A Reading List In Celebration Of International Women’s Day
January 21, 2017: Nearly 700 marches and rallies around the world with some 4.5 million participants. Among the biggest human-rights demonstrations in history. A powerful display of solidarity around women’s rights.
In today’s lightning-fast world, the Women’s March already feels long past. The march, however, was just the beginning. The month of March is all about women.
A Little History
Women’s Day observances began more than a century ago, stimulated by the Socialist party and working women in the United States and Europe. International Women’s Day was officially marked for the first time on March 19, 1911, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. A few years later, the observance was moved to March 8, with rallies advocating for women’s right to vote, hold public office, work and receive vocational training, and protesting discrimination on the job, World War I and local leadership.
In 1975, the United Nations officially recognized International Women’s Day. As the organization notes on its website, it “is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.”
Just one day to reflect on all that? In the United States, the day expanded to a week, then grew to a month. The White House has declared March as Women’s History Month every year since 1987.
Inspiration for the Future
How can we keep the energy of a movement and the power of solidarity alive? One way is to examine the challenges facing women around the globe and to learn about women who have shaped the past and are envisioning the future.
This suggested reading list is the tip of the iceberg—please add your suggestions in the comments. And most of all, don’t keep the books to yourself—share them with the women and men in your life.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 2: The Defining Years, 1933-1938 by Blanche Wiesen Cook (2000)
If you only have time to read one of this trilogy on Eleanor Roosevelt, make it this one. Covering the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the onset of World War II, this volume encompasses the years of the Roosevelts’ greatest challenges and finest achievements. Roosevelt changed the role of the First Lady through her active participation in politics, and was committed to racial justice and women’s rights.
To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells by Mia Bay (2010)
Born to slaves in Mississippi in 1862, Ida B. Wells was an early supporter of civil rights and a vocal critic of racial segregation. As a journalist, she decried the lynching and other wrongful deaths of African Americans at the time, becoming a courageous anti-lynching crusader, as well as an advocate for women’s suffrage.
Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond by Lilly Ledbetter (2013)
In 1979 Lily Ledbetter started work at the Goodyear factory in Alabama, one of the first women to be hired by the company at the management level. After 19 years, an anonymous note revealed that she was earning thousands of dollars less than her male counterparts. Taking her case all the way to the Supreme Court, Ledbetter lost due to a legal loophole. Ledbetter continued her persistent advocacy for fair pay, and her commitment to women’s and minority rights paid off in 2009, when President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. Ledbetter is one of National Women’s History Project’s 2017 Honorees.
My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor (2014)
The one-sentence summary of Sotomayor’s rise from a housing project in the Bronx to a seat on the Supreme Court is well-known, but there is so much more to her inspiring story. Thankfully, Sotomayor took it upon herself to write it, revealing with candor her experiences dealing with alcoholism (her father’s) and diabetes (her own) and her remarkable determination to accomplish her goals.
The Meaning of Michelle: 16 Writers on the Iconic First Lady and How Her Journey Inspires Our Own by Veronica Chambers (2017)
A familiar figure around the globe, Michelle Obama has had a reverberating effect on American culture and traditional notions about beauty, strength, fashion and health. This carefully curated collection of essays offers a window into Obama’s impact on the men and women, African-American women in particular, who have watched her over the past eight years.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristoff & Sheryl WuDunn (2009)
The Pulitzer-prize winning husband and wife team have produced a deeply-researched call to arms against oppression of women and girls around the globe. From sex slavery to female education in developing countries, readers should also question the role the policies of Western governments play in such oppression.
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb (2013)
Who hasn’t heard of Malala Yousafzai, Pakistan’s teenage activist for female education and the world’s youngest Nobel Peace prize winner? When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley, Yousafzai refused to give up on her education. Surviving the attack on her life, Yousafzai became an advocate for female education worldwide. Her biography is a compelling reminder of the power of each voice.
Girl Power in the Age of the Millennials: Essays on Women, Youth and Global Social Change by Christine Horansky (2014)
This slim (70-page!) volume of essays was curated by an award-winning advocate for global education and champion for women and girls. Horansky is well placed to take a global look at gender equality having worked on the issue for the UN, and examines issues from a millennial perspective.
Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War by Leymah Gbowee (2013)
A Nobel Peace Prize winner from Liberia shares her strategies for building peace. Yes, withholding sex was part of the strategy. And yes, it worked. Just not in the way you might think.
Fiery and Funny Feminism
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (2014)
When an author’s writing has appeared in anthologies of Best American Mystery Stories, Best American Short Stories and Best Sex Writing, you know you’re in for an entertaining ride. In Bad Feminist, Gay takes on everything from politics to pop culture, all through a sharp feminist lens. Why bad feminist? Because like most people in the world, Gay doesn’t fit into tidy boxes.
Men Explain Things to Me (2014) and The Mother of All Questions (2017) by Rebecca Solnit
Men Explain Things to Me is a collection of seven essays, sometimes scathing, often funny. In the literal sense, it’s not a heavy book. But Solnit packs her punches when it comes to identifying gender inequalities and she is widely regarded as one of today’s most important feminist thinkers. The eponymous first essay was first published in 2008, and gave birth to the term of the moment: ‘mansplaining’ (men explaining things to women as if those women didn’t know anything about the things in question). The Mother of All Questions takes a look at silence—how women are silenced, whose voice is not represented, who controls the narrative.
We Should All Be Feminists (2014) and Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (2017) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We Should All Be Feminists by Nigerian author Adichie was originally a TED talk (which has racked up some 3.5 million views). She eventually turned those memories and thoughts on feminism to examine why supporting only ‘human rights’ is to “deny the specific and particular problem of gender.” This pocket-sized book advises us to raise both our sons and our daughters differently, and is an “of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.” Dear Ijeawele is based on Adichie’s letters to a childhood friend, in response to the question, “How can I raise my daughter to be a feminist?” Allowing children to have both helicopters and dolls for toys and talking frankly with girls about clothes, sex and makeup may not be revolutionary advice, but it is always a good reminder, and Adichie is eloquent in her delivery.
Amy E. Robertson is a writer and avid reader currently based in Beirut, Lebanon. She has written about volunteering for women’s empowerment for RUBY and about Ecuador’s female government ministers for Ms. Magazine. Follow Amy on Twitter @traveler0603, visit her website for more stories, or read her personal blog for updates on life in Beirut.