On the fourth Sunday of every month, a small group gathers in the hole-in-the-wall space above Moderation Brewing to sip beer, chat and reflect on feminist texts.
Open to people of all genders, the Brunswick Feminist Book Club met for the first time last November when Kira Bennett Hamilton brought a couple of friends together from the Brunswick area. Despite having moved around, Bennett Hamilton often found herself seeking out similar feminist book clubs: these were spaces not just for intellectual debate, but for bonding and creating a community.
“I basically moved [to Brunswick] and spent a year complaining about how there wasn’t a feminist book club,” Bennett Hamilton said. “Then [I] decided I knew enough people that I could possibly start one.”
While the group began as discussions among friends, Bennett Hamilton now uses a Facebook page to reach out to more members of the Brunswick community.
The group typically draws five to 10 people each month. However, certain topics pull larger crowds; for example, a meeting on Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” drew 20 people.
In order to reach new members each month, the book club has a collaborative rather than hierarchical leadership structure, one member said. For example, in order to hear from a variety of voices, the meetings often end with a discussion of potential books to discuss at the next meeting.
Sara McGrath, who found the Brunswick Feminist Book Club through Facebook, notes the diversity in topics that the group has covered in the past several months.
“We’ve been reading some really great sci-fi by [both] African [and] African-American female authors. We read the first book of the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, and that was fabulous, and then, ‘Children of Blood and Bone,’” McGrath said. “So that was really great to see this female, person-of-color-oriented perspective in a sci-fi and fantasy context.”
As the broader feminist movement reacts and recalibrates to incorporate new ideas, the book club does as well. An early meeting debated the trend of “self-care” in feminist circles, and McGrath explained that the discussion challenged the meaning of self-care. For McGrath and others, the topic is at the crux of debates surrounding feminism in a capitalist society.
“[It has been] co-opted by capitalism so that self-care becomes buying yourself something,” she said.
Many attendees are profoundly aware of their place in a broader community, particularly in Brunswick and the greater Maine area. While the proximity to the College attracts an intellectual crowd who relish what McGrath calls “the life of the mind,” the name of the club itself—and the demographics of the group—hold the potential to alienate potential attendees.
“I think there are a lot of strong, independent women in Maine who would not consider themselves feminists,” said Clara McCandlish, another regular book club attendee. “It’s interesting how [the word ‘feminist’] continues to be a polarizing label, depending on one’s political orientation. I know a lot of women who exhibit lots of feminist characteristics but [are] alienated from the term.”
The complexity of claiming the feminist movement is not lost on Bennett Hamilton, even as the movement becomes more and more ubiquitous in some circles. During the book club’s most recent meeting, the group discussed writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Emmy-Winning TV series, “Fleabag,” whose protagonist is often called wildly problematic by modern feminist standards; at one point, she declares that she would trade 5 years of her life for the perfect body, a line which drew laughs from many members of the book club.
For Bennett Hamilton, the nuances of third- and fourth-wave feminism are starting points for discussion.
“[In the context of] talking about a feminist group or a feminist book club, feminism as a movement isn’t something that we can take uncritically. A lot of what I like about [“Fleabag”] is that it’s super irreverent about things like that,” Bennet Hamilton said. “I think a big piece of what it’s doing is portraying in a very deep sense how women are harmed by a patriarchal culture.”
Next month, the Brunswick Feminist Book Club will be reading “The Testaments” by Margaret Atwood. As for the discussion, there are no guarantees.
“It’s fun to see who shows up, who catches it on Facebook, who comes, who comes back,” McGrath said. “Every meeting is a little different.”