International Women’s Day is coming up on the 8thMarch and it’s an extremely important day for women everywhere, a day when we are asked to stop and consider what women would need to happen in society in order to be able to live equally to men. To live as safely and confidently as men and to be able to do so without looking over their shoulders all the time.
To believe that ‘feminism has gone too far’ or that ‘we don’t need an international women’s day’ is to live with your head under a stone. Women are marginalised in society, at work – the gender pay gap is as wide as ever with teachers in senior positions being paid on average 25% less if they happen to be a woman – in the home and in the way society works from politics to policing to criminal justice to car design and street safety and hundreds of other ways.
There are a number of books I’ve read in recent years which have opened my eyes to what life is like for women, what women have to put up with, what women need to do to stay safe and what the experiences of women from non-white backgrounds have to contend with in modern Britain. These books are essential reading for everyone as they approach adulthood – especially young men. Below is a list of the best books I’ve read which open my eyes to being a woman and also in one case, exploring modern masculinity and which I’d recommend for school and college libraries or as gifts for the men (and of course women and girls) in your life.
UPDATE: Enough by Harriet Johnson is a remarkable and powerful book. ENOUGH – The Violence Against Women And How To End It share the harrowing and eye-opening statistics around male violence against women and girls in the UK and further afield, the statistics for police (in)effectiveness in prosecuting rape and other crimes against women and girls and what we – as a society and especially men – can do about it. One of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. Please read it too.
Women and Power by Mary Beard is a fantastic look at the history of women, power and their marginalisation, being made to take the blame for all ills and to be wiped from history by men and male writers. The women featured include Pandora and Medusa and brings us through the classics to more recent times. A fascinating context for modern sexism and misogyny.
Another recent book which really made me think is Everywoman by Jess Phillips MP – a great insight into the battles women have to fight every day that men don’t always see or understand (but often cause). She discusses her work in the domestic abuse and charity / social sector and how this has prepared her for work as an MP – but noth8ing could have prepared her for the misogynistic abuse and death threats she regularly receives – including one which ended up with the sender being jailed. A powerful insight into the role of women MPs in public life.
How to Build a Girl (and How to Be A WomanAND More Than A Woman) by @caitlinmoran are fantastic and hilarious insights into understanding teenagers’ and women’s’ experiences of the world. Highly recommended and I’ve passed them to my daughters.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo is a stunning novel about generations of women across time and continents which ends with the poetically beautiful closing of a circle.
Beautiful, powerful, unforgettable.
BRIT(ish) is a brilliant exploration of mixed-heritage, mixed-class, mixed-living in Britain and Afua Hirsch’s search for meaning and insight into British people born to mixed backgrounds. Colonialism and #Windrush in a modern context – powerful, thought-provoking, angering and explorative – essential reading.
Next up for data and research into why the world isn’t designed for women – that’s why #InternationalWomenDay is so crucial – the rest of the year are definitely international men’s days. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez is essential data for understanding womens’ lives and the way the world is NOT designed for them.
Airhead by Emily Maitlis is a great insight into the chaos and frantic pace of editorial judgements in modern media. As the anchor for @BBCNewsnight she shares the juggling and focus required to remain combative and balanced in today’s media. Funny and insightful.
Next up is Sophie Walker’s 5 Rules for Rebellion – a passionate book about how to use the anger and frustration we feel and turn it into something that will change the world for the better for everyone. Informed by her years as a feminist activist, writer and founder of the Women’s Equality Party it’s a brilliant manifesto for change – essential reading for young people everywhere who want to change the world and more mature people who are sick of cyclical politics and frustrated with the state of their country, city or community. I was going to list the 5 rules here, but decided you can buy the book instead and hear Sophie explain them passionately and eloquently.
In Control by Dr Jane Monckton-Smith is the exploration of how coercive control works and proposes a well-researched and documented 8-stage model of control and abuse that ends in murder. It’s fascinating reading, includes real cases which follow the pattern and is now being used as training for police and criminal investigators to explain the behaviours of violent men in the hope that further deaths can be prevented. The paperback is being sent to 1,000 MPs and people in public life to help them understand the pernicious traits of violent controlling men and the author – along with Dr Gemma Graham is behind the #NotJustAnother campaign to raise awareness of the scale of male violence against women and girls.
Laura Bates’ ground-breaking research into the online growth of misogyny and sexism culminating in the Incel movement is captured superbly (and terrifyingly) in her book Men Who Hate Women. Bringing together her research and interviews and explorations of forums of hate from Gaming sites, Mens’ Rights Activism, popular right-wing ideologies, pick-up artists and dark forums of red and black-pill conspiracy theories Laura explores how young men are radicalised to hate women and girls and blame them for everything including, chillingly, their ‘right’ to s*x and the manufactured victimhood behind Incels (Involuntary Celibates) who sometimes take out their grievances and misogyny with murderous consequences. Essential reading for Pastoral Teams, SLTs and anyone working in PSHE or RSE.
Grayson Perry – The Descent of Man is a slim book packed with thoughts and questions about modern masculinity and how, as with traditional masculinity, it’s very easy to fall into the traps of beoing the ‘protector’ the ‘defender’ and of showing your ‘mettle’ in ways which are ultimately unhelpful to ourselves and society. In one memorable passage he meets some young men in Skelmersdale who defend their ‘patch’ in an ongoing postcode war over drugs and petty crime where small pale boys wearing two tracksuits in summer (so they can change on the hoof to avoid identification for their crimes) end up either seriously injured or in custody for reasons they themselves don’t always seem to understand. We need more of this and this is a great place to start.
Thanks for reading this list. There are of course hundreds more books which would help in one’s understanding of women and their place in the world and how it could and should be improved, but these titles can help to open eyes and minds to institutional sexism and the manufactured misogyny which will undoubtedly affect some the young people we work with. For me, showing young men that it’s not only ok, but important for them to read books by and about women is a first step to helping us become a more empathetic and equal society – just as it’s crucial young women understand the pressures they will start to feel from the world and where that pressure comes from.
Young people are living in a confusing and fast-moving bubble of society which is often (mis)informed by social media and the adult world slipping into theirs in ways that previous generations haven’t had to deal with and as educators, we owe it to ourselves, our colleagues and our young people to become informed and share that knowledge as widely as possible.
I hope this helps.
If you’re looking for some support with these difficult topics then there are a number of ways we can help:
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