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International Women's Day 2017



In honour of International Women's Day, we are celebrating women in academia and their work by making extracts from a huge range of books available free to read online - including some of the most vital contributions to feminist theory and women’s history. 

There will also be brand new content from some of our authors over on the blog at throughout the month to continue the discussion on feminism and women today and through the ages.

To receive an exclusive 20% discount on any of the titles featured, just use code IWD2017 at the checkout!

Click on the categories below to browse and read the free chapters:

Women in History


Women writers

Representations of women

Gender and sexuality

Contemporary debate

Gender and religion



Women in History

‘Ascent of woman’, a chapter from Darwin and Women: A Selection of Letters, by Samantha Evans.

'Only a few women wrote to Darwin about overtly feminist topics, but many of his female correspondents were involved with the suffrage movement and the promotion of women’s education. Often they were also involved in the campaign against vivisection; for some, as for Frances Power Cobbe, female emancipation and protection of animals went hand in hand, both women and animals suffering under a malign social order. Such campaigners often felt that Darwinian theory was on their side. Darwin’s books had stressed the continuity of humans with the rest of the animal kingdom, so that it was not feasible for Darwinians to see animals as soulless machines that only appeared to feel pain, as Cartesian philosophy suggested. Also, whatever his own political and personal preferences, his account of female subordination made it seem contingent upon historical circumstances: it could, in theory, be changed.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

‘‘a sort of Bogey whom no-one has ever seen’? The nature of the search’, a chapter from In Search of the New Woman: Middle-Class Women and Work in Britain 1870–1914, by Gillian Sutherland.

'In the 1890s there was a positive media feeding frenzy in Britain and in North America both defending and attacking the ‘New Woman’. Some commentators have dated the beginning of this very precisely, from March 1894, when the British novelist Sarah Grand first used the label in an article in the North American Review. Grand hailed the New Woman as one who has at last ‘solved the problem and proclaimed for herself what was wrong with Home-is-the-Woman’s-Sphere, and prescribed the remedy’. Other commentators have seen the term growing out of and crystallising a steadily swelling debate over several decades about the position of women of the middle classes, their scope for independence, the implications of the access to secondary and higher education which they were beginning to secure, and the legal, financial, social and psychological constraints imposed upon them by marriage.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

‘Introduction: rethinking the canon’, a chapter from Pioneers of the Field: South Africa's Women Anthropologists, by Andrew Bank.

'Along the main wall of the hallway in the Social Anthropology Department at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, there is an exhibition of the department’s intellectual forefathers. This fictitious lineage, which graduate students and professors pass daily, has been on display, unchanged, for two decades. The exhibition consists of a row of ancestors presented, in each case, in large glass-bound framed portrait form with a paragraph-length caption explaining their significance, with particular emphasis on their theoretical contribution to ‘the British school’. Those on display are Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown, Winifred Hoernlé, Isaac Schapera, Max Gluckman, David Webster, David Lewis-Williams, David Hammond-Tooke and David Coplan. The problem with this narrative is that the founding intellectuals and heads of this truly remarkable department were, without exception, women.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

‘Monogamy: Introduction’, a chapter from The Status of Women in Jewish Tradition, by Isaac Sassoon.

'As feminist studies began ransacking the Hebrew Bible and the related documents (e.g. rabbinic literature, New Testament, Dead Sea Scrolls), it soon became clear just how misleading it is to speak of a – much less of the – place of women in Israelite tradition. Yet most scholars concur that Israelite society was essentially patriarchal. Now patriarchy is thought to be intolerant of polyandry but compatible with both polygyny and monogamy. Theoretically, then, being pro-monogamy does not make a text uxorious or matriarchal. However, it is not merely monogamy that Genesis 1 projects, but a playing field for spouses that is as level as any in the Bible. How influential was the Genesis 1 configuration, or did it begin and end with the first idyllic union? Put another way: off paper, can the paradisiac model hold up under patriarchy? It is easy to be sceptical. But even if the hope of finding equality is a lost cause, might there not be shades of inequality?' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

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‘Feminist theory, feminist practice’, a chapter from An Introduction to Feminism, by Lorna Finlayson.

'There are two main ways of interpreting the question, ‘What is feminism?’ The first is to interpret it as asking what the general flavour of the thing is – what is its content? What is it about? What does it stand for? But another, equally important, question to ask is the question of what sort of thing feminism is, in a more basic sense. All sorts of objects can have ‘content’, or be ‘about’ something – books, films, utterances, gestures. What kind of thing is feminism?

A likely answer to this is that feminism is a form of theory: the theory which identifies and opposes what it calls sexism, misogyny or patriarchy. But feminism is not just a matter of words; it is also a way of living and struggling against the status quo. This aspect is often treated as secondary, in the order of meanings offered in dictionary entries for the word ‘feminism’, and also in terms of where political philosophers tend to place emphasis – feminism may be acknowledged to have a practical aspect, but the focus of philosophers is on feminist theory (with practice regarded as primarily a matter of the application of theoretical insights).' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

‘Introduction’, a chapter from Literature and the Development of Feminist Theory, by Robin Truth Goodman.

'Literature and the Development of Feminist Theory looks at the development of feminist theory through literature. It traces the literary careers of feminism’s major thinkers in order to explore the connection of feminist theoretical production to literary work. It starts from the Enlightenment, analyzing how the literary was embedded within feminism’s versions of the rational, in fact, how the literary was necessary for thinking like a feminist. Besides mainly considering particular authors who move from literature to theory and back, this volume also reflects on areas of literary study (like postcolonialism), genres (like science fiction and poetry), and central thematics (like liberalism, individualism, and work) in terms of how feminism constitutes itself and formulates its positions by thinking through the literary.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

‘Feminist receptions of the original position’, a chapter from The Original Position, by Timothy Hinton.

'Does the original position accommodate feminist considered convictions? What I mean by this is: does the original position allow us to identify as unjust the arrangements that feminist considered convictions highlight? An answer to this question will be of interest to those wondering about the feminist content of Rawlsian liberalism. The question may also be understood as a step in exploring the possibility of a feminist liberalism that is contractualist. 

To answer this question, we need a list of feminist considered convictions, which I provide below. I show that much of what the feminist considered convictions identify as injustice is recognized as such by the original position; but much of it is not. I show also that the original position underwrites necessary effective coercive remedies for some of the injustices it recognizes, but not for all of them.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

‘Speculative standpoint and feminist intervention’, a chapter from Postmodern Utopias and Feminist Fictions, by Jennifer A. Wagner-Lawlor.

'At the conclusion of her 1985 study, Writing Beyond the Ending, Rachel DuPlessis anticipates the narrative strategies that women writers might deploy as they move into the twenty-first century. Opening with a promise to survey the ground(ing) of narrative in romance , she maps the deceptively stable “‘place’ where ideology meets narrative and produces a meaning-laden figure.” The meeting place is the “hard visible horizon” beyond which feminist narratives might aspire, rejecting the “conventional narrative resolution [including] all the endings of romance and death.” In the deployment of narrative strategies that resist “the pleasurable illusion of stasis,” these texts reject every “happily ever after” conclusion, and insist instead on gaining access to the future(s) that might disrupt the illusion that “choice is over.” Such narratives offer “muted” utopian content, pushing toward an alternative to the conservative ideological imperatives that animate the form and content, the ways and mean(ing)s, of the traditional novel.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

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Women Writers

‘Introduction: On Value', a chapter from The Value of Virginia Woolf, by Madelyn Detloff.

'One cannot speak of value without implicitly or explicitly speaking of values. Barbara Herrnstein Smith made this point eloquently clear in her meticulous study of the “double discourse” of value, Contingencies of Value. “On the one hand,” Smith explains, “there is the discourse of economic theory: money, commerce, technology, industry, production and consumption, workers and consumers; on the other hand, there is the discourse of aesthetic axiology: culture, art, genius, creation and appreciation, artists and connoisseurs.”

These two “hands” may use different yardsticks for measuring what is worth one’s time, money, effort, or attention, but both participate in the same complex, dynamic system of evaluation – a system that is social and interdependent, rather than presocial or transcendent. Arguing that “All value is radically contingent, being neither a fixed attribute, an inherent quality, or an objective property of things but, rather, an effect of multiple, continuously changing, and continuously interacting variables,” Smith eschews the notion of intrinsic aesthetic value (a value that inheres in things, in works), and claims, rather, that value is conferred through communal processes – that is, through the work of valuing.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

Introduction from The Value of Emily Dickinson, by Mary Loeffelholz.

'Emily Dickinson’s writing remains valuable to a wide range of readers today. This I know because my first-generation Kindle™ tells me so; when it goes to sleep, its electronic ink every so often morphs into her image, surfacing in the screensaver’s rotation of canonical authors along with the likenesses of Charlotte Brontë, James Joyce, John Milton, Sir Thomas More, John Steinbeck, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and Virginia Woolf.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

‘Introduction Making History: Thinking about Nineteenth-Century American Women’s Poetry', a chapter from A History of Nineteenth-Century American Women's Poetry, by Jennifer Putzi and Alexandra Socarides.

'In July 1837, the noted Quaker writer, minister, and reform advocate, Joseph John Gurney, left his native England and made a series of trips to Canada, the West Indies, and North America. During his time in the United States, Gurney visited southern and northern cities alike, speaking widely upon prison reform, the abolition of slavery, and religious disunity in the Quaker church.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

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Representations of Women

‘No Motive of Choice', a chapter from Women Wanderers and the Writing of Mobility, 1784–1814, by Ingrid Horrocks.

'Frances Burney’s fourth, final, and longest novel, The Wanderer; or, Female Difficulties (1814) was eagerly awaited by nineteenth-century readers from Lord Byron to Jane Austen. It had been a long time coming – Burney began writing it in the 1790s. However, when it appeared well into the new century it received a chilly reception. William Hazlitt is typical in describing its plot as “teazing and tedious,” and he scathingly suggests that the “difficulties in which she involves her heroine are indeed ‘Female Difficulties’ – they are difficulties created out of nothing.” Byron dismissed it as “feminine trash.” A number of more recent critics have shown how The Wanderer suffered from a mistiming of publication.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

'Introduction: secret sympathies' from Occult Knowledge, Science, and Gender on the Shakespearean Stage, by Mary Floyd-Wilson.

'Occult Knowledge, Science, and Gender on the Shakespearean Stage situates early modern texts within a Renaissance cosmology of occult forces. While scholars have attended to the relationship between the environment and embodiment in Renaissance literature, we have paid little attention to the animate qualities of that environment. It is the task of this book to demonstrate that a comprehensive understanding of the animate early modern natural world must encompass what lies beyond nature: the preternatural realm. Spirits, demons, and unseen active effluvia comprised the invisible technology of nature’s marvels. Hidden in nature, people believed, were antipathies and sympathies that compelled both bonds and animosities among an unpredictable mix of plants, minerals, animals, and humans. As I shall suggest throughout this study, our critical tendency to misconstrue the discourse of sympathies and antipathies as merely metaphorical has obscured how a pervasive belief in hidden operations shaped early modern perceptions of nature, gender, passion, motivation, knowledge, and theatrical experiences.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

Introduction from Women, Work, and Clothes in the Eighteenth-Century Novel, by Chloe Wigston Smith.

'The eighteenth-century novel’s energetic engagement with objects – its earthenware pots, baskets, teapots, bundles, muff s , petticoats , wigs – has long been perceived as evidence of its investment in material culture and formal realism . Th e relationship between the novel and material objects has been considered reciprocal, in which literary and material culture together engaged the expanding commodity culture of the period..' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

‘Women in the Middle Ages', a chapter from Women and Marriage in German Medieval Romance, by D. H. Green.

'The difficulty facing Eileen Power in her Medieval Women – how to treat a large subject in a short book – is even more acute in the case of a short chapter such as this. My first task is to present an abbreviated survey of the range of topics concerning women commonly discussed in the Middle Ages, providing the wider background for the more restricted number of themes taken up in the romances to be considered.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

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Gender and sexuality

‘Lesbian Literature? : An Introduction', a chapter from The Cambridge Companion to Lesbian Literature, by Jodie Medd.

'The question inevitably arises: Whatever do you mean by “lesbian literature”? For me, it recalls a wry observation by one of my favorite undergraduate English teachers twenty years ago: “Lesbian: no one can defi ne it, but we all know what we mean when we say it.” In spite of the preceding and succeeding decades of feminist, lesbian, queer, gender, sexuality, ethnic, and postcolonial studies, in spite of the many ways in which the meanings and knowingness of sexual categorization have been undone, something of Prof V.’s paradox still resonates. Indeed, Bonnie Zimmerman’s 1981 claim that lesbian literary criticism is “plagued with the problem of defi nition” is, in many ways, more applicable today than ever. Who hasn’t had a problem with lesbian definitions?' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

'Introduction : What Do We Mean by the Phrase “American Gay and Lesbian Literature”?' from The Cambridge Companion to American Gay and Lesbian Literature, by Scott Herring.

'How do we compile an institutional history of the phrase “American Gay and Lesbian Literature” as it developed in the U.S. academy? Although we should be cautious of any conclusive moment of origin, one place to start would be a December 27, 1974, forum at the annual Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention in New York City. Titled “Homosexuality and Literature” and moderated by Catharine Stimpson, the panel’s presenters included Louis Crompton, Bertha Harris, and Christopher Isherwood. Each proved to be elemental to gay and lesbian literary studies as it cohered in the late twentieth-century United States.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

Introduction “The borrowed veil”: reassessing gender studies of early modern England and Islam”? from Women and Islam in Early Modern English Literature, by Bernadette Andrea.

'The starting point for this study is the significance of women’s agency in the inaugural Anglo-Ottoman encounter, which began during the sixteenth century and extended through the early eighteenth century. The English realm, excluded from Catholic Europe because of its turn to Protestantism, sought unorthodox diplomatic, economic, and military ties with the Ottoman empire, whose dominions stretched across Asia, Europe, the Arabian peninsula, and North Africa. Sustained engagement with the Islamic world during this period also encompassed the Persian and Mediterranean realms bordering the Ottomans, though involvement with the Islamic empire of the Mughals was minimal. These ties affected English culture from the middle of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign (1558–1603), when her ambassadors brokered the first Anglo-Ottoman trade agreement, through the next century and a half, when the balance of power shifted in favor of the nascent British empire.

Elizabeth propelled this encounter through her diplomatic correspondence with Muslim sovereigns, including the Ottoman queen mother or valide sultan. Over the course of the seventeenth century, this encounter would include English women from the highest to the lowest ranks as writers and travelers, such as the first English woman to publish original works in the prestige genres of Renaissance romance and sonnet sequences, the first generation of Quaker women missionaries and polemicists, the first female playwrights for the English stage, and the first English woman to compose a travelogue of her “embassy” to the Ottoman empire.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

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Contemporary Debate

‘A postgenomic perspective on sex and gender, a chapter by John Dupré from How Biology Shapes Philosophy, by David Livingstone Smith.

'Biology’s role in shaping philosophy does not involve interdisciplinarity as it is often conceived – that is, as a sort ofmelding of two disciplines or the incorporation of the elements of one discipline into another. Biophilosophy does not work like this because philosophy is not a discipline in the sense that biology is a discipline. Of course, there is a perfectly good sense in which philosophy is a discipline.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

‘‘Why do women collaborate? Evidence of women's marginalization', a chapter from Gendering Legislative Behavior, by Tiffany D. Barnes.

'Despite the benefi ts of collaboration, patterns of collaboration vary among female legislators because not all women have the same opportunities to work collaboratively. One reason for this variation in women’s legislative behavior is that a number of institutional contexts – which vary both between and within legislative chambers – structure women’s legislative behavior (Osborn 2012 ; Schwindt-Bayer 2010 ). With respect to institutions that vary largely between chambers, both partisan constraints and women’s numeric representation should shape women’s legislative behavior.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

‘Gender, myth, and reality on the campaign trail', a chapter from Women on the Run, by Danny Hayes and Jennifer L. Lawless,

'To be a woman running for office in the United States is to face bias, sexism, and discrimination at seemingly every turn. That, at least, is the impression that anyone paying attention to American politics in recent years would come away with. In February 2014, then-U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann told an interviewer that many voters “aren’t ready” for a female president. Bachmann’s comments were at least in part a thinly veiled attempt to undermine Democrat Hillary Clinton’s second bid for the White House. But claims of sexism cross party lines. When Nancy Pelosi was asked in 2008 about Clinton’s loss to Barack Obama in that year’s presidential primaries, the Democratic Speaker of the House replied that it was partly because Clinton is a woman. “Of course there is sexism,” Pelosi said. “We all know that, but it’s a given.” Allyson Schwartz, who lost the 2014 Democratic primary for governor of Pennsylvania, also blamed her defeat on discrimination: “The political pundits, the media, the Harrisburg establishment couldn’t believe a woman could serve as governor – couldn’t even imagine it.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

‘Sexism in intimate contexts: how romantic relationships help explain the origins, functions and consequences of sexist attitudes' a chapter by Matthew D. Hammond and Nickola C. Overall from The Cambridge Handbook of the Psychology of Prejudice by Chris G. Sibley.

'What makes something, say a particular attitude or belief, an expression of prejudice? What defines a particular attitude as racist or sexist?We are often asked these questions by our students, reporters, and sometimes (although perhaps not often enough) by policymakers. The question of “what is prejudice?” is a difficult and extremely important one to answer. According to Gordon Allport (1954, p. 9), and many of the subsequent textbooks in social psychology and related areas, prejudice can be defined as “an antipathy based upon a faulty and inflexible generalization. It may be directed toward a group as a whole, or toward an individual because he [sic] is a member of that group.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

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Gender and Religion

Introduction to Women Prophets and Radical Protestantism in the British Atlantic World, 1640–1730, by Elizabeth Bouldin.

'Narrative writing represents another way that prophets chose to communicate their messages. Many narrative writings fit this study’s definition of prophecy in that the writers claimed they were “pressed in spirit” or under an obligation to speak God’s truth. Spiritual autobiographies (which developed out of the Puritan tradition) and testimonies (which developed out of the Quaker tradition) were two important forms of narrative writing that prophets employed. The spiritual autobiography had roots in the Puritan conversion narrative that both reassured the author of his or her salvation and improved the author’s standing in the Puritan community.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

Introduction to Gender and Timebound Commandments in Judaism, by Elizabeth Shanks Alexander,

'The Mishnah (c. 200 CE) stipulates that men and women have different levels of ritual obligation. Men are obligated to perform all of the commandments outlined in the Torah. Women, by way of contrast, are obligated to perform all the commandments except those which are “timebound” and “positive.” “Timebound” commandments are those which must be performed at, by, or within a specified time frame. “Positive” commandments are those which must be actively performed rather than passively refrained from (the “thou shalts,” as opposed to the “thou shalt nots”). In classical Judaism, one observes the commandments as an ennobling act of devotion to the God of Israel who redeemed Israel from Egypt. Through observance of the commandments, the religious actor realizes himself or herself a covenantal partner with God. Insofar as the mishnaic rule indicates that men and women engage the commandments differently and insofar as observance of commandments is a central form of religious devotion in Judaism, the rule constructs men and women as different kinds of religious actors. This book seeks to understand what is at stake in that rule’s stipulations. How did the rabbis who conceived this rule think about the differences between men and women such that this way of gendering religious obligation made sense?' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

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