Roundup: Feminist Books

Smart books for smart ladies

A Practical Wedding | Feminist Book Roundup

Meg Keene, APW Executive Editor

A few weeks ago, we got this question in a Happy Hour:

I’ve never had a women’s studies class, or known any feminists, but I’d really like to educate myself on feminism… What books do you wise women recommend?

I was all in. Feminism is complex and multi-faceted, and the best way to find your own place within it is to read multiple viewpoints, and ponder things slowly. If you’re just getting started, I wish I could tell you that there is one go-to book to explain feminism to you, but of course there isn’t. The minute I think I understand my own feminism, I read something new and it all changes, again. All the best things are complicated like that.

I asked the APW staff why they thought that doing some feminist reading was a good idea, and Rachel said, “For a budding feminist, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or clueless when you’re on a feminist website. You’ll often hear terms like ‘rape culture’ ‘the patriarchy’ ‘choice feminism’ and ‘intersectionality’ in posts and in the comments and not know what’s going on—and you may be too intimidated to ask, so you just check out. So it’s good to do your own research so you can form your own conclusions and have a voice in these conversations. And it also helps you have a voice in non-feminist conversations. There have been so many times when being able to cite one of these wise books has helped me immensely when dealing with people who are up to non-feminist no-good.” Reading about feminism doesn’t mean signing on the dotted line of mainline feminism (God knows I dropped out of my women’s studies minor because some of that shit just tired me out). But it does mean informing yourself, so you can decide what you care about, and what you really think. In the comments on my opening post of feminism month, I noticed commenters saying that they couldn’t consider themselves feminists because other commenters had offered up visions of feminism that they didn’t agree with. But in what other part of our life do we let other (random) people set the terms for engagement? I might not agree with your definition of democracy, but that doesn’t mean I give up, and think we just slide into a dictatorship. No way. I just agree to disagree (and maybe argue about it with you over a drink). Feminism is the same way. If you’re in for women having the vote, wearing pants, and having equal rights, then it’s your job to inform yourself enough that you can form opinions, and disagree with others over a beer. The good news is, informing yourself can be a lot of fun.

To get you started  with your learning, we put together a APW staff roundup. Since the staff all explores feminism in different ways, not everyone is represented here. Maddie, who could teach a seminar on sexuality, hasn’t read a lot of feminist books, so she’s not on the list. The rest of us have suggestions that are all over the map: Feminist classics! Books about stripping! Fantasy YA! Dystopian novels! The works! My challenge to you is to figure out a book your interested in (there is bound to be at least one), and get reading. After you do, you’ll be better equipped to argue with people at Happy Hour, which is all that I wish for all of us.

Here are our suggestions. I can’t wait to see yours in the comments.

Meg, Executive Editor:

How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran
Given that I hosted an APW bookclub for this book before it even came out in the US, it’s no secret that I’m pretty in love with it. I can’t think of a funnier witter introduction to what feminism is, and why you should care. And if (like me) you’re already an avowed (if non-academic) feminist, it still gives you plenty to think about, and giggle over.

Cunt: A Declaration of Independence, Inga Muscio
This is the book that inspired the Reclaiming Wife section of APW. In mulling over my new role as wife, I decided that much like the word cunt, wife needed a good feminist reclaiming. I haven’t read this since college, but it’s obviously stuck with me. It’s angry and a little new age, and isn’t my brand of feminism now, but it was damn important in shaping my feminist worldview.

The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
This book arguably kicked off second wave feminism when it was published in 1963. I read it last year, expecting a period piece, and came away with a gripping understanding of what feminism was still about. It’s dense and long, but if you skip around a bit, it’s still a page turner.

The Song of the Lioness Quartet, Tamora Pierce
This young adult series defined feminism for me at 12. Get it for all the young women in your life (disclosure, there are sex scenes, make sure that will pass parental approval), and read it before you wrap up the present. And then maybe buy it for yourself.

Promiscuities, Naomi Wolf
Next up, the book that defined feminism for me at 17. This highly personal book about women’s sexual coming-of-age is an interesting read for anyone growing into their sexuality. Again, the perfect gift (and read it before you wrap it.) I still keep my marked up copy on my shelf in tribute.

Strip City: A Stripper’s Farewell Journey Across America, Lily Burana
Look. I actually took my share of women’s studies classes in college, and as a result, I’m tired. I like my feminist books entertaining not theoretical, and Lily Burana’s first person exploration of stripping is just that. Powerful too. For the sex positive feminist, this is good, good stuff.

Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness, Jessica Valenti
I wrote a full review of Why Have Kids right before I… had one. It’s a damn good, damn smart book, and it explores why—though I’ll never tell another feminist what to do—choice feminism just doesn’t do it for me, at the end of the day.

Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, Ayelet Waldman
Ayelet Waldman has such a fearless way of saying all the things we’re not supposed to say. This book of essays about motherhood does just that. Speaking of, I should give it a re-read, now that I have a kid.

Anything by Anne Lamott
I mean, lets just leave it at that. You all read her stuff, right? It’s smart, enjoyable, and guided me through my 20s.

Elisabeth, Writing Intern:

The Bean Trees: A Novel, Barbara Kingsolver
This is the book that cracked it all wide open for me. I first read it as a high school freshman and still have that tattered copy on my bookshelves. The pages are littered with highlights and the best piece of marginalia I’ve written to date: “Feminism…Learn More.”

Women, Race, & Class, Angela Davis
This, from a class I took in college called “The Politics of Patriarchy” is another one of those books I’ll carry around forever. This taught me that it’s not enough to just say you’re for equality. It’s a good companion toMapping the Margins by Kimberle Crenshaw, which is fantastic but academic.

Next Time, She’ll Be Dead: Battering and How to Stop It, Ann Jones
OK, this one is a bit of a downer. But it’s another book I’ll remember forever—the first time I really thought critically about victim-blaming and the idea that the media perpetuates violence against women.

Killing Us Softly, video series by Jean Kilbourne.

The first video in this series about gender representation in advertising is from 1979, but it hardly seemed dated when I saw it in high school, and the series still nails it. This helped me put words to how the media and popular culture actively perpetuate (some might say encourage) violence against women. 

Rachel, Writing Intern:

Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a SmartMouth Goddess, Susan Jane Gilman
I don’t remember ever not identifying as a feminist, but this book re-awakened my feminist spirit when I was 15. I passed it around to the other girls at my Catholic high school (I was a feminist pain in the ass like that), hoping it would inspire them to fight the good fight with me. 

Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, bell hooks
As I said in a recent comment, feminism has a serious issue with race right now. If you’re looking to understand that better, or you’re a black woman feeling like feminism isn’t for you, this is a great place to start. 

The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, Audre Lorde
For further reading on why we need intersectional feminism, read this essay (right now!).

A Room of One’s Own, Virgina Woolf
I read this essay in my Women’s Authors class at MSU, and still think about it regularly. As a writer, I think about having a room of my own often, and it’s something I hope all women feel empowered to fight for. (This is another one you can read online for free right now!)

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Honestly, this dystopian novel wasn’t my favorite book, but I’m on board with the overall message and enough feminists connect with it strongly, that I feel comfortable calling it a must-read, especially in the context of the way women’s rights are slowly being eroded around the country. 

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, Ariel Levy
This quick and easy read is a good starting point for understanding women’s participation in “raunch culture;” I like its exploration on why some women find the idea of being “one of the boys” crucial to success in a man’s world. 

The Meaning of Wife: A Provocative Look at Women and Marriage in the Twenty-first Century, Anne Kingston
I read this book not long after I started dating Eric and it had a huge impact on me; it really helped me see why we need feminist marriages and gave me the tools I needed to ask for a true partnership. Its fascinating-history-meets-pop-culture approach is very APW and I can’t recommend it enough. 

Emily, Contributing Editor:

I read some literary feminist theory in my critical analysis course in college. I can spot womb imagery and phallic symbols like gangbusters, but I think I’ve learned the most from the stories of real women and the fiction of women writers. With that in mind…

Minor Characters, by Joyce Johnson
A memoir written by a Beat novelist and scholar who is often dismissed as “Jack Kerouac’s girlfriend.”

Me : Stories of My Life, by Katharine Hepburn
Women in the costume department used to hide Hepburn’s pants from her. She responded by walking around in her underwear. Enough said. 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
The first of several autobiographies. The grace with which Angelou has handled her life is unparalleled.

The Vagina Monologues, by Eve Ensler
Before I read this book in high school I wasn’t comfortable with the v-word—it was too taboo.

Woman Hollering Creek: And Other Stories, by Sandra Cisneros
This collection of stories has a lot to do with the identity and sexuality of its female characters.

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, by Melissa Harris-Perry
This is an amazing look at the roles women of color are often relegated to. (Okay, a non-fiction book snuck in.)

Lucy, Deputy Editor:

I don’t take in a lot of nonfiction, so when it comes to feminist literature, my mind automatically veers towards fiction novels that have a feminist slant—though not always an obvious one.

Bumped, by Megan McCafferty
A dystopian novel that serves as an amazing critique of modern society’s obsession with youthful femininity.

Eon, by Alison Goodman
A really great depiction of gender and the roles women play in a parochial society. Plus, dragons! How can you lose?

Emma, by Jane Austen
This is my classic pick, and one of the earliest books in which I realized as a writer that a feminist character does not have to be perfect, or even likable (though I love Emma).

Graceling, by Kristin Cashore
A lot of novels that focus on “strong female characters” have this underlying message that femininity is inherently bad. Graceling doesn’t, and that makes it really refreshing.

The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Another classic pick. Short, haunting, and a very vivid depiction of depression and the unsympathetic, often tortuous “cures” that women used to endure.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel, by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman takes an often negatively used trope—the maid, mother, crone trinity—and tells a very different, compelling story with it. While the narrator of this tale is a young boy, this is definitely a female-centric novel. (Fun fact: every named character in the novel is female!) 

Liz, Contributing Editor:

The Awakening (Dover Thrift Editions), Kate Chopin
Wonderful for contemplating what it means to be a woman within a male society

Hills Like White Elephants and Cat In The Rain
Two short stories by Hemingway that look at male/female relationships around procreation. (I know, Hemingway, can you believe it?)

I Want A Wife, Judy Brady
You can read this essay online, right this second.

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  • Laura C

    My top books — not necessarily just in an APW context, but admittedly in part because I taught sociology of the family a couple times — are mostly about gender division of household labor. But boy is that something important to think about in an APW context. Arlie Hochschild’s The Second Shift is a couple decades old, but it is so important. And it has really important analysis not just of people who are striving for equal/equitable division of labor, but for understanding how couples operate on these issues more generally. Ann Crittenden’s The Price of Motherhood is also worth a look.

    On another front, if you’re not sure why safe, legal abortion is worth fighting for, check out Ellen Messer and Kathryn May’s Back Rooms: An Oral History of the Illegal Abortion Era.

    And I have to give a shout out to my favorite theoretical piece, Candace West and Don Zimmerman’s “Doing Gender,” which appears to be available online here.

    • Laura C

      Oh! Also, if you have kids and you want something for them, see if you can get a used copy of Half a Kingdom, by Ann McGovern. A peasant girl saves the prince.

      • Jessica B

        Ordinary Princess is great for the single digit aged kids, and the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce is great for teens and pre-teens. Anything by Tamora Pierce is amazing, actually.

        • Caroline

          I truely deeply adore Tamora Pierce. It is a point of pride that I own every book she has ever written, except her graphic novel, white tiger which now that I am into graphic novels, I need to get. And the Song of a Lioness Quartet was my security blanket as a teenager. I owned 5 copies at one point.

        • The Ordinary Princess is one of the defining books of my childhood.

      • Along that line, my favorite book for very small children is Robert Munch’s The Paper Bag Princess — she defeats the dragon, saves the prince, and when the prince is a jerk, heads happily off on her own.

        • Laura C

          Thank you! I was trying to remember that one and couldn’t.

        • rys

          The Goat-Faced Girl similarly retells an Italian fairytale as a feminist fairy tale.

  • Emily

    Tamora Pierce for the win!

    • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

      Yes! And I totally introduce her to my favorite middle schoolers.

    • TAMORA PIEEEEEEEEEERCE! The woman talks about transgendered individuals in young adult fiction, gay people, body acceptance, standing up for yourself and so many other things in a completely normal fashion and I want to give her a hug. MarkReads has been going steadily through her books for a year (currently in Lady Knight) and it’s so much fun. JOIN US THERE!

      • Manuscriptgeek

        Yesssssss. My weekday morning is not complete without my daily lurking at APW and Mark Reads.

      • And er characters use and discuss contraception!

    • Astro A

      My copy of “Alanna” is quite literally in pieces because I read it so darn much. Alanna and Daine’s stories (and later, Kel’s) were exactly what I needed growing up. And what I need sometimes now, too.

      • Caroline

        I had 5 copies of Alanna the first adventure at one point, because if I ever forgot to bring it with me on a trip, I bought another. Alanna and Daine and Aly and Kel will love with me forever. (Also, Magelet is my online handle just a out everywhere).

        • I still have the paperbacks I bought of Alanna in the mid 1990s. The model for the cover art for Lioness Rampant is Gabrielle from Xena. My copy of The Woman Who Rides Like a Man is utterly mangled because I took it on a Girl Scout Camporee and it got dropped in the mud. My wife packed all of our books about three weeks before we moved but left the Tamora Pierce shelf untouched because it’s my comfort reading. And the other week we saw her speak at the National Book Festival and then stood in line for over an hour to get her to sign a book for us.

          So, what I’m saying is, Yes.This. Yes, I completely understand.

          • B (the other one)

            I’m so glad this was posted today!! I Was trying to remember the author of the books that I read in junior high/ high school that I’ve been wanting to re read for fun! I loved Tamora Pierce’s work, just am horrible at titles and author names…although I bet I could write the plot down by memory for each book even now!

  • This is so great, thank you!

    I’m in charge of a feminist book club and we’ve had trouble finding reading material (we want to stick to fiction) so it’s always great to find a list of books.

    Another one to add that I thought was interesting in our book club was The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin – it’s a science fiction novel about a man who travels to a world where there is no gender. I found the most interesting part of it was how I imposed gender on these genderless people and it revealed a lot to me about how I look at gender. Either way it’s a good read

    • Beth

      It’s a combo of poetry, essay and some “theory,” and parts are in Spanish, but if your club is up for the challenge I HIGHLY recommend Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La frontera. Latin@s are becoming a major part of this country, and she is very influential in women’s studies, queer studies and Chicano/a studies classes

      • Tennymo

        Also on the Gloria Anzaldua tip, This Bridge Called My Back, which she co-edited with
        Cheri Moraga, is an anthology of essays by a who’s who of feminists of color. Audre Lorde, Toni Cade Bambara, and Gloria Anzaldua in one book is a win. It’s a classic!

    • k

      I haven’t read this, but came across it recently and added it to my list. Sounds like it might meet your criteria. Written by a female war correspondent. Blurb below.

      Baghdad Solitaire is a first novel about Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, where love and friendship are as uncertain as the shifting battle lines of the civil war. Lee McGuinness, a trauma surgeon on a humanitarian mission, is also on a personal quest: to find her companion-in-arms, Martin Carrigan, who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. In search of someone—and something— to believe in, Lee must navigate a wilderness of mirrors in which greed, lies, and brutality are found among allies and enemies alike. In the tradition of Graham Greene and Robert Stone, Leslie Cockburn has written a haunting novel of intrigue and romance set in a deadly world of deception.

    • Li

      I loooove Left Hand of Darkness. I reread it maybe once a year, and it’s always so satisfying. Le Guin is a master.

  • I really liked “The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvouir. I particularly appreciated her analysis of the female condition from all kinds of perspectives: historical, biological, artistic… It really helps to give a broad understanding of the issues surrounding that women have faced since pretty much the beginning of time.

    • april

      Love love love The Second Sex. It’s a true feminist classic – and one that feel remarkably modern considering it was written 60 years ago.

  • Michelle

    If you’re an anthropology nerd/midwife/just into birth and the cultural messages around women’s bodies in general I highly recommend Emily Martin’s Woman in the Body. It’s an in depth look at how Western culture has constructed views of women, women’s bodies, and normal physiologic processes, like menstruation, birth, and menopause to be pathologic, or inherently broken, in need of “fixing” by (mostly male, at the time of the creation of the concepts) physicians and “modern” science.

    Also recommended in the comments from of the the posts last week was Taking Charge of Your Fertility, a fantastic primer not only for those trying to get pregnant or avoid pregnancy using natural methods, but will help you appreciate the amazing changes in your body, and get to know the signs of its awesome work every month!

    If you’re really up for a challenge (and a serious birth nerd, like myself), Lying In: A History of Childbirth in the United States is a great, although dense read.

    Oh, and Elisabeth, I JUST finished Women, Race, and Class. FANTASTIC. I read it with a political study series, and we are now reading Killing the Black Body by Dorothy Roberts, which is a thorough, infuriating,page-turning history of the forced sterilization of women of color in America.

    • Laura C

      Emily Martin’s “The Egg and the Sperm” is so great!

    • SusieQ

      Ooh, along similar lines, Woman: An Intimate Geography, by Natalie Angier. All y’all should read it.

      • Allie

        I just finished The Politics of Breastfeeding – it’s incredibly feminist, full of amazing (and frightening) facts… very broad in scope and highly recommend for anyone but perhaps particular relevance if you’re expecting / have kids.

  • One More Sara

    Funny story. I just restarted college (to become an English teacher in a not-English country) and we have a short story lit class. We read The Yellow Wallpaper, and this guy tried to argue it wasn’t feminist, it was just from a woman’s perspective. At which point my manners went mostly out the window, I interrupted and went on a bit of a rant about all the feminism in the story, and at the end of my rant he conceded. To anyone out there who wants to read it, the author of the story wrote it in the 1890s after being prescribed long periods of bedrest and inactivity for her depression. She wrote this story and sent it to her doctor to warn him about the dangers of such treatment. Ultimately, the author killed herself.

    This story actually made me think about walking through the van Gogh museum (they display everything chronologically) and how powerful/crazy it is to see him evolve from such careful and deliberate brushstrokes to the madman at the asylum with a more erratic and haphazard style.

    • Laura C

      At least he ultimately conceded that the classic work of feminist literature was in fact feminist! Sheesh.

      • I read The Yellow Wallpaper in my capstone English class in college. The imagery of it still haunts me today. It was a powerful piece to read at that age.

        • I had the same reaction when I read it in high school. I even saved the class handout we were given, because the story stuck with me.

      • One More Sara

        I know. He’s blacklisted. I also had to explain to everyone in the room what hysteria meant in the context of 1890s medicine. Sheesh indeed.

        • rys

          On hysteria and its “treatments,” see Rachel Maines, The Technology of Orgasm…

    • LikelyLaura

      1. Good job for speaking up! I had a similar confrontation in a class discussing Mary Chestnut’s Diary. Long story short, he said she couldn’t be a feminist because feminism hadn’t been “invented” yet. I told him that was absurd – that just because it didn’t have a name or movement doesn’t mean it didn’t exist on a personal level. Professor agreed with me. (Though, we all agreed that her constant bemoaning of the inequality of the sexes was in complete disagreement with the her views on slavery.)

      2. I read The Yellow Wallpaper in high school, and 10+ years later, my skins still crawls thinking about it. Interestly, it was how I first realized language can be sexist (the essay sparked a discussion on the word “hysterical” – which also still makes my skin crawl.) I think we also read The Lottery around the same time, so it was basically a skin-crawl-y semester for me in that English class.

      • One More Sara

        That was this guy’s argument, that feminism didn’t exist yet, so the story couldn’t be feminist. He makes me rage-y.

  • Naomi

    Love that there is a reading list! Will get started this weekend by re reading how to be a woman. And I’m so pleased that you included the song of the lioness series. This was my absolute favourite as an early teen. Looking forward to getting more stuck into some of these other books that I’ve missed out on reading.

  • Lucy, I love your fiction recs. Particularly excited to see EON listed! And Meg’s shout out to Tamora Pierce. It’s so important to me to see strong female characters and themes in fiction.

  • Catherine

    CUNT is the greatest book ever.

  • Emily

    Liz, you just made me remember Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour,” which is SO GOOD.

  • Love this list! I just recommended “The Awakening” to my mom after she recommended “The Women’s Room” by Marilyn French to me. Just finished French’s book and loved it!

  • Those who like Tamora Pierce’s books would do well to put Catherynne Valente’s “The Girl Who…” series on their reading lists, starting with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

    • And Nnedi Okorafor’s “Zahrah the Windseeker” and “The Shadow Speaker.”

    • Also Patricia Wrede’s Cimorene series and her Sorcery & Cecilia books with Caroline Stevemer.

      I’ve just started NK Jemsin’s Inheritance Trilogy and it is some really interesting feminist fantasy. But man, it’s pretty rough to read, too.

      • Yes to all of those.

        That trilogy is killer. So good, but full of wonderful sharp edges.

        The Sorcery & Cecilia books make me want magical Regency to become a thing like steampunk is.

  • My high school English teacher ruined The Awakening for us my sophomore year. We had to read through and find all the symbolism about everything ever and write papers on it (because we were just being introduced to finding symbolism in literature). She also made us underline and write in our books, which is RANK HERESY. I wonder what it’d be like these days if I tried it again.

    • Laura C

      Ugh, “symbolism.” Beloved of high school English teachers, much less so of college English teachers. That said, I think I always preferred Chopin’s short stories to The Awakening.

      • I had a college English TA ruin Moby Dick in this manner for me, so I understand how you feel.

      • One More Sara

        My English 1 teacher in college used movies instead of books. She killed Donnie Darko AND Fight Club for me.

    • Jessica

      but but but…writing in books is awesome! It helps me use the books better in class discussion, and helps me remember what the book was about when I come back to it, PLUS if I ever become famous, people can read my marginalia and reconstruct my thoughts. ;)

      • a) Public school kid here, where textbooks were handed out at the beginning of the school year and reclaimed at the end. You did *not* write in your textbooks. I never grew out of it.

        b) I have written a marvelous sestina in response to your comment, but alas, I do not have the room to write it here.

        • I also have a serious aversion to writing in books. Even textbooks, I’ll flag with a post it instead of underlining or highlighting. Which makes me a total hypocrite, since I teach underlining, highlighting, and note-writing to my students. That’s always on copies though since I’ve never had enough books for the kids to mark them up.

          Sadly, this also applies to pretty bound journals. I’ve tried numerous times and just can’t bring myself to ruin them by writing in them, despite being perfectly aware that’s the entire purpose of them. If I journal, it’s in plain old notebooks.

  • KC

    Re: fiction, I don’t think I’ve read a book by Patricia C. Wrede *without* strong female characters. And if you want a non-standard princess book for kids (def. PG, not PG-13 or higher), Dealing with Dragons is pretty great.

    • Jessica B

      I love those books!

    • Emily

      We read those in our English class in eighth grade. Such a great series!

    • Dealing with Dragons was my all-time favorite book as a child; I devoured the series. I even wrote a fan letter to Wrede (email! in the early 90s!) and she actually wrote me an incredibly gracious, personal letter in response. My love for her knows no bounds.

  • Sabrina

    I cant recomend Women Who Run with the Wolves (Clarissa Pinkola Estés) and Vagina: A New Biography (Naomi Wolf) enough.

    • moonitfractal

      Women Who Run with the Wolves is what got *me* through high school (since we’re sharing).

    • Sabrina

      When She Woke by Hillary Jordan is another really interesting read. Its kind of a sci fi scarlet letter meets the handmaidens tale.

  • LikelyLaura

    These are all great, and I can’t wait to update my reading list!

    I’d like to add:
    A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, which I read twice for two different college classes. It’s a wonder record of a midwife working just at the rise of the trend of doctors performing deliveries. It’s basically her brief records that are then beefed up into a capitvating narrative by the historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

    Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes – which is exactly what the title suggests and is a fascinating read.

    • Caroline

      I loved A Midwife’s Tale! It’s fiction, but I also loved The Birth House, which is about a midwife in Nova Scotia right as physicians were starting to do births and trying to take over from midwives. It’s fabulous.

  • Anonymous

    “Feminism is the same way. If you’re in for women having the vote, wearing pants, and having equal rights, then it’s your job to inform yourself enough that you can form opinions, and disagree with others over a beer. The good news is informing yourself can be a lot of fun.”

    Unfortunately as one of those (or maybe THE one) who didn’t choose to call myself a feminist, I not only can’t agree with the above, its made coming here to comment and even read uncomfortable. Because I know now I don’t belong here like I thought I did.

    APW has brought me a lot of joy and support and I can’t thank Meg and her team enough for that. I wish all of you the best of luck in your new endeavors with the website and will be rooting for you to continue to be successful.

    • Miriam

      With all due respect, that’s a shame. I interpret this response as saying two things:

      1) The legacy that all the waves of feminism have given our generation (the vote, the right to contraceptives, the right not to be raped by our husbands, etc.) are not worth enough for you to reclaim the label “feminist” from the reactionary connotation of shrewish and man-hating what-have-you.

      2) The feeling that you’re not informed about a certain subject is uncomfortable enough that you reject the subject itself. I get that it’s uncomfortable – as a white woman, discussions about white privilege are uncomfortable for me. In fact, that’s kind of the point. Facing that discomfort is an important part of being a grown-up that has both eyes open to the realities of the world.

      • KC

        I am not the anonymous person, *but* I am either not a feminist, or I am a feminist-with-footnotes, or I’m an APW feminist (I think?), depending on what it means. One can appreciate certain things without supporting others or without agreeing with various continuations of something. (so: a person could, quite possibly, enjoy being able to wear pants without wanting the right to vote. This is not impossible or incompatible. Or you could agree that civil rights are a good thing, but very much disagree with using violence to attempt to gain those rights, and hence not identify as on the same side as those who feel violence is the correct response.)

        Even in these books, there is a lot that rational women can disagree on, either that something is “the right way” to accomplish something agreed on as a good goal, or even whether a particular something is a good goal.

        If calling oneself a feminist means that various assumptions are made and lots of people get mad for no reason (either because I disagree with something that they consider central to feminism or because they think I’m in the store-some-sperm-then-send-all-the-men-to-Mars camp), then… um… maybe not everyone feels like the name of feminism is a hill worth dying on. Which is not necessarily ungrateful – the suffragettes fought *to get women the vote* (etc.), and I don’t think they made undying loyalty to the word “feminism” a condition (and even if they intended to, I don’t think you can really do that with “gifts”). I also get how someone not calling themself a [fill in the blank] can feel like a betrayal of our “side” – but I think that’s something we generally need to work on and, maybe, get over, as human beings with sides and loyalties that often divide more than is necessary?

        • or because they think I’m in the store-some-sperm-then-send-all-the-men-to-Mars camp

          This is exactly the issue. This is exactly why it is so important for people to identify with feminism. Those feminist you are describing simply don’t exist outside of Rush Limbaugh’s head. Enough vocal misogynists have convinced culture at-large that feminism=man-hating, that hoards of people are afraid to adopt the mantle. The more rational, equality-embracing people are afraid to embrace the term, Limbaugh & co’s narrative of “feminazis”to gains legitimacy. Meanwhile, by backing away from the term and inadvertently reinforcing the notion that feminism does equal man-hating, the actual important work that the feminist movement is trying to accomplish (which includes everything from ending rape and domestic violence to finally getting a mainstream female action hero movie) is delegitimzed.

          Also, everyone who is a feminist, is a feminist with footnotes, if by that you mean that there are things you really disagree with. When I look through this list of books, there are some authors included here that make me groan, authors that I think have some really fundamental pieces of feminism (or racism, classism, etc.) very wrong. But they are still feminists and I’m still a feminist, no footnote or apology or explanation needed. I think the disagreement is healthy and important. There is no monolithic message about feminism (other than the fundamental idea that men are equal to woman and vice versa), so you can be whatever kind of feminist you want. And I might disagree with you! But that’s cool.

          • *female action superhero movie

          • KC

            Really sorry to have to say this, but the only-part-of-a-man-we-need-is-sperm feminists do actually exist; I have met them; they are not horrible people in general; they’ve just fixated on Men as the reason that everything is wrong in the world and think that we’d all be better off if they could be sequestered somewhere and have their wars and oppression and domestic violence and all that over there. Which: a lot of women have been deeply and viscerally hurt, and expecting them to be totally kind and rational is a tall order (a good thing, but a tall order).

            It’s also possible that all of the most abrasive *online* blogging/commenting feminists are actually secretly sock puppets to support the feminazis-exist theory, but having met many angry, hurt, bitter people in real life who are, quite reasonably, *sick* of various cultural garbage, and who sometimes respond to it well and sometimes respond to it very poorly, I would generally assume most are not fakes?

            (possibly entertaining fact re: Rush Limbaugh: I had never run across him on the radio and had assumed that he was… um… not great… but that he was at least partly caricatured by opponents… until I read two of his radio transcripts. And then I wondered who listens to this stuff, because those two transcripts were the most poorly-researched bottom-feeding game-of-telephone unjournalistic tripe that I have ever seen, including tabloids; it’s like the rumors and ghost stories relayed at junior high sleepovers, except about public issues that would honestly not take all that long to get source information. It is possible that the two transcripts I read were not representative, though. But seriously people! Who puts up with this level of sloppiness?)

            I agree that all feminists are probably feminists-with-footnotes on some level; it’s just… most (but not all) people often seem to assume that if you use the plain label, you agree with their definition of feminism. And (as you pointed out) odds are good I don’t, quite (sometimes in ways *I* consider significant; sometimes in ways *they* consider significant). So it gets prickly, and I am not inclined to blame people for wanting to use their resources in ways other than self-defense and argument over the definition of a word they’re not personally hugely attached to (even though other people think they ought to be).

    • Anon2

      To Anonymous above: you’re not the only one.
      I will be sticking around APW because I think there are a lot of good things here…. but I found many of the posts on the first feminist thread to be surprisingly hostile. I’ve read many of the books on this list and I consider myself fairly well educated. With that knowledge, I choose to not call myself a feminist.

      • Nicole

        I haven’t read all the comments on the thread, but I don’t think it’s wrong to call yourself a feminist or to not label yourself as such. I think you can fight for for equal pay, reproductive rights, etc. without the label. The label doesn’t matter and don’t think anyone is trying to force it upon readers.

        • Anony

          I’m a strong feminist, growing up in an extremely male dominated, abusive and patriarchal religion and family will do that to you, BUT I don’t think that every woman out there should share my views or identify as strongly as I do, because there are all types of women, wives and mothers.

          Not everyone who identifies with feminism wants to take up the fight. There is room for people of all beliefs and levels of belief to live the life they see fit, and be the role model that they can be for other women, daughters, nieces etc. You might not call yourself a feminist, you might just say you are a modern woman. Either way, live your life according to your standards and morals and you’ve already achieved something.

          Although I’m engaged and planning an elopement, I come to APW for the reclaiming wife and other essays, because the wedding stuff isn’t my style so it means nothing to me. In every aspect of life we pick and choose what to agree with, what to follow and what to incorporate into our lives (religion? political beliefs? groceries?) And I don’t think anyone here wants anyone else to be excluded or feel that way at all.

  • anon

    This might get deleted (which I get), but this is an interesting counterpoint for why Caitlin Moran doesn’t necessarily promote inclusive feminism:

    • Emily

      There’s a really interesting perspective about Caitlin Moran and Naomi Wolf here as well.

    • I both like Caitlin Moran and totally get and respect the criticisms of her.

    • Ashley

      Thanks for this! Ms. Moran has shown herself to not be intersectional, which I think is a crucial component of feminism – my experience as a white cis woman is different than the experience of a black cis woman, or an asian trans woman. Additionally she says all kind of problematic things on twitter that have the effect of silencing non-white, non-cis folks. I read her book before I knew that and I loved it, but now that I know more about her I just can’t recommend her work.

    • Malorie

      I actually really disliked her book. I’ve been trying to write something to convey my opinion about it in a way that doesn’t come across as inflammatory, but I think I’ll just say that I really didn’t like it, and I could never, ever recommend it to anyone. I consider myself to be a well-educated feminist and I found the book to be incoherent and contradictory.

    • Amy

      Agreed. Very few of these books (aside from Bell Hooks perhaps) really address some of the race/class bias that many second wave feminists had in spades. I find this list fine for rank beginners but as someone with a minor in women’s studies it is a bit sad to have almost no critical feminist books or ones by “third” wave feminists or people of color.

      • Angela Davis isn’t “third wave” but that book is ALL about calling out feminism for its racism. And its really good.

        • Also, the Audrey Lourde essay linked to is so brilliant and so important as an intersectional text that talks about how to really affect change.

          Also: Maya Angelou! And Melissa Harris-Perry.

          It’l may not be a perfect list, but I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s ignoring poc authors.

  • Riah

    So APW book roundups are some of my favorite posts ever, and my kindle’s “samples” folder gets restocked every time. So thank you.

    One book that for me was formative in my considering myself a feminist was Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls, which looks at feminist issues in the art world but is out of print. However, they have other books that I’m sure are also interesting, and their website is worth poking around on to get a sense of what they do. ( My mom, a feminist artist, took me to one of their lectures when I was younger, and had their first two books, and it was one of the first time that I started actively thinking about feminism and the ways the world is fucked up gender-issue-wise.

  • I remember reading Reviving Ophelia and thinking it was amazing; also, the Vagina Monologues. As for fiction, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is shot through with feminist ideology (as he himself is) – especially Equal Rites, the Witches books (Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, etc.), and the Tiffany Aching series (Wee Free Men, etc.).

    In terms of intersectionality – Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack rocked my perception of my world:

    • Oh man. Reviving Ophelia mysterious appeared on my bed one morning while I was in high school. I can only assume my mom put it there. I read it (because I read everything) and was really upset by it. I couldn’t understand why my mom just left it there for me with no context (our relationship was not great) and a lot of other things going on in my life at the time (dating but not having sex, but having my mom be convinced that I was having sex and lying about it, for one. My parents going through a very, very nasty divorce, for another) made me wonder if she thought I was crazy.

      I’m sure I’d feel differently if I’d read it under different circumstances. Some of the stories in that book are still vividly with me. But yikes!

      • mira

        I read Ophelia Speaks alongside reviving ophelia and I really liked the combination

    • Rebecca

      The Tiffany books are my favorite! Although Monstrous Regiment is pretty dear to my heart as well- Igorina is awesome. I would definitely recommend the Tiffany novels for kids whose reading level is well above their chronological age- they’re challenging in vocabulary and themes without being “adult.” Although I swear there’s a Terry Pratchett interview where he talks about being able to write more difficult themes in children’s books than adult books…

    • moonitfractal

      Just finished Equal Rites and it’s my new favorite Prachett book. Unfortunately, I tried reading Reviving Ophelia once and I did not care for it. It lost me at the assertion (on more or less the first page) that all girls have happy, carefree childhoods, which I (for reasons completely unrelated to my amazing nuclear family) did not.

    • SusieQ

      I wanted to chime in and say that Reviving Ophelia did not resonate with me either. I did not recognize myself, my sisters, my friends, or the world I lived in in that book. However, I respect that it discussed an important issue and got people talking about it.

  • Astro A

    In one semester of college I read The Awakening, Madame Bovary, The Princess of Cleves, and Anna Karenina. Three out of those four were from one class (not even focusing on women’s lit!). Talk about analyzing the “trapped wife” trope from all angles! I would recommend them all.

    I would also recommend Rita Mae Brown’s “Rubyfruit Jungle.” She may be living on a mountain in backcountry central Virginia and co-authoring books with her cats now, but this novel will blow your socks off. It’s a quick read, not necessarily super deep, but has a hell of an impact on the reader. I think.

    And, in the short-story category, another one that you may have read in high school or college is “A Jury of her Peers,” or its one-act play counterpart, “Trifles.”

    Finally, do yourself a favor and just buy “The Portable Dorothy Parker.”

    I know, super fiction-y, but that’s where my mind lives.

  • Ella

    The Song of the Lioness Quartet, Tamora Pierce, Megan McCafferty, and Margaret Atwood. I LOVE ALL YOU PEOPLE EVEN MORE (if that’s even possible).

    I still can’t believe Tamora Pierce, literally my favorite author from age 10 onwards. APW FOR EVERY WIN.

    • Ah, but have you gotten your copy of Battle Magic yet?

      (Hi, yes, I am 32 and have been reading Tamora Pierce religiously since I was 12. Say anything bad about me and I will send Kel to cut you with her glaive)

      (Also, seriously, join us on Mark Reads. It’s so fun, he is so unprepared.)

      • Jessica B

        On Chapter 4 of Alanna on Mark Reads. This is adorable.

        • It’s worth it to watch the videos if you have the time. He gets so dumbfounded by things, it’s so sweet.

      • Remy

        I have it on hold at the library. I AM FIRST.

      • Caroline

        I have not ordered it yet but I am planning to soon!

  • K

    Thank you for posting this list. I’ve been thinking about this and look forward to some reading! I grew up with Annie Oakley feminism – “Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.” Having succeeded in a male-dominated field, that strand of feminism served me well, but it is narrowly focused and not nuanced enough for navigating motherhood, family, and career. Yes, I can breastfeed better than any man – so what?

    • meg



  • k

    My kind of feminist reading tends to be of the “badass women doing badass things” variety. Some of my favourites are:

    Shutterbabe, by Deborah Copaken Kogan. Sex positive female war correspondent photographer’s memoir. Fantastic. The slut shaming reader comments on amazon will enrage you though, don’t read them. Read her essay here instead: It will enrage you as well but in a better way.

    Looking for Trouble: One Woman, Six Wars and a Revolution by Leslie Cockburn. Another reporter’s memoir; it contains stories on the Sandinista/Contra war in Nicaragua, diner with the Cali Cartel, the Khmer Rouge, hunting down the Black Turban in Afghanistan, and pursuing the Russian mafia in the Arctic Circle.

    High Endeavors: The Extraordinary Life and Adventures of Miles & Beryl Smeeton, by Miles Clark. Beryl Smeeton walked across Southern China and rode horseback the length of the Andes, mostly alone, in the 1930s, among many, many other adventures. Later she and her husband bought a ketch and loved aboard for years. They were pitchpoled once and dismasted twice trying to sail around Cape Horn in the 50s, but eventually made it during a multi-year round the world sailing trip.

    Learning to Fly by Steph Davis. High level rock climber’s account of taking up base jumping.

    Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. The blurb says the hero is a pizza deliveryman named Hiro Protagonist, but really it’s a tough-as-nails 15 year old female skateboard courier named YT.

    Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. Seventeen year old Ree has to track down her meth cook father or lose the family home he put up as bail. Both the book and the movie are amazing.

    Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch. Graphic novel subtitled “Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl.” What more do you need to know?

    The Storyteller’s Daughter by Saira Shah. The English-born daughter of an Afghan aristocrat in exile, Shah becomes, at twenty-one, a correspondent at the front of the war between the Soviets and the Afghan resistance. She also filmed Beneath the Veil, a record of women’s lives under the Taliban.

    • SJ

      That article. I am enraged. My eyes are full of those pointy, angry tears and my heart is raging.

      Guess who’s writing TONIGHT.

    • Nicole

      I read Shutterbabe years ago and loved it. Thanks for reminding me.

  • wife of a guy who needs to be schooled

    Which of these books would you all recommend for a slightly resistant husband? (And I do mean one single book, that’s the most I’d be able to manage to convince him to read.)

    • Rachel

      I personally think “How to Be a Woman” would be an awesome read for guys…however, as the fiance of a guy who wasn’t necessarily resistant but definitely more…skeptical I guess, I wanted to add that the web + regular conversations about feminism have had the biggest effect on him. Over dinner, I’ll tell him about an article I’ll read…if he has a response that’s sort of a privileged or unaware response (for lack of a better term), then I can share with him some further feminist knowledge that I’ve gotten from all my reading. It’s pretty amazing how he’s transitioned into a total feminist from these conversations that I start based on stuff that’s happening in the news or being written about on blogs. :)

      • Sarah G

        I completely agree. There is nothing as powerful as your own experience. When someone harasses me on the street or makes me feel unsafe, or when a commercial is totally sexist (those stupid iPad versus tablet commercials) I tell my male partner about it and how it made me feel. While he already thought of himself as pretty feminist, he (like most guys) has a lot of male privilege (like I have a lot of white privilege) and I think it’s made him connect in a more personal way to feminism. You’d have to ask him of course, but that’s my perception.

      • Ditto! This is pretty much exactly how I started making my husband more aware of this stuff. And for what it’s worth, I’m one of those people who shied away from the term feminism for years. Not anymore!

    • Ashley

      As mentioned above, I cannot recommend anything by Ms. Moran. Instead I’d suggest “The Purity Myth” or “Full Frontal Feminism” by Jessica Valenti. But read the blurbs first, as I don’t know your husband :)

      • Itsy bitsy

        YES Jessica Valenti! I lovelovelove those books (also “Yes Means Yes,” but that’s another story). I do, though, want to second the read-before-you-pass-on thing. I love her writing and it makes a lot of sense to me, but I can see how some of it could read as off-putting, especially to a not-totally-conviced guy.

  • Miriam

    Two really interesting books that give me LOTS of fodder to argue with myself in the bathroom mirror:

    Get to Work: . . . And Get a Life, Before It’s Too Late by Linda Hirshman

    Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes

    • Sandy

      OMG! I was just scrolling through to put my own suggestions at the bottom and I saw “Get to Work.”

      This was the first feminist book that I ever read; I read a review in the newspaper and actually requested that my library order it. After weeks of waiting it came and I read the whole thing in like 4 hours.

      The discussion about chores is the cornerstone of how my husband and I divide household duties. I told him early in the relationship that he should NEVER say “Just let me know what chores you want done” and launched into a speech about how that made the chores inherently my responsibility even though he thought he was being nice. I think I terrified him.

  • SamanthaNichole

    The Red Tent by Anita Diamant is a fantastic book that has been passed around through my sis-in-laws, mother-in-law, and paternal aunt. Very much recommend it. And if you are not religious don’t get caught up on the Biblical story line, it is still very relevant.

    • Sandy

      If you are interested in the idea of Christian feminism, I would also recommend “The Lineage of Grace” series. Short novellas about 5 women from the bible, most mentioned in very short contexts, who contribute in their own way to the ancestral line of Christ. Historically accurate and very, very good, but much more Christian and religious than “The Red Tent.”

      • SamanthaNichole

        Thank you!

        Also I just remembered The Mists of Avelon – the Arthurian legends from the female point of view. So good!

    • Itsy bitsy

      Second The Red Tent (“exactly” wasn’t enough)!! It’s a really, really beautiful and moving story. And it’s engaging fiction without beating you over the head with its feminism but… it really makes you think. You definitely don’t need to have the biblical background to enjoy it at all but if you *do* have that background, it might make you really reconsider the stories that may have been and were never told from that time period (or any time?).

  • A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen. It’s old, and a play, but it really stuck with me when I read it in high school. It is essentially a story of a woman giving up all the things society thinks should make her happy to be her own person.

    The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin. Feminist science fiction which explores the meaning of gender and sex. Also, her short story, Those That Walk Away From Omelas, explores exploitation by society in general and could be considered a metaphor for privilege.

  • How did I forget to comment on Graceling? FANTASTIC book. Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue are amazing, amazing books. Well written fantasies, sublime world building, strong female protagonists who make decisions about their bodies and what to do with them. Strongly PG-13 and bring about 8 boxes of tissues for Bitterblue, but I highly recommend all 3.

  • SJ

    Robin LeFevre ya’ll. Assassin NUNS.

    The convent isn’t where you get dropped off because you’re no good anymore. It takes that spark of “no-good” and gives you a purpose….and some knives.

  • Becca

    I never thought of Emma as feminist, but you’re right! Emma is such a flawed and fully realized character (so are many of Austen’s leads).

  • Ellie

    For a short, lively and accessible overview of second and third wave feminist thought and activism, I recommend Deborah Siegel’s “Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild.” Re-reading “The Second Sex” makes me realize that so many of our conversations around gender and feminism are still unpacking Simone DeBeauvoir’s insights — like Meg observed about “The Feminine Mystique,” it’s surprisingly relevant and provocative.

    If anyone is interested in gender and politics, I highly recommend Rebecca Traister’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and Linda Beail/Rhonda Longworth’s “Framing Sarah Palin: Pit Bulls, Puritans and Politics.” The latter focuses on popular culture and redefinitions of femininity/feminism through the lens of Palin and women candidates — shout out to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler! Very interesting.

  • Brittany

    My number one feminist book (and I’ve read my share, having written my thesis on the effect of interactions of women of different social classes in settlement houses on the American woman’s suffrage movement under the advisement of the woman currently editing the Margret Sanger papers…) is City of Women by Christine Stansell. It literally redefined the way I viewed women’s agency throughout American history. It’s a serious historical work, and not light reading, but so beyond worth the time. I can’t count the number of times I’ve come back to it. Everything else Dr. Stansell has written that I’ve read is also great. I also have a deep love of The Mists of Avalon, but mostly because it’s the first thing I ever read that I remember really identifying as feminist.

    • moonitfractal

      OMG MISTS OF AVALON X1,000,000. /fangirl

  • Ellie

    Two books that saved my sanity, if not my life, as a new (feminist) mom: The Mother Trip, by Ariel Gore, and Mother Shock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It, by Andrea Buchanan. Waiting for Birdy, by Catherine Newman, has made everyone I know with toddlers laugh out loud in spite of themselves. All three are funny and wise and underscore that good enough mothering is GOOD ENOUGH.

  • Kat R

    I love this!!! I am going to go nuts at the library now. Loved the Virginia Woolf recommendation. Her “Women and Writing” is a collection of essays on female writers and it’s also fantastic. And Emma – I love Jane Austen! I would throw in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte as some good classic feminist fiction, too. As far as modern non-fiction, I cannot say enough about how amazing Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” is in every possible way.

    For anyone interested in Feminism and Christianity, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” by Rachel Held Evans is excellent. Also, Sarah Bessey’s “Jesus Feminist” doesn’t come out until November, but if her blog posts are anything to judge by it will be amazing.

    • Kat R

      Ooh, almost forgot, Peggy Orenstein’s “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” was mind-blowing for me, and gave me an amazing introduction to what sexualization is and how it affects young girls.

      • jessamarie

        SCHOOLGIRLS and FLUX, both also by Peggy Orenstein are also worth a read. Both are a bit dated now, but actually helped me get a great view on what progress has been made, and sometimes more importantly, what hasn’t changed.

    • Diane

      For feminism & Christianity, I strongly recommend “The Dance of the Dissident Daughter” by Sue Monk Kidd (who also wrote “Secret Life of Bees.”) That book was my lifeline in college when I was surrounded by ppl who had exclusive views of God as male (and therefore pastors as male).

      And I echo “The Red Tent” listed above :-)

      (If you want Biblical reference material, get the “Women’s Bible Commentary” edited by Carol Newsom and Sharon Ringe).

  • LBD

    I am a big fan of Jessica Valenti’s. Reading “The Purity Myth” helped me heal a lot of the damage being raised a girl in evangelical christianity left on my psyche. I also think her” Full Frontal Feminism” is a good primer, especially for those of us with short attention spans for non-fiction reading, no matter how much I am interested in the topic.

    In the realm of fiction, I have never read “A Doll’s House”, but saw on stage last year and found it immensely powerful. “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson is an excellent YA novel about trauma, the details of which are a spoiler.

    In more old school feminist classics, there’s “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath, and if you’re in the mood for poetry, Adrienne Rich, particularly “Diving Into the Wreck.”

  • Rebecca

    I read the Feminist Mystique in high school mainly out of curiosity and was surprised at both how accessible it was and how easy it was for me to see where she was coming from (especially since I approached it with a hefty dose of teenage skepticism).

    This is a more niche recommendation, but for the architects/ architects to be in the room (possible interest for lawyers/ engineers/ anyone practicing a “profession” in the more strict sense of the word) Mary Woods’ From Craft to Profession: The Practice of Architecture in Nineteenth-Century America gives a history of the development of the profession of architecture that includes the contributions and challenges of women and people of color (with names! That I’d never heard before in any history class I’d taken previously). It’s necessarily a light read, but I really appreciated its perspective.

  • Remy

    Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women, by Susan Maushart, led to some hefty conversations between me an my wife about our division of housework. So did Arlie Hochschild’s The Second Shift, mentioned above.

    • Remy

      *sigh* Editing fail.

  • Sandy

    For fiction recommendations, I absolutely cannot let this go without mentioning “She’s Come Undone” by Wally Lamb. The story follows Deloris from age 4 through 34 as she reacts to the tragedy of her life around her. The story shook me deeply as a teenager and remains one of my favorite books.

    For non-fiction, I’m a language nerd so I have to mention some classics on how feminism has worked within and against the English language. I would recommend Robin Lakoff’s “Language and Woman’s Place,” Dale Spender’s “Man Made Language,” and Deborah Cameron’s “Verbal Hygiene.” Now, I used these for my master’s thesis (on the effects of feminist theory on the Chicago Manual of Style= Word Nerd alert) and they can be heavy but are so fascinating. I read tracks to my husband and he was all “Men are so evil! Why do we use pronouns to subjugate women!?”

    Now that is a powerful book.

  • C

    For sure there is no one go-to book to explain feminism, but you could do a lot worse than start with bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody. And speaking of bell hooks, her work on love is awesome. I am always trying to get people to read All About Love, which is probably the feminist book that has most influenced my life.

  • B

    For fiction – “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant really stayed with me.

  • Jo

    I think A Handmaid’s Tale is an interesting choice in feminist book from Margaret Atwood – as much as I love Atwood, and that novel, I think it’s far from the best representation of feminism in her novels!

    Personally, I think every twenty-something woman NEEDS to read “The Edible Woman,” Atwood’s first novel (which is actually described as “proto-feminist”). Life before Man is also pretty delicious.

  • Laura K.

    I have also enjoyed Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

  • Glen

    Love, love, love Margaret Atwood, Ursula K LeGuin, bell hooks, Jane Austen, and probably many others listed that I’m just not remembering right now.

    For sci-fi/fantasy fans, Women of Wonder: The Classic Years and The Contemporary Years (unfortunately out-of-print) introduced me to many women authors I hadn’t read before. Robin McKinley’s versions of classic fairy tales (Beauty, Spindle’s End) are excellent feminist re-imaginings. Also, try Jim C Hines’s Princess series, which was written out of frustration with the Disney Princesses.

  • Liz

    Thanks for pulling together this post. I have some reading to do!

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  • ak

    Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein! Written by a former heterosexual male turned lesbian woman. Definitely worth a read.

  • Itsy bitsy

    If anyone else stumbles upon this comment thread later even than myself, I’d like to add the essay “Josie Takes The Stand” by Ruth Herschberger. The author pretends to interview Josie, a female chimp involved in a scientific study at the time. The study results basically said that men are naturally more dominant than women, but “Josie” argues that interpretation and points out flaws in the data interpretation. I found it really funny and it also made me think about all the assumptions that exist in daily life and could potentially skew scientific data if we’re not careful.

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  • Novem

    I realize I’m a bit late entering this conversation, but I highly recommend:

    – Gail Collin’s “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present”: This book provides a great overview of American history — one that acknowledges and celebrates the accomplishments of women of color too, which I feel is not discussed enough in many books on feminism.

    – Cordelia Fine’s “Delusions of Gender”: I get pretty annoyed with what gets passed off as “science” when it comes to certain studies about gender and behavior. Cordelia’s book is excellent and does a really good job of dissecting the research in an understandable manner. For a much more technical discussion of the research, I also recommend Rebecca Jordan-Young’s “Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences”. Neither book is arguing that there are no differences between the sexes. What they’re arguing is that assuming that certain behaviors are innate and unchangeable just because of the sex of the person is really reductive and limiting and not supported by the data.

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