Women’s History Month 2022 Reading List (Curated by Elaine Maisner)

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 Elaine Maisner, one of our Executive Directors. 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.


THE SOULS OF WOMENFOLK: THE RELIGIOUS CULTURES OF ENSLAVED WOMEN IN THE LOWER SOUTH

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.

THE LAYWOMAN PROJECT: REMAKING CATHOLIC WOMANHOOD IN THE VATICAN II ERA

BY MARY J. HENOLD

Summoning everyday Catholic laywomen to the forefront of twentieth-century Catholic history, Mary J. Henold considers how these committed parishioners experienced their religion in the wake of Vatican II (1962–1965). This era saw major changes within the heavily patriarchal religious faith—at the same time as an American feminist revolution caught fire. Who was the Catholic woman for a new era? Henold uncovers a vast archive of writing, both intimate and public facing, by hundreds of rank-and-file American laywomen active in national laywomen’s groups, including the National Council of Catholic Women, the Catholic Daughters of America, and the Daughters of Isabella. These records evoke a formative period when laywomen played publicly with a surprising variety of ideas about their own position in the Catholic Church.

While marginalized near the bottom of the church hierarchy, laywomen quietly but purposefully engaged both their religious and gender roles as changing circumstances called them into question. Some eventually chose feminism while others rejected it, but most, Henold says, crafted a middle position: even conservative, nonfeminist laywomen came to reject the idea that the church could adapt to the modern world while keeping women’s status frozen in amber.

CELIA SÁNCHEZ MANDULEY: THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF A CUBAN REVOLUTIONARY

BY TIFFANY A. SIPPIAL

Celia Sánchez Manduley (1920–1980) is famous for her role in the Cuban revolution. Clad in her military fatigues, this “first female guerrilla of the Sierra Maestra” is seen in many photographs alongside Fidel Castro. Sánchez joined the movement in her early thirties, initially as an arms runner and later as a combatant. She was one of Castro’s closest confidants, perhaps lover, and went on to serve as a high-ranking government official and international ambassador. Since her death, Sánchez has been revered as a national icon, cultivated and guarded by the Cuban government. With almost unprecedented access to Sánchez’s papers, including a personal diary, and firsthand interviews with family members, Tiffany A. Sippial presents the first critical study of a notoriously private and self-abnegating woman who yet exists as an enduring symbol of revolutionary ideals.

Sippial reveals the scope and depth of Sánchez’s power and influence within the Cuban revolution, as well as her struggles with violence, her political development, and the sacrifices required by her status as a leader and “New Woman.” Using the tools of feminist biography, cultural history, and the politics of memory, Sippial reveals how Sánchez strategically crafted her own legacy within a history still dominated by bearded men in fatigues.

BEATRIZ ALLENDE: A REVOLUTIONARY LIFE IN COLD WAR LATIN AMERICA

BY TANYA HARMER

This biography of Beatriz Allende (1942–1977)—revolutionary doctor and daughter of Chile’s socialist president, Salvador Allende—portrays what it means to live, love, and fight for change. Inspired by the Cuban Revolution, Beatriz and her generation drove political campaigns, university reform, public health programs, internationalist guerrilla insurgencies, and government strategies. Centering Beatriz’s life within the global contours of the Cold War era, Tanya Harmer exposes the promises and paradoxes of the revolutionary wave that swept through Latin America in the long 1960s.

Drawing on exclusive access to Beatriz’s private papers, as well as firsthand interviews, Harmer connects the private and political as she reveals the human dimensions of radical upheaval. Exiled to Havana after Chile’s right-wing military coup, Beatriz worked tirelessly to oppose dictatorship back home. Harmer’s interviews make vivid the terrible consequences of the coup for the Chilean Left, the realities of everyday life in Havana, and the unceasing demands of solidarity work that drained Beatriz and her generation of the dreams they once had. Her story demolishes the myth that women were simply extras in the story of Latin America’s Left and brings home the immense cost of a revolutionary moment’s demise.

SUFI NARRATIVES OF INTIMACY: IBN ‘ARABĪ, GENDER, AND SEXUALITY

BY SA’DIYYA SHAIKH

Thirteenth-century Sufi poet, mystic, and legal scholar Muhyi al-Din ibn al-‘Arabi gave deep and sustained attention to gender as integral to questions of human existence and moral personhood. Reading his works through a critical feminist lens, Sa’diyya Shaikh opens fertile spaces in which new and creative encounters with gender justice in Islam can take place. Grounding her work in Islamic epistemology, Shaikh attends to the ways in which Sufi metaphysics and theology might allow for fundamental shifts in Islamic gender ethics and legal formulations, addressing wide-ranging contemporary challenges including questions of women’s rights in marriage and divorce, the politics of veiling, and women’s leadership of ritual prayer. 

Shaikh deftly deconstructs traditional binaries between the spiritual and the political, private conceptions of spiritual development and public notions of social justice, and the realms of inner refinement and those of communal virtue. Drawing on the treasured works of Sufism, Shaikh raises a number of critical questions about the nature of selfhood, subjectivity, spirituality, and society to contribute richly to the prospects of Islamic feminism as well as feminist ethics more broadly.

WHAT IS VEILING?

BY SAHAR AMER

Ranging from simple head scarf to full-body burqa, the veil is worn by vast numbers of Muslim women around the world. What Is Veiling? explains one of the most visible, controversial, and least understood emblems of Islam. Sahar Amer’s evenhanded approach is anchored in sharp cultural insight and rich historical context. Addressing the significance of veiling in the religious, cultural, political, and social lives of Muslims, past and present, she examines the complex roles the practice has played in history, religion, conservative and progressive perspectives, politics and regionalism, society and economics, feminism, fashion, and art. 

By highlighting the multiple meanings of veiling, the book decisively shows that the realities of the practice cannot be homogenized or oversimplified and extend well beyond the religious and political accounts that are overwhelmingly proclaimed both inside and outside Muslim-majority societies. Neither defending nor criticizing the practice, What Is Veiling? clarifies the voices of Muslim women who struggle to be heard and who, veiled or not, demand the right to live spiritual, personal, and public lives in dignity.

MUSLIM AMERICAN WOMEN ON CAMPUS: UNDERGRADUATE SOCIAL LIFE AND IDENTITY

BY SHABANA MIR

Shabana Mir’s powerful ethnographic study of women on Washington, D.C., college campuses reveals that being a young female Muslim in post-9/11 America means experiencing double scrutiny—scrutiny from the Muslim community as well as from the dominant non-Muslim community. Muslim American Women on Campus illuminates the processes by which a group of ethnically diverse American college women, all identifying as Muslim and all raised in the United States, construct their identities during one of the most formative times in their lives. 

Mir, an anthropologist of education, focuses on key leisure practices–drinking, dating, and fashion–to probe how Muslim American students adapt to campus life and build social networks that are seamlessly American, Muslim, and youthful. In this lively and highly accessible book, we hear the women’s own often poignant voices as they articulate how they find spaces within campus culture as well as their Muslim student communities to grow and assert themselves as individuals, women, and Americans. Mir concludes, however, that institutions of higher learning continue to have much to learn about fostering religious diversity on campus.

CONCEIVING FREEDOM: WOMEN OF COLOR, GENDER, AND THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY IN HAVANA AND RIO DE JANEIRO

BY CAMILLIA COWLING

In Conceiving Freedom, Camillia Cowling shows how gender shaped urban routes to freedom for the enslaved during the process of gradual emancipation in Cuba and Brazil, which occurred only after the rest of Latin America had abolished slavery and even after the American Civil War. Focusing on late nineteenth-century Havana and Rio de Janeiro, Cowling argues that enslaved women played a dominant role in carving out freedom for themselves and their children through the courts. 

Cowling examines how women, typically illiterate but with access to scribes, instigated myriad successful petitions for emancipation, often using “free-womb” laws that declared that the children of enslaved women were legally free. She reveals how enslaved women’s struggles connected to abolitionist movements in each city and the broader Atlantic World, mobilizing new notions about enslaved and free womanhood. She shows how women conceived freedom and then taught the “free-womb” generation to understand and shape the meaning of that freedom. Even after emancipation, freed women would continue to use these claims-making tools as they struggled to establish new spaces for themselves and their families in post emancipation society.