In celebration of International Women’s Day (and, subsequently, Women’s History Month) I’ve put together a list of some of my favourite feminist non-fiction. Over the last couple of years, feminist non-fiction has become one of my favourite genres. If you’ve spent any time here on Fuelled by Fiction, you’ve probably seen some, if not all, of these titles mentioned before. And there’s a reason for that! They’re all amazing and some of my favourites! As today is a day to celebrate women, here are nine great works of feminist non-fiction by amazing women.
Dear Ijeawele: Or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This little number packs a huge punch. It’s essentially an expanded edition of a letter Adichie wrote to a friend answering the question, “How do you raise a feminist daughter?” I read this book in one sitting, and shed a lot of tears in the process. The section that affected me the most was about likeability: “Teach [your daughter] to reject likability. Her job is not to make herself likable. Her job is to be her full self, a self that is honest and aware of the equal humanity of other people.” This simple thought was revolutionary for me, especially having it laid out in such a straightforward way.
Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
This is one of the first works of feminist non-fiction that I read. I had heard about the Everyday Sexism project online and when I heard it had been turned into a book, I went out and bought a copy. This one was a hard read. When I was reading it, I was still coming to terms with my own feminism and the sexism I’ve long endured. I was still relatively blind to the sexist realities that so, so many women face. I was still so often complicit in my own oppression. As I read through the personal stories accompanied by stats and commentary, I was blown away. This is such a great primer for those coming to grasp how widespread and bad everyday sexism is.
Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay is just an amazing woman. She’s so intelligent and incisivice and this essay collection makes that very clear. Here Gay talks about feminism and flaws. “I resisted feminism in my late teens and my twenties because I worried that feminism wouldn’t allow me to be the mess of a woman I knew myself to be. But then I began to learn more about feminism. I learned to separate feminism from Feminism or Feminists or the idea of an Essential Feminism—one true feminism to dominate all of womankind.” Gay talks about what it means to be a woman, a feminist, and a human all at the same time. No one is perfect, and we shouldn’t be expected to be. She also dives into intersectional feminism, discussing race and pop-feminism. I love Roxane Gay. Love love love.
Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti
I read this book while I was in the process of losing weight. As I did, summer came around, and people began treating me differently and responding to me differently–and I didn’t like it. I wrote a whole post about it. Valenti’s experience isn’t the same as mine, but as women we’ve all had the experience of being treated like a sex object–whether it’s being cat called, groped on public transit, or assaulted. Valenti discusses this aspect of her life in a raw, jarring, and timely memoir.
We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement by Andi Zeisler
In We Were Feminists Once, Zeisler deconstructs pop culture-, or market place-, feminism. At its core, feminism is a political movement that strives for equality. In today’s society, however, the word “feminist” has become a buzzword and is often used to sell things–whether its celebrity culture, make up, shirts, etc, it’s being used to market. This is a watering down of what feminism really is. Feminism does not mean that any choice a woman makes to “empower” her is inherently feminist. Some of those choices are based in a culture that thrives on oppressing women. It’s okay to make whatever choices you want for yourself–but that alone does not make that specific choice feminist. Zeisler offers insights into this phenomenon and urges us to be aware of it. However, as she is pointing out flaws in today’s feminism, she never separates herself from the movement. She just wants us to be mindful and help make the movement better and what it’s truly meant to be. A very insightful and thought-provoking read.
Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West
When this book came out, I began seeing it floating around book circles. The hardcover’s bright red and yellow cover often caught my eye. This was in 2016 and my journey into feminist discourse was fairly new. I had no idea who Lindy West was. When a copy finally came in for me from the library, I devoured it over thanksgiving while visiting family out west. Want to know a fun coincidence? A few days after I finished reading this, West was speaking at an event in the city I was visiting! I loved the book and went to hear her speak. It was amazing. Here she discusses navigating the life of a feminist in the public eye as well as what it’s like to live as a self described loud woman in a fat body. Humour and wit meet thoughtful and emotional memoir in this excellent essay collection. If you haven’t read it, put it at the top of your list.
I read this book last year when I was really struggling. I talk about this book and Dear Ijeawele in a post I wrote for Book Riot about learning to not give a f*ck. It’s always a struggle (like, seriously) but this book was really helpful for that. In You Don’t Have to Like Me, Alida Nugent talks about her experiences growing up, figuring out who she is, and accepting herself–and how feminism was involved in that. This idea that people don’t have to like you and it’s FINE is somehow still new to me, and is always hard to accept. That’s the part that stuck out to me the most, but there is so much more in this amazing collection. Nugent uses her personal experiences to dissect misogynistic aspects of our culture, and she does it in a smart and interesting way. Nugent is smart, funny, and charming, and I loved reading this one. I have to say, I’m a big fan of feminist discourse/memoir/essay combos, and this is one of the best I’ve read so far!
This book is great. It made me so mad, but in a much needed way. Here Kate Harding tells you what rape culture means, backed up with stats and examples, and discusses what we can do about it. Harding has no time for bullshit. She’s very upfront about the issues and refuses to shy away from them. Rape culture is a real problem, not a buzzword. Rape is a horrible crime, but we usually blame and shame victims not perpetrators. Harding is a smart, snarky cultural critic discussing the ways society is complicit in rape culture and what we can do about it. She even addresses the idea of false reporting. She discusses the ways that society loves to blame anything and anyone other than the rapist for rape. “[Rape is] not a ‘mistake’ but a deliberate decision to treat another person like a soulless object.” People love to blame, “binge drinking, the decline of religious values … bad parenting. … In other words, they’ve put the onus for rape on anything except rapists.” A smart, important, insightful read.
I listened to this gem of a book on audio when I was travelling in the fall. It’s a powerful, smart, thought-provoking read that addresses the expectations and policing placed unduly on women’s lives and bodies. Doyle does this through memorable examples such as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears. Doyledissects why exactly it is that we love to watch women crash and burn, and why we have certain expectations of their behaviour. The trainwreck is “a signpost pointing to what ‘wrong’ is, which boundaries we’re currently placing on femininity, which stories we’ll allow women to have.” This book made me realize the ways I judge other women, too. I will never think of Miley Cyrus the same. This book is just so A+ and quotable, so I’m going to leave you with this:
Masculinity is supposed to be brave, risk taking, rebellious. Femininity is supposed to be sweet, agreeable, people pleasing. Madness makes the one gender riskier and braver. It makes the other less compliant, and harder to deal with. And so it is that a male painter can get wasted and drive his car into a tree to impress his mistress, a mistress, I need to stress, who is in the car at the time, and only add to the legend that is Jackson Pollock. Whereas if a former child actress gets drunk and passes out in her SUV, innocence itself has died.
What are your favourite works of feminist non-fiction? How are you celebrating International Women’s Day?
Beth is the founder and editor of Fuelled by Fiction. She is a twenty-something east coast Canadian girl who loves writing about books and feminism.