The Books Briefing: Gender Equality Is Valuable but Vague

Celebrating International Women’s Day: Your weekly guide to the best in books

a crowd of women wearing pink hats
Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
Editor’s note: This week’s newsletter is a rerun.

We’ll be back with a fresh newsletter next week.

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.

Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email.

What We’re Reading

yellow balloon


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

woman sitting on a bookshelf


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


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

two silhouettes on a yellow background

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

A line of women rally for women's suffrage in Washington D.C. in 1915


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)

Write to the Books Briefing team at or reply directly to this email with any of your reading-related dilemmas. We might feature one of your questions in a future edition of the Books Briefing and offer a few books or related Atlantic pieces that might help you out.

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.

Comments, questions, typos? Reply to this email to reach the Books Briefing team.

Did you get this newsletter from a friend? Sign yourself up.