International Women’s Day (IWD) has become a worldwide event, celebrating women’s achievements across the globe. The first National Woman’s Day took place in the United States in February 1909, where the Socialist Party of America chose the day to honour the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, which saw 15,000 women protest against working conditions. Women in Europe took inspiration from across the pond, and the following year one million women took to the streets throughout Europe, demanding equal rights on the first IWD. By 1911, it was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.
Since the beginning of IWD, a number of campaigns have taken place. This year the focus of the campaign is “Be Bold For Change”, encouraging everyone to call for a better working world and to help drive gender equality. There are a number of ways to get involved, from pledging on the International Women’s Day website to attending events here in Edinburgh.
The University of Edinburgh will be hosting their annual lecture series, celebrating IWD with a lecture given by Dr Catherine Calderwood, the Scottish Government’s Chief Medical Officer. It will be held at George Square Lecture Theatre on 8 March at 6pm. A full list of events across the country can be found on the IWD website: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/Events.
If you are not so interested in lectures or pledges, then the selection of books below might appeal.
The Dangerous Women Project
Alhough there are plenty of inspiring books out there, luckily the students of Edinburgh need not look any further than to our own peers and teaching staff. The Dangerous Women Project is an initiative of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh. The project has published 365 responses to questions from all over the world between International Women’s Day 2016 and International Women’s Day 2017.
Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape – Peggy Orenstein
Orenstein, a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine, has brought out an eye-opening study of how girls and women feel about sex. Orenstein spoke to over 70 women whilst researching, and the book raises important conversations and sheds light on key issues that girls face today.
Double X Gabfest Podcast
Informal and thought-provoking podcasts are uploaded every other Thursday on http://panoply.fm/podcasts/slatesdoublexpodcasts and on iTunes. Each week Hanna Rosin, Noreen Malone and June Thomas discuss everything from politics and pop-culture to the ‘Don’t pee on my leg’ edition.
Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur
You may have heard of the 24-year-old feminist artist Rupi Kaur after a photograph from her ‘menstruation themed photo series’ was removed from Instagram. The initial removal of the viral photograph caused controversy, as it was simply a project intended to normalise the subject and alter any misconceptions. Since then, Rupi has released Milk and Honey, a book which contains a collection of inspiring poems, discussing the difficulties faced by the modern woman as well as sharing her personal experiences of gender prejudice. Named by The New York Times as number one on the trade paperback best seller list in 2017, this collection of poetry is an easy read and raises awareness of issues with relation to sexism in a way in which all women can relate; an uplifting and therapeutic read for everyone.
NW – Zadie Smith
Celebrated Jamaican-British author Zadie Smith may not particularly advertise herself as a feminist writer – but it can’t be a coincidence that her novels all carry similar messages. Smith gives us strong, but most importantly, realistic female leads navigating their way through life and confronting issues of race, class, sexuality and identity. Her 2012 book NW carries a tangible autobiographical aspect, following the intertwining and diverging pathways of two young women from North London and the shaky transition from their working class roots to university, a world away from their childhood stomping ground. Smith, who came from the same roots and graduated from Cambridge to fall straight into the arms of publishers begging to represent her first novel, is a shining example of a woman to look up to in today’s multicultural Britain. She is ambitious, talented, and her truly perceptive analysis of the microcosms of society brings a new meaning to the word ‘fiction’.
The Girl on the Train – Paul Hawkins
The Girl on the Train is a book I have been passionate and interested about since the word go. Having read the book twice and also studied it for an advanced higher dissertation, my concern for domestic abuse has grown immensely. Unfortunately even now this sort of abuse is prevalent in the western world. Reading such a harrowing story about a young woman in London was a real eye opener. Rachel, the main character, is a divorcee who suffers serious blackouts after drinking alcohol.
Throughout the novel Hawkins exposes the reader to the truth behind Rachel’s blackouts and also her mental health. She has been both physically, but more importantly emotionally, abused by Tom.
This is a book I would recommend to everyone. With exciting twists, turns and very unexpected endings for each character, it will open your mind to the issues of domestic abuse and understand why events such as International Women’s Day are so important, not only for women all over the world, but just for the women who perhaps could be living next door to any of us.
A Woman’s Work – Harriet Harman
To celebrate International Women’s Day, as well as dancing to my favourite feminist Spotify playlist, I wanted to recommend a new book by the UK’s longest serving female MP, Harriet Harman.
Harman first became an MP in 1982 and has held various Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet positions, as well as serving as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party from 2007 to 2015 and briefly as the Leader of the Labour Party. She’s had a lot of experience in politics and that is exactly what A Woman’s Work is about – shedding light on an often under-discussed topic: the treatment of women in politics. There are plenty of books penned by men ranting about their life as an MP, yet Harman shows the House of Commons in a different light. She challenges the political system by highlighting the barriers women continually face.
No matter what your politics or views on Harman are, it is undeniable that this is a fascinating book. When she first entered Parliament, 97 per cent of MPs were men. This memoir can give us hope – we may still have much to fight for, but we can also look back and see the progress women have made.
Feminism is for Everybody – bell hooks
bell hooks, famous intersectional feminist author and activist, takes an important stand with this short essay, claiming that feminist theory is accessible to all and must not be left to elitist and obscure academic shelves. Her book introduces the main theories and concepts of feminism, alongside the main claims of feminist activism, while staying clear and easy to read. She also explains why feminism is still sorely needed nowadays, arguing against the mainstream anti-feminist backlash omnipresent in media and society. She gives example from a wide range of topics including reproductive rights, sexual violence, race, class and work and campaign for a world free of patriarchal, racist and homophobic culture. If the content can seem superficial for someone acquainted with the subject, it remains a great introduction for neophytes interested in feminism but unsure where to begin.
The House of Spirits – Isabel Allende
The House of the Spirits is a classic embodiment of Latin American feminism, an especially important contribution to international feminism, offering multiple approaches that highlight resistance.
This intergenerational story follows three women as they struggle first with reconciling their inherited magic in the chaos in everyday life, and later with surviving class upheaval and the Chilean revolution. Playful, poignant scenes of childhood contrast with painful narratives of survival that ultimately culminate in a message of familial strength in the face of patriarchy.
More than showing just the struggles of the broader feminine experience, this book shows the way that the tensions and hardships experienced by everyone can fall heavier on women who are more vulnerable – not just because they are subject to the whims of sometimes more violent men, but because the connections they have often culminate, and forcr them to defend not just themselves but entire networks of people.
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