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Break the Bias: International Women’s Day 2022

7 March 2022

Esther Ambrose-Dempster, a PhD Student in the Chemistry department, chooses four women-authored books which inspire her to address gender inequality.

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An integral part of UCL is that we were the first university to admit women to study on equal terms with men in the UK. In 1878 this also meant being one of the first in the world. But we don’t have to look far in the university setting or in the wider world to see that gender bias still riddles society.

International Women’s Day is on Tuesday 8 March, and this year the main theme is #BreakTheBias. I have chosen four women-authored books which relate to the inequality suffered by women around the world, and gender bias. These books and authors have inspired me to address this, as a woman in STEM and in larger society, by joining the fight.


Women don't owe you pretty

Book cover: Women don't owe you pretty, by Florence Given
The first book I’ve chosen is Women don’t owe you pretty by activist and author Florence Given. Published in 2020, it is an intersectional feminist manifesto, and if you haven’t read it yet, its available in the UCL library. Self-defined as full of uncomfortable truths, it appoints a resonating voice to things that most womxn experience throughout their lives, which often go unacknowledged from the prejudice of the patriarchy.

With an emphasis on healing, accountability and empowerment, everyone will learn from this book. Whatever your position, as one of the discussed marginalised groups or not, Given advocates that "prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female’" (Erin McKean) as stated on the first page. Points beautifully articulated, inspiring change and breaking the bias of what is expected of womxn, this book is a masterpiece and harnesses everything International Women’s Day is all about.

Girl, woman, other

Book cover: Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo
Girl, woman, other is a novel by the award-winning author, professor and literary activist, Bernardine Evaristo. Winning the Booker Prize 2019, it is exceptional in both the narrative and writing, and it made her the first black woman to win. Whilst an incredible achievement, this highlights the bias that marginalised groups of women, especially, still face in society today.  

Also available from the UCL library and gaining numerous glowing reviews, this book is up there in my favourite reads. It addresses uncomfortable truths as well, told through the lives of 12 black women in Britain. Beautifully poetic, witty and fierce, she inspires compassion and shines a light on a less spotlighted side of history/society. The feeling and soul to this story encourage unity, empowerment and a mentality of going against the grain, of breaking out of the boxes we often find ourselves placed in.

Celebrating women

A history of Britain in 21 women

Book cover: A history of Britain in 21 women, by Jenni Murray
Celebrating the lives of women, I turn to A history of Britain in 21 women by Jenni Murray. Recentring women in British history, Murray’s selection of female figures span over 2000 years and address the erasure of women from learnt history. Celebrating the triumphs of those including Boadicea, Ada Lovelace and Mary Quant, the writing is light-hearted, funny and digestible. Each chapter is dedicated to one woman and leaves you with key historical points from a gynocentric perspective, tying together hope and the drive for change.  

Gloria Steinem’s distinction between history and the past, summarises the necessity of this book in our education. In the past, women’s achievements are just that, in history they are often overlooked. Murray emphasises that we should never assume that our won rights will remain. We should not relax vigilance. These women each defied bias and inequality. They didn’t give up, and neither should we.

Raise awareness, take action

The war on women: and the brave ones who fight back

Book cover: The war on women: and the brave ones who fight back by Sue Lloyd-Roberts
My final choice is The war on women: and the brave ones who fight back. Written by highly acclaimed journalist Sue Lloyd-Roberts, it covers injustice and suffering that women globally experience, from sex trafficking and honour killings to the gender pay gap. With an emphasis on the awe-inspiring, fearless women who defy acceptance of the world as it is, this book is harrowing yet hopeful, harsh but inspiring. 

Tragically Lloyd-Roberts died of cancer before completing it, but as a legacy to leave behind along with her decorated career, it is the raw, harsh face of reality, and ultimately encompasses what a marvel she herself was. She brought awareness fearlessly to the wars of today, as a woman, in the face of the oppressor, taking action against discrimination.

Women in STEM

In STEM we have an additional day celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11 February, because the playing fields are so uneven. As a woman in STEM, the drive for change is apparent and necessary. These books are my selection of those I have found most inspiring to create change within society. Each, for me, highlights that we can’t all do it all – some are able to do more than others in the name of equality, like these authors, or the women in these books. But it’s the unity and fire that is ignited to fight inequality and break the bias, that has given each of these books a place here.