11 Books To Help You Reflect On The History Of The Women's Movement
Last week, Women’s March announced the fifth action of their Ten Actions in 100 Days campaign — a direct response to the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, which began with the march in Washington D.C. (and marches all over the world) on January 21, and has seen one action every 10 days since. Called Reflect and Resist, this fifth action aims to explore the complex history of the feminist movement — its successes as well as some of its challenges, specifically those regarding inclusivity and intersectionality. Serving as a reminder that women (and feminists) come in all shapes and sizes, races and ethnicities, and from myriad walks of life, Reflect and Resist is an invitation to reflect on the long history of feminism, further educate yourself on its issues and concerns, and become even more empowered in your own feminist way of being — all while continuing to resist those forces in our world designed to repress, reject, and silence women.
One great way to deepen your understanding of feminism is by reading some books about the history of the women’s movement. Women’s March has already recommended some great books to get you started: This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color edited by by Cherríe L. Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks, The Miner's Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy by Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock, and Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History by Corbett Joan OToole — but you can never have enough feminist books to read, amirite?
So here are 11 more books that will help you reflect on the history of the women’s movement, while continuing to think up great ways to make the movement even better in the future.
1. ‘Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color’ by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring
A glimpse into the history of feminism, from the words of members of the early feminist movement themselves, Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring is an illustrated collection of letterpress-inspired quotes from 27 diverse and amazing women who have changed feminist history. Included feminists are former-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, environmentalist Rachel Carson, historian Adina De Zavala, educator Fatima al-Fihri, physicist Marie Curie, and many more.
2. ‘Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto’ by Jessa Crispin
Just published last month, Jessa Crispin’s Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto challenges you to explore your own feminist thinking (and language, and actions) by forcing readers to face a whole lot of uncomfortable contradictions, stereotypes, assumptions and bias, and a fair dose of snark. It’s a difficult read, but one that critiques what Crispin considers today’s watered-down version of feminism — one that she does not think challenges the status quo nearly as much as is demanded. Love this one or hate it, your own response to Crispin’s writing offers great fodder for feminist reflection.
3. ‘Sexual Politics’ by Kate Millett
Heralding straight from the second-wave feminist movement — which began in the 1960s and focused on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault — Kate Millett’s 1969 title, Sexual Politics, looks at the many subtle ways patriarchal norms infiltrate daily life, from its influence in literature and politics to psychology and domestic life, arguing that the patriarchy is, first and foremost, a system of socially-accepted beliefs that women don’t just suffer from, but are sometimes unconsciously complacent in. Whether or not Millett’s ideas still ring true for you today, this is a worthy title to consider, both for Millett’s evergreen wisdom and this book’s historical perspective.
4. ‘When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America’ by Paula J. Giddings
Published back in 1984, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula J. Giddings describes and celebrates the irreplaceable influence of African American women on the women's movement throughout history, demonstrating how there have always been black feminists, whether or not they were always welcomed at the feminist table — and whether or not they benefited from the feminist movement themselves. Giddings book offers a reminder that women are only free and equal when all women are free and equal — and it’s going to take all of us working together to get there.
5. ‘My Life on the Road’ by Gloria Steinem
Feminist political campaigner Gloria Steinem’s memoir, My Life on the Road, gives readers a front-row seat to her lifelong journey of fighting for equality, working for justice, and building the bonds of political sisterhood. Although Steinem’s generation of feminists were not always, perhaps, as inclusive and intersectional as today’s emerging feminists hope to be, this is still an important book in terms of its place in the history of feminism and the essential work that Steinem’s generation did (and is still doing today!)
6. ‘When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present’ by Gail Collins
There's no denying that the day-to-day lives of American women have seen a significant evolution since the 1960s. When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present offers readers a history of that evolution, combining oral history with Gail Collins’s own journalistic research, to covers major events in the history of feminism: from the invention of the birth control pill to the inclusion of women in male-dominated fields like medicine, engineering, and law. Just imagine where we might be in another 50+ years.
7. ‘Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a writer that I seriously cannot get enough of these days, and her latest title, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, is a quick, essential, cannot-miss feminist read. Originally written as a letter to a girlfriend who was concerned about how best to raise her new baby daughter as a feminist, Dear Ijeawele reads like a how-to manual for feminist living, and takes on women’s rights from the perspective of motherhood.
8. ‘Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New Millennium’ by Robin Morgan
Robin Morgan is the editor of the original Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement (but this fabulous read is out-of-print, typically only available in pricey, collectible editions today.) The good news is, Morgan has edited an updated version, entitled Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New Millennium. Picking up where Sisterhood is Powerful left off, Sisterhood is Forever is a collection of 60 original essays by leading feminists — all about where the feminist movement has gone, what it has done well and what could have been done better, and where we go from here.
9. ‘The Mother of All Questions’ by Rebecca Solnit
Rebecca Solnit is another writer whose words I could read endlessly — so it’s a good thing she keeps writing more books. Published just weeks ago, Solnit’s latest title, the essay collection The Mother of All Questions, is a follow-up to her beloved (and infuriating/hilarious/relatable/powerful) Men Explain Things to Me, offering readers more insight into Solnit’s thoughts on misogyny, gender violence, and the constant need for women to resist the silencing of their voices.
10. ‘The American Women's Movement, 1945-2000: A Brief History with Documents’ by Nancy MacLean
Comprehensive, scholarly, and readable, The American Women's Movement, 1945-2000: A Brief History with Documents by Nancy MacLean traces the American feminist movement from the years after World War II to the new millennium, with the aim of sharing the diverse array of voices of women of all ages, classes, and ethnicities that have been present throughout the history of the movement, and the vast breadth of issues and causes that feminist women have dedicated themselves to for generations—from wage discrimination and domestic life, to sexuality and reproductive rights, to welfare, education, violence against women, and more.
11. ‘The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women's Liberation’ edited by Ann Snitow and Rachel Blau DuPlessis
Edited by Ann Snitow and Rachel Blau DuPlessis, The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women's Liberation features the writing of 32 feminist activists, including women like Kate Millett, Vivian Gornick, Jo Freeman, Barbara Smith, and others, who were at the forefront of the feminist movement that grew out of the 1960s. Answering questions like: what made these particular women rebel, what circumstances in the lives shaped their rebellion, how did they maintain the will to keep fighting, and what it was like to be integral to a movement that helped transform life for women in the United States, these essays are empowering and funny, critical and heartbreaking, and will make you think deeply about the long journey of American feminism.