by Adult Services Librarian Leann
With origins in socialist and communist political movements in the 20th century and second wave feminism in the 1960s, the United Nations recognized March 8 as International Women’s Day in 1977. According to the UN, “it is a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political.” March is also recognized as Women’s History Month in the United States.
The world has been ravaged by the pandemic since the last International Women’s Day and in the United States, communities which were already underserved have been especially hard-hit by rates of serious illness, death, and economic hardship. Likewise, there have been shocking, but perhaps not surprising, reports of the myriad ways in which the economic collapse brought on by the pandemic has singularly and negatively impacted women. The Brookings Institution released this report which helps summarize the complex range issues now facing working women, stating bluntly, “COVID-19 is hard on women because the U.S. economy is hard on women, and this virus excels at taking existing tensions and ratcheting them up.” A lack of access to childcare, traditional gender roles inside and outside the home, the fact that women are disproportionately represented in low-wage jobs, and a lack of support and critical infrastructure for families and working women are all contributing factors making the impact of COVID-19 especially hard on women.
The dramatic impacts of the pandemic on women in particular highlight how much there is still to address in the United States–and globally–if we hope to achieve gender equity. International Women’s Day is a chance to celebrate and reflect on the achievements and struggles of women past and present, and take action for the future.
Here are 6 of my suggestions of books written by women, about women. Enjoy!
From as far back as the movement for women’s suffrage in the United States, mainstream feminism has been plagued by either outright racism and/or the idea that feminism is, can, and should be, a color-blind philosophy. Feminism is bound up with all the other -isms: classism, racism, capitalism, tribalism. They’re inseparable, so talking about them at all can be complicated and overwhelming. Mikki Kendall, however, gets to the point with critical clarity in Hood Feminism stating, “true feminist solidarity across racial lines means being willing to protect each other, speaking up when the missing women are not from your community, and calling out ways that predatory violence can span multiple communities.”
Viriginia Hall’s story is exceptional in the specifics: she was an intelligent, savvy, single young American woman traveling the world and working for a living in the 1920s and 30s, and eventually became the first British spy in Vichy France, establishing its most essential network of informants, which was critical in winning the Allies the war. Her story, however, is all too familiar in the broad strokes for women in a male-dominated profession. Time and time again, Virginia was underestimated, undervalued, and underappreciated for her hard work, dedication, and skill. Nevertheless, through sheer determination and willpower, Virginia pursued the life she wanted for herself with astonishing results.
According to the publisher’s website, In the Dream House, “is a wrenching, riveting book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.” Author Carmen Maria Machado explores her experience of a traumatic relationship with a charming but volatile woman using second-person narrative and painful honesty. NPR’s Gabino Iglesias says in their review, “this book is a scream that ensures visibility, a chronicle of truth that weights more than a thousand theories and all the efforts to erase the reality of abuse in lesbian couples.” This revolutionary memoir is not to be missed.
The essays from this collection that I think about the most are called, “Always Be Optimizing” and “The Cult of the Difficult Woman.” Jia Tolentino’s adroit, sharp, and witty essays are a critical commentary on our culture made to feel deeply personal. She structures the book around nine different themes, including: being a person on the Internet, deified productivity, pop Feminism, and so forth. Not every essay is entirely relatable for every reader, but if you are an internet-using human, prepare to feel very seen.
This debut novel from Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Connie Schultz is centered around a small blue collar town in Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie. To anyone who’s lived in Ohio, Schultz’s novel will immediately feel familiar. The story follows four generations of women in the Anyplace, Ohio town against the backdrop of World Wars and the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 70s, with attention paid to the setting to make it feel uniquely Ohio. All of the characters in Erietown must face dreams deferred, make hard choices, sacrifice for others, and find identity and meaning in their relationships to each other. Readers of historical fiction and those who like generational family stories will enjoy The Daughters of Erietown.
Fast paced and darkly comic, Oyinkan Braithwaite tells a story about sisterhood and the struggle – and power – of being a woman through the lens of an embittered Nigerian woman who realizes her beloved and beautiful sister is a serial killer. My Sister turns the classic competitive sister trope on its head. Sure, one sister is always cleaning up the other sister’s messes, but in this case, the messes are murdered boyfriends. The plot intensifies when the murderous sister sets her sights on someone a little too close for comfort. Oyinkan’s style will make your heart pound with equal parts dread and delight.
For the romantic check out this post!
And be sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming BPL Podcast episode, Investing in Women w/ CEO Kelley Griesmer coming out March 12 at 12AM! To honor Women’s History Month, in this episode, Leann sits down with Kelley Griesmer, CEO of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, to talk about the wealth gap, the importance of investing financially in women, and the new Enduring Progress Initiative focused on breaking down barriers to racial and gender equity.