A Woman is No Man

Author: Etaf Rum
Genres: Fiction
Pub. date: Mar. 2019 (read Aug. 2019 on Audible)

I have failed this book by waiting so long to write my review for it. I have been in a major book slump for months now. I’ve still been reading a decent number of books, but I haven’t really been excited about it or super motivated to read. I’ve been relying mostly on audiobooks to propel me through the drought, one of which was A Woman is No Man.

This was pretty high on my most anticipated list for 2019. I’m not really sure how it got on my radar, but I love all the diversity we’ve been getting lately and I was really excited to read it.

I originally gave this 4 stars, but with the time that has passed since then, it sticks out in my mind as more of a 3 star read. I really liked Isra’s story and found it really interesting and upsetting to read about the experience she had moving to America and trying to fit in with her new family. A Woman is No Man highlights the stories of Palestinians who have immigrated to America and the challenges they face in trying to maintain their culture while adapting to the vastly different American culture.

Isra grew up in Palestine, but was sent to America to marry Adam and live with his family. As expected, Isra struggles with the change at first, but mostly because she is extremely isolated. Though she lives in America, Adam’s family act as if they are still living in Palestine and do everything they can to hold on to their culture. Adam is seen as the provider for the family and his mother is very much the matriarch of the family. She is hard on Isra and the family doesn’t permit her to leave to house (because what would people think of a woman out on her own without her husband!).

Isra does start to adapt and works hard to please her husband. They are thrilled when she becomes pregnant, but place a huge amount of pressure on her to birth a boy and are immediately disappointed when she births a girl instead (Deya). I really liked Isra’s story and it’s her voice that really carried me through the book. She is extremely oppressed, with a violent husband and a threatening and overbearing mother-in-law. She becomes depressed and develops a very unhealthy relationship to her daughters. She loves Deya, but the pressure to produce a son is overwhelming and it infiltrates its way into her relationship with Deya and poisons it.

Isra’s story is the story of millions of women. She is told she is less than for being a woman and she is totally at the mercy of her husband’s family. It’s enraging to read her story, but also extremely truthful.

The other part of the book focuses on Deya, her daughter. We know from the beginning that Deya’s parents died when she was young and that she is being raised by her grandmother (Isra’s mother in law). I didn’t like Deya’s story as much, but it does provide insight into another part of the immigrant experience. Though Isra was unhappy, because she was marginalized she just accepted what she was told and never fought back against it. It was just accepted that this is the way things are. But Deya grew up in America and attended public school, so while her grandparents have tried to raise her as a good Palestinian girl, she has learned to question things. Her grandmother wants nothing more than to marry her off, but Deya wants to go to college and tries to rebel against her family.

I couldn’t relate as much with Deya though. I tried to understand why she struggled to disobey her grandparents and just went along with their attempts to marry her off, but I wanted her to take a bigger stand against them. I understood that Isra had no support outside of Adam’s family, she had no where to turn, but Deya would likely have had other support networks. But their family still mostly lived and worked entirely within the Palestinian community, so I guess it would be hard to break out of those cultural traditions. This is a minor criticism though because I am not the target audience for this book and have to acknowledge that my experience is different. Deya’s narrative probably means the world to someone who grew up in similar circumstances.

I also didn’t really like the end of the book. It reminded me a little bit of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows – not the tone of course – but that at the end the entire story just seemed to descend into this crazy soap opera. It seemed a little bit over the top and I wanted to hit Sarah for being so cryptic and not helpful. Like Deya is a teenager, help and support her in trying to figure things out instead of being like, “no, you have to do it yourself”. That’s stupid. There’s power in asking for help and it’s belittling to decide that another person is better off without your help. Let them make that decision on their own.

So overall I’m between a 3 and a 4, but I’ll leave it at 4 stars. Definitely some great themes and a very promising debut novel.

What Happened

Author: Hillary Clinton
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Feminist
Read: Sept. 2017 on audiobook


Last year I attended a panel discussion featuring female leaders in STEM and one of the women said something which has been particularly memorable for me. She spoke about how being the first woman to do something means nothing if you don’t pave the way for those behind you.

Hillary talks a lot in this book about being the first female presidential nominee. After a while I kind of just wanted to roll my eyes, but you know what, women are never allowed to celebrate their accomplishments. We’re told to be humble, not to brag, and we’re perceived as vain if we talk too much about ourselves. Hillary has had many, many accomplishments and she should be able to talk about and celebrate those successes, especially in the aftermath of such a devastating loss.

Hillary was the first. But please God don’t let her be the last. I’m not even American and I was totally devastated when she lost. It was heartbreaking to watch America tear down the first candidate to ever look like me. It was terrifying that nearly half of Americans (Hillary still won the popular vote, yo) would rather have a man who incites violence and hatred as their president than a *gasp* woman!

“But her emails” – I can’t even really talk about the emails because they really are just a stupid excuse for people to hide their misogyny behind and Hillary is right when she talks about how her emails were given way too much media attention in the election. If you think her emails are worse than any of the million offensive things Trump said and did, then you need to check your privilege and priorities.

So yes, Hillary was first, and as upsetting as it was to see her lose, I do think she has tried to pave the way for those behind her. She went into more detail than I cared to know on parts of her journey and parts of the book got repetitive towards the end, but I really enjoyed hearing about all the people she met throughout her campaign and how she worked with those people to draft her policies. I was particularly moved by the group of mothers that she met with to draft her policies on gun violence. She met with the mothers of black men, women, and children that have been killed by law enforcement, such as Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin. These women formed their own coalition and campaigned with her on the road as she took on the NRA.

I was so inspired by some of the people Hillary met and worked with and I just kept thinking how awesome women are and I appreciated Hillary for shining a light on all these amazing individuals. I love that woman are taking all the insults Trump throws at them and using them as tools for empowerment. Call Hillary a nasty woman? Fine, we’ll turn it into a meaningful awareness campaign. Enact a gag order on organizations that provide abortions and try to take away our reproductive freedoms? We’ll march in the damn street.

I loved the parts of this book that Hillary devoted to talking about what it means to be a woman in politics. How she struggled to communicate in a way that wasn’t considered “offensive” for a woman. I struggle with this myself. I am passionate about equality and a lot of things make me frustrated and angry. It’s hard not to talk about them without becoming animated. When women get impassioned about things society calls them “angry” or “shrill” – whereas men are “passionate” or “charismatic”. I knew that Hillary had to act a certain way in front of the cameras. It’s so obvious at the debates that she’s putting in an effort to always be smiling and keep her voice even and soft. But it’s so damn frustrating that women can’t speak out in the way that they want because they run the risk of being labelled an “angry woman” and therefore someone who can be dismissed.

I was fascinated when she talked about her rallies and how high the energy of her crowds would be. She wanted to go out there and match the energy of the crowd, to be loud and passionate, as any man would be (seriously, think of any moving speech given by a man, they’re always loud and expressive). But she couldn’t because that’s not what people expect from a woman. Women should be able to express their passion in the same way that men do. Women should be able to show outrage without being labelled “angry”. Hillary had to work so much harder than any male nominee because she had to be so critical of every tiny thing she did and said lest she be perceived as too masculine or too feminine.

I’ve read a lot of criticism that Hillary blames Bernie for her losses in this book, but I did not find this to be the case. She mentions Bernie a few times and there is 1 or 2 (of 97!) chapters that focus on her experience running against Bernie. Of course she’s going to talk about Bernie, he was a huge part of her experience and of course she’s going to have some criticism, they ran against each other and on different platforms. Of course she feels differently than Bernie. But I don’t think it’s fair to say she blamed Bernie. She is very critical of herself in parts of this book and repeatedly blames herself for her loss and for the all the women she feels she let down as a result. She talks about the mistakes she made and the things she wishes she’d done differently.

I also loved that she talked about her policies. She is right when she talks about how little media attention her political agenda actually got during the election. Everything was focused on her emails or whatever new offensive thing Donald Trump had done most recently. I liked when she talked about fairness in reporting. In journalism you often want to remain unbiased and present both sides of the story, but this does not work when one of your candidates makes a mistake about how she sends and stores her emails and the other candidate is a sexist, racist, xenophobic menace who can’t complete a single sentence without insulting at least 3 minorities (or who honestly just can’t complete a sentence, period).

You can’t talk about Hillary’s emails in every single newscast and treat them like they have the same gravity as all of Trumps transgressions just to keep things equal. It is unfair and irresponsible. It was like Trump could do no wrong because no matter how many insulting things he said and lies he made up, the media always compared it to one of Hillary’s mistakes (ie, emails emails emails). And the media let Trump dominate the news – no matter how much he shocked you, he was bound to surprise you again. The candidates platforms were rarely covered, which is a real shame because Hillary spent an incredible amount of time hosting round tables and listening to people in order to develop her policies. I loved that this book actually gave the chance to hear Hillary talk about her policies, even if we won’t see them come to fruition. It’s too bad they got overshadowed by the rat race of the election.

So what next? Hillary was first, but I do think she has tried to pave the way for those behind her. It was a brutal and devastating defeat, but she is still optimistic about the future, so I will try to be too. It would appear that this book can only be rated 1 or 5 stars on goodreads, so 5 stars from me because Hillary Clinton is a boss lady and she still inspires me.

“never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”