This moment in human history has the word gender turning over and over in its mouth, the sandstone of the modern tongue stripping away the callouses on the word “woman.” On October 3rd at Skylight Books, author Kate Schatz and illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl heralded the word “woman” in the presentation of their new book Rad Women Worldwide. The book is a celebration of amazing women throughout human history, like activist Malala Yousafzai, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and British punk rocker Poly Styrene. It is sequel to the duo’s first work, Rad Women of America, and a very considerate and artful archive of global femininity. The widened scope of subject matter was approached with great attention to diversity; of skill, of global recognition, of race, and of creed. By acknowledging each rad woman’s unique tribulations on her way to triumph, they have created not only an artifact of female excellence, but of female strength and tenacity in the face of patriarchy, racial oppression, and war.
The most notable characteristic of the event’s audience, by my account, were the many generations of women present. There were women old enough to have watched bras burn on black and white televisions, and girls too young to have yet popped a pimple, all scattered amongst one another. The women’s extraordinary stories, presented to the young daughters of the audience, demonstrated the infinite potential blossoming within them. A past where women were groomed — for obedience, for “sightliness,” for domesticity — echoed. However, the austerity of the past was silenced by Schatz’s chosen rad women, who fashioned themselves instead for world-class achievement, artistic prowess, and radicalism in a world that may have expected less from them. What their histories carved out, in my eyes, was a breeding ground for the young women in the audience to imagine and enact their own contributions to a world which has not wholly softened to that infinite potential within them. Still, naysayers are often the harbingers of the mental toughness greatness demands.
After readings from spoken word artist Myriam Gurba, acclaimed fiction writer (and LARB editor) Neelanjana Banerjee, and Kate Schatz herself, the event closed with a musical outro. Caro Pen Rig, member of kaleidoscopic pop band Bouquet and the former frontwoman of the disbanded-but-beloved folk pop group Finches, performed a song which listed the names of each of the women in Rad Women of America, called “X is For.” It became a call and response for its last verse. We sang all together, as a parting token of solidarity:
Stand up for justice
Show the world what you can do
Believe in yourself and others
We can be rad too
In Rad Women of America, X stood for the women whose stories we hadn’t heard yet, but who had done incredible things, or overcome particularly onerous obstacles. In Rad Women of the World, the final page is a tribute to stateless women: it is a soliloquy for mothers and the children they carried on their backs, through the wastelands of war, the chaos of nature, and the loneliness of diaspora. Schatz and Klein elevate “radness” — from synonymy with greatness, to synonymy with compassion in our daily strivings. Fighting borders, binaries, wars, prejudices, and systemic processes which alienate us from the rest of mankind became the eventual landing ground of the event, the sweet discordance of all of our voices singing together.
Should you like to purchase this read for yourself, or your rad femme friends, I encourage it. Some of the proceeds will go to Circle of Health International, which provides medical care and health products to women and children in refugee camps worldwide.