Jan 022013

Before I read More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want, I had to admit I was somewhat skeptical. Let’s face it: any man that says “What Women Want” in the title of his book opens himself up to all sorts of cynicism. But I was pleasantly surprised; author Robert Engelman does a fantastic job of seeing population control from a woman’s point of view.

More takes on population issues, and proposes changing the world in terms of environment, health, and economics if we begin with and listen to women. Engelman contends that to manage the world’s population, women everywhere should have the choice of when to start a family and how large that family should be. While this is not a new contention, here it is refreshing coming from a man.

More gives a beguiling perspective on historical, scientific, sociological, and cultural data that illustrate how population and attitudes have evolved. After over 20 years of research and interviews, Engelman writes what women around the world think. For starters, despite what their religion or male dominated culture might dictate, women want more control over their bodies and the number of children they have. In a nutshell, he examines how “Mothers aren’t seeking more children, but more for their children.”

In More we learn about how cities and towns in developing countries, such as the capital of Ghana, Accra, are listening to women, and offering them reproductive health care. Clinics are being made available to women and men alike. The clinics are urging women to take charge of their lives and future.

There are many amazing stories of women doing just that for themselves and others. Take the story of Henrietta. Here is a 17 year old girl who during the day plays with her friends, and learns all she can about AIDS prevention, while at night she takes to the streets. She walks the streets of Accra at night to talk with kids about AIDS and hand out condoms. She does it so often she is called “The Condom Sister” by the kids. She isn’t afraid of being raped or assaulted; she is simply trying to help her people. You don’t find that sort devotion often.

Engelman also discusses the various religious doctrines on birth control methods. While he explains the doctrines, he doesn’t condemn or approve. Instead, he provides the facts and leaves it to the reader to decide one way or another.

He does make his case, however, for how reproductive health care for everyone (and the population issues it will address as a result) will only become a reality when the public and those in political offices make it a priority. As far as books on social issues and even living green books go, readers particularly interested in global issues, women, and overpopulation will find More an informative and enlightening read.

Review by Rita Hernandez

Thanks, Rita! Find more of what she is reading at Rita Reviews.

Dec 252011
moral property of women

This book is a revised and updated version of historian Linda Gordon’s 1976 classic Woman’s Body, Woman’s Right. The new work is a comprehensive history of birth control and reproductive rights in the U.S. Gordon’s works from the premise that all developments in the area of birth control, even those that seem purely technological, are inherently political.

The Moral Property of Women asserts that access to birth control is a cornerstone to gender equality, and illuminates the many ways in which the widespread acceptance of birth control has involved a fundamental shift in sexual and family values.  Interesting detail on the title: it comes from a 1988 ruling by the French minister of health ordering the abortion drug RU-486 be placed on the market, declaring it “the moral property of women.” When it comes to great books for women to read in the realm of reproductive rights and the politics surrounding it, this book is a must.

Nov 282011
beyond choice

Alexander Sanger is the grandson of renowned reproductive rights activist Margaret Sanger. He has carried on her tradition by serving as President of Planned Parenthood of New York. In Beyond Choice he bravely forges a new set of principles capable of breaking the current deadlock and forging new alliances between pro and anti-choice lobbies. Sanger recounts past reproductive rights battles, but also goes on to try to assess how the campaign has reached its current impasse.

While reasserting the importance of maintaining the choice to have children or not, Sanger makes a case for why reproductive rights are just as important to men (a topic that needs more attention), and for why completely unfettered choice may not be morally defensible. His grandmother would be proud how he is carrying the torch on the continued fight for reproductive rights and freedom and this excellent contribution to books on social issues.

May 012011
world split open

In this book, historian Ruth Rosen gives us a comprehensive survey of recent struggles for women’s rights that weaves together the personal and the political. She is particularly adept at showing how the women’s movement grew out of divisions in the other movements of the 60s, sensitively chronicles ongoing disagreements within the movement, and in extensive interviews shares what the movement meant and felt like for some of its participants.

In The World Split Open she also reveals little-seen documentation of FBI surveillance of women activists in the 70s. It is a measure of her optimism that she views the backlash of the 90s as proof of just how much the movement had accomplished. Also, instead of being distraught by her young students’ incomplete understanding of the movement, she is “elated” that the change is so fundamental it can almost be taken for granted. Yet she cautions against a retreat from the political and toward the purely personal she sees in the rise of what she terms “consumer feminism” and “therapeutic feminism.”  If you are into books on social issues, particularly related to the history of and current multifaceted views on feminism, you’ll appreciate Rosen’s expert take.

Feb 142011

Gail Collins follows up her previous book, America’s Women, a history dating back to the Victorian Era, with a more particular focus on the last 50 years in this book. The author has a tremendous eye for telling anecdotes that mark just how far we’ve come. She opens with a vignette from 1960 about a secretary who appeared in court to pay her boss’ speeding ticket, only to be rebuked by the judge for wearing slacks and sent home to change into something more suitable. Stories like this, and the Congressional testimony of airline stewardesses about the endless measurements to check for weight gain, might be risible were they not so unsettling.

Collins is sensitive to shades of gray, as when Rosa Parks attends a community meeting in Montgomery where male ministers “monopolized the podium and told her she wouldn’t be required to speak.” This measured tone continues in her portrayal of Phyllis Schlafly as a strong woman whose success owed much to the women’s movement, and her even-handed assessment of the roles of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in the 2008 Presidential election. When Everything Changed does a nice job as popular history, and closes with moving follow-up visits to some of the key women activists of the past decades.

A notable observation: Collins does not mention anything about the growing numbers women who are not having children by choice during the time period covered in the book.  This omission reflects how pronatalism is at work even with the best of nonfiction writers of women.

For more on pronatalism and why this is the case, see Conceiving the Future,  which is in the LiveTrue collection, and Pronatalism, edited by Ellen Peck.  The latter work was published in the 70s, harder to find, and of course data are less than current, but it remains a definitive work on the perils of pronatalism.


Feb 022011
war on choice

Written when author Gloria Feldt  was President of Planned Parenthood, this book is a stirring political call to arms for women to defend their eroding reproductive rights. Feldt incisively chronicles the tactics of anti-choice activists—such as their coining of terms like “partial birth abortion” (a term with no scientific or medical basis) to sway public opinion.

Feldt doesn’t apologize for preaching to the choir, and the War on Choice is upfront about its agenda: understand the opposition, and mobilize against them. Feldt is highly specific in her calls to action, and points out that while abortion is the hot-button issue, the “choice” at stake also includes access to effective contraception and accurate medical information, as well as the right not to have children.  An easy thumbs up nonfiction book review–way up. It is one of the strongest books out there on the pro-choice issue.