History / Lists / Politics

Reading List: International Women’s Day

Revived by feminist movements in the 1970s, in 1975 the United Nations gave official sanction to, and began sponsoring, International Women’s Day, which is marked on 8th March every year.

Covering history, biography, travel, politics, fashion, art and geography, the following is our reading list for International Women’s Day, dedicated to the ongoing struggle of women against inequality.

The Life and Times of Stella Browne: Feminist and Free Spirit
Lesley Hall

The Life and Times of Stella Browne

Lesley Hall’s biography explores Stella Browne’s life and times, from her upbringing in Nova Scotia into her political apprenticeship and life from militant suffragism in the early 1900s through her internationalism and involvement with Margaret Sanger and the birth control and sex-reform movements, her work among pacifist, Communist and feminist circles in North America, the UK and Continental Europe.

British Women’s History: A Documentary History from the Enlightenment to World War I
Alison Twells

British Women's HistoryThis anthology brings together excerpts from over one hundred documents detailing women’s experiences from the end of the 18th century to the outbreak of World War I. It looks in detail at all aspects of life for women in Britain in this period, including motherhood, marriage and domestic life; religion, philanthropy and politics; work; education; the migration of Irish, Jewish and Black and Asian women to Britain; women in the Empire; and early feminism.

Birth Control and the Rights of Women: Post-suffrage Feminism in the Early Twentieth Century
Clare Debenham

Birth Control and the Rights of WomenAfter the granting of the vote to women in 1918, the struggle for women’s rights intensified with a nationwide campaign for the right to birth control. This campaign was met with a great deal of hostility; it threatened to overturn Victorian ideas about female sexuality, female empowerment and the traditional roles within the family. The most well known of the campaigners, scientist and early feminist Marie Stopes, opened clinics across England which fitted ‘contraception caps’ to women for free. The first history of this grassroots social movement, Birth Control and the Rights of Women offers a window into the social and cultural history of the period, and features new archival material in the forms of memoirs, personal papers and press cuttings.

The Female Mystic: Great Women Thinkers of the Middle Ages
Andrea Janelle Dickens

Female MysticThe Middle Ages saw a flourishing of mysticism that was astonishing for its richness and distinctiveness. Popular or lay religion has been overshadowed by academic theology, which was predominantly the theology of men. This timely book rectifies the neglect by examining a number of women whose lives exemplify traditions which were central to medieval theology but whose contributions have tended to be dismissed as ‘merely spiritual’ by today’s scholars.


Modern Women in China and Japan: Gender, Feminism and Global Modernity Between the Wars

Katrina Gulliver

Modern Women in China and JapanAt the dawn of the 1930s a new empowered and liberated image of the female was taking root in popular culture in the West. This ‘modern woman’ archetype was also penetrating into Eastern cultures, however, challenging the Chinese and Japanese historical norm of the woman as homemaker, servant or geisha. Through a focus on the writings of the Western women who engaged with the Far East, and the Eastern writers and personalities who reacted to this new global gender communication by forming their own separate identities, Katrina Gulliver reveals the complex redefining of the self taking place in a crucial time of political and economic upheaval.

Forugh Farrokhzad, Poet of Modern Iran: Iconic Woman and Feminine Pioneer of New Persian Poetry
Edited by Dominic Parviz Brookshaw, Nasrin Rahimieh

Forugh FarrokhzadThe pioneering Iranian poet and filmmaker Forugh Farrokhzad was an iconic figure in her own day and has come to represent the spirit of revolt against patriarchal and cultural norms in 1960s Iran. Four decades after her tragic death at the age of 32, Forugh Farrokhzad, Poet of Modern Iran brings her ground-breaking work into new focus. Highlighting her literary and cinematic innovation, this volume examines the unique place Farrokhzad occupies in Iran, both among modern Persian poets in general and as an Iranian woman writer in particular.

Gertrude and Alice
Diana Souhami

Gertrude and AliceGertrude Stein and Alice Babette Toklas met on Sunday 8 September 1907, in Paris. From that day on they were together, until Gertrude’s death on Saturday 27 July 1946. Gertrude and Alice is the highly acclaimed story of their remarkable life together, of the paths that led them to each other, and of Alice’s years of widowhood after Gertrude had died. From letters, memoirs and the published writings of Stein and Toklas and with rich illustrations, Whitbread Award-winner Diana Souhami brings their characters, beliefs and achievements vividly to life.

Persian Pictures: From the Mountains to the Sea
Gertrude Bell

Persian PicturesGertrude Bell (1868-1926) – scholar, linguist, archaeologist, traveller and ‘orientalist’ – was a remarkable woman in male-dominated Edwardian society. She shunned convention by eschewing marriage and family for an academic career and the extensive travelling that would lead to her major role in Middle Eastern diplomacy. But her private life was marred by the tragedy, vulnerability and frustration that were key to her quest both for a British dominated Middle East and relief from the torture of her romantic failures. Through her vivid writings, she brought the Arab world alive for countless people as she travelled to some of the region’s most inhospitable places.

A Winter in Arabia: A Journey Through Yemen
Freya Stark

A Winter in ArabiaFreya Stark is most famous for her travels in Arabia at a time when very few men, let alone women, had fully explored its vast hinterlands. In 1934, she made her first journey to the Hadhramaut in what is now Yemen – the first woman to do so alone. Even though that journey ended in disappointment, sickness and a forced rescue, Stark, undeterred, returned to Yemen two years later. From within Stark’s beautifully-crafted and deeply knowledgeable narrative emerges a rare and exquisitely-rendered portrait of the customs and cultures of the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula.

Feminism and Popular Culture: Investigating the Postfeminist Mystique
Rebecca Munford & Melanie Waters

Feminism and Popular CultureFeminism and Popular Culture maps the fraught and often unpredictable relationship between popular culture, feminism and postfeminism. From the shadowy city spaces of Mad Men and Homeland to the dystopic suburbia of The Stepford Wives and American Horror Story, the authors trace the maniacal career women, hysterical housewives and amnesiac daughters who roam the postfeminist landscape. Through recourse to these figures, they illuminate postfeminism’s obsessive resuscitation of seemingly anachronistic models of femininity and ask why these should today be gilded with new appeal.

Renewing Feminisms: Radical Narratives, Fantasies and Futures in Media Studies
Edited by Helen Thornham & Elke Weissmann

Renewing FeminismsThe feminist movement, we have been told, is history. This lively book proposes that on the contrary the feminist movement is alive and kicking, still as engaged with the concerns and ways of seeing as it was in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s; still demanding its political place. Renewing Feminisms sets out the claim for a feminism that is renewed, reinvigorated and re-imagined, and revisits major feminist areas, investigating representational issues, those of agency and narrative, media forms and formats, and the traditional boundaries of the public and the private.

Modest Fashion: Styling Bodies, Mediating Faith
Edited by Reina Lewis

Modest FashionIncreasing numbers of women are engaging in the development and discussion of modest dressing; a movement matched by a growing media and popular demand for intelligent commentary about the topic. Modest Fashion sets out to meet that need by discussing the emergence of a niche market for modest fashion among and between Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith groups as well as secular dressers. Crossing creeds and cultures, analysing commentary alongside commerce, the book probes the personal and the political as well as religious, aesthetic and economic implications of contemporary dress practices and the debates that surround them.

The Sacred and the Feminine: Imagination and Sexual Difference
Griselda Pollock & Victoria Turvey-Sauron

The Sacred and the FeminineThe notion of a special intimacy between ‘the feminine and the sacred’ has received significant attention since the publication of Julia Kristeva and Catherine Clement’s famous ecumenical Conversation of the same name which focused on the relationship between meaning and the body at whose interface the feminine is positioned. Taking up the debate and moving beyond anthropology or theology, writers from varied ethnic, geo-cultural and religious perspectives here join with secular cultural analysts to explore the sacred and the feminine in art, literature, music, philosophy, theology, critical theory and cultural studies.

Visualizing Feeling: Affect and the Feminine Avant-garde
Susan Best

Visualizing FeelingIs late modern art ‘anti-aesthetic’? What does it mean to label a piece of art ‘affectless’? These traditional characterizations of 1960s and 1970s art are radically challenged in this subversive art history. By introducing feeling to the analysis of this period, Susan Best acknowledges the radical and exploratory nature of art in late modernism. The book focuses on four highly influential female artists – Eva Hesse, Lygia Clark, Ana Mendieta and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha – and it explores how their art transformed established avant-garde protocols by introducing an affective dimension. This is the first thorough re-appraisal of aesthetic engagement with affect in post-1960s art.

Re-negotiating the Body: Feminist Art in 1970s London
Kathy Battista

Renegotiating the BodyWhat makes art ‘feminist art’? Although feminist artists do have a unique aesthetic, there can be no essential feminist aesthetic, argues Kathy Battista in this exciting art history. Domesticity, the body, its traces and sexuality have become prominent themes in contemporary feminist practice but where did these preoccupations begin and how did they come to signify a particular type of art? Kathy Battista’s (re-)engagement with the founding generation of female practitioners centres on 1970s London as the cultural hub from which a new art practice arose, and has since been both marginalised in art history and grossly under-represented in institutional archives and collections.

Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology
Rozsika Parker & Griselda Pollock

Old MistressesWhy is everything that compromises greatness in art coded as ‘feminine’? Has the feminist critique of Art History history yet effected real change? This new edition of a truly groundbreaking book offers a radical challenge to a women-free Art History. Parker and Pollock’s critique of Art History’s sexism leads to expanded, inclusive readings of the art of the past. They demonstrate how the changing historical social realities of gender relations and women artists’ translation of gendered conditions into their works provide keys to novel understandings of why we might study the art of the past.

The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine
Rozsika Parker

The Subversive StitchRozsika Parker’s re-evaluation of the reciprocal relationship between women and embroidery created a major breakthrough in art history and criticism, and fostered the emergence of today’s dynamic and expanding crafts movements. The Subversive Stitch uses household accounts, women’s magazines, letters, novels and the works of art themselves to trace through history how the separation of the craft of embroidery from the fine arts came to be a major force in the marginalisation of women’s work.

Becoming Visible in Iran: Women in Contemporary Iranian Society
Mehri Honarbin-Holliday

Becoming Visible in IranBecoming Visible in Iran disputes the widespread stereotypes about Muslim women prevalent in the West, providing a vivid account of young women in contemporary Iran. Beginning at home, women are infusing dramatic change by challenging the patriarchal conceptions of their fathers, brothers, uncles and others within the intimate sphere of family and home. Empowered by education, they transport their power from the domestic and the private to the public and political. Through detailed interviews and striking narratives, Mehri Honarbin-Holliday presents the experiences of these young women who wield a key of indirect political influence on the seemingly male-dominated politics of Iran.

Rethinking Orientalism: Women, Travel and the Ottoman Harem
Reina Lewis

Rethinking OrientalismThe oppressed yet highly sexualized woman of the Muslim harem is arguably the pivotal figure of Western orientalism. Yet, as Reina Lewis demonstrates, while orientalist thinking had recently been challenged, Western understandings of Middle Eastern culture remain limited. This book presents alternative dialogues between Ottoman and Western women. Lewis examines, from the position of cultural theory, the published autobiographical accounts about segregated life of self-identified “Oriental” women. Bringing her subjects vividly to life, Lewis uses these texts to challenge the Western orientalist stereotypes that have become commonplace within postcolonial theory.

Women and Conflict in the Middle East: Palestinian Refugees and the Response to Violence
Maria Holt

Women and Conflict in the Middle EastWomen in conflict zones face a wide range of violence: from physical and psychological trauma to political, economic and social disadvantage. And the sources of the violence are varied also: from the ‘public’ violence of the enemy to the more ‘private’ violence of the family. Maria Holt uses her research gathered in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon and in the West Bank to look at the forms of violence suffered by women in the context of the wider conflict around them. Drawing on first-hand accounts of women who have either participated in, been victims of or bystanders to violence, Women and Conflict in the Middle East highlights the complex situation of these refugees, and explores how many of them become involved in resistance activities.

Gendering the Middle East: Alternative Perspectives
Edited by Deniz Kandiyoti

Gendering the Middle EastThis text is an attempt to evaluate the extent to which gender analysis has succeeded in both informing and challenging established views of culture, society and literary production in the Middle East. Contributors from the fields of history, anthropology, political sociology, international relations and literary criticism illustrate how a focus on gender may modify our disciplinary perspectives. Their explorations, ranging from political discourse in Iran and inheritance strategies in Palestine to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, women’s writing in Egypt, and methodological dilemmas in fieldwork, demonstrate how a focus on gender may act as a powerful tool of social criticism.

From Shamanism to Sufism: Women, Islam and Culture in Central Asia
Razia Sultanova

From Shamanism to SufismWomen have traditionally played a vital part in Islam throughout Central Asia – the vast area from the Caspian Sea to Siberia. With this ground-breaking and original study, Razia Sultanova examines the experiences of Muslim women in the region and the ways in which religion has shaped their daily lives and continues to do so today. From Shamanism to Sufism explores the fundamental interplay between religious belief and the cultural heritage of music and dance and is the first book to focus particularly on the role of women.

Gender, Modernity and Liberty: Middle Eastern and Western Women’s Writings – a Critical Sourcebook
Reina Lewis and Nancy Micklewright

Gender, Modernity and LibertyGender, Modernity and Liberty presents a dialogue between Western and Middle Eastern women that is often presumed never to have happened. Not only were women from the Middle East imagined to be shut up in a harem all day without access to education, ideas or the outside world, but the extent to which Western women travellers were able to engage with women in the regions they visited has often been overlooked. This pioneering collection provides substantial extracts from Ottoman, Egyptian and British and American writers that trace the development of an intellectual, personal and critical dialogue between women over a period of accelerated social change.

Gender and Equality in Muslim Family Law: Justice and Ethics in the Islamic Legal Tradition
Edited by Lena Larsen, Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Christian Moe & Kari Vogt

Gender and Equality in Muslim Family LawGender equality is a modern ideal, which has only recently, with the expansion of human rights and feminist discourses, become inherent to generally accepted conceptions of justice. In Islam, as in other religious traditions, the idea of equality between men and women was neither central to notions of justice nor part of the juristic landscape, and Muslim jurists did not begin to address it until the twentieth century. Gender and Equality in Muslim Family Law offers a ground-breaking analysis of family law, based on fieldwork in family courts, and illuminated by insights from distinguished clerics and scholars of Islam from Morocco, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia, as well as by the experience of human rights and women’s rights activists.

Women and Journalism
Suzanne Franks

Women and JournalismIn many countries, the majority of high profile journalists and editors remain male. In this book, Suzanne Franks looks at the key issues surrounding female journalists – from on-screen sexism and ageism to the dangers facing female foreign correspondents reporting from war zones. She also analyses the way that the changing digital media have presented both challenges and opportunities for women working in journalism and considers this in an international perspective. In doing so, this book provides an overview of the ongoing imbalances faced by women in the media and looks at the key issues hindering gender equality in journalism.

Gender: Antiquity and Its Legacy
Brooke Holmes

GenderIn this short, lively book, Brooke Holmes offers a sophisticated and historically rounded reading of gender in antiquity in order to map out the future of contemporary gender studies. By re-examining ancient notions of sexual difference, bodies, culture, and identity, Holmes shows that Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Epicureans and others force us to reassess what is at stake in present-day discussions about gender.

The Warrior Women of Islam: Female Empowerment in Arabic Popular Literature
Remke Kruk

The Warrior Women of IslamColloquial Arabic storytelling is most commonly associated with The Thousand and One Nights. But few people are aware of a much larger corpus of narrative texts known as popular epic. These heroic romantic tales, originating in the Middle Ages, form vast cycles of adventure stories whose most remarkable feature is their portrayal of powerful and memorable women. Wildly appreciated by medieval audiences these fictions were printed and reprinted over the centuries and comprise a vital part of Arab culture. Yet virtually none are available in translation, and so remain almost unknown to a non-Arab public. Remke Kruk at last makes these neglected romances available to a Western audience.

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