Mineke Schipper
Mineke Schipper

MINEKE SCHIPPER was Professor of Intercultural Literary Studies at the University of Leiden. She has professorships in Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso and China. She has a Royal Order of Knighthood (Officier in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau) for “building intercultural bridges nationally and internationally, inside and outside the academy.” She continues her scholarly work at the Leiden University Centre.


Hills of Paradise - Mineke Schipper

A History of Power and Powerlessness

Since time began the female body has been desired, admired, used and abused. Even advertising can’t do without it. Men and women have always needed each other but why did men end up with more power than women? Answers to this question have a lot to do with female anatomy. Through the ages male narrators, artists and scholars have shone light on those body parts they do not have: breasts, wombs and vulvas – the topics of this book.

The female sex has given birth to human life and sexual lust but also to anxieties: fear of the magic of nipples, hymens and menstrual blood. Fear of dark passages, in which that most vulnerable of male parts must heroically find its way. Fear of dependency on mothers and other women. To calm these fears mythology has come up with male creators not only of the world but also of human life,and women have been denied access to public spheres because of their ‘distracting’anatomy.

Anyone who delves into this richly varied legacy of power and powerlessness will be overcome by intense compassion for humanity. This revealing and sometimes hilarious history offers not only clear insight into the world before #metoo, but also in the way we, consciously or subconsciously, still interact with each other today.

'The book offers a wealth of refutations of the idea that women are by nature the weaker sex: women were in all sorts of ways a threat to the power of men, and should therefore be systematically tamed.' Het Parool


Prometheus NL

Klett-Cotta Germany

Sefsafa Arabic

Durieux Croatia

Material: Dutch PDF (293p), Substantial English sample and translated interview and press

Naked or covered
Naked or Covered Cover

'The question of which parts of the human body are to be covered and which may be left bare is as much of a battlefield today as it has ever been. Mineke Schipper provides a fascinating and wide-ranging compendium of fact and fiction about the covering of the body through the ages.' J.M. Coetzee

'Given the large numbers of migrants in today’s world, it seems more important than ever to explore, in exactly the register that this book adopts, complex, competing traditions of being clothed and unclothed, covered and uncovered, their histories and turning points, retreats and reassertions. That is, if there is much chance of finding ways of living together across lines of difference in an increasingly securitized and defensive world. This is the sort of book you will read in a weekend because once you begin you won't be able to put it down. It is packed full with stories, anecdotes and mesmerizing cultural facts, animating a meticulously researched account of histories of human skin, looking and being looked at, and excitement and fear. Loved it!' Sarah Nuttall, Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies and Director of WISER (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research), Johannesburg, South Africa

'With the discerning eye of an anthropologist, the literary flair of a novelist, and with sturdy common sense, Mineke Schipper guides us through millennia of remarkably diverse attitudes towards human dress and undress. Colorful, well-researched, and timely. Highly recommended.' Steven Shankman, UNESCO Chair in Transcultural Studies, Interreligious Dialogue, and Peace and co-director, UNESCO Crossings Institute, University of Oregon, USA

'At a time when opening up of the global economy and advent of online retail has made dressing (fashionably) a compulsion, Naked or Covered digs deep into humanity’s history to understand why clothing is much more than just  a piece of cloth.' The Telegraph, India

‘Schipper unpacks various ways of seeing and being looked at, to offer a sweeping picture of how differently people in cultures around the world view the naked body. Part-historian, part-anthropologist, Schipper creates a well-researched and anecdotal account. From the history of loincloths, to the enforcing and banning of burqas, to Hassidic headgear and Facebook censorship, Schipper covers eras and continents with ease. She treats the body — robed and disrobed — as an archaeological site, layered with half-forgotten stories and ciphers to read contemporary politics of choice, gender equality, and censorship… Schipper’s project is a feminist one. By describing traditions of dressing and viewing the naked body, she asserts that in most cultures, women’s bodies have had to be the moral flag-bearers and, consequently, have been confined, devalued, and brutalised. Segregation of baths, imposition of veils, and the denial of the right to wear trousers are just a few of the examples Schipper draws on to emphasise that women are continually objectified and treated as both collective and personal property. She rebukes the patriarchal system enforced by religious leaders, husbands, brothers, and other women.’ The Hindu Business Line

When our first ancestors began to walk on two legs instead of four, they gained a new perspective on each other's physicality. As degrees of embarrassment or social awkwardness emerged, complicated dress codes came into being. The first instance of covering up consisted of a thread wound around the foreskin to tuck the penis out of sight under a strap worn round the hips; a case of modesty fuelled by fears of a spontaneous erection. Little by little, people began to decorate themselves with tattoos, feathers, paint, jewellery and headdresses. As humans migrated to cooler climes, animal skins were adapted for shoes and clothing.

Throughout history, cultures and religions developed specific codes to control unruly nakedness. In Imperial Japan an uncovered female neck was considered so alluring as to be scandalous; in Victorian England a heel had to be invisible; but in the Middle East women's feet were rather less problematic than women's hair.

Naked arms, legs or breasts are not in the least surprising to those who are used to encountering them in daily life, but in the eyes of those who walk around completely covered a glimpse of naked flesh can be shocking. The first European explorers were appalled to discover ‘savage’ humans perfectly at ease with their nakedness, but the tribal people of Africa or the Americas were equally bemused by the intruders’ insistence on covering up.

There have been eras in which European men were every bit as coquettish and ostentatious in their choice of dress as women, but since the French Revolution there has tended to be a rigid divide between notions of beauty and manliness. Now, in times of globalisation, we are confronted by a variety of perspectives on 'normal’ dress. Advertisers routinely fall back on the female nude to sell anything from cars to scent, a choice of garment can contain a powerful political message, there are protests against nakedness and nakedness is used as protest, while contemporary interpretations of religious or cultural edicts are met with bafflement.

With an unerring eye for detail, and an engaging mixture of anecdote and historical interpretation, Mineke Schipper brilliantly dissects our fascinating and contradictory attitudes to bodily exposure and concealment through time and across cultures.

‘A very good and accessible book about body coverings and shame. Highly recommended!' Boekenbijlage.nl

‘Schipper’s book is a great read and gives fascinating insights.' Trouw

'Whoever thinks clothing is about a piece of cloth, knows better after reading this book.' Quest

‘A fascinating cultural history… nuanced and without any religion-bashing.' History magazine


Prometheus NL

Sefsafa Arabic

Speaking Tiger India

Beyaz Baykus Publishing Turkey

Anetta Antonenko Ukraine

Material: finished copies of Dutch edition (278pp); full English translation.

ADAMS AND EVES EVERYWHERE: The First People in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Adams and Eves Everywhere

Adam and Eve are the first ancestors in the shared creation stories of Jews, Christians and Muslims. Spreading out from the Middle East the three religions took their own versions around the world, via rabbis, priests, imams, colonialists, missionaries, migrants and modern media. Popular stories about Adam and Eve, which don't appear in the Bible, lived on through oral story-telling. Where was Paradise located? Did Adam have a beard? Was he circumcised? Did Adam and Eve have a navel? Did they have sex in the Garden of Eden? How did Satan get into Paradise? The how and why of creation, Paradise, the snake and the Fall has inspired story-tellers and artists from every corner

of the earth. Mineke Schipper has written an intriguing book

about the stories and images of the three religions, often unknown,

for contemporary believers and non-believers, for all curious

descendants of Adam and Eve.


Prometheus NL


Ayrinti Turkey


CFLPT Cairo World Arabic

Material: finished copies of Dutch edition (285pp); full English text.

IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS NO ONE: How the First People Came into the World
Creation Myths Cover

Where did the first people come from? Were they thrown out of heaven – or did they crawl up out of the earth? Did God make them because he was lonely? Were we made out of nothing? Or from gods’ sweat, seed or tears, or possibly from silver, gold, stone or clay? There was no one around to take notes but stories tell us what really happened. Those stories also explain why there are men and women. All cultures answer universal questions about the beginnings of mankind – in orthodox, unorthodox often hilarious genesis stories. For the first time these answers are collected together in a unique book, profound fears can be read between the lines. And the echoes of old myths resonate in today’s human interactions.

‘Immediately obvious is Schipper’s wanderlust, passion for collecting, enthusiasm, hard work and meticulousness. The way she analyses, interprets, puts together and links her rich collection of stories from across the world, makes you feel you are wandering through a wonderful museum.’ NRC Handelsblad


Prometheus NL

Sansuya Korea

Aletheia Poland

Libri Hungary

Hara Shobo Japan

Sefsafa Arabic

Material: Dutch edition (320pp); full English text.

AFTER US, THE FLOOD: Mythical tales about the end of mankind

Since the beginning of time people have told stories about how the world will end. If the world had a beginning it will surely also have an end. Floods, fire, gods wiping humans off the face of the earth because of over-crowding, bad behaviour by us humans, arguments between gods…

Looking at various cultures from around the world Mineke tells us these apocalyptic stories. Many common themes occur and the way the ancients envisaged our demise has eerie echoes today. From a story-teller and cultural anthropologist at the height of her powers, comes this fascinating book.


Prometheus NL

Sefsafa Egypt

Material: Dutch edition (171pp), English sample.

Vogel Valt Vogel Vliegt

Mineke Schipper is a successful novelist as well as a writer of fascinating non-fiction books. Her most recent novel stars Laura and Daniel, both around 50 years old, both academics (he a professor of Classics, she a specialist in ancient cultures, in particular stories of Paradise), both in their own different ways beginning life anew. Daniel because he has never really lived and through his journey in the novel finds a way to leave his traumas behind. Laura because she finally breaks away from the memory of her dead husband, the great love of her life and famous war photographer Robert. Drawing powerful parallels between Vietnam and the war in Iraq (Daniel is a Vietnam veteran) this is a tale about love, loss, parting, new beginnings, lust for life, art and knowledge and stories to live by.

‘An absorbing story of the growth of adult love, and the letting go of past love, in the shadow of America's imperial wars.' J.M. Coetzee

'A woman travels to the Mekong River to scatter the ashes of her beloved. On the way she befriends an American Vietnam veteran. A novel from the literature academic Mineke Schipper about letting go and starting again. Schipper made her mark recently with the award winning “Never marry a woman with big feet” (2004), a unique reference book with more than 15,000 humiliating proverbs about women from the whole world.' NRC

'A clear, subtly narrated novel about mourning.' Trouw


Prometheus NL

Material: finished copies of Dutch edition (256pp).

NEVER MARRY A WOMAN WITH BIG FEET: Women in proverbs from around the World
Never Marry a Woman with Big Feet


Also nominated in the Eureka Furore Category - Best Female Achievement

The Sena in Malawi and Mozambique have a proverb: 'Never marry a wife with bigger feet than your own.' And the Chinese have an astonishingly similar message. In cultures all over the world, the ideal woman has been depicted in proverbial form - in the author's words, 'the world's smallest literary genre'. This extensive corpus of proverbs from 245 languages delineates the feminine ideal and vilifies her fear-inducing counterpart - the talented, intelligent, powerful, defiant, or occult woman.

Proverbs perpetuate contrasting views of men and women. Men are inexorable tyrants, shameless profiteers, as well as insecure, fearful beings. Women are lamentable victims, and yet extremely powerful. These contradictions are exposed directly and surreptitiously in proverbs, a language in which very little appears to change and yet change is constant as male and female roles and domains become increasingly integrated.

Structured to represent the focus of the proverb genre, NEVER MARRY A WOMAN WITH BIG FEET collates and draws global conclusions from the experience of woman both interculturally and physically – women's bodies, both in terms of different parts of the body and its beautification; phases of life, from girls to brides, wives, co-wives, widows, mother-in-law, grandmothers; women's basics of life, such as love, sex, pregnancy and childbirth; female power. This is a stylish critical anthology, a unique and incomparable resource.

'The great eighteenth-century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico believed that despite all the cultural differences, there must be "a mental language common to all nations" that made communication possible among different nations, and he found proof of this common language in the numerous comparable proverbs and maxims discernible everywhere in the world. With her excellent book, Never Marry a Woman with Big Feet: Women in Proverbs from around the World, Professor Mineke Schipper not only offers a wealth of textual evidence of the existence of such a common language, but also enables us to understand and appreciate women's lives, ideas, and wisdom that show a certain universal significance in their very social and cultural diversity. This makes a remarkable contribution to women's studies, and to the study of comparative and world literature.' Zhang Longxi, Chair Professor of Comparative Literature and Translation, City University of Hong Kong

'Schipper's prose is light, fast-paced and witty, and her analysis of what lies behind the proverbs is completely gripping.' Sunday Telegraph

'...no one who casually picks it up will be able to put it down, as gems of inspired sayings, bon mots, zanyjokes, and insightful analyses leap out of every page.' Wendy Doniger, University of Chicago

'This is an entertaining, adroit examination of how far woman has come in man's estimation, and how far she still has to go.' Publishers Weekly

'[A] fascinating analysis of more than 15,000 proverbs...an engrossing book.' Times Literary Supplement

'...a lively and sharply pointed book... Feminist authors and teachers will be analyzing and gratefully quoting her material for at least a generation.' National Post, Canada

‘A fine contribution to the cosmopolitan conversation that ought to come with globalization.’ K. Anthony Appiah, Princeton University

'...enthralling, amusing and alarming in equal measures.' Conscience Magazine

Also shortlisted for the Katharine Briggs Folklore Award 2004

Here are some example proverbs, many more of which can be found in NEVER MARRY A WOMAN WITH BIG FEET:

A husband at home is like a flea in your ear. (Spanish, Chile)
No evil is as bad as a mother-in-law. (Greek)
Free of her lips, free of her hips. (English)
The thicker the veil, the less it’s worth lifting. (Turkish)
Woman may govern heart and pan, cup and head are for the man. (German)
God protect us from hairy women and beardless men. (Arabic)
Women reason with the womb. (Italian)
An old man who marries a young woman buys a newspaper for others to read it. (Portuguese, Brazil)
Every woman is beautiful in the dark, from a distance, and under an umbrella. (Japanese)
She who offers a half-cooked meal is better than she who offers her buttocks. (Rwanda)
One lame son is more valuable than eighteen golden daughters. (China)
A woman’s heart sees more than men’s eyes (Swedish)
The mouth is a rose, and the tongue a thorn. (Hungarian)
A fat woman is a quilt for the winter. (Multani, India)
A pretty face is a punishment. (Estonia)



Yale University Press (UK and USA unabridged - reverted)

Amsterdam University Press (abridged - reverted)

Spectrum NL (unabridged)

Bert Bakker NL (abridged)

Oceano World Spanish

Eichborn Verlag Germany

Dar el Shorouk Egypt (Arabic Language rights)

Partvonal Kiado Hungary

Bertrand Brazil

Bookscope Korea

Sextante Editora Portugal

Editions Philippe Rey France

Ponte Alle Grazie Italy

Speaking Tiger India

Vellant Romania

NLN Czech Republic

Mehta Publishing India (Marathi)

Delidolu, an imprint of Tudem Turkey

Material: finished copies (422pp unabridged; 350pp abridged).