Being Their Own Women: Self Discovery & Independence in Women’s Personal Lives


The Awakening
by Kate Chopin

Set in the late 19th century, The Awakening spans two pivotal seasons in Edna Pontellier’s life as a young wife and mother.  Having never felt truly alive during the entire span of her life, Edna “awakens” during a summer of spiritual liberation, leading her to reflect on her life as someone’s wife and mother.  The story results in a woman who subverts the conventions of her time by defying filial and maternal expectations by focusing on her life as her own woman.

Personal Velocity
 by Rebecca Miller

Miller’s book consists of seven short stories that describe the lives of seven very different women. They are bound by their grit, strength, incredible struggles, and their will to survive amidst their personal tribulations. Despite each of their uphill struggles, each character finds solace the minute details of life uses that to persevere in their own ways, revealing the complexity of women’s reaction to struggle.

A Spy in the House of Love
by Anais Nin

In this semi-autobiographic work, the lead female character, Sabina, struggles to develop her sexual and artistic expression.  This work is known for its erotic language and strong themes of a relationship with the self and passion.

The Story of Avis
by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

Avis is an artist who decides to marry who she thinks is a “modern man,” believing (and being led to believe) that once married she can continue to express her creative self.  However, the traditional gender roles that suppress(ed) women and elevate men take their hold over Avis’ artistic expression.

Orlando
by Virginia Woolf

Born as a man, Orlando transforms into a woman as (s)he lives over several centuries, experiencing the gamut of gender norms, restrictions and suppositions that are forced on men and women. Seeing the treatment of Orlando as both a man and a woman by society, though (s)he is the same person, highlights the inequities that both men and women have faced throughout the ages.

The Bell Jar
by Sylvia Plath


Though sold as fiction, The Bell Jar is an autobiographical account of Esther (some argue Plath), a young woman working for a summer as an employee of a major magazine away from home.  There, Esther suffers a mental breakdown, and the reader is taken down with her into the depths of her insanity, so much though that it is difficult to distinguish insanity from reality.

Nightwood 
by Djuna Barnes


Taking place in Paris, Nightwood tells the story of two women romantically involved and the deterioration of their relationship.  This novel highlights both hetero-sexual and lesbian relationships that are expressed through dark, thick and lyrical language.

Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein
by Gertrude Stein

This collection features non-fiction essays, anecdotes and fictional stories about Stein’s female partner, and artists of the day.  This book is a perfect sampling of Stein’s well-known fragmented and unique writing style.  It also features the well-known short story “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene,” who we assume to be two romantically linked women who strive for their own fulfillment in life and relationships.

HERmione
by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)

Perhaps the most obscure of all her titles, this autobiographical account and coming of age story, written by Hilda Doolittle, commonly known as H.D., details her unsure and tumultuous life during her twenties at Bryn Mawr. H.D., known in the book as Hermione Gart, battles to transition between her old, obedient self that her parents once knew and the new identity that she begins to forge now that she is away at school and exposed to people who help to foster her true self.

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Most known for the short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, a woman is denied creative output by her husband and is treated as psychologically weak and incompetent, which ultimately exacerbates to her mental deterioration. This collection also features Gilman’s non-fiction prose, Women and Economics and an excerpt from her novel Herland which illuminates a peaceful, all female utopia without the presence of men and that of a patriarchal, capitalist system.

For Nights Like This One: Stories of Loving Women by Becky Birtha

It only seems natural that my first book review be of an extremely worn copy of an out of print book, recommended to me years ago in a Gay and Lesbian Literature class.  It’s written by poet and children’s literature author, Becky Birtha and is named, For Nights Like This One: Stories of Loving Women.  You can still purchase it used via Amazon.

Becky Birtha has written a collection of thirteen short stories about lesbian relationships, all of which deals with themes of domesticity, love and family.  Birtha tackles a plethora of issues including interracial lesbian relationships (whether successful or otherwise), childrearing, and lesbian mothers and negative societal viewpoints that accompany lesbian or gay parenthood.  In one story, Birtha’s characters are in love and have been together for nearly a decade and one woman wants a child, while the other believes that having children supports the patriarchal society in which they live.  Presenting two very convincing sides of the story, I struggled along with her characters, relating to the maternal need that many women have, and also the desire to keep the relationship to only two people, relating to the not-so-maternal urge, that many women also feel.  No matter what the topic, Birtha relates her stories in a non-stereotypical manner, thereby humanizing her characters.  Birtha explores all sides of the cube: supporting monogamy, coming out (more importantly, being accepting of yourself) to your family and friends, and the benefits and/or problems of maintaining relationships with your ex.  All of these lend themselves to the universal nature of the trials and tribulations of the nature of romantic relationships, whether heterosexual, homosexual or fluidly somewhere in between.  The tone of Birtha’s stories are compassionate, down to earth, reaffirming and touching.  Her stories are a perfect fit for anyone in a relationship, romantic or otherwise, or anyone who would needs a reminder of that the intricacies, drama, highs, annoyances, and sometimes just plain crap of many romantic relationships are similar, regardless of sexual orientation.

Feminist?  I think we’re moving in the right direction.

Book stats

Author: Birtha, Becky

Published: 1983

Similar recommendations:

Fiction:

1.  Does Your Mama Know: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories edited by Lisa C. Moore (African American Lesbians; women’s fiction, short stories; lesbian literature; coming-out)

2.  Trash: Stories by Dorothy Alison (lesbian relationships; short stories; lesbian fiction; class issues; interracial issues; struggle; perseverance)

3.  Grl2grl: Short Fictions by Julie Anne Peters (short stories; coming-out; lesbian relationships; romance; love; infatuation; lesbian fiction)

Nonfiction:

1.  How it Feels to Have a Gay or Lesbian Parent: A Book by Kid for Kid of all Ages by Judith E. Snow (lesbian parents; mother/child relationships; lesbian families; self-discovery; perseverance)

2.  Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in 20th Century America by Lillian Faderman (lesbian relationships; lesbian couples; romantic relationships; lesbian families)

3.  From This Day Forward: Commitment, Marriage and Family in Lesbian and Gay Relationships by Gretchen A. Stiers (lesbian marriage and family; monogamy; same-sex marriage; co-habitation)