Stories have the power to fire the imagination and provoke new thoughts and ideas. For this purpose, The Pixel Project has put together a list of 16 books that depict violence against women and girls. Some of these stories are fictional and some are not, but all of them will educate the reader in some way about violence, rape culture, cultural mores and misogyny.
The stories on this list have been taken from various genres, from thrillers and dramas to science fiction and autobiographies but they all show a common trend of entrenched and pervasive violence against women in the diverse societies they portray. They do, however, offer threads of hope, with people and characters pushing back against the tide and fighting for a world where women and girls are free from violence.
This list is not exhaustive; there are hundreds of stories out there that deal with violence against women in its various forms. But we hope that these 16 stories will education and inspire you as they have galvanised others over the years to push for change in your community.
Written and compiled by Anushia Kandasivam
Selection number 1: Speak (1999) by Laurie Halse Anderson
This young adult novel tells the story of a teenager Melinda Sordino who starts the new school year as a selective mute. She is ostracised by her peers because she had called the police to a house party but the truth about why she did this is not revealed until much later. Melinda finds a way to express herself through art with the help of a supportive teacher, which helps her come to terms with her trauma and finally give voice to it. Speak is written in a diary format, so the plot is non-linear and jumpy, mimicking Melinda’s feelings and her journey. It is interesting to note that this book has faced censorship because of its mature content. It was made into a film in 2004 starring Kristen Stewart.
Selection number 2: The Colour Purple (1982) by Alice Walker
A Pulitzer Prize winning novel set in rural Georgia, USA in the 1930s, The Colour Purple focuses on the lives of African American women, including their low social status, struggles through poverty and the sexism and sexual violence they have to live through. The story follows Celie, a poor and uneducated teenage girl who experiences sexual violence from a young age and who is forced to marry an older man. The novel not only explores the themes of violence, sexism and racism, it also touches on gender roles, with several characters blurring the boundaries of gender expectations. There is also a strong underlying theme of sisterhood – women supporting each other through the trials and tribulations of life. In fact, it is this strong bond between the main women characters in the novel that enables their self-realisation and growth. Despite its popularity and awards, The Colour Purple continues to be challenged by censors for its depictions of violence and homosexuality, among other things. It has been adapted into a film and a musical.
Selection number 3: La Dangereuse (2016) by Loubna Abidar and Marion Van Renterghem
La Dangereuse (The Dangerous Woman) is the French-language autobiography of Moroccan actress Loubna Abidar, based on interviews with Le Monde journalist Marion Van Renterghem, tells the story of how Abidar overcame poverty and physical and sexual abuse by her father to become one of Morocco’s most acclaimed young actresses. Last year, Abidar was vilified for playing the role of a prostitute in award-winning local film Much Loved and was later beaten on the streets of Casablanca. A refugee ever since, the 31-year-old speaks frankly in her book about the hypocrisy of men, the weight of tradition and taboos and the profound misogyny in her society and culture, but also declares that she refuses to live in fear.
Selection number 4: The Shining Girls (2013) by Lauren Beukes
This science fiction thriller by South African author Beukes steps back and forth through time following a serial killer who is compelled to stalk and murder ‘shining girls’, young women with great potential whom he sees as literally shining. One of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, who was attacked in 1989, survives and turns the tables, hunting him back. Besides the mystery and thriller elements, the novel also depicts a survivor’s story through Kirby and how she deals with the aftermath of her attack, and offers readers strong and powerful female characters who overcome their fears to fight back.
Selection number 5: Trafficked: My Story of Surviving, Escaping and Transcending Abduction into Prostitution (2013) by Sophie Hayes
This first-hand account of a human trafficking survivor took the author’s home country by storm when it first came out because of one surprising detail – the author and survivor Sophie Hayes is from the UK, a country not known for human trafficking and where people are not as aware of sex trafficking as they should be. Hayes, a young, educated English woman, was tricked and abducted by a man she thought of as her boyfriend and forced to work as a prostitute in a strange country. Beaten and otherwise abused, Hayes took advantage of a chance opportunity to escape. This memoir has generated much discussion in the UK and other first-world countries about the unseen world of human trafficking as well as calls for more awareness and better law and policy. Hayes along with a small team also set up The Sophie Hayes Foundation, which conducts research on human trafficking, creates awareness and offers support to survivors.
Selection number 6: The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (1997) by Iris Chang
This bestselling non-fiction book is about the Nanking Massacre, the 1937-1938 campaign of mass murder and rape by the Imperial Japanese Army after its capture of the city of Nanjing, then the capital of China. In the book, Chang details the atrocities committed by the Japanese Army, including killing, torture and rape; women and girls from all classes and of all ages were raped. The book has received as much criticism as it has acclaim but either way it did much to bring light to a much-ignored yet significant part of World War II, war crimes in general and war crimes perpetrated against women specifically.
Selection number 7: If I Were a Boy (1936) by Haki Stёrmilli
This Albanian-language epistolary novel (Sikur t’isha djalё) tells the story of a young girl named Dija as she goes through life in the strictly patriarchal Albanian society. Told through a series of diary entries read by Dija’s male cousin, it describes in first person the hardships, struggles and horrors she experiences throughout her life because of her having virtually no say in anything that happens to her. She is forced into marriage to a much older man, suffers abuse, and battles depression and suicidal thoughts.
Selection number 8: Indigo Blue (2005) by Cathy Cassidy
A children’s book, Indigo Blue is about young Indigo whose mother suddenly decides to move her and her baby sister out of their cozy house to a ‘flat from hell’. While at first she does not understand why they have to leave their old life and her mother’s boyfriend behind and suffer poor living conditions and not enough food, Indigo eventually learns to take charge and make the most of her situation. The novel depicts domestic violence, love and depression in various forms, giving young readers some understanding and insight into a family situation that has become prevalent in all societies.
Selection number 9: A Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood
A dystopian speculative fiction novel set in the near future, A Handmaid’s Tale has won and been nominated for several awards and been adapted for film, radio, opera and stage. Exploring the themes of the subjugation of women, it tells the story of a particular young woman call Offred who is a handmaid, part of the class of women whose sole purpose is reproduction in a society where people are divided and distinguished by sex, occupation and caste. Clothing is colour-coded to reflect this division and it is strongly implied that while some men clothes, such as military uniforms, empower men, women have little to no power in society. The novel engenders discussion about control over people – Offred struggles for agency throughout the story – consent in relationships and the need for women to support each other.
Selection number 10: My Story (2014) by Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart
Now a child safety activist, Elizabeth Smart was 14 when she was abducted from her home in Salt Lake City and rescued nine months later. In this memoir, Smart tells of her ordeal, her determined hold on hope and how she devised a plan to increase her chances of escape or rescue. She also details how she coped after the fact, seeing justice served and her journey of healing and becoming an advocate. The novel emphasises the importance of individual self worth in survivors. Smart founded the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to prevent and put a stop to predatory crimes.
Selection number 11: Echo Burning (2001) by Lee Child
The fifth book in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child and a thriller at its core, Echo Burning also explores domestic abuse. In the story, Reacher is approached by a woman, Carmen, who wants her husband killed because he is about to be released from prison and return home, whereupon he will inevitably start beating her again. Child has said that, inspired by an American Old West gunfighter who ‘never killed a man that did not need killing’, he wanted to explore the idea of man who Reacher is told needed killing. The story also explores the ambiguity of character – there is always a question whether Carmen can be trusted – as well as the diversity of American society as reflected in the character of a powerful female lawyer.
Selection number 12: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2005) by Stieg Larsson
This internationally bestselling psychological thriller, titled Mӓn som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women) in its original Swedish, was translated and published in English in 2008. The eponymous girl is brilliant but troubled researcher and hacker Lisbeth Salander, who assists protagonist Mikael Blomkvist as he has been hired to solve the disappearance and possible murder of a girl. There is a strong theme of violence against women in various forms, including sexual predation and murder, and the story shows how violence can happen to and be perpetrated by anyone from any social class.
Selection number 13: Rose Madder (1995) by Stephen King
Though Stephen King has explored the theme of domestic violence in several novels, in Rose Madder it plays an integral part of the plot. The protagonist is Rose Daniels, who lives with an abusive husband for 14 years before finally deciding that she has to leave him. The story shows this turning point and her subsequent journey to self-realisation while dealing with the constant fear that her husband, a policeman who is good at finding people, will track her down.
Selection number 14: Something Is Wrong at My House: A Book About Parents’ Fighting (2010) by Diane Davis
Based on a true story, this book was created for children who are seeking help for and understanding of domestic violence. It is written so that it can be used by both very young and school-age children, with simple but clear text and illustrations to help children make sense of a frightening situation and encourage them to talk about it with trusted adults. It is also designed so that it can be used by teachers, school counsellors and nurses, and therapists.
Selection number 15: Woman at Point Zero (1973) by Nawal El Saadawi
Based on the author’s encounter with a female prisoner in Qanatir Prison in Egypt during her research into female neurosis, the premise of this story is a psychiatrist visiting a prison in which she meets and speaks with an unusual female prisoner, Firdaus, who has been accused of murder and is scheduled for execution. The story is that of the Firdaus’ life from her poor childhood when she witnessed domestic violence, survives genital mutilation and sexual abuse, to being forced into marriage with an older man and living through a violent marriage. Firdaus tells of how she gained agency, power and reached self-realisation before everything came crashing down.
Selection number 16: Alias (2001 – 2004) created by Brian Michael Bendis and Micahael Gaydos
Published by Marvel Comics under it MAX imprint, the Alias comic book series follows protagonist Jessica Jones after she leaves behind her life as a costumed hero and becomes a private investigator. The overarching story arc across the 28 issues is Jones’ character development as she comes to terms with a traumatic past where she was manipulated and abused, and as she struggles to deal with the present-day physical, emotional and mental consequences. Adapted into an on-going television series called Jessica Jones in 2015, this series has won two awards and been nominated for others.
- Speak – From www.nobelwomensinitiative.org
- The Colour Purple – https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19909555
- La Dangereuse – From Amazon.fr
- The Shining Girls – from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39574596 (Book Cover design by Joey Hi-Fi)
- Trafficked: My Story of Surviving, Escaping and Transcending Abduction into Prostitution – From Amazon.com
- The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II – From https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12768170
- If I Were a Boy – From https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36126680
- Indigo Blue – From Amazon.com
- A Handmaid’s Tale – From https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20132070
- My Story – From Amazon.com
- Echo Burning – From World of Books.
- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – From https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17084782
- Rose Madder – From https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15658136
- Something Is Wrong at My House: A Book About Parents’ Fighting – From Amazon.com
- Woman at Point Zero – From https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32458784
- Alias – From https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5599614