Since I was a little girl, I've always been a feminist, and although my 6-year-old self probably didn't know the term, I have always known how passionately I feel equality and women's rights. Maybe it had something to do with the strong women in my family I was raised around, or because my favorite movie growing up was A League of Their Own, but more than anything, books helped shape me into the feminist I am today.
Ever since I learned how to read, I have always been a book-lover, and I spent a lot of my childhood hidden under my covers with a novel and a flashlight. As a kid, the seeds of feminism were planted with the stories of young girls like Jo March, Harriet Welsch, and Lyra Silvertongue. Their stories were different from those of the Disney Princesses that were shoved down the throat of every '90s kid. Books like Little Women and Harriet the Spy, even The Golden Compass, showed me from an early age that there is no one way to be a girl. Not every female was destined to be a damsel in distress — instead, girls could be detectives, spies, powerful magicians, world explorers, or, at the very least, girls could define their own identity instead of letting their gender define it for them. Reading these books as a kid opened my eyes to the fact that boys and girls could do the same things, despite what the traditional prince and princess dynamic would lead me to believe.
As I got older, my shelf started filling with Judy Blume, Sylvia Plath, Toni Morrison, and Octavia Butler. Without realizing it, my library became full of feminist authors who wrote frankly about women's issues, and I fell in love with each one. I devoured women's stories in the form of poetry and prose, and with each one, I learned something new about myself and my own feminism. Books like Blume's Deenie and Plath's The Bell Jar did so much more than entertain me — they helped me explore my idea of womanhood and expand my views on women's rights through their own powerful stories.
But that's what books are supposed to do. Reading and books have the power to educate, to inspire, and to change lives, and that is exactly what they've been doing to me since childhood. Here are six ways books have shaped me into the feminist I am today, and chances are, how they'll continue to change me.
1. Books Gave Me Amazing Feminist Role Models
While there are plenty of feminist role models in real life, I found some of my earliest and most influential ones hidden in the library stacks. When I needed inspiration, encouragement, or guidance, I didn't have to look further than my bookshelf for admirable examples.
Harriet Welsch, Lyra Silvertongue, and Elizabeth Bennet were not just fictional characters in books to me. They were my idols, my role models, and the strong women that I hoped to some day grow into. They taught me about individuality and courage, independence and passion, and the undeniable strength that all women possess. They started me on my path toward feminism, and they keep feeding the fire to this day.
2. They Proved That Not All Women Are Damsels In Distress
I loved fairy tales as a kid, but it always bugged me that the girl was always the one being saved instead of doing the saving herself. That is, until I started reading more and realized there was a whole world of heroines out there kicking ass and taking names without the help of a man.
Thanks to strong female characters like J.K. Rowling's Hermione Granger, Louisa May Alcott's Jo March, and Zora Neale Hurston's Janie Crawford, I grew up knowing that I didn't need a man to protect me or save me. These women proved that I could be strong on my own, and that women don't have to be damsels — they can be heroes, too.
3. Reading Diverse Stories Help Teach Me About Inclusion And Intersectionality
I'm a white, straight, middle-class woman, and the issues that I'm faced with reflect my identity as such. Books, however, gave me a window into the lives of women who are different from me — women of color, queer women, women living in poverty — and the diverse issues they face.
Books like Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Malala Yousafzai's I Am Malala opened my eyes to a world I had never known where women were experiences the kinds of struggles I never imagined. A true wake-up call that made me not only recognize global women's issues, but made me think about them in terms of my own feminism, books are largely responsible for my ongoing attempts to become an ally, and a more intersectional feminist.
4. Books Showed Me An Alternate Reality Where Gender Doesn't Have To Matter
Science fiction and fantasy have the power to transport readers from their everyday to unknown worlds where anything is possible, including equality for women. In space operas featuring female-only planets and fantasy novel featuring utopian matriarchal societies, I found a whole new reality where women can not only be equal, but even superior.
Sci-fi books like Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Moving the Mountain, a book that follows a society composed entirely of women, and Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, which is set in a universe inhabited by "ambisexual" beings that shatters gender norms, did more than make me question my own reality in a sexist, male-dominated world. They opened my eyes to a future where equality is possible, no matter how far-fetched or fantastical it may seem. If anything, these books were vacations to a world I longed to live in, and inspirations for creating them in my own reality.
5. Stories Of Female Friendship Showed Me The Importance Of Sisterhood
In media and entertainment, women are so often times pitted against one another in some kind of girl fight. There are so many examples of women who, instead of supporting each other, try and break each other, whether it's over a man, a job, or the top spot on the social hierarchy. What's a young, nerdy girl like me to do? Look to books for better examples, that's what.
Books featuring strong and true female friendships like Ann Brashares Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, and Mathryn Stockett's The Help were bright lights in an otherwise pitch black room darkened by jealousy, back stabbing, and cat fights. The bonds in these books taught me how important sisterhood is, and showed me that, as the saying goes, strong women support each other, not tear each other down. At the end of the day, it doesn't have to be you against the world — your girl gang can be standing beside you as you try and tear down the patriarchy.
6. Female Authors Proved That Women's Voices Matter, Including My Own
Since as long as I've known how to hold a pencil, I've always wanted to be a writer, but like so many young girls, I doubted my ability to break into a male-dominated world. When the Harry Potter books started coming out and I learned more about her personal journey to publication, I realized that I could do it to.
From there, I found so many other women writers — Sylvia Plath, Octavia Butler, Jeannette Walls— who, against all odds, not only got published, but became bestselling authors. Their stories, both the ones in the books and their own personal journeys to success, inspired me to chase my dream and find a way to live my passion. Their contributions to books and literature were the proof I needed that women's voices matter, and that mine mattered, too.
To all the books out there that helped me discover my feminism, and to all the authors out there who helped shape it, I just want to say: thank you, I wouldn't be the same without you.
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