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I have had this graphic guide to feminism for a while and have dipped into it from time to time, but today I thought I will read it properly from the beginning till the end.

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The book starts with a definition of ‘feminism’ and other important terms and then describes how feminist thought evolved from the middle of the 16th century. It describes the development of feminist thinking and the fight for equal rights across the centuries. It covers most of the important moments – Mary Wollstonecraft’s pioneering book, the fight for the right to property, the right to keep one’s earnings, the right of a divorced mother for access to her children, the right to vote, the right to higher education, the right to professions which were closed to women, women’s suffrage, First Wave Feminism, Second Wave Feminism – and brings the discussion till today’s time, at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Many of the important personalities who were part of the feminist movement are portrayed beautifully and realistically. I have dipped into this book before and knew about many of the things that it described, but it was wonderful to read about it all in one place – it was a huge educational experience. I found that there was a big difference between First Wave Feminism and Second Wave Feminism as described in the book. While the former described how feminists fought for rights and there was a lot of action there, the latter involved a publication of a lot of books and that part of the book and the movement was more about how feminist thought evolved. One of the things I loved about the book was that if a feminist said one thing at some point and said the opposite a decade later, the book highlighted that. Thus the book didn’t shy away from controversy and depicted the real world as it was – beautiful and imperfect. So, though the book was a graphic guide, it was not simplistic – it was complex and nuanced.

There are some limitations in the book though. It talks mostly about Anglo-American feminism. The authors are conscious of that, and the book mentions that in the first page. So, though there are mentions of feminists from other countries – Simone de Beauvoir gets good coverage (can’t ignore her), and there is mention of Nawal El Saadawi, Fatima Mernissi, Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Gayatri Spivak – those pages are few and far between.

A couple of big things that I think the book missed are these. The first was the day that Icelandic women went on strike in 1975, fighting for equal rights and which brought about huge change in the laws of that country. Reading about it gives us goosebumps even today. That was a very important event not covered in the book. The second one was Billie Jean King and the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ match she played with Bobby Riggs. I think that was an important moment. Another important event was how Billie Jean King and her fellow women players founded the WTA, making it probably the only sport where women players run the show themselves and how they have nurtured it and made it thrive and become a huge success across the decades. This is one of the huge, feminist (in my opinion) success stories which has been missed in the book.

I have a wishlist for a book on feminism. The first thing is it should cover contemporary issues – in today’s world of the Women’s March and the #MeToo hashtag, we need coverage of these important contemporary events and discussions. The second thing is that the coverage should be global. Feminism means different things to people in different parts of the world. That diversity should come out in the pages of the book. In some countries, the issue is not equality in terms of legal rights, because equality is enshrined in the law. But the issue is more on the ground, where even though a woman has equal rights as a man according to the law, she really can’t pursue an education that she wants, pursue a career she is interested in, marry a person she likes. The family, community, society all exert pressure on a woman – sometimes emotionally and psychologically and sometimes violently – and prevent her from enjoying and exerting her legal rights. This situation requires a more complex battle for equality and freedom. The third thing I would like the book to explore would be the interesting things that happened in some countries which are normally not talked about. For example, the first woman pilot who fought in a war was Russian. The first woman astronaut who went to space was Russian. How did it happen that Russians turned out to be pioneers in gender equality much ahead of other countries, atleast in some areas? How did it happen that there is more gender equality in China (a Communist country) than in Japan (a capitalist country)? How is it that countries where there is better gender equality on the ground, struggle to elect a woman head of state, while countries where gender equality on the ground needs more progress, select women heads of state effortlessly? Why is there this contradiction? I would also like the book to talk about pioneering women, who defied the social norms of their time and the hostility of the patriarchy and achieved great things in their respective fields and contributed greatly to the feminist cause, though they might not have called themselves feminists or they may not have been well read in feminist thought. Well, that is my wishlist. Hope somebody writes that book. Hope one of my feminist friends who is reading this will give it a try.

Introducing Feminism – A Graphic Guide‘ is a wonderful introduction to feminism. It uses the comic format effectively and it is sophisticated, complex and nuanced. It has limitations, but that is to be expected in an introductory book on this subject. If you want to read about feminism, but have been intimidated by the classics written by feminist scholars, this book is a wonderful place to start. It is also a great book to gift to your daughter and son.

I am giving below some of my favourite pages from the book.

Feminism :

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Patriarchy :

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Harriet Martineau :

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Virginia Woolf :

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Post Feminism :

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Sojourner Truth :

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Alice Walker :

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Have you read ‘Introducing Feminism – A Graphic Guide‘? What do you think about it?

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