Throughout Women’s History Month in March, we will highlight 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.
Ever since her triumphant debut in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath, arguably the first ordinary and recognisably real woman in English literature, has obsessed readers—from Shakespeare to James Joyce, Voltaire to Pasolini, Dryden to Zadie Smith. Few literary characters have led such colourful lives or matched her influence or capacity for reinvention in poetry, drama, fiction, and film. In The Wife of Bath, Marion Turner tells the fascinating story of where Chaucer’s favourite character came from, how she related to real medieval women, and where her many travels have taken her since the fourteenth century, from Falstaff and Molly Bloom to #MeToo and Black Lives Matter.
Menstruation is something half the world does for a week at a time, for months and years on end, yet it remains largely misunderstood. Scientists once thought of an individual’s period as useless, and some doctors still believe it’s unsafe for a menstruating person to swim in the ocean wearing a tampon. Period counters the false theories that have long defined the study of the uterus, exposing the eugenic history of gynecology while providing an intersectional feminist perspective on menstruation science.
Mina Loy (1882–1966) was one of the most iconoclastic figures in modernism. A groundbreaking poet, she also left an indelible mark in painting, drawing, prose, art criticism, and fashion. Mina Loy: Strangeness Is Inevitable is the first book to examine the full scope of her extraordinary career, demonstrating Loy’s transformative impact on the visual arts as well as the literary avant-garde of the twentieth century.
Betye Saar (b. 1926) is an artist whose assemblages tell visual stories and convey powerful political messages. A leading figure of the Black Arts Movement in the 1970s, she works with found objects—many of which she gathers on her extensive travels—to explore themes like symbolic mysticism, feminism, racism, and Eurocentric chauvinism. Betye Saar: Heart of a Wanderer sheds new light on Saar’s unique creative process, her trips around the world, and the diverse ways in which her artworks engage with global histories of travel and forced migration. It presents how the artist’s work conjures the transporting experience of a voyage to a faraway place.
In Pleasure and Efficacy, Grace Lavery investigates gender transition as it has been experienced and represented in the modern period. Considering examples that range from the novels of George Eliot to the psychoanalytic practice of Sigmund Freud to marriage manuals by Marie Stopes, Lavery explores the skepticism found in such works about whether it is truly possible to change one’s sex. This ambivalence, she argues, has contributed to both antitrans oppression and the civil rights claims with which trans people have confronted it. Lavery examines what she terms “trans pragmatism”—the ways that trans people resist medicalization and pathologization to achieve pleasure and freedom. Trans pragmatism, she writes, affirms that transition works, that it is possible, and that it happens.
Women Artists in Expressionism explores how women negotiated the competitive world of modern art during the late Wilhelmine and early Weimar periods in Germany. Their stories challenge predominantly male-oriented narratives of Expressionism and shed light on the divergent artistic responses of women to the dramatic events of the early twentieth century.
The Sky Is for Everyone is an internationally diverse collection of autobiographical essays by women who broke down barriers and changed the face of modern astronomy. Virginia Trimble and David Weintraub vividly describe how, before 1900, a woman who wanted to study the stars had to have a father, brother, or husband to provide entry, and how the considerable intellectual skills of women astronomers were still not enough to enable them to pry open doors of opportunity for much of the twentieth century. After decades of difficult struggles, women are closer to equality in astronomy than ever before. Trimble and Weintraub bring together the stories of the tough and determined women who flung the doors wide open.
A century ago, it was a given that a woman with a college degree had to choose between having a career and a family. Today, there are more female college graduates than ever before, and more women want to have a career and family, yet challenges persist at work and at home. This book traces how generations of women have responded to the problem of balancing career and family as the twentieth century experienced a sea change in gender equality, revealing why true equity for dual career couples remains frustratingly out of reach.
In this authoritative and empathetic biography, Pnina Lahav reexamines the life of Golda Meir (1898–1978) through a feminist lens, focusing on her recurring role as a woman standing alone among men. The Only Woman in the Room is the first book to contend with Meir’s full identity as a woman, Jew, Zionist leader, and one of the founders of Israel, providing a richer portrait of her persona and legacy.