Happy Women’s History Month! In celebration of this historical month, we’ll be sharing reading lists curated by our staff featuring all authors who identify as women. Today we’re sharing a list from Sonya Bonczek, our Director of Publicity. Click here to see the previously shared lists and learn more about how Women’s History Month came about.
If you’re interested in purchasing any of these books, don’t forget to use code 01DAH40 at checkout to get 40% off; this discount code applies to any other UNC Press book as well.
BY ANNE GRAY FISCHER
Police power was built on women’s bodies.
Men, especially Black men, often stand in as the ultimate symbol of the mass incarceration crisis in the United States. Women are treated as marginal, if not overlooked altogether, in histories of the criminal legal system. In The Streets Belong to Us—a searing history of women and police in the modern United States—Anne Gray Fischer narrates how sexual policing fueled a dramatic expansion of police power. The enormous discretionary power that police officers wield to surveil, target, and arrest anyone they deem suspicious was tested, legitimized, and legalized through the policing of women’s sexuality and their right to move freely through city streets.
Throughout the twentieth century, police departments achieved a stunning consolidation of urban authority through the strategic discretionary enforcement of morals laws, including disorderly conduct, vagrancy, and other prostitution-related misdemeanors. Between Prohibition in the 1920s and the rise of “broken windows” policing in the 1980s, police targeted white and Black women in distinct but interconnected ways. These tactics reveal the centrality of racist and sexist myths to the justification and deployment of state power. Sexual policing did not just enhance police power. It also transformed cities from segregated sites of “urban vice” into the gentrified sites of Black displacement and banishment we live in today. By illuminating both the racial dimension of sexual liberalism and the gender dimension of policing in Black neighborhoods, The Streets Belong to Us illustrates the decisive role that race, gender, and sexuality played in the construction of urban police regimes.
BY JULIE WILLETT
In the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s, a series of stock characters emerged to define and bolster white masculinity. Alongside such caricatures as “the Playboy” and “the Redneck” came a new creation: “the Male Chauvinist Pig.” Coined by second-wave feminists as an insult, the Male Chauvinist Pig was largely defined by an anti-feminism that manifested in boorish sexist jokes. But the epithet backfired: being a sexist pig quickly transformed into a badge of honor worn proudly by misogynists, and, in time, it would come to define a strain of right-wing politics. Historian Julie Willett tracks the ways in which the sexist pig was sanitized by racism, popularized by consumer culture, weaponized to demean feminists, and politicized to mobilize libertine sexists to adopt reactionary politics.
Mapping out a trajectory that links the sexist buffoonery of Bobby Riggs in the 1970s, the popularity of Rush Limbaugh’s screeds against “Feminazis” in the 1990s, and the present day misogyny underpinning Trumpism, Willett makes a case for the potency of this seemingly laughable cultural symbol, showing what can happen when we neglect or trivialize the political power of humor.
BY THAVOLIA GLYMPH
Historians of the Civil War often speak of “wars within a war”–the military fight, wartime struggles on the home front, and the political and moral battle to preserve the Union and end slavery. In this broadly conceived book, Thavolia Glymph provides a comprehensive new history of women’s roles and lives in the Civil War–North and South, white and black, slave and free–showing how women were essentially and fully engaged in all three arenas. Glymph focuses on the ideas and ideologies that drove women’s actions, allegiances, and politics. We encounter women as they stood their ground, moved into each other’s territory, sought and found common ground, and fought for vastly different principles. Some women used all the tools and powers they could muster to prevent the radical transformations the war increasingly imposed, some fought with equal might for the same transformations, and other women fought simply to keep the war at bay as they waited for their husbands and sons to return home.
Glymph shows how the Civil War exposed as never before the nation’s fault lines, not just along race and class lines but also along the ragged boundaries of gender. However, Glymph makes clear that women’s experiences were not new to the mid-nineteenth century; rather, many of them drew on memories of previous conflicts, like the American Revolution and the War of 1812, to make sense of the Civil War’s disorder and death.
BY ALEXIS WELLS-OGHOGHOMEH
Beginning on the shores of West Africa in the sixteenth century and ending in the U.S. Lower South on the eve of the Civil War, Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh traces a bold history of the interior lives of bondwomen as they carved out an existence for themselves and their families amid the horrors of American slavery. With particular attention to maternity, sex, and other gendered aspects of women’s lives, she documents how bondwomen crafted female-centered cultures that shaped the religious consciousness and practices of entire enslaved communities. Indeed, gender as well as race co-constituted the Black religious subject, she argues—requiring a shift away from understandings of “slave religion” as a gender-amorphous category.
Women responded on many levels—ethically, ritually, and communally—to southern slavery. Drawing on a wide range of sources, Wells-Oghoghomeh shows how they remembered, reconfigured, and innovated beliefs and practices circulating between Africa and the Americas. In this way, she redresses the exclusion of enslaved women from the American religious narrative. Challenging conventional institutional histories, this book opens a rare window onto the spiritual strivings of one of the most remarkable and elusive groups in the American experience.
BY TANYA L. ROTH
While Rosie the Riveter had fewer paid employment options after being told to cede her job to returning World War II veterans, her sisters and daughters found new work opportunities in national defense. The 1948 Women’s Armed Services Integration Act created permanent military positions for women with the promise of equal pay. Her Cold War follows the experiences of women in the military from the passage of the Act to the early 1980s.
In the late 1940s, defense officials structured women’s military roles on the basis of perceived gender differences. Classified as noncombatants, servicewomen filled roles that they might hold in civilian life, such as secretarial or medical support positions. Defense officials also prohibited pregnant women and mothers from remaining in the military and encouraged many women to leave upon marriage. Before civilian feminists took up similar issues in the 1970s, many servicewomen called for a broader definition of equality free of gender-based service restrictions. Tanya L. Roth shows us that the battles these servicewomen fought for equality paved the way for women in combat, a prerequisite for promotion to many leadership positions, and opened opportunities for other servicepeople, including those with disabilities, LGBT and gender nonconforming people, noncitizens, and more.
BY GLENDA ELIZABETH GILMORE
This classic work helps recover the central role of black women in the political history of the Jim Crow era. Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore explores the pivotal and interconnected roles played by gender and race in North Carolina politics from the period immediately preceding the disfranchisement of black men in 1900 to the time black and white women gained the vote in 1920. Gilmore argues that while the ideology of white supremacy reordered Jim Crow society, a generation of educated black women nevertheless crafted an enduring tradition of political activism. In effect, these women served as diplomats to the white community after the disfranchisement of their husbands, brothers, and fathers. Gilmore also reveals how black women’s feminism created opportunities to forge political ties with white women, helping to create a foundation for the emergence of southern progressivism. In addition, Gender and Jim Crow illuminates the manipulation of concepts of gender by white supremacists and shows how this rhetoric changed once women, black and white, gained the vote.
BY CHRISTINE WALTER
Jamaica Ladies is the first systematic study of the free and freed women of European, Euro-African, and African descent who perpetuated chattel slavery and reaped its profits in the British Empire. Their actions helped transform Jamaica into the wealthiest slaveholding colony in the Anglo-Atlantic world. Starting in the 1670s, a surprisingly large and diverse group of women helped secure English control of Jamaica and, crucially, aided its developing and expanding slave labor regime by acquiring enslaved men, women, and children to protect their own tenuous claims to status and independence.
Female colonists employed slaveholding as a means of advancing themselves socially and financially on the island. By owning others, they wielded forms of legal, social, economic, and cultural authority not available to them in Britain. In addition, slaveholding allowed free women of African descent, who were not far removed from slavery themselves, to cultivate, perform, and cement their free status. Alongside their male counterparts, women bought, sold, stole, and punished the people they claimed as property and vociferously defended their rights to do so. As slavery’s beneficiaries, these women worked to stabilize and propel this brutal labor regime from its inception.
BY PSYCHE A. WILLIAMS-FORSON
Chicken–both the bird and the food–has played multiple roles in the lives of African American women from the slavery era to the present. It has provided food and a source of income for their families, shaped a distinctive culture, and helped women define and exert themselves in racist and hostile environments. Psyche A. Williams-Forson examines the complexity of black women’s legacies using food as a form of cultural work. While acknowledging the negative interpretations of black culture associated with chicken imagery, Williams-Forson focuses her analysis on the ways black women have forged their own self-definitions and relationships to the “gospel bird.”
Exploring material ranging from personal interviews to the comedy of Chris Rock, from commercial advertisements to the art of Kara Walker, and from cookbooks to literature, Williams-Forson considers how black women arrive at degrees of self-definition and self-reliance using certain foods. She demonstrates how they defy conventional representations of blackness and exercise influence through food preparation and distribution. Understanding these complex relationships clarifies how present associations of blacks and chicken are rooted in a past that is fraught with both racism and agency. The traditions and practices of feminism, Williams-Forson argues, are inherent in the foods women prepare and serve.