Books for Women's History Month illustration

Lynette Slape / Daily Emerald

The movement for feminist liberation is far from over. Today, people across the country continue to fight for the right to abortion. They face sexism at work, at home, in the media and other spheres of society. In order to remember their achievements and to better understand the problems facing us today, it is necessary to continue studying history. In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, check out these three recent releases which defy patriarchal norms and center women.

“Hilma af Klint: A Biography” by Julia Voss, translated by Anne Posten

For decades, historians cited Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian as the fathers of European abstract art. But another painter likely pioneered it before the others: an enigmatic Swedish woman named Hilma af Klint. Her work was largely unseen during her lifetime, and before she died in 1944, she even asked that none of her work be displayed till 20 years after her death, as she believed it was too radical to be properly understood. To make matters more interesting, af Klint was a lesbian as well as a self-identified clairvoyant, claiming her most powerful works were painted under the direction of spirits who communicated with her from the astral plane, according to “Hilma af Klint: A Biography.” The book, the first biography on af Klint ever published, includes translations from Swedish of passages from her personal notebooks, giving the reader rare insight into the life and art of this increasingly popular, one-of-a-kind visionary.

“Hilma af Klint: A Biography” was originally written in German by Julia Voss. The English-language edition, published October 2022, was translated and revised by Anne Posten.

“The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service” by Laura Kaplan

Before Roe v. Wade in 1973, when abortion was illegal in most U.S. states, thousands of women with unwanted pregnancies had no other option but to “Call Jane.” Jane wasn’t a single person but the codename for the Abortion Counseling Service, a group of Chicago-based activists who sought to provide women with safe and affordable abortions. Laura Kaplan, the author of “The Story of Jane,” was a member herself. She tells of the development of the organization from its early word-of-mouth days on, providing a firsthand account of the inspiring political action of the period’s feminist movement. Kaplan’s message remains relevant, especially since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

“Jane serves as a touchstone for what ordinary people, working together, can accomplish,” Kaplan writes in the book’s preface. “As we turn our outrage into action, the important thing is to say yes, to start with what you can do right now, and to let people’s needs guide you.”

The preface is new to this edition, released in October 2022. “The Story of Jane” was first published in 1996. 

“Butts: A Backstory” by Heather Radke

What is a butt, really? “Butts: A Backstory” hones in on the human posterior’s significance throughout history. Radke goes as far back as 1.9 million years ago, introducing us to the first hominid with a butt. She also takes us to the early 19th century to look at Europe’s racist fascination with Sarah Baartman, an African woman exhibited in freak shows for the shape of her body. Radke extends her analysis through the 21st century with discussions of celebrities like J.Lo and Miley Cyrus, into the realms of science, fashion, fitness and popular culture. The book explores the complexities surrounding the behind: ​​how it’s gendered and racialized, a subject of control and a matter of liberation and power. 

Put simply, “I focus on the history and symbolism of women’s butts for the simple reason that I am a woman and I began this project because I was interested in how feminine identity is constructed, reconstructed, and reinforced over time,” Radke writes in the book’s introduction.

“Butts: A Backstory” was published November 2022.

Our study of history shouldn’t limit itself to the distant myths of our dominant discourse. History is personal. Its effects are ever-present. It is our memory of our ways of life, our communities, our loves, our bodies. History can entertain and illuminate. It forces us to confront difficult truths, dark pasts, yet it empowers us with knowledge. So learn something new. These books alone can’t start a revolution, but they can inspire us as we march forward.