The best books about power, gender politics, and gender stereotypes in America

Who am I?

Based on my experiences as a single parent and worker in traditionally male fields (journalism and law, back when newsrooms and law firms resembled men's clubs), I believe that each person contains both “feminine” and “masculine” behaviors and feelings. Yet socially constructed gender norms discourage people from exhibiting this full range of being. Ben Koehler’s troubling and tragic story presented a way to explore the origins of 20th-century American gender norms while trying to solve the mystery of Ben’s guilt or innocence. A bonus was the opportunity to write about Plum Island, an environmental treasure with a fascinating history that many people, including myself, are seeking to preserve and open to the public.


I wrote...

Scandal on Plum Island: A Commander Becomes the Accused

By Marian Lindberg,

Book cover of Scandal on Plum Island: A Commander Becomes the Accused

What is my book about?

Sophia and Ben Koehler expected an adventure when they moved to remote Plum Island, NY, but not the adventure they got. Ben took charge of 700 men at the Army’s Fort Terry, and his sister came along to help her unmarried brother with social duties. All seemed to be going well until a junior officer began portraying Ben as a “homosexualist,” a new worry of the federal government in 1913. Scandal on Plum Island is both a true account of a sensational case that reads like a legal thriller and a thought-provoking examination of gender politics in America.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny

Marian Lindberg Why did I love this book?

This is not angry feminism, though philosopher Kate Manne’s compelling prose may move you to anger. With surgical precision, Manne cuts through the layers of patriarchy, showing how vilification, mockery, and shaming of women function as “law enforcement” measures in a sexist system. A woman seeking “masculine-coded perks and privileges” may even deserve to be punished according to the “logic” of misogyny. I was fascinated by Manne’s explanations of why so many women voted against Hilary Clinton in 2016. Her analysis applies to racial and LGBTQ+ discrimination as well. When I was researching my book, Manne’s book helped me understand how a white male Army commander lost his “power” to be believed after other men accused him of being gay, i.e., unmanly and womanly (in the world of 1913).

By Kate Manne,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Down Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Misogyny is a hot topic, yet it's often misunderstood. What is misogyny, exactly? Who deserves to be called a misogynist? How does misogyny contrast with sexism, and why is it prone to persist - or increase - even when sexist gender roles are waning? This book is an exploration of misogyny in public life and politics, by the moral philosopher and writer Kate Manne. It argues that misogyny should not be understood primarily in terms of the hatred or hostility some
men feel toward all or most women. Rather, it's primarily about controlling, policing, punishing, and exiling the "bad" women…


Book cover of Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars

Marian Lindberg Why did I love this book?

This look at the Spanish-American War is a far cry from the way Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders were glorified in my grade school education. Historian Kristin Hoganson demonstrates that gender politics was a driving force pushing the U.S. into war with Spain in 1898. Whereas elder statesmen believed that “restraint and sober judgment” were the essence of manhood, they lost out to hawkish leaders such as Roosevelt, who claimed that American men had grown too weak for their own and the nation’s good and needed a war to regain their strength. The quick trouncing of Spain in Cuba and the Philippines “did all its backers hoped it would do,” writes Hoganson, allowing American men to claim they were the best fighters in the world. Toxic masculinity took center stage.

By Kristin L. Hoganson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fighting for American Manhood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This groundbreaking book blends international relations and gender history to provide a new understanding of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars. Kristin L. Hoganson shows how gendered ideas about citizenship and political leadership influenced jingoist political leaders` desire to wage these conflicts, and she traces how they manipulated ideas about gender to embroil the nation in war.

She argues that racial beliefs were only part of the cultural framework that undergirded U.S. martial policies at the turn of the century. Gender beliefs, also affected the rise and fall of the nation`s imperialist impulse.
Drawing on an extensive range of sources, including…


Book cover of Brutes in Suits: Male Sensibility in America, 1890-1920

Marian Lindberg Why did I love this book?

Pettegrew, a historian, also portrays Roosevelt as brute-in-chief at the turn of the 20th century, but he zooms out and describes other social forces in the United States that contributed to the emergence of the militaristic definition of manhood. These include the mythologizing of the Civil War as a noble display of male honor, divorcing the war from its roots in slavery and mistreatment of Blacks. He shows how the advocates for stronger men—and dependent women—“self-consciously used Darwinian biology to classify brutishness as an essential and natural male trait.” The book provides a fascinating and comprehensive look at the complicated ways in which gender stereotypes have been created and perpetuated in America.

By John Pettegrew,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Brutes in Suits as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Are men truly predisposed to violence and aggression? Is it the biological fate of males to struggle for domination over women and vie against one another endlessly? These and related queries have long vexed philosophers, social scientists, and other students of human behavior. In Brutes in Suits, historian John Pettegrew examines theoretical writings and cultural traditions in the United States to find that, Darwinian arguments to the contrary, masculine aggression can be interpreted as a modern strategy for taking power. Drawing ideas from varied and at times seemingly contradictory sources, Pettegrew argues that traditionally held beliefs about masculinity developed largely…


Book cover of The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America

Marian Lindberg Why did I love this book?

Men, did you know that too little body hair or too much talkativeness could keep you from being admitted to the United States in the early 1900s? The Straight State will have readers shaking their heads at the outrageous presumptions that immigration inspectors applied to keep “degenerates” out of the country. This was the first time that federal officials had both the interest and power to create policies against homosexuality, and they were crassly influenced by the eugenics movement and hostility to the poor. Canaday also shows how early welfare policies perpetuated gender stereotypes and discrimination against sexual “deviants,” favoring the married over the single. I learned so much! 

By Margot Canaday,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Straight State as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Straight State is the most expansive study of the federal regulation of homosexuality yet written. Unearthing startling new evidence from the National Archives, Margot Canaday shows how the state systematically came to penalize homosexuality, giving rise to a regime of second-class citizenship that sexual minorities still live under today. Canaday looks at three key arenas of government control--immigration, the military, and welfare--and demonstrates how federal enforcement of sexual norms emerged with the rise of the modern bureaucratic state. She begins at the turn of the twentieth century when the state first stumbled upon evidence of sex and gender nonconformity,…


You might also like...

Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

By Michael Ruse,

Book cover of Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

Michael Ruse Author Of Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Teacher (professor) Author Darwin specialist Charles Dickens fanatic

Michael's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Why We Hate asks why a social animal like Homo sapiens shows such hostility to fellow species members. The invasion of the Ukraine by Russia? The antisemitism found on US campuses in the last year? The answer and solution lies in the Darwinian theory of evolution through natural selection.

Being social is biology’s way of ensuring survival and reproduction. With the coming of agriculture 10,000 years ago, new conditions – primarily much-increased population numbers – meant that sociality broke down as we battled for our share of much-reduced resources. But, as cultural change brought about our troubles, so culture offers prospects of a future where our social natures can emerge and thrive again.

Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

By Michael Ruse,

What is this book about?

An insightful and probing exploration of the contradiction between humans' enormous capacity for hatred and their evolutionary development as a social species

Why We Hate tackles a pressing issue of both longstanding interest and fresh relevance: why a social species like Homo sapiens should nevertheless be so hateful to itself. We go to war and are prejudiced against our fellow human beings. We discriminate on the basis of nationality, class, race, sexual orientation, religion, and gender. Why are humans at once so social and so hateful to each other? In this book, prominent philosopher Michael Ruse looks at scientific
understandings…


Genres
  • Coming soon!

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in gender roles, masculinity, and misogyny?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about gender roles, masculinity, and misogyny.

Gender Roles Explore 107 books about gender roles
Masculinity Explore 34 books about masculinity
Misogyny Explore 49 books about misogyny