Toni Morrison by Angela Radulescu, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

As an English teacher in a state secondary school, this year’s International Women’s Day has a theme which strikes me as particularly salient, ‘Inspire Inclusion’. I have been able to focus on  my school’s recent investment in our school library and ensure this is a place that stocks fantastic women’s literature.

It is no surprise that I love reading. I particularly love the female voice and perspective. In the classroom, though, we follow the national curriculum which largely consists of classic texts penned by male writers. A huge proportion of students in the UK studying English Literature GCSE will therefore study Shakespeare, Dickens, and J.B Priestley. I thoroughly enjoy teaching these popular texts, but there is a concerning lack of diversity!

Research by the brilliant Lit in Colour website which promotes books by Black, Asian and minority ethnic writers discovered that, at most, 7% of students in England were studying a text by a woman for their English literature GCSE, and just 0.1% a text by a woman of colour. Shocking statistics that make depressing reading.

Surely it is vital that the books we read in our formative years reflect the rich diversity of society, including (of course!) women.

Elsewhere in the curriculum, I inject women’s literature where I can, but there is a clear imbalance. The male voice is more dominant and what does that say to our young women, our aspiring writers, and of course the importance of the female voice in society?

So, the school library is a place where we celebrate women’s writing. When choosing new books, I am keen to redress the balance. I scan the internet for the latest recommended reads by women writers. Top of the list will be Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez who exposes the surprising ways the gender data gap impacts on our everyday experiences. Then perhaps Caitlin’s Moran’s hilarious How to Build a Girl would be an entertaining read for teenagers. I don’t want to forget the classics either, so I will also add Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (which may be popular due to the Netflix adaption) and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights which enthralled me when I studied it at school. Oh, and Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison will all be on the list.

Then there are the new female writers flexing their muscles – Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper series and Katherine Rundell’s Remarkable Creatures which won Waterstones’ Book of the Year 2023.

So, this year’s International Women’s Day theme – Inspire Inclusion – is timely and necessary. I hope in some small way I might make a difference by choosing to stock a broad selection of inspiring, imaginative, thought-provoking books, written by women, and available to every student. I plan to wave them under the noses of passing students, display them prominently and encourage them to be borrowed and reviewed. Let’s shine a light on women’s writing.

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