Virginia Woolf wrote, “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman,” and that hit me hard. All those times I saw beautiful writing or saw ingenuity, with “Anonymous” attached, I assumed the name was lost to history – I also assumed it was a male, typically, a white male.
One day of the year isn’t enough to laud women and their successes. But, I have been noticing more and more books that sing the praises of women through history and mythology, who were either forgotten, disregarded, or villainized.
So, in honor of International Women’s Day, here are 6 books on the wild and wonderful fierceness that is a woman.
Warriors, Witches, Women: Mythology’s Fiercest Females
From feminist fairies to bloodsucking temptresses, half-human harpies and protective Vodou goddesses, these are women who go beyond long-haired, smiling stereotypes. Their stories are so powerful, so entrancing, that they have survived for millennia.
- Bewitching, banished Circe, an introvert famed and feared for her transfigurative powers.
- The righteous Furies, defiantly unrepentant about their dedication to justice.
- Fun-loving Ame-no-Uzume who makes quarrelling friends laugh and terrifies monsters by flashing at them.
- The fateful Morai sisters who spin a complex web of birth, life and death.
Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed The World
From pirates to artists, warriors, daredevils, women in science, activists, and spies, the accomplishments of these incredible women who dared to push boundaries vary as much as the eras and places in which they effected change.
Featuring bold watercolor portraits and illuminating essays by Ann Shen.
Aphra Behn, first female professional writer.
• Sojourner Truth, women’s rights activist and abolitionist.
• Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer.
• Marie Curie, first woman to win the Nobel Prize.
• Joan Jett, godmother of punk.
The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women
In 2017, DNA tests revealed to the collective shock of many scholars that a Viking warrior in a high-status grave in Birka, Sweden was actually a woman. The Real Valkyrie weaves together archaeology, history, and literature to imagine her life and times, showing that Viking women had more power and agency than historians have imagined.
Nancy Marie Brown uses science to link the Birka warrior, whom she names Hervor, to Viking trading towns and to their great trade route east to Byzantium and beyond. She imagines her life intersecting with larger-than-life but real women, including Queen Gunnhild Mother-of-Kings, the Viking leader known as The Red Girl, and Queen Olga of Kyiv. Hervor’s short, dramatic life shows that much of what we have taken as truth about women in the Viking Age is based not on data, but on nineteenth-century Victorian biases.
The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman
Five hundred years before Columbus, a Viking woman named Gudrid sailed off the edge of the known world. She landed in the New World and lived there for three years, giving birth to a baby before sailing home. Or so the Icelandic sagas say.
Even after archaeologists found a Viking longhouse in Newfoundland, no one believed that the details of Gudrid’s story were true. Then, in 2001, a team of scientists discovered what may have been this pioneering woman’s last house, buried under a hay field in Iceland, just where the sagas suggested it could be. Joining scientists experimenting with cutting-edge technology and the latest archaeological techniques, and tracing Gudrid’s steps on land and in the sagas, Nancy Marie Brown reconstructs a life that spanned—and expanded—the bounds of the then-known world.
Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens
The lives of England’s medieval queens were packed with incident—love, intrigue, betrayal, adultery, and warfare—but their stories have been largely obscured by centuries of myth and omission. Now esteemed biographer Alison Weir provides a fresh perspective and restores these women to their rightful place in history.
Spanning the years from the Norman conquest in 1066 to the dawn of a new era in 1154, when Henry II succeeded to the throne and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the first Plantagenet queen, was crowned, this epic book brings to vivid life five women, including: Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror, the first Norman king; Matilda of Scotland, revered as “the common mother of all England”; and Empress Maud, England’s first female ruler, whose son King Henry II would go on to found the Plantagenet dynasty. More than those who came before or after them, these Norman consorts were recognized as equal sharers in sovereignty. Without the support of their wives, the Norman kings could not have ruled their disparate dominions as effectively.
The Rebel Nun
Marj Charlier’s The Rebel Nun is based on the true story of Clotild, the daughter of a sixth-century king and his concubine, who leads a rebellion of nuns against the rising misogyny and patriarchy of the medieval church.
At that time, women are afforded few choices in life: prostitution, motherhood, or the cloister. Only the latter offers them any kind of independence. By the end of the sixth century, even this is eroding as the church begins to eject women from the clergy and declares them too unclean to touch sacramental objects or even their priest-husbands.
Craving the legitimacy thwarted by her bastard status, Clotild seeks to become the next abbess of the female Monastery of the Holy Cross, the most famous of the women’s cloisters of the early Middle Ages.
Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology
The folklore that has shaped our dominant culture teems with frightening female creatures. In our language, in our stories (many written by men), we underline the idea that women who step out of bounds—who are angry or greedy or ambitious, who are overtly sexual or not sexy enough—aren’t just outside the norm. They’re unnatural. Monstrous. But maybe, the traits we’ve been told make us dangerous and undesirable are actually our greatest strengths.
Through fresh analysis of 11 female monsters, including Medusa, the Harpies, the Furies, and the Sphinx, Jess Zimmerman takes us on an illuminating feminist journey through mythology. She guides women (and others) to reexamine their relationships with traits like hunger, anger, ugliness, and ambition, teaching readers to embrace a new image of the female hero: one that looks a lot like a monster, with the agency and power to match.