Must Reads: For anyone who learned about love the hard way

Uses for Boys

I’ve always loved YA fiction. It is smart, it is complex, and it is heartbreaking. Uses for Boys is all three.

This page-turner took me less than two days to read, and in that time, I found myself hoping the protagonist, Anna, wouldn’t keep making the same mistakes over and over. But like a real human being, she does. With no father to speak of and a once-loving mom who now makes herself scarce, Anna is forced to navigate much of her childhood and teen years on her own. She seeks comfort in all the wrong places, mistaking sex for love and being punished for it as a result. Uses for Boys is a raw and real book that deals with abandonment and abuse, and it highlights the story of the kind of person society tends to shame by victim-blaming.

I did a Q&A with author Erica Lorraine Scheidt about some of the most important themes and moments from the book.

And her responses were so thoughtful that I’m really excited to share them with you now. Check out our Q&A below.

Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Uses for Boys author Erica Lorraine Scheidt (Photo by Marnie Webb)

WTH: Anna’s a tragic character who can’t seem to help but make the same mistakes over and over. Why was her story so important for you to tell?

ELS: I was writing into the question of how we make our way in the world. I started thinking about a teenage girl for whom sex was a salve to loneliness. And I was curious—why is it so easy for a girl to get sexual attention, but so difficult to get other kinds of attention? I thought, and I still think, that Anna’s story is important, because we are all lonely, we all have to learn how to be in the world. Anna just had to learn out loud, with little support or direction.

Some of the sex scenes are pretty detailed for a YA novel. How did you tread the line between being realistic and not romanticizing it too much?

I started out interested in what it meant that Anna learned about sex in the moment, from her partners, and not from frank, respectful conversations with caring adults. I was specifically interested in all the mistakes she made—and even when intimacy was surprising or tender or fun for Anna, it never occurred to me that it was romanticized. I think because because her experiences were also awkward or hurtful or confusing at times.

I did know, even when writing the earliest drafts, that the book was more explicit than many YA novels. But I feel strongly that we have to have safe ways to talk about sex and sexual situations—and fiction is one of those safe ways. We need to have more than fade to black and everything works out—because how do young men and women learn to navigate consent and pleasure without having some models for what works and what doesn’t work?

One thing I found interesting and refreshing about your book is how it depicts the abortion. While it is a fragile and challenging situation, the abortion is not nearly as dramatic or traumatic as it’s so often made out to be. It was a big moment in Anna’s life, but it wasn’t a defining moment. Did you take this approach on purpose, and if so, why?

I saw the abortion as one of the few times in Anna’s young life that adults were looking out for her physical and emotional wellbeing. And I loved the idea that Anna noticed these strong, caring women in the clinic and wondered what they had, why they were different than the other women in her life. I worked in an abortion clinic when I was 18, and I was so impressed by the women who worked there—kind, strong, generous, knowledgable women who were committed to serving others. It made a profound impression on me.

Anna’s mom’s absence throughout the book is such a presence, ironically. The whole time I was reading, I wanted to know how she justified spending so much time away from her daughter. What don’t readers know about her that you do?

I’m fascinated by villains. And the idea that the villain of your story can always justify his or her actions. Anna’s mom thought she was providing for her daughter by seeking financial security. I also suspect that Anna’s mom didn’t know how to make a different kind of home for Anna. I have a lot of hope for Anna, but I also have hope that her mom will change and grow.

Your website says you’re working on a new novel. Is there anything you can share about that?

Yes, only to say that it’s been difficult. And I won’t know until it’s finished, but the project seems to be taking a new turn and I’m very excited about it.

 

Thanks to Erica for sharing her thoughts and insight. Pick up a copy of Uses for Boys here or at your local bookstore. Follow Erica Lorraine Scheidt on Twitter here.

Must Reads: For anyone who thinks they can have it all

Tanya Selvaratnam

Photo by Naomi White

Last month, I read what has easily become my new favorite non-fiction book.

The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock by Tanya Selvaratnam is the perfect combination of smarts and heart. What business does someone like me, who still shudders at the thought of having a child any time soon, have reading a book about motherhood? Ah, well, lots, actually. The information and message in this book pertain to anyone who might want to become a parent some day.

The book addresses the harmful myth that we can “have it all” and make babies when it’s most convenient—like say, after we’ve established a career and settled comfortably into adulthood. Selvaratnam packs a lot of stats and research about fertility into her book. Did you know 10 percent of the world’s population experiences fertility issues, which affect all people (rich/poor, black/white, male/female) equally? And that the initial drop in fertility among women happens as early as 25 to 29 years old? Which is not to say you should be freaking out if you are 30 or older—but you should be empowering yourself with the knowledge of such facts.

The Big Lie is not all statistics and percentages, though.

What surprised me most about it is how much Selvaratnam’s personal story with three miscarriages and a cancer discovery humanized everything I was learning throughout the book. She really gets vulnerable here, and I found myself teary-eyed and cheering Selvaratnam on along the way. That’s what really set this book apart for me.

Though I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In yet, I think anyone who has read it (whether they agreed with it or not) is likely to enjoy The Big Lie. It touches on similar issues, but comes from a generally more relatable perspective—as in, the COO of Facebook didn’t write it.

The Big Lie

I had the chance to do a Q&A with Selvaratnam over at Neon Tommy, and she shared some wise and thoughtful words. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“When someone says feminism is no longer necessary, I think, Tell that to the mother raising five kids who can’t get paid as much as a man to do the same job; tell that to the woman who is treated as the aggressor when she is raped; tell that to the girl who isn’t allowed to learn how to read. It’s a Big Lie that we don’t need feminism.”

We also talked about Millennials having a harder time than earlier generations to afford children, as well as the importance of having conversations with our partners and doctors about our eventual plans for children. Tanya also had some fantastic book recommendations for anyone interested in these topics. You can read our conversation (and find out what the “big lie” is) here.

The Big Lie has already gotten a lot of attention from the press, and I hope it becomes one of those books you see popping up all over the blogosphere. Check it out for yourself, and let me know what you think!

The F-word

this is what a feminist looks like

It’s hard to believe now, but just a few years ago, I wouldn’t have considered myself a feminist.

I believed in equality. I was into “girl power,” in a Spice Girls sense of the phrase. And I was lucky enough to have had tons of great female role models who inspired me growing up.

So why didn’t I see myself in the word “feminist”?

We’re all well aware of the negative connotations associated with feminism. You’d think most people would understand by now how ridiculously off-base the “angry, hairy man-hater” stereotype is. But too often the comments section beneath articles written by or about a woman makes clear there are a lot of sexist trolls who have yet to die off. (Reminder to self: never read the comments if you want your faith in humanity to remain intact.)

Sadly, the trolls who perpetuate these stereotypes about feminists are pervasive. So is ignorance, which I once blissfully possessed when it came to these things. That unfortunate combination is why I shied away from the F-word. I didn’t think I needed feminism. And that makes me shudder to think about.

I’m the oldest of three sisters. They’re much younger than I am but are growing up fast. I remember the kinds of things girls were talking about when I was my sisters’ ages, and it wasn’t always exactly the most female-empowering language. (Why are 12-year-old girls calling each other “sluts” and “bitches” like it’s a compliment?)

There are lots of words used to put women down. I want my little sisters to know “feminist” isn’t one of the dirty ones.

That means it’s on me and everyone else—male or female—who believes in feminism to talk about it. A lot. The more we do that, the more de-stigmatized the word and concept becomes to those who are as skeptical and hesitant as I once was. Luckily, there are more platforms than ever to help us do just that, and there are plenty of people who get into more nuanced discussions than I can (at this relatively early point in my feminist career, anyway).

It’s a wide-ranging topic for sure, but a few examples of some of the things I’d like to talk more about are:

…and so many more.

Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? Why or why not?

I’d love to know about your relationship with the word and which women’s issues are close to your heart. Leave a note in the comments—or better yet, write your own post about it and send me a link when you do!

You are enough

Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"

You ever feel like you miss the mark? Like you’re not smart, talented, likable, insert-your-own-adjective-here enough?

If you’re thinking “hell yes,” you’re human. If you’re thinking “no, never,” you’re lying.

Insecurity doesn’t discriminate—we’ve all been graced by its looming presence. For some it’s uncommon, but when it hits… it hits like a train. For others, it ebbs and flows in waves—tolerable, but annoying at best. For others still, it’s a constant. It’s almost unfair how some people seem wired to be in a ongoing state of self-doubt.

No matter which category you fall under, it’s worth hearing:

You are enough.

Right now. As you are. Where you are. You are enough.

You are everything you need. No one can take that away from you. And you certainly don’t need anyone else to to fill a void.

You contain multitudes.

You know that Walt Whitman poem, “Song of Myself”? That one line: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” It’s one of the most oft-quoted lines of the poem. (And that is one long poem.) It’s so simple yet so all-encompassing. And it resonates with us because it’s so damn true. If we contain multitudes, then we have the capacity to love ourselves and others. So what if those multitudes are messy and complicated? All the best artists’, geniuses’ and mavericks’ were.

So work with what you’ve got. If you’re on a path to self-improvement, start with what you have. Don’t wait for enlightenment or someone else to show you the way.

You have as much power as you give yourself. And you deserve a lot.

Things you wouldn’t know just by looking at me

We’ve all been on the receiving end of annoying snap judgments based on our appearances.

And we’ve all been guilty of making the same kinds of judgments about strangers, even though we know better. Have you ever caught yourself doing that? Did you feel a little ashamed about it? I have. It happens.

This week’s theme for the League of Extraordinary Ladies is things you wouldn’t know about me just by looking at me. In my vlog below, I share a few things—both trivial and slightly more serious—about myself you might not have known. And I invite you to share any surprising/fun/interesting things people might not know about you below in the comments! Make sure you check out the other extraordinary ladies’ videos from this week, too.

Have a great weekend!