13 Books To Read If You Feel Alone In Your Feminism
It’s been said that there are as many manifestations of feminism as there are feminists, as many types of feminism as there are people who practice and believe in its principles — a point in favor of diversity and inclusivity, for sure. But when there are as many different representations of feminism as there are feminists ourselves, one can also start to feel alone within the feminist movement. After all, while there are some universal and unifying principles of feminism, it’s equally true that the various waves of feminism don’t always agree on the direction the movement is headed, septuagenarian feminists don’t necessarily understand Millennials (and certainly vice-versa), a feminist stay-at-home mom might feel “less feminist” than that female CEO who has clawed her way to the top of a male-dominated field, a feminist of color might find herself marginalized within a movement that is still challenged by intersectionality, a queer or transgender feminist might feel alienated by the vagina-centered language that the movement often favors. The list goes on.
Between the misogyny of the larger culture — one that is increasingly reinforced and advanced by the current White House administration — and the struggles within the feminist movement itself, it’s not surprising that some might be feeling alone in their feminism. And although understandable, such division and isolation pose risks to this totally essential movement, so we’ve definitely got to start reconnecting with ourselves and each other, no matter what unique differences might be in play. Consider starting with the books below.
Here are 13 books to read if you feel alone in your feminism — and if there are others you’d recommend, definitely give me a shout out on social media. I love to know what my fellow feminists stock on their own bookshelves.
'Living a Feminist Life' by Sara Ahmed
Feminist writer and activist Sarah Ahmed’s just-published book, Living a Feminist Life, begins by acknowledging that living a feminist life in a decidedly non-feminist world can be exhausting, bruising, and isolating for those attempting it — something plenty of us know well, but might be feeling totally alone in. Calling upon a diverse array of feminists across the history of feminist theory, Ahmed demonstrates that feminist lives begin with small, everyday feminist actions at home, at work, and everywhere your feminist self exists in the world. She argues that running up against the structures of patriarchy and injustice often leaves feminist feeling embattled, shattered, and fragile — but it is this fragility and shattering that might actually be our biggest strength.
‘Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto’ by Jessa Crispin
This book was an utter breath of fresh air for me — necessarily harsh, timely, and filled with all the kinds of thoughts that have been nagging at the edges of my feminist mind but that I haven’t quite been able to put words to. Published earlier this year, Jessa Crispin’s Why I Am Not a Feminist explores how the movement for female equality and liberation hasn’t gone nearly far enough in dismantling the patriarchy and overthrowing the status quo; challenging feminists and all women to reject the patriarchy-sanctioned definition of success and begin to build a world of our own.
‘Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Inspired by a letter the feminist author wrote to her friend in regards to how to raise a feminist daughter, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions reads like a to-do list for feminist mothers and all feminist women. Filled with suggestions like: “Teach her self-reliance,” “Measure her on a scale of being the best version of herself,” and “Give her a sense of identity,” this slim collection of advice is both funny and touching, illuminating and empowering.
‘The Book of Joan’ by Lidia Yuknavitch
If you ever start to feel like the feminist in you is the only one truly raging at the world, Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan is the novel for you. Set in a near-future dystopia where the Earth is nearly uninhabitable and human beings have evolved into sexless, hairless creatures living on an above-earth platform known as CIEL, The Book Of Joan offers a radical retelling of the story of 15th century teen martyr Joan of Arc. Grappling with environmental collapse, a corporate police-state, a dictatorship, and a group of badass rebels, this novel reminds readers of the profound power even one lone voice can have in inspiring great, revolutionary change. (So keep on raging, even if you seem to be going solo sometimes.)
‘Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant’ by Andrea Dworkin
Pulled straight from the shelves of classic (and controversial) feminist literature, Andrea Dworkin’s Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant tells the story of Dworkin’s own journey through activism and feminism — as a woman for whom the mainstream feminist movement didn’t even come close to addressing all that needed to be tackled in regards to women’s liberation, and who often found herself at great odds with the American left. One of Dworkin’s last published works, this controversial and influential memoir describes how Dworkin often felt maligned and abandoned by the feminist movement she fought so hard with.
‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
In the 500-plus pages of Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés uses feminist retellings (or often, the original, un-patriarchied tellings) of classic fables and fairy tales to take readers on a journey in the heart of what she calls “Wild Woman” — the manifestation of a woman’s most innate knowledge and authentic desires. Challenging everything from why and how women have been taught to fear the world and ignore their instincts, to the stereotypes of romantic partnership, to the role (and suppression) of creativity in women’s personal and professional lives, Women Who Run with the Wolves will have you reconsidering every myth and message you’ve ever been told about what it means to be a woman.
‘The Mother of All Questions’ by Rebecca Solnit
Just one more titles in the list of cannot-miss essay collections by Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions explores the role of and threats to the voices of women in the United States and around the world — examining everything from current politics, to rape culture, to the role misogyny plays in art and literature, and more. Solnit blends personal anecdotes with current events to offer readers a collection that will both enrage and empower, challenge and critique.
‘Juliet Takes a Breath’ by Gabby Rivera
Edgy, rebellious, and creative writer Gabby Rivera introduces readers to Juliet Milagros Palante, a young, queer woman who is about to have the most challenging and transforming summer of her life. Juliet Takes A Breath follows Juliet as she travels from the Bronx to Portland, Oregon to live with the author of her favorite book: the feminist, lesbian writer Harlowe Brisbane. Over the course of three beautiful, complicated, heartbreaking, illuminating months, Juliet learns more about herself, the world, and “this whole ‘Puerto Rican lesbian thing’” than she ever thought possible — and discovers even more questions than she had before. This novel is perfect for anyone (everyone) who is still challenged to figure out their own “feminist thing."
‘Feminine Genius: The Provocative Path to Waking Up and Turning on the Wisdom of Being a Woman’ by Liyana Silver
Liyana Silver’s Feminine Genius: The Provocative Path to Waking Up and Turning on the Wisdom of Being a Woman is a title that should definitely be shelved alongside another on this list — Clarissa Pinkola Estés Women Who Run With the Wolves. While Estés helps readers recognize that long-repressed and silenced inner-Wild Woman, Silver guides women into learning how to listen to and trust that innate wisdom and profound instinct deep inside all women. Filled with advice, inspiration, and even some helpful exercises, Feminine Genius is all about connecting the knowledge of your body to the wisdom of your spirit in order to find empowerment, balance, fulfillment, and adventure — no matter where your feminism might take you.
‘The Blazing World’ by Siri Hustvedt
Another novel that gets to the heart of women’s struggle to make ourselves heard in the world, Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World introduces readers to artist Harriet Burden, a creator who has fought for years to get her work recognized, and been largely unsuccessful. In a not-so-unbelievable experiment, Burden decides to present her next three shows using men as the faces of her new work — and the critics love them. At least until Bruden reveals herself as the real artist, and skepticism, criticism, (and even one bizarre death) break loose.
'Things I've Been Silent About: Memories’ by Azar Nafisi
From the writer who gave us the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran, Things I’ve Been Silent About tells author Azar Nafisi’s story of growing up in Iran during a time of political revolution and cultural repression — demonstrating how intensely political personal lives become under oppressive governments, where the simple fact of being a woman is akin to committing a crime. Although growing up in a time and country different from the one we live in today, the frustrations, heartaches, and silences of both Nafisi and her mother transcend time and place, and will transform you understanding of the political struggles of women the world over.
‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath’s 1963 novel The Bell Jar somehow simultaneously reminds me both how far the feminist movement has come in the last 50-plus decades, and also how much heavy lifting we still have yet to do. This semi-autobiographical work tells the story of Esther Greenwood, a young and talented woman who tries to make her way in a hostile, misogynistic, and gender-stereotyped world, of which the pressure proves too much for her to bare. Struggling to balance what she wants with the limited options available to her and her female peers, Esther has a psychological breakdown that threatens the future she desires and will haunt readers forever.
‘Bad Feminist’ by Roxane Gay
One of those books that has helped me rethink my own feminism (and the feminist expectations I might sometimes unjustly hold others to) Bad Feminist will help you to form and navigate your own feminism, inviting readers to ask what sorts of feminist standards we truly want to fight for, and what feminist stereotypes we might best let go of — all while exploring everything from reality television and competitive Scrabble, to the gender violence and the racism central to U.S. culture and politics. Gay’s straightforward, blunt, intelligent, and funny writing will make you think about your own assumptions, experiences, and occasionally-bad feminism.