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Beyond Uterus Tote Bags: 10 Books to Begin Understanding Women’s Health

We’ve teamed up with Clue, the menstrual cycle tracking app, to bring you a list of the best books for understanding more about women’s health.
by Amanda Cormier | Nov 8 2019

We’re at a strange moment in time. Folks in some cities can openly carry tote bags with uteruses printed on them on the subway, while periods and reproductive health remain taboo in just about every other place in the world. This persistent, millennia-old stigma still has a huge impact on women and people with cycles.

Clue is a menstrual cycle tracking app and online encyclopedia. (We also make uterus tote bags.) We want to help women and people with cycles understand their own bodies. But biology is just one part of it.

Understanding women’s health means looking beyond gender and body parts: it means understanding how power, race, class, gender, ability, sexual orientation, and politics affect reproductive health, too. Here’s our selection of reads to get you started.

The Will to Change by bell hooks

Understanding why periods are shrouded in shame means reflecting on power structures, and bell hooks is one of (if not the) best at this. In The Will to Change you’ll get a breakdown of patriarchy and masculinity—and how patriarchy limits and represses men, too.

Flow by Elissa Stein & Susan Kim

Flow is where to go if you know a little about periods—they happen!—but want to have a deeper understanding of the role menstruation plays in history and culture. Stein and Kim go all the way back to ancient myths and menstrual practices and bring you to the present day, explaining how pharmaceutical companies try to profit from the period taboo.

Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski

At Clue we get really geeky about the science of pleasure, so this book is right up our alley. Nagoski explains in Come As You Are that the information we get about sex from media often gets in the way of discovering our own sexual personalities. She also gets at something that is incredibly important to female sexual pleasure: context, and the feeling of being safe. You’ll also learn about the impact that stress has on our sexual lives, and why “sex drive” is actually a myth.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Haven’t seen Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2012 TED Talk? OK, fine. Go do it now. Or read the book version of that talk, which a few years ago was distributed to every 16-year-old in Sweden. If you’re unsure about whether feminism is really needed in 2019, Adichie is the one to read first.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

If Adichie piques your interest in feminist canon, why not take on a classic? The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 tome of feminist philosophy, will give you all the tools to understand how women have been subjugated and otherized over time. She also describes what is needed for society to achieve true gender equality. Spoiler: 70 years after she wrote it, we’ve still got a long way to go.

This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins

By this point, you’ve probably seen the words “intersectional feminism” thrown around the internet. But if you haven’t yet taken the time to investigate what it means—whether you already identify as a feminist or not—take the time to read This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins. Jerkins investigates the role of black women in global history and culture, and how the bodies of black women and girls have been continually sexualized and subjugated for hundreds of years by both white men and women.

Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit

“Mansplaining” might seem unrelated to women’s health, but it’s a manifestation of how men limit women’s autonomy by casting doubt on their credibility. Solnit’s 2014 book is the clearest articulation of how something that seems just annoying is actually hugely harmful to women. Women’s words are systematically dismissed as not credible, which has huge implications for reproductive health, sexual assault, and gendered violence.

Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister

Published after the #MeToo movement became a global phenomenon, Good and Mad is a history of women’s anger, and how it made its reappearance into the political sphere after decades in hibernation. Spoiler: women have been angry about gender inequality for a long time, but were limited in their ability to register that anger in the 1980s and 1990s. Traister is one of the best working journalists chronicling gender in culture, asking: what does it mean for a woman to be angry, and what are the consequences?

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

There are many kinds of feminism—it’s not a monolith, and it’s not meant to represent all women. Roxane Gay’s 2014 essay collection explores how pop culture exposes the faults of mainstream feminism. The movement’s most visible leaders have historically been white, cisgender, heterosexual women who have fought for their own rights only. They don’t face the kinds of oppression faced by women of color, especially black women. Gay is fine with calling herself a “bad feminist” by these standards—and encourages us all to do the same.

Ask Me About My Uterus by Abby Norman

Women’s health isn’t all uteruses, but they’re important, obviously. We couldn’t compile a list about reproductive health without this one. Abby Norman’s memoir of how doctors minimized and misdiagnosed her pain for years will sound familiar to any woman who’s been told that pain is just a part of being a woman. Norman was finally diagnosed with endometriosis, a common but severely underdiagnosed condition that causes intense, debilitating pain. And when women are systematically discredited and not believed—something that’s a cultural phenomenon, not a biological one—it has devastating effects on their health.

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