The best books about gender roles

9 authors have picked their favorite books about gender roles and why they recommend each book.

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Sex in Antiquity

By Mark Masterson (editor), Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz (editor), James Robson (editor)

Book cover of Sex in Antiquity: Exploring Gender and Sexuality in the Ancient World

This volume contains essays on sexuality in all corners of the ancient world, from the Near East to Athens and Israel. But Part III is dedicated to Rome and offers a smorgasbord of discussions on everything from ‘The bisexuality of Orpheus’ to erectile dysfunction. The perfect book for dipping in and out of.

Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by the ancient world. Some of my happiest childhood memories involve trips to Roman villas in Britain, theatres in Sicily, and museums across Europe. After studying Classics at Oxford, I completed a Masters and then a Ph.D., eager to gain as strong a grounding in the ancient world as I could before pursuing a career as an author. Ancient history has a reputation for being complicated. When I write books, I strive not to simplify the past, but rather to provide an engaging, memorable, and above all enjoyable path into it. 

I wrote...

Catullus' Bedspread: The Life of Rome's Most Erotic Poet

By Daisy Dunn,

Book cover of Catullus' Bedspread: The Life of Rome's Most Erotic Poet

What is my book about?

A vivid narrative that recreates the life of Gaius Valerius Catullus, Rome’s first “modern” poet, and follows the young man’s journey through a world filled with all the indulgences and sexual excesses of the time, from doomed love affairs to shrewd political maneuvering and backstabbing—an accessible, appealing look at one of history’s greatest poets.

Born to one of Verona’s leading families, Catullus spent most of his young adulthood in Rome, mingling with the likes of Caesar and Cicero and chronicling his life through his poetry. Famed for his lyrical and subversive voice, his poems about his friends were jocular, often obscenely funny, while those who crossed him found themselves skewered in raunchy verse, sudden objects of hilarity and ridicule. These bawdy poems were disseminated widely throughout Rome. Many of his poems recall his secret longstanding affair with the seductive ‘Lesbia’.

The Frailty Myth

By Colette Dowling,

Book cover of The Frailty Myth

For those of us who grew up thinking we were the weaker sex/gender, this is a must-read book. When the deck is not stacked in favour of upper-body strength and short bursts of speed, and when factors such as height and weight are controlled (as the latter is, for example, in wrestling competition), women may actually be the stronger sex. I was particularly intrigued—no, annoyed—to read about sports that became segregated by sex only after women proved their superiority (for example, skeet shooting and rifle shooting).

Who am I?

I am the author of several novels—in addition to the one featured here, Impact, It Wasn't Enough (Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award), Exile, and What Happened to Tom (on Goodreads' "Fiction Books That Opened Your Eyes To A Social Or Political Issue" list).  I was a columnist for The Philosopher Magazine for eight years, Philosophy Now for two years, and the Ethics and Emerging Technologies website for a year ("TransGendered Courage" received 35,000 hits, making it #3 of the year, and "Ethics without Philosophers" received 34,000 hits, making it #5 of the year), and I've published a collection of think pieces titled Sexist Shit that Pisses Me Off. 

I wrote...

Gender Fraud: a fiction

By Peg Tittle,

Book cover of Gender Fraud: a fiction

What is my book about?

In a near future, 'gender recognition' legislation is repealed, and it becomes illegal for males to identify as females and females to identify as males. However, due in part to the continued conflation of sex and gender and in part to the insistence that gender align with sex, it also becomes illegal for males to be feminine and females to be masculine. A gender identity dystopia.  

Gender Fraud: a fiction was a Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award 2021.

The Female Man

By Joanna Russ,

Book cover of The Female Man

The Female Man gives the reader a slice of the 1970s up close and personal from the perspective of young women who don’t fit it, who don’t want to be used as an object, who both come from and see into a different way of life. A challenging read, but as one of my students said when you get finished, you have so much to talk about you could talk for days. Russ, too, is somewhat overlooked today, which is a shame because she was brilliant, funny, and angry, really, really angry and somehow, I appreciate the depth of that anger—and share it. Joanna was also a dedicated teacher/scholar and her book How to Suppress Women’s Writing still hits the nail on the head.

Who am I?

I am a professor of English at the University of Florida, and an author of SF/F myself; I teach it both as a creative writer, and as a scholar of both American Literature and feminist thought. This is my subject and I am passionate about it, and I’ve been teaching SF/F, American literature of the 19th and 20th centuries for thirty years, so I know my topic well.

I wrote...


By Stephanie A. Smith,

Book cover of Asteroidea

What is my book about?

Asteroidea is about regeneration: personal, professional, cellular. As the novel opens, marine biologist Claire Holt is at a crossroads. Having spent her career experimenting on starfish, seastars or asteroidea, to transfer their regenerative capabilities to mammals, she’s grown depressed.

With her grants running dry, and her two daughters facing their own life changes, Claire feels defeated. To cope, she takes a journey back to her childhood home, only to discover several destabilizing facts about her past. As she tries to handle the resulting intergenerational and emotional fallout, a graduate student arrives at her lab with a newly discovered species of asteroidea. Juggling emotional and familial upheaval, as well as this fresh direction for her research challenges Claire to re-engage in both her work and in life.

Free Women, Free Men

By Camille Paglia,

Book cover of Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism

Professor Paglia’s books are a tad academic for most people’s taste, but I find it important to feature her here. In this book, she stirs up important questions around gender and sex. It seems that we are steadily moving towards a growing acceptance of diversity to the point in which androgyny is even becoming a desirable trait. Being genderfluid myself, I’ve sometimes asked myself these questions daily. In order to have more spiritual sex, it’s important that we accept and acknowledge our desires, and I’m all for supporting the full expression of feminine and masculine in both women and men. On top of this, Paglia is a real provocateur, which I like and can relate to. Truly one of the bright minds of our time.

Who am I?

I’ve been meditating since I’m 10 years old, constantly inquiring about why humans are suffering. This led me on a very introspective journey into tantra. After travelling the world for over two decades to study tantric lineages and spiritual traditions, I founded The New Tantra in 2010 and developed a range of workshops with ground-breaking sexual practices. Through this crazy, wild, and genderfluid exploration, I’ve taught thousands of people how to improve their sex lives and experience sexuality in a totally different way. I believe that by dealing with our sexual conditioning, we can live more playful, innocent, and happier lives for ourselves and the future generations to come.

I wrote...

50 Misconceptions of Sex: A Modern Tantric Practice

By Alexa Vartman,

Book cover of 50 Misconceptions of Sex: A Modern Tantric Practice

What is my book about?

Are you interested to learn about advanced sex that awaits beyond basic friction-only sex? This down-to-earth and unconventional Tantra manual is a bold proposition for a new sexuality for humanity. By clarifying 50 common misconceptions, the book explains and teaches a simple practice of intimate mastery. It brings the physical and mental effects of esoteric tantra within reach of a modern 21st-century audience.

Tantric practice transcends greed, shame, confusion, stagnation, and frustration by opening a gateway to transformational experiences that otherwise require psychedelics or years of meditation. Be warned: the book is unashamed and outspoken. For adventurous adult audiences with a sense of humor only. Suited for couples and singles regardless of gender and sexual orientation.

Gridiron Gourmet

By Maria J. Veri, Rita Liberti,

Book cover of Gridiron Gourmet: Gender and Food at the Football Tailgate

Gridiron Gourmet likewise returns to a world somewhat familiar to me. Having grown up American, with a father and brother seriously enamored of football, I understood a certain amount about American ideas of sports and manhood. Football (and other men’s sports) had also played an important role in the community of Bushler Bay (on the Olympic Peninsula), where I had lived and conducted ethnographic research among loggers in the 1970s. At that time, folks there had seen football as one important avenue for young men to learn teamwork, competition, and discipline – traits considered key in making a livelihood. Gridiron Gourmet builds on my own understanding, adding the current emphasis on foods men consider appropriate and ‘manly’ to eat. Although I had some sense of this preference, this book clarifies common perspectives among American men in much more detail.

Who am I?

I began studying women’s lives in college (1960s), but recently realized that I (like others) passed myself off as a gender specialist, but had been ignoring men’s roles, beliefs, and behaviour in gender dynamics. I was put off by the studies that too consistently showed men as always violent and controlling. Many studies emphasized men at war, men abusing women, and gay men with HIV/AIDS; there seemed no recognition of positive masculine traits. Recognizing also that men had different ideals about their own masculinity in different places, I examined men’s lives among international elites and in communities in the US, Sumatra, and Indonesia, where I’d done ethnographic research. 

I wrote...

Masculinities in Forests: Representations of Diversity

By Carol J. Pierce Colfer,

Book cover of Masculinities in Forests: Representations of Diversity

What is my book about?

This book captures elements of my half-century studying gender from an ethnographic perspective. I have re-analyzed my own gender research, focusing in this book on the varying masculinities I have observed. Specifically, the book looks at men’s lives in the Olympic Peninsula logging community of Bushler Bay in the 1970s (and again in 2017); the multi-ethnic (Javanese, Sundanese, and Minangkabau) transmigration communities of Sitiung in West Sumatra in the 1980s; the Kenyah Dayak communities of Long Segar and Long Anai in East Kalimantan between 1979 and the early 2000s (and again in 2019); and the world of international forestry research between 1995 and 2010. The book describes the variations in gender relations and in habitat from place to place and from time to time.

Our Only May Amelia

By Jennifer L. Holm,

Book cover of Our Only May Amelia

What do you do when you have seven brothers, are the only girl for miles, and are being told you need to act like a proper lady? You say no. May Amelia does not want to be harnessed like a darn mule. The Washington wilderness of 1899 lays before her in all its glory. Her brothers are off exploring. Why can’t she too? And if that means breaking a few rules, well May Amelia Jackson is just the girl to do it. May Amelia’s tenacity and bravery made me want to stand up and cheer. She is my kind of girl—one who has the will and the determination to make a life lived on her terms.

Who am I?

My mother was one of the first women to do labor negotiations in the Steel Industry. My sisters and I were raised to believe we could do anything. I have one sister who does executive coaching, another who is a pilot, and I am a writer. I also have two girls of my own. One is an EMT and the other is getting her doctorate in Special Ed. They are both giving but strong-minded. I am proud of them both. I believe strongly that girls need role models in life to understand that with grit and hard work, they can make a world in which their dreams can be realized.

I wrote...

The Root of Magic

By Kathleen Benner Duble,

Book cover of The Root of Magic

What is my book about?

Willow’s life is anything but magical. Her brother, Wisp, is ill. Her parents’ arguments over Wisp’s treatments have escalated to the point where they have separated. And Willow has been the one left to pick up the pieces. But when a car accident lands Willow in the tiny town of Kismet, Maine, she finds her life taking an unexpected turn. The town is oddly isolated, and the longer Willow stays, the more she begins to see really strange things happening all around her. 

Slowly, Willow begins to unravel the secret to Kismet—There is magic in this town! Can that magic save Willow’s sick brother and distant parents?  Read The Root of Magic to find out!

The Beauty

By Aliya Whiteley,

Book cover of The Beauty

Aliya Whiteley is one of my all-time favourite writers. I could’ve easily included a few of her books on my list!

The Beauty imagines a future world where the women are all gone, and the last men are eking out a survivalist existence. While the main protagonist is a man, the return of ‘the beauty’ shines a light on female power and importance. This gut-wrenching tale sits somewhere between body horror and ancient fable—a place where your skin crawls and your mind can’t stop thinking about what you’d just read.

Who am I?

Caroline Hardaker is an author, poet, and librettist who writes dark and twisty tales about anything speculative, from folklore to the future. She’s a sporadic puppet-maker and house plant collector, and lives in the northeast of England with her husband, son, and giant cat. Caroline’s debut poetry collection, Bone Ovation, was published by Valley Press in 2017, and her first full-length collection, Little Quakes Every Day, was published by Valley Press in November 2020. Caroline’s debut novel, Composite Creatures, was published by Angry Robot in April 2021.

I wrote...

Composite Creatures

By Caroline Hardaker,

Book cover of Composite Creatures

What is my book about?

Set in a society where self-preservation is as much an art as a science, Composite Creatures follows Norah and Arthur, who are learning how to co-exist in their new little world. Though they hardly know each other, everything seems to be going perfectly—from the home they’re building together to the ring on Norah’s finger.

But survival in this world is a tricky thing, the air is thicker every day and illness creeps fast through the body. And the earth is becoming increasingly hostile to live in. Fortunately, Easton Grove is here for that in the form of a perfect little bundle to take home and harvest. You can live for as long as you keep it—or her—close.

Invisible Women

By Caroline Criado Perez,

Book cover of Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

One of the most important aspects of critical thinking is identifying and questioning faulty assumptions, and Invisible Women is one of the most brilliant recent examples I’ve seen of this in action. Criado Perez offers a rich and meticulously researched account of the ways in which women’s experiences, bodies, needs, and histories have been systematically effaced in countless settings; how, for example, the “normal” human measurements used to design everything from car safety features to phone handsets are based on male rather than female bodies. This is a devastatingly eye-opening book and a call to action against complacency of all kinds.

Who am I?

I’m an author, tech philosopher, father, geek, pianist, and novelist; and I'm fascinated by what it means to think clearly and well. Our world is bristling with complexities and crises; with staggering technologies, opportunities, and threats. What does it mean to find some kind of clarity, focus, and community amid this maelstrom? How can we hope to grasp, together, the nature of our times? These are the questions that keep me up at night—and that have driven me to write books that, I hope, can help and support people in rigorously exploring such questions for themselves.

I wrote...

How to Think: Your Essential Guide to Clear, Critical Thought

By Tom Chatfield,

Book cover of How to Think: Your Essential Guide to Clear, Critical Thought

What is my book about?

This is my third book about critical thinking. I wrote it during the early days of the pandemic and wanted to capture the ways in which critical thinking skills can help us in the face of escalating uncertainties and crises. How thinking well is rooted in honest doubt, collaboration, and empathy just as much as in reading, research, and logic. This result is a slim, personal book that—I hope!—invites you to explore what the lifelong journey of thinking more richly about thinking itself might look like for you.

The Beauty Myth

By Naomi Wolf,

Book cover of The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women

I first read this when it came out in 1992, at a time when few people were publicly connecting body image and feminism. This book literally changed the way I saw the world! It liberated me to stop spending so much time and energy trying to make my body fit an impossible mold and to start using my talents for more important things.

Who am I?

I’ve been reporting on and writing about food, eating, health, and body image for the last 25 years. So much of what we’re taught about those issues, it turns out, is wrong, inaccurate, and often damaging. I’ve made a point of uncovering the truth in those areas and to write about it in ways that help other people through this difficult terrain. My writing philosophy can be summed up in six words: I write so I’m not alone. And, I would add, so you’re not alone, either.

I wrote...

Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do About It

By Harriet Brown,

Book cover of Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do About It

What is my book about?

Over the past twenty-five years, our quest for thinness has morphed into a relentless obsession with weight and body image. In our culture, "fat" has become a four-letter word. Or, as Lance Armstrong said to the wife of a former teammate, "I called you crazy. I called you a bitch. But I never called you fat." How did we get to this place where the worst insult you can hurl at someone is "fat"? Where women and girls (and increasingly men and boys) will diet, purge, overeat, undereat, and berate themselves and others, all in the name of being thin?

Body of Truth systematically unpacks what’s been offered about ‘truth’ about weight and health.

Cassandra Speaks

By Elizabeth Lesser,

Book cover of Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes

We know that the classics - from Adam and Eve, to Greek myths, and fairy tales - were written by men. But I had no idea how much we take them for granted, how much they influence us in how we think and live. So when Lesser tells these stories from a woman’s point of view, it’s a revelation. Now, instead of taking for granted that Eve was weak and immoral when she bit that apple, an assumption of original sin that influences how women have been seen for centuries, I can interpret it as agency, an intelligent sense of curiosity that compelled her to take action. That makes Adam content to just laze around in Paradise, like a dude on a Barcolounger, drinking a beer on game day. Crazy, right? That may be the most controversial example, but all of them make you think. I’d love to sneak this…

Who am I?

From Lehr’s prize-winning fiction to her viral New York Times Modern Love essay, exploring the challenges facing contemporary women has been Lehr’s life-long passion. A Boob’s Life, her first project since breast cancer treatment, continues this mission, taking all who will join her on a wildly informative, deeply personal, and utterly relatable journey.  And that’s exactly the kind of books she likes to read – the ones that make her laugh, nod in recognition, and understand a little more about life. She recommends these five books to everyone who asks.

I wrote...

A Boob's Life: How America's Obsession Shaped Me--And You

By Leslie Lehr,

Book cover of A Boob's Life: How America's Obsession Shaped Me--And You

What is my book about?

A Boob’s Life explores the surprising truth about women’s most popular body part with vulnerable, witty frankness and true nuggets of American culture that will resonate with everyone who has breasts – or loves them.

Author Leslie Lehr has gone from size AA to DDDDD and everything between, from puberty to motherhood, enhancement to cancer, and beyond. And she’s not alone—these are classic life stages for women. At turns funny and heartbreaking, A Boob’s Life explores both the joys and hazards inherent to living in a woman’s body. Lehr deftly blends her personal narrative with national history, starting in the 1960s with the women’s liberation movement and moving to the current feminist dialogue and what it means to be a woman. Her insightful and clever writing analyzes how America’s obsession with the female form has affected her own life’s journey and the psyche of all women today.

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