Feminism is a loaded word. It comes with a variety of shifting definitions (depending on whom you ask and when) and a dense historical context, and is mired in a present-day landscape that is often outright hostile to the concept. It would be impossible to contain the entirety of feminism’s meaning, importance, and complexity in a single book—a reality that Kelly Jensen’s Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World cleverly embraces. Jensen doesn’t claim to have compiled a definitive guide to feminism, because that simply can’t be done. But she has curated a breadth of voices on the topic (full disclosure: mine included) and weaved them into an anthology that acts as both a thorough introduction and a compassionate invitation to, as Jensen puts it, “the feminist party.”
At its most basic, feminism can be defined as “the belief that every person—regardless of gender, class, education, race, sexuality, or ability—deserves equality,” but Jensen isn’t interested in only the basics; she’s interested in the nuances of feminism in action, in the ways feminism operates in the individual lives of her contributors as well as on a societal level. To that end, Here We Are is a scrapbook-style book made up of personal essays, interviews, lists, comics, illustrations, poems, and FAQs. This variety in form, coupled with the sheer number of voices represented, mimic the sprawling nature of feminism itself. As Mikki Kendall says in her essay “Facets of Feminism”: “Feminism is for all women, which means it is made up of as many approaches as there are women.”
Given the current cultural and political climate, it’s imperative that we recognize—and embrace—those differences. That eagerness to celebrate difference is what makes this book so brilliant and so incredibly readable. Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop (who just received the Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award) coined the oft-cited idea of windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. In this anthology, readers will find all three, which is (unfortunately) a rarity. When reading through the book, it seems likely that Jensen chose her list of contributors with Dr. Bishop’s work in mind. The title is Here We Are for a reason, after all. It’s not Here Some of Us Are or Here You and Only You Are.
Of course, it’s also important to note that such a thoughtful approach to the book on a macro level would mean little if the individual pieces themselves weren’t stellar. Thankfully, they are. I imagine each reader will have their own list of favorites, those essays or drawings or poems they keep returning to long after they’ve read through the whole. The favorites will vary widely from person to person, but I predict every single piece will find its way onto someone’s list.
For me, that list includes (but is decidedly not limited to) Sarah McCarry’s wrenching “Girl Lessons,” Shveta Thakrar’s beautiful journey to owning her voice as a writer, Malinda Lo’s loving look at her grandmother, Lily Myers’ delicate and devastating poem “Shrinking Women,” and Anne Thériault’s endless encouragement in “The Monster Book of Questions and Answers.”
It’s a cliché to say a book offers something for everyone, but I genuinely believe that to be true here. It’s likely that not everything will resonate with everyone (how could it?), but something will. Some line or panel, some new way of seeing the world, or maybe the feeling of finally being seen.
This book is so much more than an anthology, more than an invaluable and insightful text, more than a book that ought to be in every high school in the country—though it is all those things.
Here We Are is, simply, a gift.
Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World is available now.