March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

In Enthralling Speech, A.S. King Explores Feminism | Day of Dialog

ASKing_DOD15In a stunning keynote, young adult author A.S. King presented SLJ’s 2015 Day of Dialog attendees with what will be a long remembered as a rousing and deeply felt speech. Acknowledging that “change is slow,” King explored her own evolution in thinking about feminism. The author began with a slideshow of images from her student thesis, compiled when she was 21—a personal portfolio of Cindy Sherman–esque photos that asked, “What Is a Woman?”

“Your feminism is yours,” King declared to the enthralled crowd gathered at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology on May 27. It’s whatever you “want to make of it,” whatever you “decide to do,” citing women from Mother Teresa to Kim Kardashian, and her photographic alter egos, in her remarks. But King noted that men have been excluded from the movement by a culture that discourages them from seeing themselves as part of it. In a culture that is frightened by empowered women, “Fear confuses everything,” King noted.

While citing data showing that white, male authors rule the literary canon, King recognized that it was one of those authors—George Orwell—and a line from Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”—that connected her to text and questions about equality in a most personal way. We need equal backing for feminist books” to “reverse the canon,” King stated, and “librarians and teachers have work ahead of them.”

    A.S. King showing photos from her student thesis.

A.S. King’s photos from her student thesis.

“Feminism is about inclusion,” She said. Quoting the protagonist in her novel Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, a young woman who “dissected culture and looked deep within it,” King noted many readers felt like that teen who “had never seen herself in a book before.” At the point that we started raising our girls differently, “boys lost something,” the author stated. Citing situation comedies that portray women as strong and men as people that need rescuing (“dumb asses”), she mentioned examples of cultural sexism that perpetuated negative attitudes toward men. “How will they battle their own misrepresentation?” King asked.

The author commented that this “us/them mentality” divides issues by gender, when so many of these issues (rape, abuse, violence) happen to all people, not just women. What we should be doing is erasing gender stereotyping, wherever we see it, King stated. She implored the audience to challenge readers to seek books about “real, authentic people,” not “girl books” or “boy books.”

As she ended her comments, King noted that “there’s so much noise”—so much that it is “difficult to be compassionate, to move forward.” The cure? Open a book, sit quietly, find the “protein” that strengthens your character, those moments of personal growth and reflection—and “Be the change we want to see in the world.”

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.

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