediately after the emergence of Islam) to the middle of the 20th century. Here we can read the stories of women who inspire and amaze us with their courage, knowledge, and skills.

The work is also important for its rich base of documented, researched, and examined sources, which can become valuable material for historians and people interested in this topic.

  • Elif Shafak – “10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World”

Elif Shafak is a phenomenal writer whose work turns your whole inner world upside down. Perhaps the most favorite of Shafak’s works for me is the novel “10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World,” where Shafak shows how young Muslim women in Turkey survive between “ideals of religious purity” and male humiliation.

The story begins from the ending. The body of the main character, Tequila Layla, liesin a garbage can, and her brain remembers her entire life after death. Here many disgusting manners of society thathave ruined the lives of the main character and her friends are summed up.

The writer raises important issues in the book, such as early marriage, pedophilia, society’s intolerant attitude towards LGBTQ+ people, sex workers’ issues, religious extremism, a number of political issues, including authoritarian regimes and lack of freedom of speech, etc.

One of the important lessons of the novel, which I learned, is respect and care for friends and people. The novel helps you to become more sensitive and caring towards all people and to be intolerant of any kind of violence and injustice.

Siran Hovhannisyan, program coordinator

  • Joey Sprague – “Feminist Methodologies for Critical Researchers” 

It’s been already a couple of months that I am browsing through the “Feminist Methodologies for Critical Researchers” by Joey Sprague. I have read the book back in 2016-2017 but now I had this urge and also necessity to go back and refresh my memories on feminist methodologies.

Joey Sprague is a professor at Kansas University. She is also the president of “Sociologists for Women in Society” international organization. It is an international network of students, professors, practitioners, and researchers who work together to improve the status of women in sociology and in society in general.

The book was originally published in 2005. Of course, it was a groundbreaking event for feminists and especially feminist researchers. In the beginning of the book, J. Sprague presents the feminist axis of sociological research. She emphasizes why it is important to use feminist approaches while doing research. In the second chapter, the author presents different schools and directions of sociology: positivism, radical social constructivism, critical realism, standpoint theory, choice, agency, etc. All are presented in the framework of feminist theory and critique. The third chapter of the book is dedicated to the axes of feminist research: discussion of power, authority, and epistemological questions. Here the author shows the importance of considering power and authority, ideology and knowledge, and especially subjectivity of the researcher during the process of doing research. In the following two chapters, J. Sprague talks about the features of feminist approaches in quantitative and qualitative studies. The author finishes the book with comprehensive and visionary chapters called “Whose questions, whose answers?” and “Changing sociology/changing the world”.

This book is totally recommended to everyone. We – from our side – are trying to present it in short translations into Armenian.

  • Trevor Noah – “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood”

I love following the professional journey of Trevor Noah, especially his stand up and creative work. His wording and speaking are interesting, and he can catch your attention easily which is not only a talent but also a result of experience and self-education. In both his standups and shows, Trevor tackles important topics; he speaks of racism, colonialism, abortion, contemporary politics, etc. Perhaps he is not sensitive in all the questions, but he is always extremely accurate about racism, inequalities, people’s apathy and indifference, and also about cultural [sometimes super funny] realities. I do like following global politics, including the one in the United States, but I am not a frequent follower of his “The Daily Show”. I am much more interested in his fantastic, accurate, indescribably real, and funny standup shows.

Anyway, I am now reading his “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” that was originally published in 2016. The book is a collection of stories from the author’s childhood, which are – most probably – not just stories for himself. Trevor was born during the apartheid in South Africa, which was one of the most horrible periods for those who were not born white. His father is a white man from the Netherlands, and his mother is a Xhosa woman from South Africa. Basically, the actual fact of him being born was a crime at that time.

Trevor’s stories in this book are very different: starting from the things that happened to him and his mother to the reality of him finding his own path. The book is written with an immense talent of storytelling, and it is super easy and quick to read: “with one breath”, as we say it in Armenian. The stories included in the book are also the ones he uses during his standups. Trevor’s story is personal, historical, political, and lyrical. It is incredibly beautiful and fantastically painful. It is sad, joyful, unacceptable, and real.

Perhaps for me it is more impressive because I find similarities and differences in our childhood fears, wishes and little crimes. There is also the fact that I am extremely interested in colonial and post-colonial studies and their feminist critique, in which case adding humor to it brings even more joy to the reading. In any case, I love how strong he presents his mother in his stories, what she lived through, and how strong she is that even in zero-opportunities-conditions this fearless woman found ways to push her children out of poverty and misery.

Stella Chandiryan, project coordinator

  •  bell hooks – “All About Love”

This book offers radical new ways to think about love by showing its interconnectedness in our private and public lives. “The word ‘love’ is most often defined as a noun, yet we would all love better if we used it as a verb,” writes bell hooks.

In this book, she offers a proactive new ethic for a society bereft with lovelessness – not the lack of romance, but the lack of care, compassion, and unity.

In eleven concise chapters, hooks explains how our everyday notions of what it means to give and receive love often fail us, and how these ideals are established in early childhood. She offers a rethinking of self-love (without narcissism) that will bring peace and compassion to our personal and professional lives and asserts the place of love to end struggles between individuals, in communities, and among societies.

  • Elif Shafak – “The Island of Missing Trees”

A magical book on belonging and identity, love and trauma, nature and renewal. A moving, beautifully written, and delicately constructed story of love, division, transcendence, history, and eco-consciousness.