Twenty Books to Read for Women’s History Month 2023

Join us in celebrating the cultural, social, and leadership contributions women have played throughout history. From their critical roles in politics and advocacy to the fight against sexual violence, the underrepresentation of women in the workplace and scholarship to unsung heroines, to acclaimed authors across the globe, these books shed light on women’s voices throughout history.

On Women, Activism, and Politics

Sex and World Peace
2d edition

Valerie M. Hudson, Mary Caprioli, Rose McDermott, and Donna Lee Bowen

Previously selected for Emma Watson and Gloria Steinem’s book clubs, Sex and World Peace has been a go-to book for instructors, advocates, and policy makers since its publication in 2012. It is a groundbreaking demonstration that the security of women is a vital factor in the occurrence of conflict and war, unsettling a wide range of assumptions in political and security discourse. Read a book excerpt from the first edition.

From Whispers to Shouts
The Ways We Talk About Cancer

Elaine Schattner

From Whispers to Shouts examines public perception of cancer through stories in newspapers and magazines, social media, and popular culture. It probes the evolving relationship between journalists and medical specialists and illuminates the role of women and charities that distributed medical information. Schattner traces the origins of patient advocacy and activism from the 1920s onward, highlighting how, while doctors have lost control of messages about cancer, survivors have gained visibility and voice. Read about the crucial role women played in cancer education during the twentieth century.

On Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
The First of a New Genus

Susan J. Wolfson

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) made a pioneering and durably influential argument for women’s equality. Drawing on extensive experience teaching and writing about Wollstonecraft, Susan J. Wolfson provides fresh perspectives both for first-time readers and for those seeking a nuanced appreciation of her achievements. Read about Wollstonecraft’s tumultuous journey in society. 

In Her Own Name
The Politics of Women’s Rights Before Suffrage

Sara Chatfield

Long before American women had the right to vote, states dramatically transformed their status as economic citizens. In Her Own Name explores the origins and consequences of laws guaranteeing married women’s property rights, focusing on the people and institutions that shaped them. Sara Chatfield demonstrates that the motives of male elites included personal interests, benefits to the larger economy, and bolstering state power. Learn about women’s property rights and enslavement in the pre-Civil War South.

Gender and the Politics of History
30th anniversary edition

Joan Wallach Scott

This landmark work from a renowned feminist historian is a foundational demonstration of the uses of gender as a conceptual tool for cultural and historical analysis. In this anniversary edition, Scott reflects on the book’s legacy and implications for contemporary politics as well as her engagement with psychoanalytic theory. Read the book’s preface and introduction.

On Sexual Violence and the #MeToo Movement

The #MeToo Effect
What Happens When We Believe Women

Leigh Gilmore

In this work, Leigh Gilmore provides a new account of #MeToo that reveals how storytelling by survivors propelled the call for sexual justice beyond courts and high-profile cases. She reframes #MeToo as a breakthrough moment within a longer history of feminist thought and activism.

Discover how #MeToo affected feminist thought and the implications of the Harvey Weinstein verdict for the credibility of women’s testimony in sexual assault cases in this piece, and read about the history of narrative activism.

Hunting Girls
Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape

Kelly Oliver

In Hunting Girls Kelly Oliver examines popular culture’s fixation on representing young women as predators and prey and the implication that violence—especially sexual violence—is an inevitable part of a woman’s maturity. She discusses campus rape, the valorization of woman’s lack of consent, and the new urgency to implement affirmative consent policies. Read about party rape and the celebration of lack of consent.

City Folk and Country Folk

Sofia Khvoshchinskaya. Translated by Nora Seligman Favorov

An unsung gem of nineteenth-century Russian literature, City Folk and Country Folk is a satire of Russia’s aristocratic and pseudo-intellectual elites in the 1860s. Sofia Khvoshchinskaya, writing under a male pseudonym, centers her story on a commonsense, hardworking noblewoman and her self-assured daughter, living on their small rural estate. Read about the moment our protagonist faces a #MeToo situation and how she responds.

On the Underrepresentation of Women

Gender and the Dismal Science
Women in the Early Years of the Economics Profession

Ann Mari May

This book is a groundbreaking account of the role of women during the formative years of American economics. Blending rich historical detail with extensive empirical data, Ann Mari May examines the structural and institutional factors that excluded women, from graduate education to academic publishing to university hiring practices. Read this blog post to know more about the factors that lead to the lack of women in the field.

The Big Gender Short in Investment Management

Ellen Carr and Katrina Dudley

In Undiversified, experienced practitioners Ellen Carr and Katrina Dudley examine the lack of women in investment management and propose solutions to improve the imbalance. They explore the barriers that subtly but effectively discourage women from entering and staying in the industry at each point in the pipeline. Read the prologue to learn more.

Where Are the Women?
Why Expanding the Archive Makes Philosophy Better

Sarah Tyson

Where Are the Women? challenges us to confront the reality that women’s exclusion from philosophy has been an ongoing project and to become more critical both of how we see existing injustices and of how we address them. In this piece, read about Tyson’s persuasive writing technique utilizing speculative, thought-provoking questions that engage the past, present, and future of women’s rights, feminism, and racial equality.

In the Shelter of the Pine
A Memoir of Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu and Tokugawa Japan

Ōgimachi Machiko. Translated by G. G. Rowley

In the Shelter of the Pine is the most significant work of literature by a woman of Japan’s early modern era. Featuring Ōgimachi Machiko’s keen eye for detail, strong narrative voice, and polished prose studded with allusions to Chinese and Japanese classics, this memoir sheds light on everything from the social world of the Tokugawa elite to the role of literature in women’s lives. 

Despite the significance of this work, women writers are missing from the history of the literature of the Edo period, 1603–1868—at least as that history has been told since the end of World War II. Read more about this curious phenomenon in this guest post by the book’s translator, G. G. Rowley.

On History’s Unsung Sheroes

Banking on Freedom
Black Women in U.S. Finance Before the New Deal

Shennette Garrett-Scott

Shennette Garrett-Scott explores black financial innovation and its transformative impact on U.S. capitalism through the story of the St. Luke Bank in Richmond, Virginia: the first and only bank run by black women. Banking on Freedom offers an unparalleled account of how black women carved out economic, social, and political power. Learn about Black women investors and pioneers in U.S. finance.

Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy
The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army

Phyllis Birnbaum

This sensational, myth-busting biography of a woman who thrived and fell upon the turmoil of her era presents the richest and most accurate portrait of the controversial princess spy. Aisin Gioro Xianyu (1907–1948), later known as Kawashima Yoshiko, was the fourteenth daughter of a Manchu prince and a legendary figure in China’s bloody struggle with Japan. 

The prince raised her to restore the Manchus to their former glory, and her fearsome dedication to this cause ultimately got her killed. The truth of Yoshiko’s life is still a source of contention between China and Japan: some believe she was exploited by powerful men, and others claim she relished her role as political provocateur. China holds her responsible for unspeakable crimes, while Japan has forgiven her transgressions. Decide for yourself in this blog post about her connection to a Japanese hostage.

Wu Zhao (624–705), better known as Wu Zetian or Empress Wu, is the only woman to have ruled China as emperor. How did she ascend the dragon throne? This multifaceted history suggests that China’s rich pantheon of female divinities and eminent women played an integral part in the construction of Wu Zhao’s sovereignty. Explore five reasons that enabled Wu Zhao’s to establish and maintain imperial power.

Female Authors from Around the Globe

An I-Novel

Minae Mizumura. Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter in collaboration with the author

Minae Mizumura is one of Japan’s most respected novelists, acclaimed for her audacious experimentation and skillful storytelling. An I-Novel is a semi-autobiographical work that takes place over the course of a single day in the 1980s. This formally daring novel radically breaks with Japanese literary tradition and offers a luminous meditation on how a person becomes a writer. In this Q&A, Mizumura openly shares her thoughts about living in Japan, collaborating with Juliet Winters Carpenter on the translation of this book.

There a Petal Silently Falls
Three Stories by Ch’oe Yun

Ch’oe Yun. Translated by Bruce Fulton and Ju-Chan Fulton

Wu Zhao (624–705), better known as Wu Zetian or Empress Wu, is the only woman to have ruled China as emperor. How did she ascend the dragon throne? This multifaceted history suggests that China’s rich pantheon of female divinities and eminent women played an integral part in the construction of Wu Zhao’s sovereignty. Explore five reasons that enabled Wu Zhao’s to establish and maintain imperial power.

The Great Flowing River  
A Memoir of China, from Manchuria to Taiwan

Chi Pang-yuan. Translated by John Balcom

Heralded as a literary masterpiece and a bestseller in the Chinese-speaking world, The Great Flowing River is a personal account of the history of modern China and Taiwan unlike any other. Noted scholar, writer, and teacher Chi Pang-yuan recounts her youth in mainland China and adulthood in Taiwan in a novelistic, epoch-defining narrative. Read more about Chi Pang-yuan and her life in this book excerpt.

The Voice Over
Poems and Essays

Maria Stepanova. Edited by Irina Shevelenko

Maria Stepanova is one of the most powerful and distinctive voices of Russia’s first post-Soviet literary generation. The Voice Over brings together two decades of Stepanova’s work, showcasing her range, virtuosity, and creative evolution. Discover the length a translator will go through to fact-check a name in “An August Cemetery and the Ridiculous Task of the Translator.

The Enchanted Clock
A Novel

Julia Kristeva. Translated by Armine Kotin Mortimer

Julia Kristeva is an influential Bulgarian-French philosopher, literary critic, semiotician, psychoanalyst, feminist, and novelist. Her intricate, multifaceted novel The Enchanted Clock is built around a golden astronomical clock in the Palace of Versailles. Part detective mystery, part historical fiction, and full of ruminations on memory, love, and the transcendence of linear time, it is an illuminating work by one of France’s great thinkers. Meet this fantastic clock, dazzle in the inventiveness of Kristeva’s writing, and embrace the novel’s resistance to being “domesticated” into English in this post by Armine Kotin Mortimer, the book’s translator.

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