By Tamar Zmora
Today is International Women’s Day, a holiday that celebrates the achievements of women through events held in communities across the globe. From the suffrage movement, to the bra-burning protests of the ‘60s, to women working their way to the top of some of the world’s largest companies (looking at you, Sheryl Sandberg), women have substantially improved their place in society since the holiday’s first observance in the early 1900s.
But we still have a long way to go. Two-thirds of the world’s 774 million illiterate adults are women, “a share that has remained unchanged for the past two decades,” according to The Economist -- a staggering figure, attributable to disparities in education, dismal poverty, and the patriarchies that govern many societies. Women are still earning less than men. And politicians and foul-mouthed talk show hosts continue to wage their own war against women’s reproductive rights.
In honor of today -- and, in a small way, to combat the discrimination that women still face -- consider picking up one of these books featuring strong female characters.
Women without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran (Shahrnush Parsipur). This story of love and and political struggle centers around Fa’iza, who falls in love with Amir Khan, the chauvinistic brother of her friend by convenience, Munis. But after Kahn proposes to an 18-year-old girl, the devastated Fa’iza gets wrapped up in a world of magic and ghosts reminiscent of the magic realism in novels by Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Throughout the novel, Parsipur details the escape of five women from a cycle of early marriages, subordinate treatment, and rape in an unforgivingly gender-divided Iran.
Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture (Peggy Orenstein). After the birth of her daughter Daisy, Orenstein began to observe how highly sexualized societal pressures -- toddlers in tiaras and pretty pink dresses, the idea of Prince Charming, and weight- and body image-related self-esteem -- affect girls beginning at a young age. The author’s funny and engaging personal narratives, combined with her research into “girlie-girl culture,” delve into the commercially saturated and potentially damaging image of femininity.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Nicholas D. Kristof). In these stories of sex trafficking in Bihar, rape in Addis Ababa, and women’s wars against “oppression” -- unremitting inequality, abuse, and assault -- Kristof profiles remarkable women who have undergone great trauma, fought against societal norms, and triumphed. From genital mutilation to honor killings, the harrowing accounts of these women’s lives will simultaneously haunt and inspire readers even after the last page.
Bossypants (Tina Fey). Adding some humor and sass to this list, Fey’s autobiographical debut leads readers through her early childhood, her years as a head writer for SNL, and her acting career. Featuring funny anecdotes about her “fat years,” the violent story behind her facial scar, and musings on the difference between male and female comedy writers (hint: It has to do with urine in a cup), Bossypants attacks the public’s perceptions of the comedienne and explores what it’s actually like to be the woman at the top of 30 Rock.
The Female of the Species: Tales of Mystery and Suspense (Joyce Carol Oates). Most of Oates’ books have strong female characters, but this one is specifically worth a mention. The Female of the Species tells nine tales of women in desperate situations: A respected sheriff deputy’s abuse of his wife leads her to murderous thoughts. A woman goes to great lengths to befriend her stalker. A young child tries everything to earn attention from her neglectful mother. These stories of mystery, murder, and intriguing revelations leave their characters empowered.
What is your favorite book or short story featuring a female main character?
About Tamar -- I'm a recent Wellesley College grad with a degree in English and studio art. I grew up in the Midwest and briefly lived in Europe and the Middle East. My name is often mistaken for Tamara from "Sister, Sister." I love exploring coffee shops and am almost always highly caffeinated. I am very interested in films, the arts, theatre, painting, photography -- you name it -- '90s TV shows, and music.
The author is solely responsible for the content.