Blog post

Reading is a Feminist Issue: Radical Women for your Bookshelf

Clément Petitjean 6 March 2014

Although women reportedly read more than men, women writers are much less reviewed – and when they actually are, they are too often marginalized into chick-lit sections. Throughout the intellectual world, authors, publishers and journalists are taking small steps against the blatant imbalance in how male and female writers and reviewers are treated. One inspiring example that might go viral on the social networks is the #readwomen2014

As a Guardian article suggests, the project started as “listing 250-odd names from Angela Carter to Zadie Smith and encouraging recipients to ‘if not vow to read women exclusively, look up some of the writers I've drawn on the front or listed on the back’.”

Committing to reading more women authors is, in itself, a strong political stance. However, if one wants to address the deeper sociohistorical roots of the problem – namely, patriarchy –ingenuous bemusement at sexist reading habits is clearly insufficient.

This is the reason why Verso is committed to publishing radical women, who directly challenge the numerous forms that patriarchy takes on today. (The next step, of course, being not only to understand the system, but to change it)

Melissa Gira Grant. Playing the Whore.

Earlier this week, the results of a two-year parliamentary inquiry into sex trade in the UK were published. It unsurprisingly argues for the UK to adopt the Swedish model, criminalizing the buyers. Yet, in the current debates around prostitution, sex workers are too often excluded from the debate, preventing them from reclaiming their rights. Playing the Whore calls for sex workers to take center stage: sex work is work, and sex workers' rights are basic labor rights.

Let’s Call Sex Work What It Is: Work – read Melissa Gira Grant’s interview in The Nation.

Michele Barrett. Women’s Oppression Today.

A classic text in the debate about Marxism and feminism. In a major new essay for the updated edition, she defends the central arguments of the book in their own terms, and points to fundamental changes in the context in which such a debate might be conducted today.

Nancy Fraser. Fortunes of Feminism.

In a polemical Guardian comment piece she wrote in October 2013, leading feminist thinker Nancy Fraser argued against the recuperation of feminism by neoliberal capitalism, and for a revitalized feminist movement.

Anabel Hernández. Narcoland

The definitive history of the drug cartels, Narcoland takes readers to the front lines of the "war on drugs," which has so far cost more than 60,000 lives in just six years. In the process, Hernández sheds new light on the wave of femicides that recently struck Mexico, thus framing them in the more general context of how Mexico became a base for the mega-cartels of Latin America and one of the most violent places on the planet. 

Elisabeth Roudinesco. Lacan

Psychoanalysis and women’s liberation share a complex history. But in order to better assess this rich history, it is necessary that the most important figure in psychoanalysis alongside Freud should be level-headedly engaged with. A leading authority on Lacan, Elisabeth Roudinesco’s recently discussed issues of gender and identity in an interview that Verso published here.

Sheila Rowbotham. Women, Resistance and Revolution.

First published in 1972, this classic book provides a historical overview of feminist strands among the modern revolutionary movements of Russia, China and the Third World. Sheila Rowbotham shows how women rose against the dual challenges of an unjust state system and social-sexual prejudice.

Another much-acclaimed book by Rowbotham is Dreamers of a New Day: Women Who Invented the Twentieth Century. Drawing on a wealth of research from the 1880s to the 1920s, Sheila Rowbotham has written a groundbreaking new history that shows how first wave feminism went far beyond the struggle for the vote: they broke with custom and prejudice to create much of the fabric of modern life, taking off corsets, forming free unions, living communally, buying ethically, joining trade unions, doing social work in settlements. These innovative dreamers raised questions that remain at the forefront of our twenty-first-century lives.

Lynne Segal. Out of Time

A long-time second-wave feminist thinker and activist, Lynne Segal reflects on perceptions of ageing. Bringing together social psychology, psychoanalysis, feminism and radical politics, Lynne Segal’s perspective proves an urgent and necessary corrective to the assumptions and taboos that constrain the lives of the aged.

Valerie Solanas. Scum Manifesto

In 1968 Valerie Solanas self-published SCUM Manifesto, one of the most outrageous, violent and certifiably crazy tracts of the time, just before her rampage against the king of Pop Art made her a household name and resulted in her confinement to a mental institution. For all its vitriol, the work has indisputable prescience, not only as a radical feminist analysis light-years ahead of its time, but also as a stunning testament to the rage of an abused and destitute woman.

Avital Ronell's incisive introduction reconsiders Solanas’s pamphlet in light of her social milieu and the intellectual vibrancy of the time.

You can find more comprehensive reading list of Verso women writers here.

Filed under: feminism, playingthewhore