Get Your Read On: A Reading List for International Women’s Day

Jodi Jacobson

Happy International Women's Day! RH Realitycheck has partnered with UN Dispatch to celebrate by offering a list of favorite books, articles, and blogs on the themes of women’s rights and human rights. Add your favorites!

Happy International Women’s Day! Rewire has partnered with UN Dispatch to celebrate by asking our friends and readers to compile a list of their favorite books, articles, and blogs that touch on the themes of women’s rights and human rights.  What do you think should be required reading for International Women’s Day? 

Linda Hirshman: (author Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World”) “Michelle Goldberg’s The Means of Reproduction: Sex Power and the Future of the World” is an amazingly thorough, historical survey and contemporary analysis of the way in which the global movement to control reproduction, and its crucial element, women, explains the past and predicts the future. Goldberg’s stories of the lengths women will go to to control their own reproductive fate would move a heart of stone.”

Alanna Shaikh: “The Wisdom of Whores, by Elizabeth Pisani is a  truly exceptional book. To investigate the spread of HIV in the developing world, she talked to the people who know most about it – sex workers and drug users. Her street level view of HIV transmission will give you new respect for the women at ground zero for HIV infection.

Vanessa Valenti: Feminisms Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity,  by Chandra Talpade Mohanty. “This book is an exceptional analysis of critical issues that exist within contemporary feminism, particularly concerning women’s global issues. Mohanty raises questions around the conflict of globalization, the practice of reclaiming language, the crossing of boundaries between “third-world” and “first-world” women, and international feminist mobilizing by using key concepts that helps the reader better understand the complexity of these issues. By the end of the book, Mohanty forms a very comprehensive and very possible solution to these obstacles, which is rare in books tackling problems of such depth.”

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Michael Kazin: “Christine Stansell has a great new history of feminism — The Feminist Promise, 1792 to the Present — coming out next month. And Ruth Rosen’s The World Split Open is the best history of the “second wave.””

Carolyne Petri: “Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector. She’s the most famous Brazilian novelist (they sell her books in vending machines) unknown nearly everywhere else until this book, which I’m fanatical about. Clarice was also was the wife of a diplomat, traveled the world. Born to a syphilitic mother out of the pogroms of Ukraine, she emigrated to Brazil at 6 months and led an incredibly mysterious, feminist, and thoughtful life. The book’s up for the National Book Critics Circle award in biography. Author Ben Moser is Harper’s New Books columnist.”

“Also, this one’s rather wonky, but…The Mathematics of Sex: How Biology and Society Conspire to Limit Talented Women and Girls.”

Steven Teles:  “Where political science is concerned, two books worth reading are Anna Harvey’s Votes Without Leverage, and Suzanne Mettler’s Dividing Citizens: Gender And Federalism In New Deal Public Policy.”

Heather Hurlburt: “Lili Mansour’s essay: Iranian Women Poised to Benefit from Crisis, An an iranian journalist on women and the green movement.”

Kathleen Greier: “Marilyn Waring’s Counting for Nothing (also known as If Women Counted) is an oldy but goodie. First published in 1988 and republished in a new edition 11 years later, this book by a New Zealand economist is a groundbreaking work that looks at how national accounting schemes systematically exclude the unpaid labor of women, and the devastating impact fo women that these exclusions can have on public policy and the distribution of economic benefits. It got rave reviews from John Kenneth Galbraith (among others), and is very readable and completely accessible even to non-specialists. It’s a great illustration of the powerful ways that economic theories can have concrete, real-life impact.”

“I would also like to strongly recommend The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World. First published in 1989, its most recent edition, the 4th, came out last year. Written by geographer Joni Seager, it’s a feminist nerd’s delight — chockfull of fascinating maps, charts, and statistics about women around the world, Topics covered range from the average number of hours per week women around the world spend fetching water, to what countries are the world’s biggest markets for cosmetics, to male literacy rates in various countries, to the status of lesbian rights across the globe.

I was particularly struck by the stats on violence against women. Some


— In Russia, 70 percent of adult women say they have experienced physical abuse by a male partner or intimate.

— In Bangladesh in 2002, 68 percent of women who were physically abused say they never told family or officials about their abuse.

— In the U.S., between 22 percent and 35 percent of women who visit the emergency room do so because of domestic violence.

— In Japan, out of 104 gang rapes that were reported in 2005, there were only 5 convictions.– In the U.K., the rate of criminal convictions on rape charges is 7 percent.”

And some picks from our friends at the United Nations Foundation:

Kathy Calvin: Tatterhood and Other Tales, Ethel Johnston Phelps; The Fun Of It: Random Records Of My Own Flying And Of Women In Aviation, Amelia Earhart;

The Blue Sweater, Jacqueline Novogratz

Gillian Sorenson: The Little House on the Prairie series, Laura Ingalls Wilder

Jenna Sauber: Stones into Schools, Greg Mortenson;  The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, Michelle Goldberg; From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice, Anne Firth Murray; Women Who Light the Dark, Paola Gianturco

Tamara Kreinin: Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; Girls’ Night Out, Tamara Kreinin and Barbara Camens

Tieneke Van Lonkhuyzen Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson; I Am An Emotional Creature, Eve Ensler; Population, Nature, and What Women Want, Robert Engelman

Kathy Hall: Women Lead The Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World, Linda Tarr-Whelan

Phoebe Lee: A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice, and Environmental Challenge, Laurie Mazur

Julia Rocchi: Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi;  Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi; A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf; The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros

Yolanda Johnny Taylor: Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston; In My Place, Charlayne Hunter-Gault; Baby in the Family, Tina McElroy Ansa


Via Twitter (Follow @unfoundation and @undispatch) 

Unbowed, Wangaari Mathaai (@epi_tales)

The Same Sweet Girls, Cassandra King (@kickyfeet)

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini (@epi_tales)

Because I Am a Girl: State of the World’s Girls 2009, Plan USA report (@planusa)

The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne Frank (@tiaratuik 

The Lonely Soldier by Helen Benedict: amazing book and A World Made New- Eleanor Roosevelt and The UDHR (@GSPGH)

This recent story from Burkina Faso and this from Iraq (@NDI)

And some friends via Facebook

The Red Tent, Anite Diamante (Tammy Michniuk)

Pure Lust or Gyn/Ecology, Mary Daly (Maja Rejonovich)

Move into Life, Anat Baniel (Maja Rejonovich)

 Maternal Thinking, Sara Ruddick (Maja Rejonovic)

Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart, Carol Leonard (Maja Rejonovich)

Notes from the Cracked Ceiling, Anne Kornblut (Maja Rejonovich)

Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf (Maja Rejonovich)

Manhattan, Helene Cixous (Maja Rejonovich)

When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron (Maja Rejonovich)

Silent Spring, Rachael Carson (Maja Rejonovich)

Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (Shivani Naido)

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (Donna Bennett)

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (Ekaterina Ilieva)

Les Liaisons dangereuses, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (Ekaterina Ilieva)

First Love, Ivan Turgenev (Ekaterina Ilieva)

Asya, Ivan Turgenev (Ekaterina Ilieva)

The Song of Triumphant Love, Ivan Turgenev (Ekaterina Ilieva)

Shibil, Jordan Jovkov (Bulgarian writer) (Ekaterina Ilieva)

Let Go, Sheila Walsh (Jeanine Manzano)

O Pioneers, Willa Cather (Frank Flores)

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery (Carla Davis)

Fifth Chinese Daughter, Jade Snow Wong (Carla Davis)

In My Mother’s House, Kim Chernin (Carla Davis)

The Kitchen God’s Wife, Amy Tan (Carla Davis)

Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston (Carla Davis)

Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad, Ann Petry (Carla Davis)

Delusions of Grandma, Carrie Fisher (Carla Davis)

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (Carla Davis)

The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kid (Megan Penn)

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (Megan Penn)

Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen (Megan Penn)

The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (Pat Biswanger)

Fried Green Tomatoes, Fannie Flagg (Pat Biswanger)

Lucky, Alice Sebold ((Maura Donlan)

Infidel, A.H. Ali (Maura Donlan )

A Map of Hope, Majorie Agonsin,  “77 stories about how women writers have spoken out about human rights.”  (Victoria Baxter)

Brida, Paulo Coehlo (Mariella N G)

What else do you think we should include?  Add your suggestions in the comments.

Analysis Law and Policy

Justice Kennedy’s Silence Speaks Volumes About His Apparent Feelings on Women’s Autonomy

Imani Gandy

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s obsession with human dignity has become a hallmark of his jurisprudence—except where reproductive rights are concerned.

Last week’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was remarkable not just for what it did say—that two provisions in Texas’s omnibus anti-abortion law were unconstitutional—but for what it didn’t say, and who didn’t say it.

In the lead-up to the decision, many court watchers were deeply concerned that Justice Anthony Kennedy would side with the conservative wing of the court, and that his word about targeted restrictions of abortion providers would signal the death knell of reproductive rights. Although Kennedy came down on the winning side, his notable silence on the “dignity” of those affected by the law still speaks volumes about his apparent feelings on women’s autonomy. That’s because Kennedy’s obsession with human dignity, and where along the fault line of that human dignity various rights fall, has become a hallmark of his jurisprudence—except where reproductive rights are concerned.

His opinion on marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, along with his prior opinions striking down sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas and the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor, assured us that he recognizes the fundamental human rights and dignity of LGBTQ persons.

On the other hand, as my colleague Jessica Mason Pieklo noted, his concern in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action about the dignity of the state, specifically the ballot initiative process, assured us that he is willing to sweep aside the dignity of those affected by Michigan’s affirmative action ban in favor of the “‘dignity’ of a ballot process steeped in racism.”

Meanwhile, in his majority opinion in June’s Fisher v. University of Texas, Kennedy upheld the constitutionality of the University of Texas’ affirmative action program, noting that it remained a challenge to this country’s education system “to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.”

It is apparent that where Kennedy is concerned, dignity is the alpha and the omega. But when it came to one of the most important reproductive rights cases in decades, he was silent.

This is not entirely surprising: For Kennedy, the dignity granted to pregnant women, as evidenced by his opinions in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Gonzales v. Carhart, has been steeped in gender-normative claptrap about abortion being a unique choice that has grave consequences for women, abortion providers’ souls, and the dignity of the fetus. And in Whole Woman’s Health, when Kennedy was given another chance to demonstrate to us that he does recognize the dignity of women as women, he froze.

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He didn’t write the majority opinion. He didn’t write a concurring opinion. He permitted Justice Stephen Breyer to base the most important articulation of abortion rights in decades on data. There was not so much as a callback to Kennedy’s flowery articulation of dignity in Casey, where he wrote that “personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education” are matters “involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy.” (While Casey was a plurality opinion, various Court historians have pointed out that Kennedy himself wrote the above-quoted language.)

Of course, that dignity outlined in Casey is grounded in gender paternalism: Abortion, Kennedy continued, “is an act fraught with consequences for others: for the woman who must live with the implications of her decision; for the persons who perform and assist in the procedures for the spouse, family, and society which must confront the knowledge that these procedures exist, procedures some deem nothing short of an act of violence against innocent human life; and, depending on one’s beliefs, for the life or potential life that is aborted.” Later, in Gonzales, Kennedy said that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban “expresses respect for the dignity of human life,” with nothing about the dignity of the women affected by the ban.

And this time around, Kennedy’s silence in Whole Woman’s Health may have had to do with the facts of the case: Texas claimed that the provisions advanced public health and safety, and Whole Woman’s Health’s attorneys set about proving that claim to be false. Whole Woman’s Health was the sort of data-driven decision that did not strictly need excessive language about personal dignity and autonomy. As Breyer wrote, it was a simple matter of Texas advancing a reason for passing the restrictions without offering any proof: “We have found nothing in Texas’ record evidence that shows that, compared to prior law, the new law advanced Texas’ legitimate interest in protecting women’s health.”

In Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s two-page concurrence, she succinctly put it, “Many medical procedures, including childbirth, are far more dangerous to patients, yet are not subject to ambulatory-surgical-center or hospital admitting-privileges requirements.”

“Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws like H.B. 2 that ‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion,’ cannot survive judicial inspection,” she continued, hammering the point home.

So by silently signing on to the majority opinion, Kennedy may simply have been expressing that he wasn’t going to fall for the State of Texas’ efforts to undermine Casey’s undue burden standard through a mixture of half-truths about advancing public health and weak evidence supporting that claim.

Still, Kennedy had a perfect opportunity to complete the circle on his dignity jurisprudence and take it to its logical conclusion: that women, like everyone else, are individuals worthy of their own autonomy and rights. But he didn’t—whether due to his Catholic faith, a deep aversion to abortion in general, or because, as David S. Cohen aptly put it, “[i]n Justice Kennedy’s gendered world, a woman needs … state protection because a true mother—an ideal mother—would not kill her child.”

As I wrote last year in the wake of Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell, “according to [Kennedy’s] perverse simulacrum of dignity, abortion rights usurp the dignity of motherhood (which is the only dignity that matters when it comes to women) insofar as it prevents women from fulfilling their rightful roles as mothers and caregivers. Women have an innate need to nurture, so the argument goes, and abortion undermines that right.”

This version of dignity fits neatly into Kennedy’s “gendered world.” But falls short when compared to jurists internationally,  who have pointed out that dignity plays a central role in reproductive rights jurisprudence.

In Casey itself, for example, retired Justice John Paul Stevens—who, perhaps not coincidentally, attended the announcement of the Whole Woman’s Health decision at the Supreme Court—wrote that whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is a “matter of conscience,” and that “[t]he authority to make such traumatic and yet empowering decisions is an element of basic human dignity.”

And in a 1988 landmark decision from the Supreme Court of Canada, Justice Bertha Wilson indicated in her concurring opinion that “respect for human dignity” was key to the discussion of access to abortion because “the right to make fundamental personal decision without interference from the state” was central to human dignity and any reading of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 1982, which is essentially Canada’s Bill of Rights.

The case was R. v. Morgentaler, in which the Supreme Court of Canada found that a provision in the criminal code that required abortions to be performed only at an accredited hospital with the proper certification of approval from the hospital’s therapeutic abortion committee violated the Canadian Constitution. (Therapeutic abortion committees were almost always comprised of men who would decide whether an abortion fit within the exception to the criminal offense of performing an abortion.)

In other countries, too, “human dignity” has been a key component in discussion about abortion rights. The German Federal Constitutional Court explicitly recognized that access to abortion was required by “the human dignity of the pregnant woman, her… right to life and physical integrity, and her right of personality.” The Supreme Court of Brazil relied on the notion of human dignity to explain that requiring a person to carry an anencephalic fetus to term caused “violence to human dignity.” The Colombian Constitutional Court relied upon concerns about human dignity to strike down abortion prohibition in instances where the pregnancy is the result of rape, involves a nonviable fetus, or a threat to the woman’s life or health.

Certainly, abortion rights are still severely restricted in some of the above-mentioned countries, and elsewhere throughout the world. Nevertheless, there is strong national and international precedent for locating abortion rights in the square of human dignity.

And where else would they be located? If dignity is all about permitting people to make decisions of fundamental personal importance, and it turns out, as it did with Texas, that politicians have thrown “women’s health and safety” smoke pellets to obscure the true purpose of laws like HB 2—to ban abortion entirely—where’s the dignity in that?

Perhaps I’m being too grumpy. Perhaps I should just take the win—and it is an important win that will shape abortion rights for a generation—and shut my trap. But I want more from Kennedy. I want him to demonstrate that he’s not a hopelessly patriarchal figure who has icky feelings when it comes to abortion. I want him to recognize that some women have abortions and it’s not the worst decision they’ve ever made or the worst thing that ever happened to him. I want him to recognize that women are people who deserve dignity irrespective of their choices regarding whether and when to become a mother. And, ultimately, I want him to write about a woman’s right to choose using the same flowery language that he uses to discuss LGBTQ rights and the dignity of LGBTQ people.  He could have done so here.

Forcing the closure of clinics based on empty promises of advancing public health is an affront to the basic dignity of women. Not only do such lies—and they are lies, as evidenced by the myriad anti-choice Texan politicians who have come right out and said that passing HB 2 was about closing clinics and making abortion inaccessible—operate to deprive women of the dignity to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term, they also presume that the American public is too stupid to truly grasp what’s going on.

And that is quintessentially undignified.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: Some Men Base Condom Use on Women’s Looks

Martha Kempner

This week, a study suggests some men are less likely to have safer sex with women whom they find attractive. There's now a study of women's pubic hair grooming habits, and a lot of couples don't have wedding-night sex.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Men Less Likely to Have Safer Sex If Partner Is ‘Hot’

The old adage “Never judge a book by its cover” is apparently easily forgotten when it comes to judging potential sex partners. A new study in BMJ Open found that men said they were less likely to use a condom if their potential partner was hot.

In this small study, researchers showed pictures of 20 women to 51 heterosexual men. The men were asked to rank how attractive the woman was, how likely they would be to have sex with her if given the opportunity, and how likely it was they would use a condom if they did have sex with her. The results revealed that the more attractive a man found a woman, the less likely he was to intend to use a condom during sex with her.

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Men also rated how attractive they consider themselves, and the results showed that this was also related to condom use. Men who thought of themselves as more attractive were less likely to intend to use a condom.

Researchers also asked the men to estimate how many out of 100 men like themselves would have sex with each woman given the opportunity and finally, how likely they thought it was that the woman in the picture had a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

The results of these two questions turned out to be related: The men assumed that women whom other men would want to sleep with were more likely to have STIs.

This did not make the men in the study any more likely to intend to use a condom with those women. In fact, the men were most likely to intend condom use with women they found less attractive, even though they considered these women less likely to have an STI.

This was a small study with a relatively homogenous group of men ages 18 to 69 near Southhampton, England, and it measured intention rather than behavior.

Still, the results could present a challenge for public health experts if men are making condom decisions on a broader scale based on attraction rather than risk assessment.

How and Why Women Groom Their Pubic Hair

A new study published in JAMA Dermatology is the first nationally representative survey of U.S. women’s pubic hair grooming habits. The study included more than 3,300 women ages 18 to 64.

Overall, 84 percent of women had engaged in some pubic hair grooming. Pubic hair grooming was more common among younger women (ages 18 to 24); among white women; and among women who had gone to college.

Before you start thinking everyone is out getting Brazilians, however, grooming means different things to different women. Only 21 percent of women said they took all their pubic hair off more than 11 times, and 38 percent of women say they’ve never done so. Moreover, waxing lags behind the most popular hair removal methods; only 5 percent of women say they wax compared with 61 percent who shave, 18 percent who use scissors, and 12 percent who use electric razors. (Respondents could choose more than one answer in the survey.)

Most women (93) do it themselves, 8 percent have their partners help, and 6.7 percent go to a professional.

The researchers were most interested in the most common reason women groom their pubic hair. The most common reason was hygiene (59 percent), followed by “part of my routine” (46 percent), “makes my vagina look nicer” (32 percent), “partner prefers” (21 percent), and “oral sex is easier” (19 percent).

Tami Rowen, the lead author of the study and a practicing gynecologist at the University of California, San Francisco, told the New York Times, “Many women think they are dirty or unclean if they aren’t groomed.”

But while people may think that, it’s not true. Pubic hair actually exists to help protect the delicate skin around the genitals. Rowen and other doctors who spoke to the Times believe that women, especially teenagers, are taking up grooming practices in response to external pressures and societal norms as reflected in images of hairless genitals in pornography and other media. They want young people to know the potential risks of grooming and say they’ve seen an increase in grooming-related health issues such as folliculitis, abscesses, cuts, burns, and allergic reactions. As some may remember, This Week in Sex reported a few years ago that emergency-room visits related to pubic hair grooming were way up among both women and men.

This Week in Sex believes that women should be happy with their genitals. Keeping the hair that grows does not make you dirty—in fact, it is there for a reason. But if shaving or waxing makes you happy, that’s fine. Do be careful, however, because the doctors are right: Vulvas are very sensitive and many methods of hair removal are very harsh.

Wedding-Night Sex May Be Delayed, But That’s OK With Most Couples

Summer is a popular wedding season, with couples walking down the aisle, exchanging vows, and then dancing the night away with friends and families. But how many of them actually have sex after the caterer packs up and the guests head home?

According to lingerie company Bluebella—about half. The company surveyed 1,000 couples about their postnuptial sex lives and found that 48 percent of them said they did “it” on their wedding night. Most women in those couples who did not get it on that night said they were just too tired. The men, on the other hand, said they were too drunk or wanted to keep partying with their friends. (It is unclear whether the survey included same-sex couples.)

By the next morning, another 33 percent of couples had consummated their marriage, but about 10 percent said it took 48 hours to get around to it.

But whenever couples did have that post-wedding sex, the overwhelming majority (84 percent) said it lived up to their expectations.