Books to read during Women’s History Month

Books to read during Women’s History Month

A key component of Princeton University Press’s mission is to increase the representation of women across our publishing disciplines. Throughout Women’s History Month in March, we will be taking time to highlight the books by and about women who have pushed boundaries, affected change, redefined roles, or who have complicated our understanding of what it means to be powerful.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, first published in 1792, is a work of enduring relevance in women’s rights advocacy. However, as Sylvana Tomaselli shows, a full understanding of Wollstonecraft’s thought is possible only through a more comprehensive appreciation of Wollstonecraft herself, as a philosopher and moralist who deftly tackled major social and political issues and the arguments of such figures as Edmund Burke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Adam Smith. Reading Wollstonecraft through the lens of the politics and culture of her own time, this book restores her to her rightful place as a major eighteenth-century thinker, reminding us why her work still resonates today.

What role do women play in the perpetuation of patriarchy? On the one hand, popular media urges women to be independent, outspoken, and career-minded. Yet, this same media glorifies a specific, sometimes voluntary, female submissiveness as a source of satisfaction. In philosophy, even less has been said on why women submit to men and the discussion has been equally contradictory—submission has traditionally been considered a vice or pathology, but female submission has been valorized as innate to women’s nature. Is there a way to explore female submission in all of its complexity—not denying its appeal in certain instances, and not buying into an antifeminist, sexist, or misogynistic perspective? We Are Not Born Submissive offers the first in-depth philosophical exploration of female submission, focusing on the thinking of Simone de Beauvoir, and more recent work in feminist philosophy, epistemology, and political theory.

This book tells the fascinating story of Eva Palmer Sikelianos (1874–1952), an American actor, director, composer, and weaver best known for reviving the Delphic Festivals. Yet, as Artemis Leontis reveals, Palmer’s most spectacular performance was her daily revival of ancient Greek life. For almost half a century, dressed in handmade Greek tunics and sandals, she sought to make modern life freer and more beautiful through a creative engagement with the ancients. A brilliant and gorgeous New York debutante who studied Greek at Bryn Mawr College, Palmer rejected conventional society to live a lesbian life in Paris before moving to Greece, where she married the poet Angelos Sikelianos and began recreating ancient art forms. Drawing on newly discovered letters and featuring previously unpublished photographs, this is a vivid biography of a remarkable nonconformist whom one contemporary described as “the only ancient Greek I ever knew.”

In the 1880s, women were barred from voting in all national-level elections, but by 1920 they were going to the polls in nearly thirty countries. What caused this massive change? Why did male politicians agree to extend voting rights to women? Contrary to conventional wisdom, it was not because of progressive ideas about women or suffragists’ pluck. In most countries, elected politicians fiercely resisted enfranchising women, preferring to extend such rights only when it seemed electorally prudent and in fact necessary to do so. Through a careful examination of the tumultuous path to women’s political inclusion in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, Forging the Franchise demonstrates that the formation of a broad movement across social divides, and strategic alliances with political parties in competitive electoral conditions, provided the leverage that ultimately transformed women into voters.

In India, elite law firms offer a surprising oasis for women within a hostile, predominantly male industry. Less than 10 percent of the country’s lawyers are female, but women in the most prestigious firms are significantly represented both at entry and partnership. Elite workspaces are notorious for being unfriendly to new actors, so what allows for aberration in certain workspaces? Drawing from observations and interviews with more than 130 elite professionals, Accidental Feminism examines how a range of underlying mechanisms—gendered socialization and essentialism, family structures and dynamics, and firm and regulatory histories—afford certain professionals egalitarian outcomes that are not available to their local and global peers.

When Linda Babcock wanted to know why male graduate students were teaching their own courses while female students were always assigned as assistants, her dean said: “More men ask. The women just don’t ask.” Drawing on psychology, sociology, economics, and organizational behavior as well as dozens of interviews with men and women in different fields and at all stages in their careers, Women Don’t Ask explores how our institutions, child-rearing practices, and implicit assumptions discourage women from asking for the opportunities and resources that they have earned and deserve—perpetuating inequalities that are fundamentally unfair and economically unsound. Women Don’t Ask tells women how to ask, and why they should.

For the Many presents an inspiring look at how US women and their global allies pushed the nation and the world toward justice and greater equality for all. Reclaiming social democracy as one of the central threads of American feminism, Dorothy Sue Cobble offers a bold rewriting of twentieth-century feminist history and documents how forces, peoples, and ideas worldwide shaped American politics. Cobble follows egalitarian women’s activism from the explosion of democracy movements before World War I to the establishment of the New Deal, through the upheavals in rights and social citizenship at midcentury, to the reassertion of conservatism and the revival of female-led movements today.

A leading exponent of the nouveau roman, Nathalie Sarraute (1900–1999) was also one of France’s most cosmopolitan literary figures, and her life was bound up with the intellectual and political ferment of twentieth-century Europe. Ann Jefferson’s Nathalie Sarraute: A Life Between is the authoritative biography of this major writer.

The Rebellion of the Daughters investigates the flight of young Jewish women from their Orthodox, mostly Hasidic, homes in Western Galicia (now Poland) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In extreme cases, hundreds of these women sought refuge in a Kraków convent, where many converted to Catholicism. Those who stayed home often remained Jewish in name only. Relying on a wealth of archival documents, including court testimonies, letters, diaries, and press reports, Rachel Manekin reconstructs the stories of three Jewish women runaways and reveals their struggles and innermost convictions. 

Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville (1650–1705), also known as Madame d’Aulnoy, was a pioneer of the French literary fairy tale. Though d’Aulnoy’s work now rarely appears outside of anthologies, her books were notably popular during her lifetime, and she was in fact the author who coined the term “fairy tales” (contes des fées). Presenting eight of d’Aulnoy’s magical stories, The Island of Happiness juxtaposes poetic English translations with a wealth of original, contemporary drawings by Natalie Frank, one of today’s most outstanding visual artists. In this beautiful volume, classic narratives are interpreted and made anew through Frank’s feminist and surreal images.

Are the ways we look at menopause all wrong? Susan Mattern says yes and, in The Slow Moon Climbs, reveals just how wrong we have been. From the rainforests of Paraguay to the streets of Tokyo, Mattern draws on historical, scientific, and cultural research to show how perceptions of menopause developed from prehistory to today. Introducing new ways of understanding life beyond fertility, Mattern examines the fascinating “Grandmother Hypothesis,” looks at agricultural communities where households relied on postreproductive women for the family’s survival, and explores the emergence of menopause as a medical condition in the Western world. The Slow Moon Climbs casts menopause in the positive light it deserves—as an essential juncture and a key factor in human flourishing.

Tui De Roy was a year old in 1955 when her family left Europe, boarding a banana boat bound for the Pacific to lead a different sort of life in Galápagos, one of self-sufficiency and living close to nature. She grew up on the islands and returned to them often over the next five decades. Discovering photography at a young age, she has dedicated her life to recording the islands’ natural history in infinite detail. A Lifetime in Galápagos is De Roy’s intimate portrait of one of the most spectacular places on Earth, presenting the wildlife and natural wonders of Galápagos as you have never seen them before.

Through the intimate stories of those seeking work, The Tolls of Uncertainty offers a startling look at the nation’s unemployment system—who it helps, who it hurts, and what, if anything, we can do to make it fair. Drawing on interviews with one hundred men and women who have lost jobs across Pennsylvania, Sarah Damaske examines the ways unemployment shapes families, finances, health, and the job hunt. Damaske demonstrates that commonly held views of unemployment are either incomplete or just plain wrong. Shaped by a person’s gender and class, unemployment generates new inequalities that cast uncertainties on the search for work and on life chances beyond the world of work, threatening opportunity in America.