A few weeks ago, I wandered into a bookshop as I am apt to do (something about the siren call of untouched books) and was thoroughly shocked to see the number of books available centered around feminism. Don’t get me wrong – I loved it. But I was surprised. I remember days when trying to get an unabridged copy of Simone de Beauvoir’s Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex) was an adventure in itself. Today, you can find it abridged, unabridged, in every language, with pictures, with ribbons, with cake.
In a way, I am pleased that feminist literature has become so mainstream. It is reassuring to think that the feminist plight is gaining traction – after all, publishers wouldn’t publish such books if they didn’t think people weren’t going to read them.
But there seems to be such an influx on feminist books today and I worry that navigating through and finding true gems can become difficult in an increasingly saturated genre. So in honour of International Women’s Day, I thought I’d share ten of my favourite books. It’s by no means an exhaustive list of the great literature out there, but they’re ten books that I enjoy and often return to. It’s a good starting point if you’re new to the party – it’s the Feminist Starter Pack! I get a lot of questions about the books I’m reading and why, so I hope some of these titles will pique your interest and help you decide where you stand on the topic.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a crowdfunding page that two women had set up. As mothers, they had come to the realisation that so many of the books they were reading to their children were centered around male leading characters. And so, they decided to put together a book that told the stories in bedtime story fashion of brilliant women around the world throughout history.
Obviously, I contributed to the crowdfunding and got my hands on the book before official publication (humble brag). Although the intended audience is children, I absolutely love this book and I go through it every once in a while for inspiration and to be reminded of the multitude of capable, intelligent, strong women who have come before me. It gives me hope that young girls (and boys!) today can read these stories and imagine a whole new realm of possibilities.
The Power by Naomi Alderman
A lot of advice commonly given to men who worry about coming across as sexist is to “flip the script.” For example, imagine a man saying to a woman, “We think you’re great – so qualified for the job. We just want to make sure you’re on the career track and not the mommy track.” Now flip the script. Imagine it’s a woman saying it to a man. “We think you’re great. We just want to make sure you’re on the career track and not the daddy track.” Sound weird? It’s probably sexist.
This is exactly what Naomi Alderman’s brilliant book does. She flips the script completely and describes a world in which women suddenly gain a special power and they use it in the way that men wield their patriarchy-given power today. It is gripping and intersectional and really elucidates the problems girls and women face day to day. I have shared this book with many friends, many who are cis-men because it does such a great job of showing the structures of the patriarchy that men fail to see because they are a part of it.
Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett
This book is a must read. It is the manual we all need (female and male alike, however we identify) to navigate the world in its current state. Jessica Bennett has done a great job of explaining situations most women can identify with (like mansplaining), but with a humorous twist and with practical advice on how to combat it.
The first rule of Feminist Fight Club is that you must speak about it. You must share it and I have bought so many copies and sent around the world to friends, I wouldn’t be surprised to find I’m singlehandedly bankrolling Ms. Bennett. If I had all the money in the world, I would buy a copy for every woman in my life. This is a great starting place for those who aren’t sure how they feel about feminism. It’s a guidebook and activity book.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
I’ll start with a quick criticism. This book fails to take into account the privilege that the author has experienced in her life as a well off, educated white woman who can afford help to keep her home and raise her children. It’s a book written on the loose assumption that most women in professional fields experience the same privilege.
That aside, it is an empowering book for women at any stage in their career. For me personally, it has given me the courage to “bring a chair to the table” even if I am not invited. It has empowered me to ask for more, to dare to do more and that has been invaluable for my career. If you can extrapolate from her advice given from a position of privilege, this book can add so much to the richness of your career.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This book is a tiny, easy-to-read essay, really. But it’s essentially the transcript of Adichie’s TED talk of the same title that she gave in 2012 at TEDxEuston. If you’ve heard Beyoncé’s song “Flawless,” and heard the words, “Feminist – a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes,” then you’ve already heard part of this talk.
If you’re not as big of a reader, I still recommend that you watch the video. It’s 30 minutes you will not regret and points out so many glaringly obvious structural issues in our society.
Dear Ijeawele: Or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie wrote this feminist manifesto as a letter to her friend Ijeawele. Her friend was expecting a baby girl and she asked her friend Chimamanda for advice on how to raise a feminist daughter. What sprung forth is a touching and inspiring manifesto in fifteen easy to digest, easy to read parts.
It’s a quick read, but it tells a story of generational divide: the gendered expectations that our mothers unjustly carried and fought in their own ways throughout their lives; the willpower of a generation coming of age in a flurry of women who have simply decided that enough is enough and that equality cannot be negotiated; and finally the girls who we so delicately place our future before. It is a quick read and excerpts of it can be found littered across the internet, I highly recommend it as it is hard to disagree with Adichie’s logic. It’s also worth nothing that Chimamanda Adichie is one of my favourite novelists and her books Americanah, Purple Hibiscus, and Half a Golden Sun are phenomenal.
Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard
This is a pocket book – I read it in about an hour. I whizzed through it as it’s only 115 pages, but it is so important. In it, Beard addresses the issue of silencing women. She traces the history of misogyny and sheds light on how misogyny were engrained into ancient Greek and Roman civilisations. She explains quite eloquently why female silence has long been so pervasive – so much so that so few of us realise we are being silenced.
The most compelling quote in my opinion is the one found on the back cover, “You can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure.” If that’s not enticing enough for you to read this short book, then I don’t know what will be!
When discussing the issue of feminism, it is very easy to get caught in the narrative of white feminism. While white women are undoubtedly victims and survivors of a patriarchal world, so too are women of colour, the LGBTQ community, the disabled and often to a greater degree than white women.
I often chirp, if it’s not intersectional, it ain’t feminism for the fact that so often we forget that all women cannot be painted with a single brush. There is diversity within each gender, just as not every pizza is created equal, no?
This book profiles 200 women around the world who are contributing in some way to the betterment of our society. They represent a wide range of women with starkly different lived experiences. While I will critique it for representing a majority white, Western sample of women, it is peppered with women I would never have known about previously as they share their thoughts on what feminism means to them, what inspires them, and what drives them. It’s a big book for sure, a coffee table book that some might leave to gather dust – but to me it is a treasure trove of inspiration.
Women Who Run With Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
This book was recommended to me by a friend who has read quite an extensive number of books surrounding feminism. When I first saw the title and trudged through the first 50 pages, I thought, “Oh dear – this is some spiritual shit.” And while yes, it is spiritual,that is what makes it so powerful.
It is a book that requires your undivided attention. In fact, I’m slowly making my way through it a second time to make sure I fully take it all in. The book discusses things we often forget to acknowledge as power, such as female intuition. It discusses the need to find ‘your pack’ and to love your body and the strength it harbours. Estés teaches women to find solace in their wild, most natural form of themselves. A quote that really resonated with me that I will leave with you is, “Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods, nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.” This book is a journey, but it uses stories from around the world to teach its lessons.
Men Explain Things to Me: And Other Essays by Rebecca Solnit
Referring back to Jessica Bennett’s book Feminist Fight Club, Rebecca Solnit’s collection of essays remind us that much of today’s women’s life experiences are nothing new, we just have new ways of describing them. The title essay “Men Explain Things to Me” tells a quick but important anecdote of the privilege women are up against every day, regardless of their qualifications.
The essays that follow are well-researched and haunting. Some of the statistics might (quite rightly) shock you. For example, did you know that more women have been killed in domestic incidences by men they know since 9/11 than all the civilians from that day and American armed forces since? Her essays are filled with hard facts, witticism, and more importantly are to the point and leave you with a greater understanding of the issues we women face.
Happy International Women’s Day 2018!
To all the women and girls that have touched my life, I’m eternally grateful to how you have shaped me. I am better off for having such strong females in my life. People who know me will know that I live every day as if it is International Women’s Day. But today, I get to be that bit more extra and have full license to share it with others. I hope some of these books will make their way into your hands (or tablets, whatever!) and they will change your perspective or teach you something new.
P.S. I was very tempted to add hyperlinks so you could even more easily get these books via Amazon, but as much as I love my Prime subscription I love independent bookstores more. So I encourage you to have a wander down to your local independent bookstore and have a peruse. You never know what you’ll find along with the book for which you were searching!
P.P.S. One of my photos includes a photo of Rupi Kaur’s second book of poetry, The Sun and her Flowers. I cannot praise Rupi Kaur enough. Her poems, however short (sometimes even a few words) find a way into me and just nourish my soul. Milk & Honey, her first book of poetry, is equally fantastic.