On Saturday, I, like millions of other people in the U.S. and around the world, participated in the Women’s March (in LA) to stand up for women’s rights and against discrimination on the basis of race, gender identity or sexual preference. It was an incredibly inspiring morning, seeing so many people – men, women, children – come together to stand up for our shared values. Like others at marches around the globe, I was also protesting the new U.S. Presidential administration’s intentions to negatively impact women and minority groups through bigoted and backwards-looking policies (some of which we’re unfortunately already seeing enacted).
After the march, I read a lot of the coverage of this historic event, including different looks at how modern day feminism, in all its varied manifestations, fits more broadly into the history of feminism as a whole. I realized that though I firmly identify as a feminist, and I can articulate the reasons for which it’s still important to protect women’s rights, there’s a lot I don’t know about the history of feminism, its intersection with race, and the different forms it can take.
As usual when feeling equally under-informed and inspired, I decided to create a book list of titles that would help me educate myself on these issues. I then decided to share this list with all of you so that you can either be inspired by it yourself or help me figure out if there are titles I excluded that could be added. I based this list on several different sources that provided similar lists of Feminist titles, but omitted any titles I had already read or that had negative reviews. I also limited myself to nonfiction titles and divided the books into Classic Feminist Titles and (relatively) Contemporary Feminist Titles.
I’m planning on tackling one title or so from this list per month, and I’ll be sharing my reviews as I go along. I already own a few titles – A Room Of One’s Own, The Beauty Myth, How To Be A Woman, Bad Feminist – so I’ll start with those. Let me know what you think and if there are any other nonfiction books on Feminism that you really love and that I should add to my list.
Classic Feminist Titles
A Room of One’s Own is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf, based on a series of lectures she delivered at two women’s colleges at Cambridge University in October 1928. While this extended essay in fact employs a fictional narrator and narrative, the manuscript for the delivery of the series of lectures, titled “Women and Fiction”, and hence the essay, are considered non-fiction. The essay is generally seen as a feminist text, and is noted in its argument for both a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy.
Newly translated and unabridged in English for the first time, Simone de Beauvoir’s masterwork is a powerful analysis of the Western notion of “woman,” and a groundbreaking exploration of inequality and otherness. This long-awaited new edition reinstates significant portions of the original French text that were cut in the first English translation. Vital and groundbreaking, Beauvoir’s pioneering and impressive text remains as pertinent today as it was sixty years ago, and will continue to provoke and inspire generations of men and women to come.
Landmark, groundbreaking, classic—these adjectives barely do justice to the pioneering vision and lasting impact of The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963, it gave a pitch-perfect description of “the problem that has no name”: the insidious beliefs and institutions that undermined women’s confidence in their intellectual capabilities and kept them in the home. Part social chronicle, part manifesto, The Feminine Mystique is filled with fascinating anecdotes and interviews as well as insights that continue to inspire.
A groundbreaking work of feminist history and theory analyzing the complex relations between various forms of oppression. Ain’t I a Woman examines the impact of sexism on black women during slavery, the historic devaluation of black womanhood, black male sexism, racism within the recent women’s movement, and black women’s involvement with feminism.
In today’s world, women have more power, legal recognition, and professional success than ever before. Alongside the evident progress of the women’s movement, however, writer and journalist Naomi Wolf is troubled by a different kind of social control, which, she argues, may prove just as restrictive as the traditional image of homemaker and wife. It’s the beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection that traps the modern woman in an endless spiral of hope, self-consciousness, and self-hatred as she tries to fulfill society’s impossible definition of “the flawless beauty.”
Contemporary Feminist Titles
Published: January 1st 2003
Repeatedly declared dead by the media, the women’s movement has never been as vibrant as it is today. Indeed as Stanford professor and award-winning author Estelle B. Freedman argues in her compelling book, feminism has reached a critical momentum from which there is no turning back. Freedman examines the historical forces that have fueled the feminist movement over the past two hundred years–and explores how women today are looking to feminism for new approaches to issues of work, family, sexuality, and creativity.
Published: March 1st 2012
Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven’t been burned as witches since 1727, life isn’t exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them? Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother.
Published: November 15th 2013
Prompted by a question from her eight-year-old daughter during the 2008 election of Barack Obama—“Why haven’t we ever had a woman president?”—Marianne Schnall set out on a journey to find the answer. Schnall began looking at the issues from various angles and perspectives, gathering viewpoints from influential people from all sectors. What Will It Take to Make A Woman President? features interviews with politicians, public officials, writers activists in an attempt to discover the obstacles that have held women back and what needs to change in order to elect a woman into the White House.
Published: May 20th 2014
In her comic, scathing essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” Rebecca Solnit took on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. She wrote about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t, about why this arises, and how this aspect of the gender wars works… This book features that now-classic essay with six perfect complements, including a highly original inquiry into marriage equality, and a terrifying survey of the scope of contemporary violence against women.
Published: July 29th 2014
What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal, eloquently-argued essay—adapted from her much-viewed TEDx talk of the same name—by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics.
Published: August 5th 2014
Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture. Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.
Published: October 13th 2014
We know it simply as “the pill,” yet its genesis was anything but simple. Jonathan Eig’s masterful narrative revolves around four principal characters: the fiery feminist Margaret Sanger, a champion of birth control in her campaign for the rights of women; the beautiful Katharine McCormick, who owed her fortune to her wealthy husband; the scientist Gregory Pincus, who was dismissed by Harvard in the 1930s as a result of experimentation with in vitro fertilization; and John Rock, a Catholic doctor from Boston who battled his own church to become an enormously effective advocate for the drug.
Published: October 14th 2014
In this urgent, controversial book, Katha Pollitt reframes abortion as a common part of a woman’s reproductive life, one that should be accepted as a moral right with positive social implications. In Pro, Pollitt takes on the personhood argument, reaffirms the priority of a woman’s life and health, and discusses why terminating a pregnancy can be a force for good for women, families, and society. It is time, Pollitt argues, that we reclaim the lives and the rights of women and mothers. A powerful argument for abortion as a moral right and social good by a noted feminist and longtime columnist for The Nation.
Published: May 17th 2016
Coming of age in a culture that demands women be as small, quiet, and compliant as possible–like a porcelain dove that will also have sex with you–writer and humorist Lindy West quickly discovered that she was anything but. With inimitable good humor, vulnerability, and boundless charm, Lindy boldly shares how to survive in a world where not all stories are created equal and not all bodies are treated with equal respect… Shrill provocatively dissects what it means to become self-aware the hard way, to go from wanting to be silent and invisible to earning a living defending the silenced in all caps.
Published: June 7th 2016
Author and Guardian US columnist Jessica Valenti has been leading the national conversation on gender and politics for over a decade. Now, in a darkly funny and bracing memoir, Valenti explores the toll that sexism takes from the every day to the existential. Sex Object explores the painful, funny, embarrassing, and sometimes illegal moments that shaped Valenti’s adolescence and young adulthood in New York City, revealing a much shakier inner life than the confident persona she has cultivated as one of the most recognizable feminists of her generation.
Published: February 28th 2017 (Upcoming)
Forty years ago, at the National Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977, two women’s movements drew a line in the sand between liberals and conservatives. The legacy of that rift is still evident today in American politics and social policies. We cannot fully understand the present without appreciating the events leading up to Houston and thereafter. DIVIDED WE STAND reveals how the battle between feminists and their conservative challengers divided the nation as Democrats continued to support women’s rights and Republicans cast themselves as the party of family values.
What book on Feminism would you recommend that I add to this list? Let me know in the comments!
This post contains affiliate links from Book Depository (free delivery to the U.S. and elsewhere). All book blurbs are from Goodreads.