brene brown

My Top 5 Books in 2016


For as long as I can remember, and even before that, I’ve loved to read. The librarian’s blank look when she told me she had run out of books to recommend is still vivid in my mind. I don’t read as much as I used to, but I did manage to leaf through a few gems in 2016. Here are my top 5 reads.top5in2016

Rising Strong – Brene Brown

Out of the corner of my eye, in the middle of a coffee shop at an all-inclusive Mexican resort, I spotted Rising Strong amidst the unappealing fiction novels. I opened it to find it was a signed copy! I couldn’t believe it! This book came at just the right time for me. I’ve thought for some time that Brene Brown makes emotions accessible for INTJ’s like me, and this was no exception. Following on from her previous bestsellers, The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, this one focuses on what you do once you’ve been vulnerable and it’s gotten messy. Developing emotional awareness, getting curious about the findings, being honest about the stories we tell ourselves, and moving into action, these seem like simple things, but they’re actually quite revolutionary. This woman is pure gold. Check out her stuff! (If you’re skeptical, let her TED talks convince you first.)

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women – Naomi Wolf

Written in 1991, I still found this book prophetic in 2016. “The beauty myth tells a story: The quality called ‘beauty’ objectively and universally exists. Women must want to embody it and men must want to possess women who embody it. This embodiment is an imperative for women and not for men…it is biological, sexual, and evolutionary…this system is based on sexual selection…it is inevitable and changeless” (p.12). Exploring the myth caused me to question the status quo and gave me a new lens through which to see the world. If you’re interested in the politics of beauty, or you just like to be challenged, this is a great read.

Writing to Change the World: An Inspiring Guide for Transforming the World with Words – Mary Pipher

Every time I picked up this book, I got excited about writing. Every. Time. Pipher is encouraging and instructive, sharing pieces of her own story as she enables you to share yours more effectively. She helped me along the path to discovering my voice and passion to say what only I can say. I’d never read a book on writing before, and I’m glad this was my first one.

The Stream Runs Fast: My Own Story – Nellie McClungimg_8267

I’d been on a bit of a suffragette binge since watching the British film of the same name, and getting photos with the ‘famous five’ statues in Ottawa earlier this year. So, getting to read some of Nellie McClung’s story, a suffragette from my home province of Manitoba? Yes, please! I had no idea this woman was so incredibly accomplished. Not only did she write numerous books and speak around the country, she was a politician, and raised a family. All in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Amazing. The thing that impressed me most about McClung was her grace and poise in dealing with those who disagreed with her and tried to destroy her efforts for equality. An example to me, and all of us advocating for one thing or another. Definitely worth the read.

Infidel – Ayaan Hirsi Ali

At first I was just highly intrigued to read about a life utterly different from my own. Ali was born in Somalia, and also spent time in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Her stories shed light on a worldview and perspective foreign to me, and helped me see my ‘glasses’ – my way of seeing things – more clearly. I was captivated by her story of escaping an arranged marriage by fleeing to Europe. I was shocked with the civil war in Somalia. But I think what struck me most was her critique of Islam and how the Western world too easily embraces it with an eye on tolerance. I’ve heard many arguments against Islam from other religions, but a Muslim? That was new to me. If you want to know more, read her book.


So there you have it. My top 5 books of 2016. Are you rushing to Amazon to order them yet? 🙂

Do you have any book recommendations? I’m always adding to my list!

$h@m€: The Other ‘S Word’

16-year-old Jack is found crying after he receives some difficult news. He’s told to stop being ‘weak’ and ‘a pussy’ because ‘real men don’t cry’.

Jane, a vivacious 10-year-old, often takes leadership of projects and situations, but is chided frequently for being ‘bossy’. After all, girls are supposed to be submissive and nice.

Steven has always loved painting and getting creative in the kitchen. He makes delicious entrées! However, he is discouraged and about to give up what he loves because he can’t stand the constant remarks that he is ‘a little too girly’ and ‘might be gay’ [using ‘gay’ as an insult is a whole other topic].

Susan is 35-years-old and single. She long stopped attending family gatherings where the only topic of conversation seemed to be her relationship status, and why she hadn’t yet found a husband. Something must be wrong with her.

Each of these hypothetical (though very real) scenarios is different, but contains a common element. Shame.woman-with-shame

What is shame? In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” (p.69). And when you experience the excruciating pain of shame, it seems you’ll do almost anything to get rid of it.

Jack, Jane, Steven, and Susan are put in narrow, suffocating, harmful boxes that contain society’s recipe for masculinity and femininity, and are systematically shamed for being anything other. They must be flawed because they aren’t conforming.

The problem with these stereotypical boxes is that they fit only a minority of boys and girls, men and women, but everyone is forced into them as if they were a fixed and unquestionable entity. The results are harmful not only for those individuals, but also for the whole of society.

Jack grows up learning to bottle his emotions, making him miserable but unable to show it. He may be able to contain it for a while, but an angry and possibly violent outburst is looming.

Jane becomes a shadow of her lively self, pushed into the role of a submissive follower. She lives knowing something is out of place, and the world has missed out on a wonderful potential leader.

Steven long gave up painting and cooking. He’s now in a job that is socially acceptable, but he hates it. He could have been the next Picasso or Gordon Ramsey, but we’ll never know.

Susan feels like contentment is an impossible dream when no matter what she does, it is never enough for others because she hasn’t ‘achieved’ marriage yet. [And even if she does, she’ll be pressured about having kids. And if she has them, she’ll be questioned about her parenting techniques.]

According to research, “shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying” (Brené Brown, Daring Greatly, p.73). So shame, in itself, is a problem. But so are gender stereotypes. Gender stereotypes, masculinity, and femininity are social constructs, not absolute truths. Put them together, and it’s a toxic combination.

How much have we personally and collectively suffered and missed because of gender shaming? Whatever we do, we absolutely cannot afford to keep this up. Gender shaming has to stop. Not in ten years, not in one year, not tomorrow. Now.

A proactive response to gender shaming will involve refusing to participate in gender shaming, and calling it out when you see it [this is part of feminism]. The more we shine light on the darkness, the less of a chance it has in overcoming us.

A reactive response (i.e. when you are the one being shamed) involves the four elements of shame resilience, as described by Brené Brown (Daring Greatly, p.75).

  1. Recognize shame and understand its triggers
  2. Practice critical awareness – give the shame messages a reality check
  3. Reach out – own and share your story with trusted others
  4. Talk about shame – talk about your feelings and ask for what you need

Here’s to a future where people are free to be themselves. Where the Jacks, Janes, Stevens and Susans of this world are no longer ashamed to be who they are.

How have you experienced gender shaming? If you’d like to shed some personal light on this topic, leave a comment or contact me about writing a guest post.