Can Anyone Recommend a Good Women’s Studies Text?

Next semester, I will be teaching Introduction to Women’s Studies for the first time. Now, Women’s Studies is not my field and I do not, and would not, normally ask to teach this course. I took it as a favor to help out our coordinator of Women’s Studies who was having a hard time finding faculty to teach all the available sections. There is, next year, a perfect storm of sabbaticals and a number of the regular Women’s Studies faculty will simply not be around. I will be asking some of my colleagues for recommendations, but I also thought I’d toss this question out on the digital winds to see what ideas might be out there. (Just to mix my metaphors as much as possible.) So if you have any ideas, please send them my way. Thanks.

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33 Responses to Can Anyone Recommend a Good Women’s Studies Text?

  1. 1
    Phira says:

    The Intro to Women’s Studies course I took was mediocre, but one text we were assigned has become one of my favorite texts on sex and gender that I own: Michael Kimmel’s The Gendered Society. It’s very detailed and thorough, but it’s written very accessibly, which is a great way to hook students who were just testing out the waters with a WS course and weren’t thinking of pursuing it as a field of study.

  2. 2
    james says:

    LOL. Given the context; I’d either stay away from anything that stresses too much the desirability of flexible working, time share, sabbaticals, maternity leaves, etc; or make sure the text gives some bloody good justifications.

  3. 4
    cld says:

    As a Women’s Studies student, I throughly enjoyed the readings in Women’s
    Lives: Multicultural Perspective. We also read Fight Like a Girl (Seely) to help jumpstart our activism projects. The semester was full of ancillary readings, song and movie analysis as well. I think the key to a successful Women’s Studies background is to use a variety of sources to circumvent bias for or against specific theories.

  4. 5
    CoyoteAnvilCo says:

    Actually, I find that stunning because men are most likely a heavy minority in that part of the university. And they can only find a man to teach women’s studies because the women are all on leave. The kind of leave that is promoted in women’s studies. It all has a bit of symmetrical beauty.

    Anyway, are you just going to teach the standard, narrow, exclusionary version or are you going to include all voices (for instance Christina Hoff Sommers)?

  5. Thanks to those who took my question seriously.

    Robert: That’s a great idea, but I don’t know if I would use it in the introductory course at my school.

    (ETA: the full name of CoyoteAnvilCo.)

    James and CoyoteAnvilCo: If all you have to contribute are wise ass, adversarial and–in Coyote’s case–blatantly sexist comments, I’d appreciate it if you took them elsewhere. Thank you in advance for not hijacking this thread and taking any further discussion of what I’ve just written to an open thread.

  6. 7
    CoyoteAnvilCo says:

    I will respect your wishes and not comment further on your thread, Richard Jeffrey Newman, and I agree that it is I who have been the insufferable, sleep-inducing boor.

    As a side note, my comments are factual and an observation of reality.

    As a further side note, I ask that you use my full name out of respect: CoyoteAnvilCo

    ETA: OK, he does have a sense of humor

  7. 8
    Robert says:

    Yeah, I thought about that, Richard. Know what I’d do? I’d assign it as supplemental reading. And I’d tell the class “Look, if you’re here to get a view-from-30,000-feet of women’s studies, see what’s going on, then move on to your chemistry or art history degree, then you don’t need to read this other thing, though you’re welcome to. It’s for scholars. If you’re going to STUDY women’s studies, however, if you’re going to be a really hardcore seeker after knowledge – then this is where you start. Where modern feminism started. You’ll end up rejecting half of what she says as hopefully compromised with the patriarchy…but the other half was one of the hammer blows that changed the world.”

  8. 9
    dragon_snap says:

    Alas, I am not a Women’s Studies student, but I picked up Gender Relations in Global Perspective: Essential Readings (edited by Nancy Cook) when it was on sale at my university’s book store. I haven’t read the whole thing, but the parts I’ve read have been great, and I really appreciate the range of perspectives and topics that are included.

    From what I can tell, the whole thing is up on Google Books.

    Good luck with the course! I, for one, would be very delighted to be in your class : )

  9. 10
    queenrandom says:

    I rather enjoyed bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody. Some of the essays can be used earlier in the semester, and some are more advanced. But the best part about it (from the perspective of a young student buying too many texts) is that it’s small, light and relatively inexpensive. It’s of course not a comprehensive text, but has a wide range of subjects covered and can be used in conjunction with other texts.

  10. 11
    Robert says:

    Rereading my bit there, it comes across as dismissive of the non-scholastics. That wasn’t my intention. All I meant to say was that certain historical works in an intellectual tradition are, or should be, required canon for people intending to put a lot of work into a field, but aren’t so critical for people seeking an overview. If someone wants to be an economist, they really need to read Adam Smith (and Karl Marx for that matter). If they just want to understand a bit more about how prices work, they can skip all that.

  11. 12
    David Schraub says:

    Iris Marion Young’s Intersecting Voices I think is stellar — and it’s organized as essentially independent essays, so you can easily pick and choose which ones strike your fancy.

  12. 13
    Ashley says:

    Do you have to use a textbook? I find that well-selected journal articles are much better both as a way to understand feminist theoretical approaches, and as a way to prep students for upper-year seminars and graduate school.

    Some of my favourites:
    Eating the Other by bell hooks
    The Evidence of Experience by Joan Scott
    Perhaps the intro to Gender Trouble
    The Egg and the Sperm by Emily Martin
    The Combahee River Collective Statement
    Racism, Birth Control, and Reproductive Rights by Angela Davis

    I could go on :)

  13. 14
    RB says:

    My WS104 textbook was An Introduction to Women’s Studies: Gender in a Transnational World ed. Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan. It’s a very Third-Wave collection, with some historical texts – including an excerpt from Vindication of the Rights of Women – but mostly focusing on globalization, gender and statehood, and lots of intersectional analysis. Depending on what kind of course you’d like to teach it could be very useful. Of course, another good plan would be well-selected journal articles like the ones Ashley suggested, especially if your instition is cool with sharing them online for free.

  14. 15
    MD says:

    Judith Butlerrrr!!! My professor somehow got us through Bodies that Matter and it was mind blowing.

  15. Ashley,

    Thanks for the list of articles. In principle, I would prefer to teach the course that way–if only to save students the cost of the textbook–but since this is not my field, I don’t feel like I have enough of a schema in my head to be able to pull a bunch articles together and turn them into an adequate introduction to the discipline. (And there’s also the question of how much time I have to spend prepping the class, since I am also teaching three other classes that I need to get ready for September.) The advantage to using a textbook in this regard is that it will have a schema built into it around which I can mold whatever it is that I am going to bring to the class as the instructor. Still, that list will come in handy. I might use some of the articles as supplementary material. I remember reading the Angela Davis essay and being completely blown away by it.

  16. 17
    Anne says:

    I’ve found that McCann & Kim’s “Feminist Theory Reader” worked really well as a collection of essays with a fairly transnational perspective. I also thought that Freedman’s “Essential Feminist Reader” was another excellent historical/worldwide overview.

  17. 18
    RTV says:

    Frankly, I find it interesting that there is no intellectual curiosity there … or else a desire to shield these young things from the big bad world. Very White Knight of you.

    A question was raised above about significant other voices, like Christina Hoff Sommers. Either you don’t have the courage, or you think anyone who doesn’t buy the total victim ploy of women … and the total White Knight saviorhood of people like you … is moronic. Is that insight? Is that scholarship? Is that anything beyond the myth-making that was supposed to be destroyed 500 years ago?

  18. 19
    RB says:

    It’s not really even a good idea to respond to this, but I’ll bite, I guess: first year survey courses attempt to provide an overview of the history of and current discussions within their disciplines. A survey Philosophy course probably wouldn’t include the work of someone who writes about how Philosophy is misguided and harmful to society, because that’s not relevant to the goals of the course.

    From what I know of her, Christina Hoff Sommers is opposed to the entire discipline of Women’s Studies. And you probably are too. And you have the right to be! But first-year students taking WS are taking this course because they want an introduction to the field. It’s pretty silly to suggest giving them a condemnation of it instead.

  19. 20
    Krista Benson says:

    I quite liked teaching with “Women’s Voices, Women’s Visions” as a foundation, with some supplementary content and articles s a starting point for the intro class I taught this year. One of the things that my students really liked is that the book is full of excepts of longer pieces, so if they found something that they really got into, they could find the source text and use it for a paper or something. I liked that it is entirely primary sources, which I have found to be lacking in survey textbooks.

  20. 21
    Ben Lehman says:

    This will come as a shock to some, but my degree in theoretical physics (specialty: cosmology) did not feature a single mention of creationism or relativity denialism. Not only not in the intro and survey courses, but in the entire program. Never discussed.

    I know. It’s not really scholarship, just one-sided propaganda.

  21. 22
    Gabe says:

    Ben Lehman,

    1. I don’t want to sidetrack, but apparently your “degree in theoretical physics” didn’t include ideas like loop quantum gravity or string theory that call for small-scale violations of Lorentz invariance, among other things (“relativity denialism”). This isn’t a physics board, so I am not going to teach you some more physics.

    2. But my big point is that you are assuming – based on your comparison with scientific ideas – that all of feminism is so fundamentally solid and “true” that it cannot be validly criticized. What an odd assumption. Feminists routinely criticize one another. Sex positive people criticize the other camp. This wave versus that wave. Feminism, like other soft “sciences” is opinion. Your idea is just breathtakingly … oh never mind.

  22. 23
    IrrationalPoint says:

    I’d want to second the idea of using a range of essays and texts, rather than a single book. I’m not sure if I’ve ever found just one single book that captures all the debates and issues and range of voices that are, I think, the strength of gender debates. The expense worry is a reasonable one, but I wonder if you couldn’t get around that by supplementing a book with lots of online/e-resources.

    I loved Eli Clare’s “Exile and Pride”. It’s not a textbook, but it’s really accessible and has an absolutely fab discussion of intersectionality, and especially with regard to sexual (and non-sexual) objectification and subjecthood — much richer and more nuanced than I’ve encountered elsewhere:

    I’d also want to second bell hooks’s “Feminism is for Everybody”, although I did find it a little hetero-centric (or at least slightly naive about queer feminism). But overall, it’s a great text and covers a bunch of topics and it’s pretty inspirational.

    For a more academic (but still accessible) flavour, there’s Jennifer Mather Saul’s “Feminism: Issues and Arguments” which has a good solid overview of some key debates, primarily from a feminist philosophy angle.

  23. 24
    Ben Lehman says:


    I’m not talking about that stuff. Of course I studied string theory etc. But I’m talking about these guys. There is a fundamental difference between learning about the conflicts within your field and people who simply believe that your field of study does not exist. The former is part of the academic process. The latter is an absolute waste of time.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t debate science in the public square. We should. We should not only debate results, but also the process itself. How much influence should science have on our public affairs, say.

    But it is not the responsibility of academic departments to “teach the controversy.” It is the responsibility of academic departments to teach their field.


  24. Again, I want to thank every one for their suggestions. It’s a little overwhelming, since there’s so much of it that I haven’t read, but I’m making a list and I will give it my full attention when I am ready to start prepping in earnest. I just want to note that my desire for a single text around which to build the course does not in my mind preclude using supplemental material and so thank you also to those of you who have suggested individual articles and such.

    As for RTV: I am not interested in comments from someone so willing to jump to conclusions about me, especially when they are clearly based on a profoundly impoverished understanding of the subject at hand. I will thank you not to post in this thread again. And if you decide you want to debate the issue raised in RB’s far-more-polite-than-you-deserve response, please take it to an open thread.

    ETA: Ben and Gabe, I think Ben’s recent response should close the discussion you started to open up. Please don’t derail this thread by taking it any further here. If you want to discuss it, go to an open thread.

  25. 26
    KellyK says:

    No good texts to suggest (though I’m adding some of the ones mentioned to my own reading list), but I love the idea of a supplemental reading list. Anything that’s out of copyright is likely to be on Project Gutenberg or, and the students who are interested can get their hands on them without buying more books.

  26. 27
    Sue Petrie says:

    Supplemental reading thought: if you want to really jumpstart a conversation, how about The Language of Men by Anthony D’Aries?

  27. 28
    Doug S. says:

    There is a fundamental difference between learning about the conflicts within your field and people who simply believe that your field of study does not exist. The former is part of the academic process. The latter is an absolute waste of time.

    So I suppose an introductory religious studies course is no place to discuss atheism, then?
    [/compulsive arguer]

  28. 29
    Brian says:,_Women,_and_Chainsaws a classic in media studies of women’s portrayal in pop culture. Does need an update though.

  29. 30
    Deanna Hensley Kasitz says:

    Have you gathered any other useful information? I find myself in a remarkably similar situation but only have just over a week to get prepared!

    Much appreciation.

  30. Hi Deanna

    I decided to use two books:

    “Women’s Voices, Women’s Visions” which is not in its fifth edition and The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World, Fourth Edition

  31. 32
    Deanna Hensley Kasitz says:

    Thanks! I have the WV, WV text that the Director had in her office and will check out the other. Good luck with your prep.

  32. 33
    gwyn kirk says:

    I recommend “Women’s Lives: Multicultural Perspectives” (McGraw-Hill) 5th edition. It’s a text and a reader. It has over 70 articles by a wide range of people, mostly women. It also has cool questions and activities for students and an instructor’s manual. The book and the instructor’s manual will help to structure the course. You can request a free professional copy from McGraw Hill.