Aphra's Reading Room: Women's History Month Edition, Part IV

(This is the fourth in a series of four posts recommending books and films on the history of women, gender, sexuality, feminism, and related topics. This series is in honor of the U.S. commemoration of Women's History Month. For background, you can read the first post here, the second here, and the third here.

Welcome to the fourth installment! You are hereby invited to commit the deeply feminist act of looking at 20th century history from women's points of view. These lists are necessarily limited by my own areas of teaching and research; they are not meant to be comprehensive, particularly in the 20th century, where there is a relative wealth of historical materials about women's experiences. But rather, these lists are supposed to help start conversations about women's history. You're invited to share your own recommendations in comments.

If you have been doing some great reading (or viewing) in women's history, this is your chance to share! If you've been thinking you'd like to learn more about women's history, these posts should give you some ideas!

Part IV: The 20th Century

BOOK: The New Japanese Woman: Modernity, Media, and Women in Interwar Japan by Barbara Sato. Examining Japan between the two world wars, Sato traces the rise of a Japanese "New Woman" in media stereotype, one shaped by consumerism and the new media. Although not entirely revolutionizing gender roles, Sato argues that middle-class Japanese women used the guide of modernity to re-define femininity in new roles such as "professional woman," "housewife" and modern girl. Not surprisingly, these changes also provoked extreme anxiety among the male-dominated political elite--changes that Sato also explores.

DVD: American Experience: Flygirls. Maybe you've heard of the Women's Air Service Pilots, or WASPs, who took to the skies in the Second World War in order to free male pilots to fight in the U.S. forces. This excellent documentary, which makes use not only of footage from the time but of later interviews with surviving pilots, chronicles their ups and downs as ferry and training pilots. Riveting!

BOOK:Holding our World Together: Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community by Brenda Child. Child's new book examines the role that women play in traditional Ojibwe culture and society, and then expands that analysis to consider the ways that women have been key to maintaining community from the days of the fur trade through the reservation era and beyond. I found the last chapter, which examines the way Ojibwe women built community in the face of urbanization programs that took their families to Minneapolis in hopes of 'mainstreaming" them to be especially interesting. Sometimes a difficult read, but a good one.

DVD: American Experience: Sister Aimee. Aimee Semple McPherson was one of the first non-actors to become a media star. Born Canadian, she became famous as a Pentecostal preacher in the postwar United States. Preaching a theologically conservative message, she circulated a magazine and rose to fame as a radio preacher, one of only a handful in the U.S. Hollywood-glamorous and charismatic, her life was marred by scandal and ended in sudden death. For anyone interested in women and the media, this is a must-see.

DVD: Chisholm 72:Unbought and Unbossed. If you have never seen or heard the U.S. politician Shirley Chisholm, prepare to be wowed. This documentary traces her 1972 run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Chisholm (sadly now deceased) was an uncompromising fighter for the rights of the downtrodden, who in turn experienced constant intersectional oppression from those who felt that, as a Black woman, she was not a "real" contender. Chisholm's passion for economic and social justice is inspiring, her insightful analysis clear and convincing. Warning: after watching this you may find the 2012 U.S. elections even more of a letdown.

BOOK: Sex in Revolution: Gender, Politics, and Power in Modern Mexico edited by Jocelyn Olcott, Mary Kay Vaughan, and Gabriela Cano. This collection of essays brings together a wide range of women's experiences in Mexico between 1915 through 1950. Catholics and communist activists, women seeking divorce rights, and a trans* Zapatista soldier are just a few of the Mexicans you will meet in this book. Since my acquaintance with Mexican history was/is nodding at best, I'd not previously been introduced to the rich roles played by women in this key period. Great stuff!

BOOK: Our Mother's War by Emily Yellin. This book weaves together accounts of U.S. women from the Second World War in many different arenas: the military, as housewives, as volunteers, as entertainers, as scientists, as journalists, and more. Covering a wide range of topics, it's a terrific all-around reference for women's participation in the Second World War. It centers straight white women's experiences more than I like, but it does include strong coverage for lesbians, African-American, and Asian-American women. Good to get a grasp of the many different ways that women experienced the war.

BOOK: When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins. Journalist Collins brings us this readable and even entertaining account of the way that the women's movement grew from a world where women needed their husband's permission to get a credit card to one where Hillary Clinton can run for president (which is where she ends the book). Far from a narrative of pure progress, however, Collins does a terrific job of paying attention to the manifold different ways that women experienced these changes, and the women who helped drive them. If you've been looking for a basic introduction to the problems that spurred the women's movement, its movers and shakers, and the backlash against it, this is an accessible place to start.

DVD: Obachan's Garden. (Also available for online viewing at the link. Asayo Murakami came to Canada as a "picture bride," a woman pledged to a husband who had seen only her picture. In Canada, she experienced opportunity and oppression, living through the forced relocation of Japanese-Canadians during World War II. But she also had a secret that she kept from her Canadian family, one not revealed until decades after the close of the war. In this film, her grand-daughter Linda Omaha teases out her grandmother's identity through her personal history. The participation of multiple generations of family in the project makes this film a very unique documentary experience.

BOOK: Women in Power: The Personalities and Leadership Styles of Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, and Margaret Thatcher by Blema S. Steinberg. Less a traditional history rather than a comparative psychological study, Stenberg offers fascinating comparisons in a book that could only have been written recently: the leadership styles of female Prime Ministers. All three women were described as "masculine" in their political styles, and Steinberg offers some very interesting observations as to how this affected their leadership. (Note that I make no claims about the validity of her psychological analysis, as that is outside my field, but I did find this of great historical interest.)

BOOK: Right Stuff, Wrong Sex: America's First Women in Space Program by Margaret A. Weitekamp. When the Soviet Union launched cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova into space, the United States launched a half-hearted attempt to keep up with this milestone. Weitekamp's careful research details the story of 13 "Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees" (as the women dubbed themselves) who were recruited as potential astronauts, and then denied the chance to actually enter space. Theirs is a fascinating story of the intersection of Cold War gender retrenchment with women's postwar participation in the fields of aviation and science.

BOOK: Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens: Domestic Workers in the South,1865-1960 by Rebecca Sharpless. Shakesville contributor elle has previously written in this space about the deeply racist and inaccurate portrayal of the history of black women domestics found in "The Help." In addition to the resources she listed, here is one more about the real lives of African-American domestic workers in the U.S. South. Its use of primary sources helps to recover and center the voices of black women who navigated a world that was not-quite slavery, but hardly freedom.

[Commenting Note: In addition to our usual commenting standards, I ask that we be respectful of others' experiences in discovering women's history. A work that is helpful to one person may have its flaws, and it's fine to talk about that. If nothing else, research does get out dated. But please respect that this work was important to the commenter for a reason. Also please note that while not every recommendation must be flawless by social justice standards, works in which anti-trans*, heterocentrist, racist, and/or other marginalizing material are central are not welcome.]

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