As we begin Women’s History Month this year, I can’t stop thinking about the fact that 90 percent of the books most men read are written by male authors. Women’s reading habits show much more gender parity; women tend to read books written by men at a 54 percent rate and books by female authors at a rate of 46 percent. When novelist Lauren Groff was interviewed by the New York Times in 2018 in their “By the Book” column, she only named female authors among the latest and favorite books she had read, and this was notable. She made this pointed statement about male writers and their influences specifically:
When male writers list books they love or have been influenced by—as in this very column, week after week—why does it almost always seem as though they have only read one or two women in their lives? It can’t be because men are inherently better writers than their female counterparts. . . . And it isn’t because male writers are bad people. We know they’re not bad people. In fact, we love them. We love them because we have read them. Something invisible and pernicious seems to be preventing even good literary men from either reaching for books with women’s names on the spines, or from summoning women’s books to mind when asked to list their influences. I wonder what such a thing could possibly be.
I wonder the same thing when I read the lists that the men I follow on Twitter make of their favorite books every year. Often, these lists are strongly weighted toward books written by men. If the biblical ideal of mutuality is to be realized, then we must recognize that mutuality must touch even the most mundane aspects of our formation, like who and what we read. But instead of judging the men I read with too harshly, I want this to inspire me to notice my own reading habits and make sure I’m paying attention to who influences me. Do my reading habits show a preference for a certain kind of writer? Am I careful to balance my reading habits in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality? Do I read books written by people who are different from me or believe differently from me on a regular basis?
Women’s History Month is all about focusing on the ways women have been integral players in history, whether we know about them or not. It’s also a good time to stop and take note of our reading (or listening or watching) habits in terms of gender. Who are you reading regularly? Do you need to need to put some diversity in your to-read list? We at CBE International are here to help. Below you will find a recommendation for every week of Women’s History Month. These books are all written by women and about women with a special emphasis on history in most cases. You can also return to our blog all month to read about important women in church history.
Week 1: Christian Women in the Patristic World by Lynn H. Cohick and Amy Brown Hughes
“From martyr (Perpetua) and ascetic (Macrina) to empress (Eudocia), Christian women played a pivotal role in the early church. This volume is nearly a complete compendium of all of the extant evidence from the second through fifth centuries outlining female contributions to the social and theological life of the church. By telling the stories of Christian women in the patristic period, Lynn Cohick and Amy Hughes provide readers with a fuller view of Christian history and inspire us to engage in our own communities with a stronger appreciation for the Christian women of this time period.”
Week 2: Half a Piece of Cloth: The Courage of Africa’s Countless Widows by Jane L. Crane
“From dirt-floor huts to refugee camps to halls of power, Jane L. Crane traveled across Africa to see if the plight of widows was as dire as she’d heard. Is one-in-four women in Africa, from young to old, really a widow? In an easy-to-read style, this fascinating book tells the stories of nearly 60 widows, and Crane’s story as she finds them.
“She met with widows who survived the genocide in Rwanda, ran from the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, survived the ‘rape capital of the world’ in the DR Congo, fought for their land in Zambia, and live with HIV/AIDS in a black township in South Africa. She also met with tribal, religious, and government leaders to get their take on the widows’ plight.”
Week 3: Into the Pulpit by Elizabeth H. Flowers
“The debate over women’s roles in the Southern Baptist Convention’s conservative ascendance is often seen as secondary to theological and biblical concerns. Elizabeth Flowers argues, however, that for both moderate and conservative Baptist women—all of whom had much at stake—disagreements that touched on their familial roles and ecclesial authority have always been primary. And, in the turbulent postwar era, debate over their roles caused fierce internal controversy. While the legacy of race and civil rights lingered well into the 1990s, views on women's submission to male authority provided the most salient test by which moderates were identified and expelled in a process that led to significant splits in the Church. In Flowers’ expansive history of Southern Baptist women, the “woman question” is integral to almost every area of Southern Baptist concern: hermeneutics, ecclesial polity, missionary work, church-state relations, and denominational history.
“Flowers’ analysis, part of the expanding survey of America’s religious and cultural landscape after World War II, points to the South's changing identity and connects religious and regional issues to the complicated relationship between race and gender during and after the civil rights movement. She also shows how feminism and shifting women’s roles, behaviors, and practices played a significant part in debates that simmer among Baptists and evangelicals throughout the nation today.”
Week 4: An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation by Nyasha Junior
“An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation provides a much-needed introduction to womanist approaches to biblical interpretation. It argues that womanist biblical interpretation is not simply a byproduct of feminist biblical interpretation but part of a distinctive tradition of African American women’s engagement with biblical texts. While womanist biblical interpretation is relatively new in the development of academic biblical studies, African American women are not newcomers to biblical interpretation.
“Written in an accessible style, this volume highlights the importance of both the Bible and race in the development of feminism and the emergence of womanism. It provides a history of feminist biblical interpretation and discusses the current state of womanist biblical interpretation as well as critical issues related to its development and future. Although some African American women identify themselves as ‘womanists,’ the term, its usage, its features, and its connection to feminism remain widely misunderstood. This excellent textbook is perfect for helping to introduce readers to the development and applications of womanist biblical interpretation.”