The best books for understanding why we need reproductive justice

Rickie Solinger Author Of Reproductive Justice: An Introduction
By Rickie Solinger

Who am I?

Reproductive justice – reproductive rights – reproductive self-determination – this has been my passion for decades. I’m a historian. The most important thing I’ve learned is how reproductive bodies have always been racialized in the United States, from 1619 to the present day. Circumstances and tactics have changed over time, but lawmakers and others have always valued the reproduction of some people while degrading the reproduction of people defined as less valuable – or valueless – to the nation. Throughout our history, reproductive politics has been at the center of public life.  As we see today. I keep writing because I want more and more of us to understand where we are – and why. 

I wrote...

Reproductive Justice: An Introduction

By Rickie Solinger, Loretta Ross,

Book cover of Reproductive Justice: An Introduction

What is my book about?

Reproductive Justice is a first-of-its-kind primer that provides a comprehensive yet succinct description of the field. Written by two legendary scholar-activists, Reproductive Justice introduces students to an intersectional analysis of race, class, and gender politics. Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger put the lives and lived experience of women of color at the center of the book and use a human rights analysis to show how the discussion around reproductive justice differs significantly from the pro-choice/anti-abortion debates that have long dominated the headlines and mainstream political conflict.

Arguing that reproductive justice is a political movement of reproductive rights and social justice, the authors illuminate, for example, the complex web of structural obstacles a low-income, physically disabled woman living in West Texas faces as she contemplates her sexual and reproductive intentions. In a period in which women’s reproductive lives are imperiled, Reproductive Justice provides an essential guide to understanding and mobilizing around women’s human rights in the twenty-first century.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

Why did I love this book?

I go back to this book again and again and so do all the people I know who are committed to understanding reproductive politics in the United States. I read and reread this book because it’s a brilliant, basic, and perennially relevant explanation of the history, politics, and legal supports sustaining racialized reproduction in the United States, from the slavery regime to its long aftermath.

By Dorothy Roberts,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Killing the Black Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Killing the Black Body remains a rallying cry for education, awareness, and action on extending reproductive justice to all women. It is as crucial as ever, even two decades after its original publication.
"A must-read for all those who claim to care about racial and gender justice in America." —Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow
In 1997, this groundbreaking book made a powerful entrance into the national conversation on race. In a media landscape dominated by racially biased images of welfare queens and crack babies, Killing the Black Body exposed America’s systemic abuse of Black women’s bodies. From…

Book cover of Reproduction on the Reservation: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Colonialism in the Long Twentieth Century

Why did I love this book?

This book is a first. Theobald gives us a really interesting and comprehensive history of pregnancy, birthing, motherhood -- and activism -- on the Crow Reservation in Montana. She explains the interventions of the federal government, for example, via coercive sterilization and child removal, and provides rich accounts of family, tribal, and inter-tribal resistance -- and claims of self-determination -- in the face of these interventions.

By Brianna Theobald,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reproduction on the Reservation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This pathbreaking book documents the transformation of reproductive practices and politics on Indian reservations from the late nineteenth century to the present, integrating a localized history of childbearing, motherhood, and activism on the Crow Reservation in Montana with an analysis of trends affecting Indigenous women more broadly. As Brianna Theobald illustrates, the federal government and local authorities have long sought to control Indigenous families and women's reproduction, using tactics such as coercive sterilization and removal of Indigenous children into the white foster care system. But Theobald examines women's resistance, showing how they have worked within families, tribal networks, and activist…

Book cover of Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology

Why did I love this book?

Remember when the statute of Dr. J. Marion Sims was removed from Central Park a few years ago? Cooper Owens's book provides the back story: Sims's brutal, racist practices as a developer of gynecology and the equally horrible work of his many colleagues, who invented gynecology as a medical specialty, using the bodies of enslaved women in the 19th century South. Once these white, medical men perfected their techniques, they turned away from their Black "guinea pigs" and offered their new skills to white women who could pay and whose bodies and children were of value to the nation, according to white supremacist thinkers and actors.

By Deirdre Cooper Owens,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The accomplishments of pioneering doctors such as John Peter Mettauer, James Marion Sims, and Nathan Bozeman are well documented. It is also no secret that these nineteenth-century gynecologists performed experimental caesarean sections, ovariotomies, and obstetric fistulae repairs primarily on poor and powerless women. Medical Bondage breaks new ground by exploring how and why physicians denied these women their full humanity yet valued them as ""medical superbodies"" highly suited for medical experimentation.

In Medical Bondage, Cooper Owens examines a wide range of scientific literature and less formal communications in which gynecologists created and disseminated medical fictions about their patients, such as…

Book cover of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals

Why did I love this book?

This is just simply a beautiful, powerful, unique -- poetic -- book about the lives of Black women at the beginning of the 20th century in New York and Philadelphia, women who crafted their own lives, in contexts heavy with coercions and degradations. Hartman is an extraordinary writer and a gorgeous thinker.

By Saidiya V. Hartman,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beautifully written and deeply researched, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments examines the revolution of black intimate life that unfolded in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. In wrestling with the question of what a free life is, many young black women created forms of intimacy and kinship indifferent to the dictates of respectability and outside the bounds of law. They cleaved to and cast off lovers, exchanged sex to subsist, and revised the meaning of marriage. Longing and desire fueled their experiments in how to live. They refused to labor like slaves or to accept degrading…

Book cover of Just Get on the Pill, 4: The Uneven Burden of Reproductive Politics

Why did I love this book?

This book has arrived with a bang, telling stories about how women and couples navigate questions of contraception. Littlejohn is a great writer, telling vivid story after vivid story about how decisions about contraception get made -- who has it easy, who doesn't, and why women rarely fall in the first category.

By Krystale E. Littlejohn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Just Get on the Pill, 4 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Understanding the social history and urgent social implications of gendered compulsory birth control, an unbalanced and unjust approach to pregnancy prevention.

The average person concerned about becoming pregnant spends approximately thirty years trying to prevent conception. People largely do so alone using prescription birth control, a situation often taken for granted in the United States as natural and beneficial. In Just Get on the Pill, a keenly researched and incisive examination, Krystale Littlejohn investigates how birth control becomes a fundamentally unbalanced and gendered responsibility. She uncovers how parents, peers, partners, and providers draw on narratives of male and female birth…

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