10 Books You Should Read to Learn the History of Women’s Rights
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The recent decision by the United States Supreme Court to reverse the 50-year precedent established by Roe v. Wade will have severe physical, social, and political implications for U.S. citizens, especially women's rights.
The newfound verdict about a woman's bodily autonomy has compelled Americans to revisit the history of women's rights activists. In doing so, they are trying to make sense of the most recent decision and anticipate how other recent freedoms, like same-sex marriage, may also be impacted.
Over the past century, women have pushed for their voices to be heard. Check out these 10 notable books that shine a light on gender inequalities and reframe what we think it means to be a woman today. Some are narrative nonfiction or graphic novels, while others take the form of a memoir or manifesto. But each work highlights the progress that still needs to be made.
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By Kate Moore
Best known for her work "The Radium Girls," Kate Moore's latest work "The Women They Could Not Silence" (2021) looks at the way women throughout history have been dismissed as "crazy." This is an uplifting tale about a forgotten heroine named Elizabeth Packard from the late 1800s.
Threatened by her intelligence and unwillingness to stifle her voice, the mother of six is committed to an insane asylum by her own husband. Her inspirational journey exposed the injustice women faced and still face today. Her work was a catalyst for change and significantly impacted the women's rights movement.
By Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin
From the same talented hosts of the podcast "Unladylike," Conger and Ervin's field guide entitled "Unladylike: A Field Guide to Smashing the Patriarchy and Claiming Your Space" is a must-read. The illustrated field guide is a hilarious yet informative book on how to advocate for women's rights in the modern world. Beginning with defining which qualities in women the patriarchy emphasizes, the authors address step by step how to rewrite the narrative. Embedded with vivid graphics, Conger and Ervin address intersectional feminism seamelssly.
By Joshua Prager
Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, "Family Roe: An American Story," (2021) delves into the life of Norma McCorvey, a.k.a. Jane Roe, who was at the heart of the landmark court case Roe v. Wade. Through this narrative, Prager takes the reader through an intimate portrait of McCorvey's life as she grows up in Louisiana, charting how unplanned pregnancies changed the paths of many women before her. The work takes us through her activism both for and against abortion through the lens of women's rights activists. It also takes us through her journey of giving up her three daughters, including Baby Roe, for adoption.
By Diana Goetsch
Transgender poet and essayist Diana Goetsch in her newly released work "This Body I Wore: A Memoir" (2022) reflects on her journey to understanding her "unmoored" perception of her gender identity. Readers travel with her through the decades of living life as a man suffering from depression, dealing with pangs of loneliness, experimenting with cross-dressing as a woman, and other complex issues. Goetsch provides us with a fuller, more complex view of a person's life transitioning to womanhood in parallel to the rise of advocating for women's rights for the trans community.
By Mikki Kendall
D'Amico's illustrations bring to life the history of the fight for women's rights compiled by author Mikki Kendall. The book "Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women's Fight For Their Rights'' (2019) discusses the ongoing struggles of women throughout history from antiquity to the present day. Impeccably curated, this work highlights notable women throughout history and covers various issues, including abolition, civil rights, equal employment, women's right to vote, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ+ rights.
By Caroline Criado Perez
In the #1 International Bestseller "Invisible Women: Data Bias In a World Designed For Men" (2019), Caroline Criado Perez discusses the inescapability of data. It controls our digital environment and has far-reaching implications for everything from healthcare to education to public policy. The book reveals that the gender bias in the collection and implementation of this data render women invisible. Caroline Cirado Perez also reveals how the very systems that we encounter daily have inherent biases against women and support a cis-male biased perception of the world.
By Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem is a feminist icon best known for her social activism and launching of several political magazines in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In "My Life On the Road" (2016), she brings us stories of her life as a nomadic organizer and discusses how travel has shaped her political views. The uplifting memoir of this women's rights activist addresses how a person can stay relevant even when their name is tethered to an old movement, while showing readers the history of the feminist movement.
By Meg Wolitzer
Meg Wolitzer's New York Times best-selling novel "The Female Persuasion" (2018) is a coming-of-age story that examines gatekeeping by the patriarchy. The story follows Greer Kadetsky, a first-year college student who meets Faith Frank, someone who has been active in the women's rights movement for decades. Through their interactions, Greer becomes inspired and ultimately finds her sense of purpose, and she walks away from her original storybook ending she had first imagined with her boyfriend Cory.
By Julia Serano
Declared by NPR as one of the foundational texts helping you to understand transgender politics, Julia Serano's "Whipping Girl: A Transeuxal Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoat of Feminity" (2016) is a must read. Serano shares her personal journey pre- and post-transition through her lens as a lesbian transgender activist and a professional biologist. She dives into society's dismissive attitude towards women and the cultural belief that femininity is passive and weak and thus easily dismissed. Serano argues that this attitude shapes the suspicion and fear many in society feel towards trans women.
By Florence Given
Florence Given is a prominent queer, feminist illustrator, activist, and Instagram influencer with over 280,000 followers who is known for her stance on empowerment and political activism. Recently, she published "Women Don't Owe You Pretty" (2020), an illustrated book on modern feminism. Given discusses women's rights activism in accessible language, creating a primer of sorts for this generation. The book covers topics from body positivity, overcoming insecurity, cultural baggage, and fighting the male gaze.