It’s no secret that even among feminists, there is not always one clear definition about what feminism means — and as any Gender Studies 101 class will teach you, modern feminism has evolved in three waves, each with their own distinct goals and beliefs and not always in complete agreement with one another. From the words of legendary activists, to the mainstream branding of the feminist movement, to the myriad books about feminist theory, and more, there are tons of mixed messages out there about what makes a feminist and what doesn’t, still plenty of stigmas and misunderstandings about the feminist movement — making it difficult to know exactly where you stand and maybe even leading you to question your own feminism and grow in it.
While any serious activist movement can expect to face some intense questioning and critique, right now it’s as important as ever to find strength, clarity, power, and community in your own feminism — we have enough to fight against, without battling ourselves and each other, amirite? At the end of the day, I think the one thing all feminists can agree upon is the fact that the feminist movement is about equality for all, liberation, and intersectionality — values that can stand up to even the most ardent of questioning. Here are 11 books to read to grow in your feminism:
'Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto' by Jessa Crispin
If you’ve been feeling like manifestations of feminism are landing a little hollow these days, this book is definitely worth checking out. Necessarily harsh, timely, and totally fist-raising, Jessa Crispin’s Why I Am Not a Feminist explores how the feminist movement — in its modern efforts to become mainstream — is losing ground in dismantling the patriarchy and overthrowing the status quo. Crispin challenges feminists and all women to reject the patriarchy-sanctioned definition of success in favor of building a world of our own.
'We Should All Be Feminists' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We Should All Be Feminists is the book-length essay adapted from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk of the same title. The feminist activist and author of books like Americanah and Dear Ijeawele often writes in support of women worldwide, while calling attention to the discrimination and marginalization of women all over the globe. We Should All Be Feminists aims to offer readers a working definition of feminism for modern times.
'Bad Feminist' by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay’s essay collection, Bad Feminist, will help you to form and navigate your own feminism by inviting you to ask (and answer for yourself) all sorts of questions about the ways feminism functions in the modern world and what feminist stereotypes may not be serving the movement. Straightforward, blunt, intelligent, and funny, Bad Feminist will make you consider your own assumptions, experiences, and occasionally-bad (but totally relatable) feminism.
'I Call Myself A Feminist: The View from Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty' edited by Victoria Pepe, Rachel Holmes, Amy Annette, Alice Stride, Martha Mosse
Compiled before Trump took office, but published in 2017, I Call Myself A Feminist: The View from Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty is a collection of essays by millennial feminists, fighting the good fight today. Including writing by Laura Bates — from the Everyday Sexism Project, journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge, Laura Pankhurst — the great-great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, comedian Sofie Hagen, Louise O'Neill — author of the award-winning feminist YA novel Only Ever Yours (check it out), and more, this collection of essays covers everything from why young women are becoming feminists today, to what feminism looks like (and doesn’t) around the world.
'The Mother of All Questions' by Rebecca Solnit
Rebecca Solnit is a complete badass and all of her feminist essay collections are worth checking out. One of her recent, The Mother of All Questions, explores threats to the voices of women in the United States and around the world and the necessity of women continuing to tell true, sometimes-difficult stories about our lives. Examining politics, rape culture, misogyny in art and literature, and more, Solnit blends personal anecdotes with current events to offer readers a collection that will both anger and empower.
'We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl?, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement' by Andi Zeisler
Asking a critical question that all feminists should be asking ourselves today: “what does it mean when social change becomes a brand identity?”, Andi Zeisler’s We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl?, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement takes a hard and important look at how “feminist” has transformed from a stigmatized activist and political movement to a marketing device — exploring whether a movement is truly a movement any longer, when it has not only been sold as something mainstream, but is also used to sell the kinds of products, ideas, and lifestyle choices that directly enforce the patriarchy.
'Silences' by Tillie Olsen
Published back in 1978, Silences by Tillie Olsen has been credited with revolutionizing the feminist literary cannon and directly influencing how many second wave feminists defined themselves and their movement. Featuring the writing of women and working-class people, Olsen looks at how gender, class, and race have always been used to shame, marginalize, and silence artists, writers, and other creative people: from well-known authors like Willa Cather and Virginia Woolf, to others who have been all but lost in literature today.
'In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens' by Alice Walker
In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens is author Alice Walker’s collection of writing that introduces readers to her "womanist" theory — defined as “a black feminist or feminist of color". While feminist issues are front-and-center in this collection, Walker also takes on topics like nuclear weapons, the Civil Rights Movement, and artistic life.
'Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution' by Adrienne Rich
I’m not even a mother myself yet, but already the “Mommy Wars” terrify me — so much rage, so much judgement, so many ways to ruin your child’s life if you don’t do exactly as one person says (which is, inevitably, the exact opposite of what someone else says.) Like the in-fighting within the feminist movement, today’s battles between mothers forget a couple things: one — we’re generally all in this together, working towards similar end-goals; and two — our ideas of “right” and “wrong” are deeply influenced by what’s being sold to us in not-necessarily-feminist ways. In Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, Adrienne Rich draws on personal materials, history, research, and literature to take on motherhood and mothering from a feminist perspective.
'Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant' by Andrea Dworkin
As a self-described “feminist militant”, Andrea Dworkin often felt like there wasn’t always room for her identity and beliefs in the feminist movement. Pulled straight from the shelves of classic feminist literature, her memoir, Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant tells the story of Dworkin’s own journey through activism and feminism, describing her experiences of isolation in, skepticism of, and exclusion from the feminist movement she nonetheless supported.
'Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman' by Lindy West
This New York Times bestselling memoir will add some much-needed humor to your feminist TBR pile. Lindy West’s Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman tells the story of the comedian’s life — from a childhood of trying to make herself smaller and more invisible, to an adulthood of “accidental activism”. Using her platform as a writer and performer to call attention to all the ways women are asked to shrink ourselves and stay quiet, and all the ways feminists can be both funny and powerful, West will definitely inspire you to keep raising your own voice.