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Besides ‘big name’ books such The Female Eunuch and The Vagina Monologues, some less known books too offer great insights for and about the lives of women.
When we talk of books that inspire change for the world’s women, there are a few obvious ones that come to mind. The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir, written in 1948, dealt with the belief that women were the Other, and that normality was what a man was – the song from My Fair Lady, ‘Why can’t a woman be more like a man?’reflected this belief.
The Feminine Mystique, written by Betty Friedman, in 1963, dealt with the ‘problem that had no name’ that believed that the right thing for women to do was to drop out of school and marry in their teens, and aim to be the perfect house-wives. The Female Eunuch, written by Germaine Greer, in 1970, floated the idea that sexual liberation is the key to women’s liberation, the sequel to which – The Whole Woman, speaks about the woman at the turn of the millennium, who has been duped into settling for a faux equality.
Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions is a collection of essays by Gloria Steinem (1978): a well-known one is If Men Could Menstruate. Recently there have been The Vagina Monologues (Eve Ensler), How to be a Woman (Caitlin Moran), Lean In (Sheryl Sandberg), I Am Malala (MalalaYousafzai) and Half the Sky (Nicholas D Kristofand Sheryl WuDunn), that have created waves that can alter society’s perception of women irrevocably.
All worthy contenders, but in this article, I look beyond.
Some books that are equally worthy remain relatively unknown, or are known to a limited audience. These books, too, need to be read. Some of them propound new thought. Some analyse reality as it is for women. Some reflect upon the women in our mythologies, and portray them in a completely different light.
By Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan, Shilpa Ranade
Why Loiter? looks into how safe, really, are public spaces for women, and the extent to which women go, or are expected to go, to remain safe in these spaces. The authors argue that even women who are otherwise privileged, are not really free to wander out in these spaces, and are only safe as long as they stay within socially acceptable limits.
By Gita Aravamudan
Unbound: Indian Women@Work traces the journey of the working Indian woman from the early days of tentative forays by the courageous and the enlightened, into what was considered a male bastion, to the explosion of woman power today. This, despite family pressures and expectations, sexism and harassment at work, unequal opportunities and pay, glass ceilings, and the problems encountered outside the home. She has personal stories from working women as varied as the ordinary white-collar employee, the women movers and shakers, and marginalised ones like domestic helpers and sexual workers; necessary reading for those who would like a comprehensive picture of the employed Indian woman at the turn of the millennium.
By Nivedita Menon
In Seeing Like A Feminist, Feminism, Menon insists, is more a way of life than radical reform, and only when consistently practiced, can become lasting change. There is an amazingdepth and range to the subject as tackled here –the history, the sociology, the legalities, and the actual experiences of real women. This is, at the core, a scholarly work, unusual in its lucidity for the lay reader.
By Dorothy L Sayers
“Male and female are mere adjectives qualifying the noun ‘human being,’”says the author of this slim book of thought-provoking essays(who is also the best-selling author of murder mysteries featuring Lord Peter Wimsey).She takes up simple everyday matters and presents them with her incisive wit.These essays, written in the late 1930s, were way ahead of their time, and bring to mind Gloria Steinem’s ‘If men could menstruate’ and Sheryl Sandberg’s Heidi and Howard experiment in Lean In.
By Shoma A Chatterji
The author of Women in Black, White and Technicolour is an award winning journalist who has many books to her credit. Amongst other things, she has written extensively on women in popular media – both, the players involved, and the portrayal of women, lapped up and emulated by the masses. This book deals with subjects as varied as NRI marriages, devadasis, women suffering the brunt of collateral damage in a war, street sexual harassment, women in crime, marital rape, women’s cooperatives, the question of women’s libido, the whore/goddess dichotomy, monetary concerns between a couple, live-in relationships, gaslighting, and much more.
By Chaturvedi Badrinath
The Mahabharata is the story of the genesis of a war of titanic proportions, a war fought mainly by men. Yet, there are a number of extraordinary women characters that drive the story forward. This is a collection of essays on the lives of these women, and demonstrates how they have been unfairly portrayed in most popular forms of the ancient epic.
Edited by Namita Gokhale and Malashri Lal
Sita, in most versions of the Ramayana, is a demure woman who suffers everything she is subjected to mutely. She has, over the centuries, become almost a prototype for the ideal Indian woman. Not so, say the multiple writers of this collection, In Search Of Sita. Some close reading and interpretations by various authors, of the nuances of this complex character in the original Ramayana by Valmiki has thrown up some interesting insights glossed over by the re-tellers over the past two millennia.
By Elisabeth Bumiller
Bumiller lived and travelled in India for 4 years in the 80s, reporting for The Washington Post. Her keen journalist’s eye is visible in the many pithy observations she makes. She pins down the paradox of extremely powerful women at the top, including politicians and the Indian goddesses, and the abject powerlessness of the ordinary rural woman whose daily existence is often a fight against odds. May You Be The Mother Of A Hundred Sons raises some pertinent questions that sends the reader in search of answers.An outsider’s view, with the clarity that only an outsider can have.
By Suniti Namjoshi
The Fabulous Feminist is a collection of excerpts from the many works of the author – a prolific writer, who has also penned many books for children: The Aditi Adventures published by Tulika Books. This is where I first encountered her. Her feminist writing can only be called brutally honest and often searing in its worldview. This book gives you a taste of her work, and makes you thirst for more, leading the reader to the complete works.
What books do you think offer a new or important perspective on women’s lives, rights or challenges? Do add your recommendations for other readers by leaving a comment below!
Pic credit: Darren Tunnicliff (Used under a creative commons license)