Yesterday, March 8, was International Women’s Day, a holiday born out of women protesting their work in garment factories, trying to get the right to vote, and later just celebrating and trying to better the roles of women in the world. In fact in the United States, the U.K. and Australia, the entire month of March is identified as a celebration of Women’s History.
For many people, celebrating women’s history and women in general goes hand in hand with being a feminist. In 2014, feminist – being a person who believes in gender equality – became a cultural concept very much in the spotlight. Reporters and bloggers asked celebrities if they identified as feminists; Beyonce performed at the MTV music awards in front of a giant “FEMINIST” sign; and Time magazine controversially added the word to a poll of words to be banned. Other serious issues such as campus rape and Gamergate harassment made the lives of women and their treatment take center stage.
I didn’t self-identify as a feminist until middle or high school because I didn’t know that there was a word for what I had felt my whole life: that women and girls were unquestioningly the equal to men and boys and that we had the right to exciting, meaningful, and amazing books. I feel so happy and privileged to go up in a house where my 8 year old intention to be a brain surgeon during the day and a concert pianist at night was met with a supportive, “Ok.” I didn’t quite reach those heights but my family never made me feel like I couldn’t do that because I was a girl. Sadly, this is not the norm throughout the whole world, and not even in the United States.
Tangibly, materially, and in terms of rights and freedoms, there is a lot to be done for women and girls throughout the world and our country. But one of the things libraries and bookstores and readers can do is to read about lives of women and girls. By reading and sharing stories of women and girls we can show others the amazing things women can do. We can also share the struggles of women and girls and help inspire change.
Here are just a handful of books I’ve read recently that have a strong, pro-women message. They present women and girls who are strong without being caricatures; emotional without being a harmful stereotype; and most of all, full realized characters with hopes, dreams, and struggles.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (2015 Morris winner and Amelia Bloomer Project list): Gabi is a girl that I simultaneously wish I knew in high school or had been in high school. She doesn’t have all the answers but is still so confident in herself even when dealing with sexuality, her weight, family tragedies, her friends’ pregnancy and coming out, and more. She has a wonderful message of power and sense of self that speaks well to girls both struggling and not. This is also one of the few YA books I’ve read with abortion as a plot point.
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman (2013 Alex Award): Rory Dawn has a hard life growing up in her Nevada trailer park and desperately wants to be a Girl Scout. This is a great meditation on the expectations of girlhood and poverty.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (2009 Printz honor): Frankie infiltrates the boys club at her boarding school and many hijinks ensue! This book shows
I am Malala: The First Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb: The story of the young Nobel Peace Prize winner’s attack and why she believes in the importance of education.
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley (Amelia Bloomer Project list): Talley weaves a believable romance between two girls all while dealing with school integration in the 1950s South. It will definitely make you cry.
Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark: Centering on three characters, one a transwoman and another a questioning boy wondering about gender fluidity, this novel in verse breaks stereotypes all over the place. It’s a good reminder to many of us that remembrances such as International Women’s Day and Women’s HIstory Month need to include transgender women as well as cisgender women.
Ms. Marvel Vol 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona (Amelia Bloomer Project list): Kamala Khan is a Muslim teen growing up in Jersey City, idolizing Captain Marvel Carol Danvers and the Avengers. Getting superpowers like Captain Marvel does not diminish her fandom but makes her have to grapple with her newfound duty to help and to her family and culture. This has been the unofficial breakout hit of Marvel’s slate of comics and it deserves all the attention.
Lumberjanes Vol. 1 by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis (to be published April 2015): Diverse campers at a Girl Scout-esque summer camp who whose exclamations – Sweet Bessie Coleman! – reflect feminism and girl power? If you haven’t been reading this in issues, check out the trade paperback. It’s fun, powerful, and all about friendship.
A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism is Not a Dirty Word by Julie Zeilinger: This is a great primer geared towards teens and young women on the history of feminism in the United States. I breaks down the “waves” of feminism and many current and former feminist issues especially like the need for the current feminism movement to include women of color and LGBTQ women.
Lastly, if you are looking for more amazing books to celebrate women, members of Feminist Task Force of the ALA work to compile the Amelia Bloomer Project book list. Every year they highlight feminist books for readers aged 0 – 18. 2015’s list – as with all of the years – has some really great titles. Another list that is great but hasn’t been updated since 2013 is Bitch Magazine’s 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader. These have more great books celebrating women for you to explore!
-Anna Tschetter, currently reading Black Widow Vol. 1, The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan Edmondson