What to Read When Women’s Bodies Are Under Attack
Women’s bodies have always been under attack, in every culture and country, across continents and generations and belief systems. Right now, in America, the Republican party is enthusiastically and vigorously attempting to overturn Roe vs. Wade and make abortion illegal across the country. We must understand this as the devastating blow to freedom and autonomy of all Americans that it is. We must understand this as an emergency. We must not wait to take action.
The books below all grapple with abortion, bodily autonomy, women’s rights, and the importance of fighting for real and lasting equality.
Handbook for a Post-Roe America by Robin Marty
Handbook for a Post-Roe America is a comprehensive and user-friendly manual for understanding and preparing for the looming changes to reproductive rights law, and getting the healthcare you need—by any means necessary. Activist and writer Robin Marty guides readers through various worst-case scenarios of a post-Roe America, and offers ways to fight back, including: how to acquire financial support, how to use existing networks and create new ones, and how to, when required, work outside existing legal systems. She details how to plan for your own emergencies, how to start organizing now, what to know about self-managed abortion care with pills and/or herbs, and how to avoid surveillance. The only guidebook of its kind, Handbook for a Post-Roe America includes an extensive, detailed resource guide for all pregnant people (whether cis, trans, or non-binary) of clinics, action groups, abortion funds, and practical support groups in each state, so wherever you live, you can get involved.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…
Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organizing for Reproductive Justice by Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross, and Elena Gutiérrez
Undivided Rights presents a textured understanding of the reproductive rights movement by placing the experiences, priorities, and activism of women of color in the foreground. Using historical research, original organizational case studies, and personal interviews, the authors illuminate how women of color have led the fight to control their own bodies and reproductive destinies. Undivided Rights shows how women of color—starting within their own Latina, African American, Native American, and Asian American communities—have resisted coercion of their reproductive abilities. Projected against the backdrop of the mainstream pro-choice movement and radical right agendas, these dynamic case studies feature the groundbreaking work being done by health and reproductive rights organizations led by women-of-color.
Seam by Tarfia Faizullah
The poems in this captivating collection weave beauty with violence, the personal with the historic as they recount the harrowing experiences of the two hundred thousand female victims of rape and torture at the hands of the Pakistani army during the 1971 Liberation War. As the child of Bangladeshi immigrants, the poet in turn explores her own losses, as well as the complexities of bearing witness to the atrocities these war heroines endured.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.
The Power by Naomi Alderman
In The Power, the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power—they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.
Unterzakhn by Leela Corman
For six-year-old Esther and Fanya, the teeming streets of New York’s Lower East Side circa 1910 are both a fascinating playground and a place where life’s lessons are learned quickly and often cruelly. In drawings that capture both the tumult and the telling details of that street life, Unterzakhn (Yiddish for “Underthings”) tells the story of these sisters: as wide-eyed little girls absorbing the sights and sounds of a neighborhood of struggling immigrants; as teenagers taking their own tentative steps into the wider world (Esther working for a woman who runs both a burlesque theater and a whorehouse, Fanya for an obstetrician who also performs illegal abortions); and, finally, as adults battling for their own piece of the “golden land,” where the difference between just barely surviving and triumphantly succeeding involves, for each of them, painful decisions that will have unavoidably tragic repercussions.
Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts
In 1997, this groundbreaking book made a powerful entrance into the national conversation on race. In a media landscape dominated by racially biased images of welfare queens and crack babies, Killing the Black Body exposed America’s systemic abuse of Black women’s bodies. From slave masters’ economic stake in bonded women’s fertility to government programs that coerced thousands of poor Black women into being sterilized as late as the 1970s, these abuses pointed to the degradation of Black motherhood—and the exclusion of Black women’s reproductive needs in mainstream feminist and civil rights agendas. Now, some two decades later, Killing the Black Body has not only exerted profound influence, but also remains as crucial as ever—a rallying cry for education, awareness, and action on extending reproductive justice to all women.
Blue Rose by Carol Muske-Dukes
The poems in Blue Rose navigate around the idea of the unattainable—the elusive nature of poetry, of knowledge, of the fact that we know so little of the lives of others, of the world in which we live. Some poems respond to matters of women, birth, and the struggle for reproductive rights, or to issues like gun control and climate change, while others draw inspiration from the lives of women who persisted outside of convention, in poetry, art, science.
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
Abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom. Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling herbalist, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.
The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service by Laura Kaplan
An extraordinary history by one of its members, this is the first account of Jane’s evolution, the conflicts within the group, and the impact its work had both on the women it helped and the members themselves. This book stands as a compelling testament to a woman’s most essential freedom—control over her own body—and to the power of women helping women.
Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend by Erika T. Wurth
Margaritte is a sharp-tongued, drug-dealing, sixteen-year-old Native American floundering in a Colorado town crippled by poverty, unemployment, and drug abuse. She hates the burnout, futureless kids surrounding her and dreams that she and her unreliable new boyfriend can move far beyond the bright lights of Denver that float on the horizon before the daily suffocation of teen pregnancy eats her alive.
Poor Your Soul by Mira Ptacin
At twenty-eight, Mira Ptacin discovered she was pregnant. Though it was unplanned, she embraced the idea of starting a family and became engaged to Andrew, the father. Five months later, an ultrasound revealed that her child would be born with a constellation of birth defects and no chance of survival outside the womb. Mira was given three options: terminate the pregnancy, induce early delivery, or wait and inevitably miscarry. Mira’s story is paired with that of her mother, who emigrated from Poland to the United States, and who also experienced grievous loss when her only son was killed by a drunk driver. These deftly interwoven stories offer a picture of mother and daughter finding strength in themselves and each other in the face of tragedy.
Mend by Kwoya Fagin Maples
The inventor of the speculum, J. Marion Sims, is celebrated as the “father of modern gynecology,” and a memorial at his birthplace honors “his service to suffering women, empress and slave alike.” These tributes whitewash the fact that Sims achieved his surgical breakthroughs by experimenting on eleven enslaved African American women. Lent to Sims by their owners, these women were forced to undergo operations without their consent. Today, the names of all but three of these women are lost. In Mend: Poems, Kwoya Fagin Maples gives voice to the enslaved women named in Sims’s autobiography: Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy. In poems exploring imagined memories and experiences relayed from hospital beds, the speakers challenge Sims’s lies, mourn their trampled dignity, name their suffering in spirit, and speak of their bodies as “bruised fruit.” At the same time, they are more than his victims, and the poems celebrate their humanity, their feelings, their memories, and their selves.
A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates
In A Book of American Martyrs, Joyce Carol Oates tells the story of two very different and yet intimately linked American families. Luther Dunphy is an ardent Evangelical who envisions himself as acting out God’s will when he assassinates an abortion provider in his small Ohio town while Augustus Voorhees, the idealistic but self-regarding doctor who is killed, leaves behind a wife and children scarred and embittered by grief. In her moving, insightful portrait, Joyce Carol Oates fully inhabits the perspectives of two interwoven families whose destinies are defined by their warring convictions and squarely—but with great empathy—confronts an intractable, abiding rift in American society.
May Cause Love: An Unexpected Journey after Abortion by Kassi Underwood
At age nineteen, Kassi Underwood discovers she is pregnant. Broke, unwed, struggling with alcohol, and living a thousand miles away from home, she checks into an abortion clinic. Three years later, just when she has settled into a sober life at her dream job, the ex-boyfriend with whom she had become pregnant has a baby with someone else. In the depths of a blinding depression, Kassi refuses to believe that she will “never get over” her abortion. Inspired by rebellious women in history who used spiritual practices to attain emotional freedom, Kassi embarks on a journey of recovery after abortion—a road trip with pit stops at a Buddhist “water baby” ritual, where she learns a new way to think about lost pregnancies; a Roman Catholic retreat for abortion that turns out to be staffed with clinic picketers; a crash course in grief from a Planned Parenthood counselor; a night in a motel with a “Midwife for the Soul” who teaches her how to take up space; and a Jewish “wild woman” celebration led by a wise and zany rabbi.
Not Funny Ha-Ha by Leah Hayes
Not Funny Ha-Ha is a graphic novel illustrating the lives of two young women from different cultural, family, and financial backgrounds who go through two different abortions (medical and surgical). It follows them through the process of choosing a clinic, reaching out to friends, partners, and/or family, and eventually the procedure(s) itself. It simply shows what happens when a woman goes through it, no questions asked.
Know the Mother by Desiree Cooper
While a mother can be defined as a creator, a nurturer, a protector—at the center of each mother is an individual who is attempting to manage her own fears, desires, and responsibilities in different and sometimes unexpected ways. In Know the Mother, Desiree Cooper explores the complex archetype of the mother in all of her incarnations. In a collage of meditative stories, women find themselves wedged between their own yearnings and their roles as daughters, sisters, grandmothers, and wives.
Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Herland is a utopian novel published in 1915 and written by the feminist writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The story describes an isolated society composed entirely of women. The result is a perfect social order, free of all wars, conflicts and dominations.