69 Books Every Feminist Should Read, From Mary Wollstonecraft To Roxane Gay
As bell hooks once wrote, feminism is for everybody. Coming to embrace feminism can be relief, but a challenge, too. Once you've identified as feminist, you might have questions about the history or what's happening within the movement. What does "third-wave feminism" mean? What about the goals of feminists of color? Can I wear high heels and be a feminist?
I've pulled together a list of some essential feminist texts for you to read at your leisure — although it may not look exactly like what you think. For instance, it's not just theory — there are novels and memoirs on here, too. There are names you'll recognize, and some you may not. Perhaps some of the second-wave texts may seem contradictory, and even extreme, but I believe it's important to represent the evolution of the feminist movement over the last two centuries.
And, of course, this list is long, but it isn't exhaustive by any means. What people deem essential is different for each person (and that's actually part of what makes feminism so beautiful). Pick and choose from this list as you see fit; feminism is for everybody, but that doesn't mean it's one-size-fits-all.
Here's my hope, though: All feminists will see themselves somewhere in these selected texts. I've tried to make this list as inclusive and intersectional as possible, but if you feel I've missed your experience, I want to know. Let's talk about it.
Image: Fe Ilya/Flickr
'The Camera My Mother Gave Me' by Susanna Kaysen
One day, having previously enjoyed a healthy sex life, Susanna Kaysen’s vagina began to hurt. Her ordeal with vaginismus is the subject of The Camera My Mother Gave Me , Kaysen’s second memoir. Because women seldom talk openly about their healthy vaginas, much less when they’re the source of pain or other troubles, The Camera My Mother Gave Me is a refreshing, poignant look at one woman’s path to regaining her sexuality.
'Assata: An Autobiography' by Assata Shakur
In 2013, the FBI named Assata Shakur to its list of Most Wanted Terrorists, making her the first woman to be infamous as such. At the time, Shakur had lived on the lam for 40 years in Cuba, where she remains today. A prominent activist in the 1960s and ’70s, she was falsely accused — and acquitted — of many charges before being convicted for the murder of a New Jersey State Trooper, in a trial many believe to be unfair. Her life is a fascinating look at the dark side of activism, with which every feminist should be familiar.
'The Joy Luck Club' by Amy Tan
Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club is the story of Chinese American women who meet to gamble on mah jong games and socialize. Told in a series of vignettes, much of Tan’s novel focuses on the relationships between the women and their American-born daughters. It’s a story of mother-daughter relationships, women’s friendships, and immigrant life in the United States.
'Spinster' by Kate Bolick
Despite feminism’s advances, marriage still remains the expectation for women in the West. In Spinster , writer Kate Bolick explores her lifelong aversion to settling down. Whenever a relationship begins to look like marriage, she gets a wanderlust that compels her to pull away and be alone again. It’s not a fear of commitment, but something strange without a name. Woven with stories from the lives of other single women of note, Bolick’s memoir is a masterpiece.
'Yes Please' by Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler hated writing Yes Please , but I’m glad she did. Television and film’s biggest funny ladies have turned out a string of memoirs in recent years, and they’re all worth reading. Poehler’s book is part self-help, part autobiography: she wants to teach you how to handle life as a woman in a man’s world. You have to keep your dignity and retain the ability to laugh at yourself. You have to be an enigma.
'How the García Girls Lost Their Accents' by Julia Alvarez
How the Garc í a Girls Lost Their Accents follows the four titular sisters as they navigate immigrant life in the United States. Told in reverse chronological order, its structure is unraveling: starting out with the sisters’ well-put-together adult lives and descending into entropy as the chaos of immigration and life under a Dominican dictatorship unfolds. Julia Alvarez’s novel is a story of conflicting identities, assimilation, and post-colonialism.
'A Room of One's Own' by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own examines the exact conditions necessary for women writers to become independent and canonical in patriarchal conditions. She wonders how prolific some writers, such as Jane Austen, might have been had only they had ateliers and salaries to support themselves and their work. Woolf also questions how many women might have found success had their talents been nurtured. Though criticized by many for its assumption that women of all races and classes could obtain rooms of their own and adequate salaries, A Room of One’s Own remains a feminist classic.
'The Mists of Avalon' by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Arthurian legends, told from the female characters’ perspectives. Seriously, what’s not to love here? Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon follows Morgaine, pagan priestess and half-sister to King Arthur, as she fights to keep her religion alive in the face of widespread Christian conversions. Portrayed in other versions of the legends as an evil, seductive witch, Morgaine comes alive in Bradley’s novel as a woman tasked with protecting matriarchal traditions as patriarchy closes in.
'Nightwood' by Djuna Barnes
Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood was notable in its time for its open depictions of homosexuality. The novel centers on Nora Flood, an American who expatriates to Paris after beginning a love affair with the pragmatic Robin Vote. Though Barnes allowed sexual content in Nightwood to be edited by fellow author T.S. Eliot in order to make it more palatable to its 1930s audience, Cheryl J. Plumb restored the original text and revived discarded drafts for a 1995 Dalkey Archive Press edition.
'Bodies That Matter' by Judith Butler
A warning: Bodies That Matter is dense theory. To describe societal phenomena related to gender, Butler often creates new words. She pulls heavily on the work of other theorists, such as Luce Irigaray and Jacques Lacan, creating references a casual reader may miss. However, if you can muddle through the thick language, you’re in for a treat: Butler’s theories on gender-as-performance have wildly influenced how feminism treats gender as a construct.
'The Feminine Mystique' by Betty Friedan
If you’re looking for the book widely considered to be the catalyst for second-wave feminism, The Feminine Mystique is it. Published in 1963, the book is the result of data Betty Friedan collected from college classmates regarding their satisfaction with their lives. Upon its publication, unfulfilled housewives across the United States realized they were not alone, and were forced to question for whom they were keeping up the appearance of a happy, cookie-cutter life. The book’s title refers to the idea that domesticity was a woman’s natural calling.
'The Adventures of Superhero Girl' by Faith Erin Hicks
The Adventures of Superhero Girl is Faith Erin Hicks’ webcomic of the same name, published in graphic novel form. It centers around the eponymous Superhero Girl, who is struggling to build a professional identity outside of her older brother Kevin’s shadow. She lives with Roommate Girl, an avid video gamer, who keeps Superhero Girl grounded. Any woman trying to establish herself for the first time, and who is simultaneously embarrassing herself and learning from her own mistakes, needs to read The Adventures of Superhero Girl .
'How to Be a Woman' by Caitlin Moran
Caitlin Moran rose to writing stardom early in life at the tender age of 13. Since that time, she has built a career that includes two hit television shows and two bestselling books: her memoir, How to Be a Woman , and a semi-autobiographical novel, How to Build a Girl. Moran describes her memoir as “a funny, but polemic, book about feminism.” The book’s title is deliciously self-aware, as feminism maintains that there is no right way to be a woman: you just have to be yourself.
'The Hidden Face of Eve' by Nawal El Saadawi
The lives of Arab women are often unexplored and orientalized in the West, by feminists and anti-feminists alike. In 1980, Egyptian doctor Nawal el Saadawi published The Hidden Face of Eve as a treatise on the disenfranchisement of women in the Arab world. Although her book covers women’s rights in marriage, divorce, and child custody disputes, much of Saadawi’s focus is on the effects of female genital mutilation on women’s cultural psyche.
'Ella Enchanted' by Gail Carson Levine
What if Cinderella were a feminist? That question drives Ella Enchanted , Gail Carson Levine’s retelling of the classic fairytale. After an oddball fairy “gifts” the titular heroine with the compulsion to follow any command she’s given, Ella leads a miserable life of submission to her evil step-family. When she meets and falls in love with a prince at a ball, Ella must decide whether to trust him with control of her life. It’s a wonderful YA novel with a great ending, so read it if you’re feeling some fantasy.
'The Red Tent' by Anita Diamant
Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent tells the story of minor Biblical character Dinah, whose brother murder her lover Shechem, to avenge their sister’s virginity. Although the novel focuses on Dinah’s romance, its title and much of its narrative come from the events that transpire in the titular tent, to which women are relegated during their menses. Diamant’s depictions of women’s communion inside the tent present a side of ancient life not represented elsewhere.
'Bad Feminist' by Roxane Gay
Once you start educating yourself as a feminist, it can become difficult to enjoy things as you once did. You become painfully aware when films don’t pass the Bechdel Test. You question why products for children’s films erase female characters from their merchandise. Yet you continue to enjoy these problematic things, because The Avengers is still entertaining in spite of its flaws. Roxane Gay understands your conflicts, and, in Bad Feminist , she writes about her own.
'Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future' by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards
Jennifer Baumgardner is a third-wave feminist Gen-Xer who was lucky enough to work for Ms., but unfortunate enough to be there as its appeal began to shrink away. Written in 2000 with Amy Richards, Manifesta is Baumgardner’s analysis of why the remnants of the second-wave aren’t able to keep up with feminism’s current evolutions to appeal to a rising generation of Millennials raised on Buffy and the Spice Girls.
'Kindred' by Octavia Butler
In Kindred , African American writer Dana is displaced in time and space, from her 1970s California home to the antebellum South. In an interracial marriage in her own time, Dana witnesses the brutal power dynamic of her ancestors: a white slaveholder and his freeborn slave concubine. The novel is Octavia Butler’s examination of slavery’s impact on the African American psyche, of black women’s empowerment, and of the reconciliation those of mixed-race ancestry must make.
'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan' by Lisa See
In Snow Flower and the Secret Fan , author Lisa See explores laotong relationships — unbreakable sister-friendships formed by contracts between the young women’s parents before their births — in 19th century China. With her depiction of Lily and Snow Flower’s friendship, See sheds light on historical relationships between women who are often portrayed as docile-bodied victims.
'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman' by Mary Wollstonecraft
Have you ever wondered what women’s rights arguments looked like in the late 18th century? Wonder no more! In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft — mother of Frankenstein author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley — argued that women could not contribute to society unless they were given an education that would allow them to do so. Although some are loath to call A Vindication of the Rights of Woman a feminist text, given that that ideology would not be born until a century later, it’s clear that Wollstonecraft’s essay had a lasting influence on later writers and thinkers.
'The Female Eunuch' by Germaine Greer
The Female Eunuch may seem extreme to readers who have not previously encountered it. And it is. But — perhaps because of its extremity — it’s still an important feminist text today. It’s a treatise on the impact of consumerism, suburbia, and domesticity on women’s sexuality. The idea here is that we can all be equals to men, but are castrated by societal expectations and encouragement. While many would disagree with Germaine Greer’s decision to render gender differences as she does, her theories about cultural influences on female identities are largely sound and revelatory.
'Wide Sargasso Sea' by Jean Rhys
Remember Bertha, Rochester’s mentally ill attic-wife in Jane Eyre ? Well, in Wide Sargasso Sea , author Jean Rhys brings her story to light, and it is — not surprisingly — entirely different from the account her husband gave. In Rhys’s novel, Rochester becomes a fiendish villain, who denies his young wife her autonomy by forcing her to change her name and expatriate to England, where he locks her away and declares her to be insane. You’ll never look at Rochester in quite the same way after reading this book.
'Sister Outsider' by Audre Lorde
Sister Outsider is a collection of essays and speeches by Audre Lorde. The prolific author examines life at the intersections of race, class, and gender. In outlining her own progression from ignorance to intellectualism, Lorde highlights the critical need to empower women of color and encourage them to discover themselves and carve out their own spaces in the world.
'The Beauty Myth' by Naomi Wolf
Although the basic tenets of Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth will seem obvious to readers familiar with today’s Photoshop scandals, Wolf’s presentation delves deep into our cultural obsession with women’s appearances, and our compulsion to adhere to that obsession’s dictates. Reading this examination of the impact unobtainable standards of beauty have on women today is essential to raising your feminist awareness of body issues and standards.
'Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe' by Fannie Flagg
Set in the Birmingham area during both the Great Depression and the 1980s, half of this novel’s narrative follows Idgie Threadgoode and her partner, Ruth, as they raise a son and manage a small-town cafe. This part of the story is framed by an account of the friendship between Ninny, a retirement home resident, and Evelyn, a visitor with low self-esteem and high dissatisfaction with her life. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is a funny story, full of women’s friendships, loves, and losses.
'The Yellow Wallpaper' by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Yellow Wallpaper is the story of a woman who is deemed too fragile by her physician husband and is subsequently confined to her bed on his orders. Unable to move, work, or participate in any hobbies, she begins her descent into madness, becoming obsessed with the ugly yellow wallpaper in her room. Gilman’s story is an exploration of the negative effects patriarchy and traditional gender roles have on women’s mental well-being.
'Mom & Me & Mom' by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou’s last autobiography, Mom & Me & Mom , centers on the poet’s relationship with her mother, who abandoned Angelou and her brother. From resentment in childhood and adolescence to mutual love and respect in adulthood, the transitions of the women’s bond over the years will be poignantly familiar to any woman with a complicated mother-daughter relationship.
'Men Explain Things to Me' by Rebecca Solnit
By now, almost everyone has heard of “mansplaining”: the phenomenon where a man, convinced for whatever reason that he must educate a woman on a particular subject, attempts to do so. Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me is the book that brought awareness to the issue. Since it was published in 2014, it has become an essential feminist text.
'In Search of Islamic Feminism' by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea
In Search of Islamic Feminism is scholar Elizabeth Warnock Fernea’s attempt to dispel orientalist myths surrounding women and feminist thought in the Muslim world. Fernea’s interviews with Muslim women across the globe reveal them to be strong, independent, and self-defining: qualities that fly in the face of Western misconceptions. Although the feminisms these women embrace may not be similar to ones found in the West, In Search of Islamic Feminism accurately portrays their viability and significance.
'Anne of Green Gables' by L. M. Montgomery
Feminism in 1908, what? If you’ve never had the pleasure of reading Anne of Green Gables , or if it’s just been awhile, give her a visit. Sprouting from first-wave feminism, Anne Shirley has some surprisingly third-wave philosophies. She’s obsessed with — but not defined by — her looks, and she refuses to let anyone else tell her who she is. L.M. Montgomery’s famous novel is a feminist children’s classic, and you’re sure to identify with its plucky heroine.
'Cinderella Ate My Daughter' by Peggy Orenstein
What do you do when your Thomas the Tank Engine-loving daughter comes home from her first day at preschool, announces that trains are for boys, and embraces Disney Princess culture? How do you rebuke proscribed gender roles without shaming her for liking the über-feminine princesses? In short, how do you raise a tiny feminist? In Cinderella Ate My Daughter , Peggy Orenstein searches for answers to these questions and more.
'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath
Published only a short time before the author’s suicide, The Bell Jar has become a metaphor for women’s mental illness, teenage angst, the Electra complex, and the experiences of bored housewives. The novel presents the disconnect between the expectations and realities of life as a spark for protagonist Esther Greenwood’s descent into mental instability.
'The Bloody Chamber' by Angela Carter
In The Bloody Chamber , Angela Carter brings fairy tales and folk stories back to their grisly roots. In Carter’s revisions, women are the heroes — and, more often than not, the villains — of their own stories: they find their inner prowess and rescue themselves from peril. Updated for modern audiences, yet hearkening back to their pagan origins, the stories contained in The Bloody Chamber are not to be missed.
'Their Eyes Were Watching God' by Zora Neal Hurston
Following its heroine through three marriages on her journey toward self-empowerment and sexual awakening, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is a masterful piece of literature. Protagonist Jane Crawford carves out her own space, in defiance of gendered expectations about what she and her life should be. The novel is a landmark work of fiction, deserving of all the praise it receives.
'Americanah' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah is the story of two young Nigerians who leave their home country to study in the United States and England. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s award-winning novel examines what it means to be black in three different countries, and the effects of experiencing blackness as both minority and majority on a person’s sociopolitical outlook.
'The Lolita Effect' by Meenakshi Gigi Durham
In The Lolita Effect , Meenakshi Gigi Durham identifies ways in which parents — particularly mothers — may remain sex-positive while bringing up daughters in a culture that hypersexualizes their youth. In doing so, Durham challenges Eurocentric beauty ideals, rape culture, and the conflation of sex and violence.
'The House on Mango Street' by Sandra Cisneros
Sandra Cisneros’s 1984 bildungsroman, The House on Mango Street , tells the story of Esperanza Cordero: a young girl who dreams of leaving her Latino community for prosperity and success. Cisneros relates Esperanza’s story as a series of poetic vignettes that examine growing up poor and Latina in America.
'Black Feminist Thought' by Patricia Hill Collins
In this 1990 text, Patricia Hill Collins attempts to define and track Black Feminist Thought , both outside and within the confines of philosophy, class, race, place, age, and sexual orientation. Her book is a history of black women’s philosophies, a call for further study, and a critical lens.
'In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens' by Alice Walker
In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens is a collection of writer and thinker Alice Walker’s womanist philosophy and criticism. Focusing on women’s relationships — filial, platonic, and erotic — the book traces the trajectory of womanist thought, from rural living in the early 20th century to mid-century civil rights activism.
'The Dialectic of Sex' by Shulamith Firestone
Like Germaine Greer, Shulamith Firestone may strike modern-day feminists as harsh or overzealous. But The Dialectic of Sex is a mainstay of radical feminism, and should, on that merit alone, be on your reading list. Whether you agree with her or not, Firestone’s work will spur you to talk about your own philosophies on gender relations.
'The Round House' by Louise Erdrich
After a woman is raped on a North Dakota reservation, but cannot remember the incident, her family and community struggle in their search for answers. Louise Erdrich’s award-winning novel, The Round House , explores the ways in which family dynamics shift following the brutalization of a wife and mother. It’s a powerful, if painful, novel about the resilience of family bonds.
'Bossypants' by Tina Fey
Bossypants is funnywoman Tina Fey’s bestselling memoir, chronicling her childhood, her time on Saturday Night Live , the creation of 30 Rock , and raising her daughter. In the book’s opening chapters, Fey exemplifies self-celebration and body-positivity, making her a role model for new feminists everywhere.
'Sexual Politics' by Kate Millett
Kate Millett’s 1970 text, Sexual Politics , examines sex as a political concept and politicized object. Taking the male literary canon to task for their pervasive sexism, Millett’s work was one of the first feminist literary criticisms. It drew large amounts of criticism from members of the male literary canon, including Norman Mailer, who attacked Millett in his later works. Like many of the books on this list, Sexual Politics is polemic and inspiring, if slightly outdated.
'The Buddha in the Attic' by Julie Otsuka
The Buddha in the Attic begins by describing a group of picture brides sailing from Japan to California in the early 20th century. Told using the collective “we” pronoun, Julie Otsuka’s novel follows these women through their disappointment upon meeting their new husbands, their dealings with white Americans, and their struggle to raise Japanese American children. Spanning decades, The Buddha in the Attic is a lyrical look at the lives of Asian American women in the U.S. prior to World War II.
'Feminism Is for Everybody' by bell hooks
In Feminism Is for Everybody , bell hooks lays out the history of the feminist movement and its missives. Her purpose, as stated in the book’s title, is to show how feminism works for the benefit of all and the harm of none. If you’re looking for an accessible primer, Feminism Is for Everybody is the book you want.
'The Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood
I plug this book every chance I get, but only because it really is that good. Published in the Reagan/Thatcher era, The Handmaid’s Tale is a portrait of women’s lives in the U.S. after a right-wing coup leaves them completely disenfranchised. Narrator Offred is a Handmaid: part of a protected class of state-sanctioned broodmares whose purpose is to bear viable offspring for powerful men and their wives. With women’s rights under constant attack, Margaret Atwood’s novel is just as important today as it was when it was published in 1985.
'This Sex Which Is Not One' by Luce Irigaray
In This Sex Which Is Not One , French feminist Luce Irigaray examines what it means to be a woman in philosophy and psychoanalysis. Drawing on Freud, Lacan, and Marx, Irigaray examines the discursive and economic status of women in contemporary — 1977 — society. The breadth and depth of This Sex Which Is Not One will be readily familiar to readers of Judith Butler and Simone de Beauvoir.
'Fear of Flying' by Erica Jong
Erica Jong’s groundbreaking 1973 novel Fear of Flying follows protagonist Isadora Zelda White Stollerman Wing: an intellectual writer of erotic poetry. The novel rose to prominence for coining the phrase “zipless fuck” to describe casual sexual encounters between two consenting adults. The concept revolutionized and re-scandalized sex in the West, and secured Jong’s place in the second-wave feminist canon.
'Fat Is a Feminist Issue' by Susie Orbach
Body-positivity may be all the rage today, but it certainly wasn’t in 1978, when Susie Orbach first published Fat Is a Feminist Issue . Instead of encouraging women to diet, Orbach promoted a broader understanding of why we choose to diet or not. She positions fatness as rebellion against expectations of thinness, as a method of reducing men’s sexual advances and securing respect as a person, not a sex object.
'Redefining Realness' by Janet Mock
Before Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, there was Janet Mock. In her memoir, Redefining Realness , Mock relays her journey toward true self-representation. Beginning her professional career as an editor at People, she rose quickly to prominence as a writer, trans* activist, and leader. Redefining Realness is Mock’s attempt to heighten trans* visibility in a word that sexualizes, trivializes, demonizes, and negates it.
'Obasan' by Joy Kogawa
Joy Kogawa’s 1981 novel Obasan — “Aunt” in Japanese — tells the story of Naomi Nakane, a survivor of Canada’s World War II internment camps, whose return home to care for an ailing family member dredges up old memories and uncovers new information about her past. It’s a touching tale of reconciliation that blends together past and present as Naomi experiences them.
'When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost' by Joan Morgan
Tackling issues of particular importance to African American women today, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost is a collection of previously-unpublished essays from Essence and Village Voice writer Joan Morgan. Covering single motherhood, hip-hop misogyny, and the Strong Black Woman myth, Morgan has created a new manifesta for black feminists.
'Not That Kind of Girl' by Lena Dunham
One of the first Millennial women’s memoirs, and certainly the most famous so far, Not That Kind of Girl is funnywoman Lena Dunham’s story of growing up bohemian, finding her feminist niche, and achieving professional success in spite of her quirks. Along the way, she discusses her relationships with mental illness, food, and sex. Much like her HBO show, Girls , Dunham’s memoir is controversial, funny, and popular.
'Lean In' by Sheryl Sandberg
In an effort to reconcile the “having it all” ideal with the realities of professional life and motherhood, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In created a new verbiage for women everywhere when it was published in 2013. Although it has come under heavy fire for its pro-corporate tendencies, with bell hooks referring to it as a work of “faux feminism,” the book’s core message — that women can prioritize either motherhood or a career and ease into the other by degrees — is an important strategy for Millennial feminists.
'The Awakening' by Kate Chopin
Written in 1899, The Awakening still feels contemporary today. Kate Chopin’s novel follows Edna Pontellier: a housewife who has followed society’s proscribed “rules” to a Stepford-like T. Exposed to a small dose of freedom during a family vacation, Chopin’s protagonist begins to wrestle with gender roles and her own latent desires. The Awakening is an exploration of patriarchy’s impact on women’s mental and physical health.
'The Woman Warrior' by Maxine Hong Kingston
In The Woman Warrior , Maxine Hong Kingston weaves together memoir with Chinese myths and legends to create a Chinese American cultural biography. Contained within are cautionary tales, anecdotes of childhood in immigrant communities, and authentic depictions of Asian American womanhood. Ultimately, The Woman Warrior is an attempt to hash out identity as part of a first-generation of American-born members in a Chinese American community.
'Foxfire' by Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates’s Foxfire is the story of five young women living in a small, upstate New York town. Bonded together by tragedy, the novel’s heroines create a safety net of protection from external aggression, and are thus emboldened to lash out against their oppressors and enemies. It’s a rare depiction of young women’s anger, unleashed.
'The Second Sex' by Simone de Beauvoir
Although it has received its fair share of criticism for not addressing the intersections of race and class on gender, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is an amazingly thorough look at social, historical, religious, and scientific differences between men and women. Until 2010, an English translation of Beauvoir’s most famous work was unavailable, but now you can purchase and read The Second Sex , so do it.
'We Should All Be Feminists' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This 52-page book, adapted from author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx talk, is one of the most famous feminist texts of the decade. Its prominence may one day lead us to hail We Should All Be Feminists as the book that inspired a new generation — and maybe even a new wave — of feminism. Adichie’s treatise on gender calls for an inclusive, globally-minded feminism, not one limited to one particular country or culture.
'Full Frontal Feminism' by Jessica Valenti
In what could be a spiritual follow-up to Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards’s Manifesta, Jessica Valenti’s 2007 book, Full Frontal Feminism , revives and repackages feminism for a new generation of young women, who may have bought into erroneous claims that feminists “hate men” or that feminism isn’t necessary any more. It’s a rousing book, but its appeal may be lost on older readers.
'Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions' by Gloria Steinem
Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions is a collection of essays from legendary Ms. co-founder Gloria Steinem. Its expositions on the nature of women’s work, pornography, and periods have made it a landmark feminist text. At turns humorous and poignant, Outrageous Acts is a touching work from one of the women’s rights movement’s more powerful women.
'Playing in the Dark' by Toni Morrison
In Playing in the Dark , Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison examines the meanings and influence of African American identity on white literature. She argues that many tropes found in white literature are direct responses to the presence of African American identities, and that these responses have turned race into a metaphor. Aspiring feminist writers will do well to read Playing in the Dark as part of their feminist education.
'The Whole Woman' by Germaine Greer
Almost 30 years in the making, Germaine Greer’s sequel to The Female Eunuch , The Whole Woman , begins by clarifying some of its predecessor’s more vitriolic passages. But the book quickly swings into classic Greer style, skewering modern-day women who erroneously believe they live in a post-feminist society.
'I Feel Bad About My Neck' by Nora Ephron
Aging is a feminist topic, and few people can tackle it with as much wit and honesty as Nora Ephron. I Feel Bad About My Neck is a collection of essays that examine the process of growing old as a New York woman. Sadly, Ephron is no longer with us, but her work lives on for you to enjoy.
'Women, Race & Class' by Angela Davis
In Women, Race & Class , Angela Davis examines what each of these identifying characteristics means for those living in a postmodern society. Published in 1981, the book exposes those events and philosophies that have divided the women’s rights movement since its inception, and argues for an inclusive approach that will allow activists to fight the good fight together.
'Our Bodies, Ourselves' by The Boston Women's Health Book Collective
I’m sure you’ve heard of Our Bodies, Ourselves . The book is so iconic it has become a trope, but that doesn’t lessen its cultural impact. When it was first published as a zine in 1970, the book — which is based on the experiences of a small group of women in their 20s and 30s — was entirely subversive, due to its honest descriptions of women’s sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, and abortion. Within a few short years, it had become a bookshelf staple for the emancipated woman.
'Dragon Ladies' by Sonia Shah
A collection of short works by Asian American thinkers and writers, Dragon Ladies is an attempt to create a cohesive brand of Asian feminism. In creating this text, editor Sonia Shah seeks to highlight harmful assumptions about Asian American women’s politics — specifically, that they are Asian first and women second — in much the same way as feminist and womanist thinkers have done for black women’s politics.
'Ain't I a Woman?' by bell hooks
Taking its name from Sojourner Truth’s 1851 speech, bell hooks’ Ain’t I a Woman? examines black women’s place within both women’s and civil rights movements in the 20th century. Where Truth only questioned early feminism’s mistreatments of black women, hooks expands her argument to include the black men heading the civil rights movement and their reinforcement of patriarchal ideals in the movement’s exclusion of black women.