We Need to Read Books on Women in History | CBE International

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We Need to Read Books on Women in History

On March 06, 2018

Recently, Relevant published an article on the importance of reading books by women (which has since been taken down at the request of readers). In the article, the male author began by lamenting the absence of women authors from his bookshelf. Inspired by the #metoo movement, he resolved to correct the omission of women’s perspectives by intentionally reading women authors.

At the recommendation of a bookstore clerk, he began his education with a supernatural fantasy romance novel written by a woman. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the romance genre, readers were quick to point out that stereotypically “feminine” romance novels aren’t the ideal choice to fulfill his goal—insight into women’s lives and experiences. Further, they added, women authors are not a new phenomenon nor are complex books by female authors hard to find in a typical bookstore. The writer has since publicly apologized for the unintentional offense caused by his piece, and we can all learn from his humility and openness to constructive critique. 

But the point many readers made was that it's not actually very challenging to find a well-written book by a woman on a topic we are already interested in. Despite that, we often act like reading books by or about women requires a herculean effort. 

Likewise, it can feel like an especially difficult task to identify places where women shaped history. But it’s only difficult because we’re biased against women’s stories and accomplishments, preferring to study and celebrate the historical influence of men. In other words, it's not that women were absent from history; it's that we haven't learned how to see them. 

That’s what makes Women’s History Month so important. It’s an opportunity to zoom in on women’s distinct—but often overlooked and underestimated—historical handprint. It’s also an opportunity to correct our historical bias by deliberately reading books by and about women in history. With that in mind, here’s a list of 6 books to pick up for Women’s History Month. 

1. And the Spirit Moved Them: The Lost Radical History of America’s First Feminists by Helen LaKelly Hunt and Cornel West

"A decade prior to the Seneca Falls Convention, black and white women joined together at the 1837 Anti-Slavery Convention in the first instance of political organizing by American women, for American women.

United by their determination to reshape a society that told women to ignore the mechanisms of power, these pioneers converged abolitionism and women's rights. Incited by "holy indignation," they believed it was their God-given duty to challenge both slavery and patriarchy. Although the convention was written out of history largely for both its religious and interracial character, these women created a blueprint for an intersectional feminism that was centuries ahead of its time."

2. A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

"Kristin Kobes Du Mez offers insight into nineteenth-century social reformer Katharine Bushnell's innovative, radical, yet hermeneutically conservative feminist theology. She illuminates the difficulties women faced in coming to terms with changing constructions of sexuality, morality, and religion in modern America—difficulties that continue to plague the project of Christian feminism today. And she sheds new light on the rise of modern feminism and the history of Christianity and feminism in America, and also provides an historical backdrop to contemporary evangelical anti-trafficking efforts."

3. Are Women Human? Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society by Dorothy L. Sayers

"One of the first women to graduate from Oxford University, Dorothy Sayers pursued her goals whether or not what she wanted to do was ordinarily understood to be 'feminine.' Sayers did not devote a great deal of time to talking or writing about feminism, but she did explicitly address the issue of women's role in society in the two classic essays collected here.

Central to Sayers' reflections is the conviction that both men and women are first of all human beings and must be regarded as essentially much more alike than different. We are to be true not so much to our sex as to our humanity. The proper role of both women and men, in her view, is to find the work for which they are suited and to do it."

4. Extraordinary Women of Christian History: What We Can Learn from Their Struggles and Triumphs by Ruth Tucker

"With gracious irreverence, Ruth Tucker offers engaging and candid profiles of some of the most fascinating women of Christian history. From the famous to the infamous to the obscure, women like Perpetua, Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila, Anne Hutchinson, Susanna Wesley, Ann Judson, Harriet Tubman, Fanny Crosby, Hannah Whitehall Smith, Corrie ten Boom, and Mother Teresa, along with dozens of others, come to vivid life. Perfect for small groups, these portraits of women who changed the world in their own significant way will spark lively discussion and inspire today's Christians to lives of faithful witness."

5. Hannah More: The Artist as Reformer by Mary Anne Phemister

"Hannah More (1745-1833), a woman of incredible moral courage, was probably the most influential female writer of her time. Yet most of us have never even heard of her.

Born in obscurity, Hannah died leaving to her charities-today's equivalent of nearly $2,000,000—an unequaled amount for a woman writer two hundred years ago. Her artful writings changed hearts, prevented a revolution in England, and paved the way for other Christian women writers. The one novel she penned outsold Jane Austen's in her lifetime. She challenged the moral evils of slavery and played a major role in the abolition of the slave trade.

Yet, remarkably, for two centuries Hannah More was largely overlooked by historians, until in 2007 Great Britain recognized her significant humanitarian achievements as an abolitionist, educator, and philanthropist, issuing a postage stamp in her honor for the 200th anniversary of the milestone Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. The same year, her character appeared in the popular film about abolitionist William Wilberforce, Amazing Grace."

6. Rwandan Women Rising by Swanee Hunt

"In the spring of 1994, the tiny African nation of Rwanda was ripped apart by a genocide that left nearly a million dead. Neighbors attacked neighbors. Family members turned against their own. After the violence subsided, Rwanda's women—drawn by the necessity of protecting their families—carved out unlikely new roles for themselves as visionary pioneers creating stability and reconciliation in genocide's wake. Today, 64 percent of the seats in Rwanda's elected house of Parliament are held by women, a number unrivaled by any other nation.

These women's accomplishments provide important lessons for policy makers and activists who are working toward equality elsewhere in Africa and other post-conflict societies. Their stories, told in their own words via interviews woven throughout the book, demonstrate that the best way to reduce suffering and to prevent and end conflicts is to elevate the status of women throughout the world."

Let’s do our homework and acknowledge that women were not just present at significant moments in history; they were essential to the story.

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