Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Every year on March 8, International Women’s Day promotes gender equality—a term that leaves room for many interpretations, some of them contradictory. For example, the historian Paula J. Giddings describes how America’s early feminist organizations excluded women of color, including the journalist and activist Ida B. Wells, who worked for suffrage and black civil rights. Today, attitudes about what constitutes female empowerment are sometimes split along generational lines, a conflict dramatized in Meg Wolitzer’s most recent novel.

The journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman attribute gender disparities in pay and power in part to a widespread sense of self-doubt among women. The lawyer and writer Jill Filipovic argues that assessments of gender equality must include not only economic conditions, but also individuals’ experience of fulfillment. Meanwhile, the scholars Patricia Bell-Scott, Akasha Hull, and Barbara Smith call for equality in school curricula, so that girls can grow up learning about women’s achievements—and preparing to accomplish their own.

Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.

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What We’re Reading

The feminist case for happiness
“There’s a subtle radicalism to [Jill] Filipovic’s vision of politicized pleasure … She’s proposing a thorough remodeling of the house that white men built.”

📚 The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, by Jill Filipovic


A timely, dynamic examination of women and power
The Female Persuasion is about graduating from college and finding one’s way in the world … It’s also about … learning how to be a feminist now, in the 21st century, when the old barriers to women’s success have been broken down but no one understands quite what has replaced them.”

📚 The Female Persuasion, by Meg Wolitzer


Ida B. Wells’s uncompromising view of suffrage
“Wells’s work is a striking example of not only what [women’s political] anger can accomplish, but also the resistance—to the point of historical erasure—that it can provoke.”

📚 Ida: A Sword Among Lions, by Paula J. Giddings


The confidence gap
“Our experience suggests that the power centers of this nation are zones of female self-doubt—that is, when they include women at all.”

📚 The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman


(Chinnapong / Shutterstock)

The fight to include more women in teaching materials
“Women’s-history pioneers … saw unearthing and integrating women’s stories as a gateway to better understand the laws, institutions, systems, and movements that are most familiar to Americans—and to correct and complicate them.”

📚 All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies, by Patricia Bell-Scott, Akasha Hull, and Barbara Smith
📚 Proud Shoes, by Pauli Murray


The Reference Desk

(New York Public Library)

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About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Rosa Inocencio Smith. The book at the top of her reading list is Minor Feelings, by Cathy Park Hong.

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