That Takes Ovaries

by Rivka Solomon

Three Rivers Press 2002
reviewed by Sapna Gandhi

Exercise your mind for a moment and consider all the ovarian-charged events that comprise the "female experience" in an average lifetime. If your deliberations circled around the inevitable realm of reproductive health but stopped short of anything more, deem yourself uninspired and out of touch. At least that is the attitude Rivka Solomon dons in her recent book about female bravada and empowerment, That Takes Ovaries (Three Rivers Press 2002). Embracing everything from moving accounts of overcoming the disturbing realities in our world, to lighthearted and comical ways in which girls and women have reclaimed a sense of command in their lives, Solomon's latest endeavor is ripe with fresh feminist philosophy.

After centuries of conditioning, the world perpetuates the idea that men initiate and women accept, that men are the active ones at the center while women, meant to serve as support, are on the periphery. Well, testosterone has its limits. Some things just take ovaries! Solomon's meticulously edited book features women who are undaunted by "the system." Each woman (and girl) brings forth a contribution and declares her zest for life. Each story salutes the feminine spirit and embodies the unique nature of sisterly bonds.

Some narratives recall frivolous actions of rebellion and autonomy. In Just Don't Do It, a righteous kindergartner exacts the right to play dodge ball with boys after getting sent to the principal's office for disobeying a teacher who confined her to playing with girls. The prepubescent author of Yay for Hairy Women states her refusal to adhere to the traditional feminine standards of silky smoothness and trendy fashion by shaving her legs in a striped pattern. In Paying for It, a bold adolescent snubs a pimp in public by cheating him at his own game. Though she is not a prostitute and is definitely out of her element, she nevertheless demands that he pay her if he wishes to converse with her on her time. Entrepreneur and educator Joani Blank writes about revolutionizing the porn industry by opening the first ever woman-oriented sex shop in Good, Good, Good, Good Vibrations. Two women (each unknown to the other) recall how they dared to wear pants and initiated an eventual nationwide upheaval against the rigid dress codes of their schools in the 60's.

Other stories relate poignant and often political battles with society and the turbulence of life. Among the most heart wrenching tales are Divine Perfection, Remaining Whole Behind Bars, and Saving Mommy. The first poetically and vividly articulates the author's emergence out of a life of impoverishment and exploitation into one full of personal accomplishment and self-respect, while the next painfully recaptures a woman's agonizing entry into America after fleeing from the horrors of genital mutilation in Africa. The last tenderly reveals the courage of a child who dissuades her mother from committing suicide after they secretly escape from an emotionally and physically abusive patriarch late in the night.

The more politically salient pieces include Nothing From Nobody, Women's Right's Are Human Rights, and Documenting It. The first charmingly tells the story of a young girl of mixed race who defies uniformed authority when she senses unjust treatment of her Black grandmother. The women in the other two pieces chronicle and legally challenge the misogynistic practices and institutions enslaving women in the third world. Perhaps one of the most chilling yet gratifying narratives is Painting the Town by a woman who reclaims her identity and sends a message to her town by painting the word RAPE under all the stop signs after being brutally gang raped.

Solomon has compiled a noteworthy testament to the force of womanhood everywhere. The most intriguing aspect of this compilation is held in the recurring theme of being bold as a tradition passed along from one woman to another. Each narrator in the book alludes to another female who stirred in her a sense of self and compelled her to voice her opinion and act on her desires. Mothers, grandmothers, sisters, friends, and teachers are a few of the muses who evoked such indomitable reactions from the women and girls who write the stories, revealing a truth that is gripping and imperative in itself.

Rivka Solomon's That Takes Ovaries, superbly captures and propels the art of living with moxie and authenticity. Whatever the cause, whatever the intention, whatever the passion behind these actions, all of these women have chosen to live full lives and actively contest the notion that women are meant to simply exist. With confidence, wit, and unwavering integrity, these fiery females assert themselves and earn a place in history and in our hearts.

© Sapna Gandhi

Sapna Gandhi is a member of Moxie's editorial posse. Her bio appears at "About Us" on Moxie's website.

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