Gender Studies reading list

A good reading list saves time and effort in the course of one’s learning. I used to be surprised (and at times, appalled) by the quality of reading that people commit to when they seek an introduction to Gender Studies. But later I realised it is a privilege to know and have access to the ‘canon’ of Gender Studies. Be mindful that Gender Studies is a relatively new, inter-disciplinary field that cuts across anthropology, sociology, philosophy, literature, film and media studies, which means that there can be many books to cover. Here is a (non-comprehensive, but perpetually growing) list of must-reads for a intro to Gender Studies in the Malaysian and general Southeast Asian context:

  • Feminism and the Women’s Movement in Malaysia. 2006. Cecilia Ng, Maznah Mohamad and Tan Beng Hui – A key text on feminism and history of the women’s movement in Malaysia
  • ‘Mapping the margins: Intersectionality and Women of Color’. 1991. Kimberle Crenshaw – An introduction to the concept of ‘intersectionality’ and how it is used to examine women’s lived realities
  • Gender Pluralism: Southeast Asia Since Early Modern Times. 2009. Michael Peletz – A good overview of queer and other non-normative identities in Malaysia
  • ‘State Versus Islam: Malay Families, Women’s Bodies and the Body Politic in Malaysia’. 1990. Aihwa Ong – Perhaps one of the most important texts on the impact of modernisation and Islam on Malay women in Malaysia
  • Women in Southeast Asian Nationalist Movements. 2013. edited by Susan Blackburn and Helen Ting – Biographies of prominent women in nationalist movements in Southeast Asia in the 20th century
  • Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992) by Bell Hooks – Cultural theorist bell hooks suggests alternative ways of looking at race and blackness
  • Sexual Ethics in Islam (2006) by Kecia Ali – A feminist discussion on female circumcision, polygamy, the beating of wives, and other provocative issues in Islam and the Quran.
  • Women and Gender in Islam (1992) by Leila Ahmed – A historical overview of the Muslim women’s status in Islam. A classic.
  • History of Sexuality Volume 1 (1978) by Michel Foucault – On the invention of ‘the homosexual’ in the 19th century, power, and knowledge
  • Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Muslim Society (1975) by Fatima Mernissi – One of the best texts on Islam and feminism there is.
  • Privilege: A Reader (2010) edited by Michael Kimmel and Abby Ferber – Accessible guide to the concept of ‘privilege’ and how it operates in society
  • The Female Eunuch (1971) by Germaine Greer – A classic polemic on women’s liberation from misogyny and traditional gender roles
  • This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1983) by Cherríe L. Moraga, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Toni Cade Bambara – A collection of essays by feminist women of colour.
  • The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (1990) by Carol J.Adams – An eco-/ vegetarian feminist analysis of the human/animal relationship
  • Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) by Judith Butler – Introduces the reader to the idea that gender is simply a ‘performance’ that we repeat and reiterate. For Butler, gender as an identity is not an unchanging core within a person but an open-ended process
  • The Second Sex (1949) by Simone de Beauvoir – A classic feminist-existential text. Best known for the famous phrase, ‘One is not born a woman, but rather becomes one’. This particular phrase is a huge influence on Judith Butler’s ‘Gender Trouble’
  • Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (2014) by Cynthia Enloe – Enloe’s classic text examines how (inter)national politics and economics impact women’s work and employment
  • ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ by Gayatri Spivak – A key text in postcolonial theory. When scholars write about the ‘subaltern’ – the most marginalised and underrepresented group in society, do they write in a language that the subaltern speaks and understands? If not, how can the scholar claim that subaltern is speaking to them and readers at all?
  • The Promise of Happiness (2010) by Sara Ahmed. – Ahmed promotes the concept of the ‘feminist killjoy’ – feminist who ‘kills’ the joy through highlighting sexism in society. An important text on the role of emotions in feminism.
  • Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practising Solidarity (2003) by Chandra Talpade Mohanty – A key text in postcolonial feminist theory on decolonising feminism.
  • ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’ (1973) by Laura Mulvey – A classic essay by Mulvey on the male gaze
  • Cruising Utopia: The There and Then of Queer Futurity (2009) by Jose Esteban Munoz – The meaning of ‘queer’ from a race/class/gender lens