If this Feminism 101 were a class, you bet your ass there would be a reading list. Today I have assembled some of the best books I’ve read that would be useful and thought-provoking for new or potential feminists.
Each of these books explain in their own way what feminism is and why it’s necessary. They explore ideas that are central to feminism and bring a face to those ideas. Not only so, but they highlight the realness of these issues and experiences women and femmes face everyday.
Many people are privileged enough to be able to ignore these issues because they do not directly affect them. Some are so desensitized to these issues because it happens to them so often they think that’s just how it is. And some just don’t have the language to describe these experiences. When I read these books, my eyes were opened. There were so many things I hadn’t thought about or didn’t know how to put a name to. Without further ado, here is a feminist reading list for beginners!
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
An essay adapted from a Ted talk of the same name, We Should All Be Feminists is a short little book that functions as a primer for defining feminism in the 21st century. Pulling from her own experience, Adichie discusses what feminism means today. This is an excellent place to start!
With humor and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century—one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences—in the U.S., in her native Nigeria, and abroad—offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike.
Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
Women and men are generally equal constitutionally. That’s the same thing as equality, right? Sexism is over, right? I would love for the answer to be, “Right!” But that’s far, far from the case. Blatant sexism might usually be taboo in polite company or a big “joke.” However, over the years it has found a way to become quieter and more insidious. Want evidence? Check out the Everyday Sexism Project which turned into this great (and infuriating) book. Filled with insightful commentary, personal stories, and statistics, Everyday Sexism shows us that sexism today is alive and well.
In 2012 after being sexually harassed on London public transport Laura Bates, a young journalist, started a project called Everyday Sexism to collect stories for a piece she was writing on the issue. Astounded by the response she received and the wide range of stories that came pouring in from all over the world, she quickly realised that the situation was far worse than she’d initially thought. Enough was enough. From being leered at and wolf-whistled on the street, to aggravation in the work place and serious sexual assault, it was clear that sexism had been normalised. Bates decided it was time for change.
Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti
I read this book when I was just starting to find my footing as a feminist. This book brought a face to those issues for me. It brought some of those ideas close to home, and I wrote a whole post about it. I think this is a good read for those who don’t necessarily understand the experience of, or have the language for, sexual harassment and assault. It highlights a culture that allows it and thinks it’s inevitable.
In a darkly funny and bracing memoir, Valenti explores the toll that sexism takes from the every day to the existential. Sex Object explores the painful, funny, embarrassing, and sometimes illegal moments that shaped Valenti’s adolescence and young adulthood in New York City, revealing a much shakier inner life than the confident persona she has cultivated as one of the most recognizable feminists of her generation.
Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay
This book is smart, thoughtful, well written, and incredibly approachable. In it, Gay talks about what it means to be a woman and to be a feminist. The key to that? We’re humans, and therefore imperfect. Knowing that kind of takes the pressure off. It’s freeing to consider yourself a Bad Feminist and inescapably imperfect. But doing so also asks us to stop demanding perfection from others, especially women/feminists in the spotlight. If we’re not perfect, neither are they.
In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture. Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
The essay that begins this book is where the title comes from. In it, Solnit describes the experience of having men wrongly assume they are more knowledgeable than her and then condescendingly explaining things to her. Even when she says she already knows. Solnit’s discussion of this phenomenon brought about the coining of the term “mansplaining.” Throughout Men Explain Things to Me, Solnit explores the aspects of society that lead to such “mansplaining” and the silencing of women. Because that’s the real issue here. Society silences women in so many ways and it’s very harmful. Reading this really makes that clear.
In her comic, scathing essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” Rebecca Solnit took on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. She wrote about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t, about why this arises, and how this aspect of the gender wars works, airing some of her own hilariously awful encounters.
She ends on a serious note—because the ultimate problem is the silencing of women who have something to say, including those saying things like, “He’s trying to kill me!”
This book features that now-classic essay with six perfect complements, including an examination of the writer Virginia Woolf ’s embrace of mystery, of not knowing, of doubt and ambiguity, a highly original inquiry into marriage equality, and a terrifying survey of the scope of contemporary violence against women.
What do you think? Have you read these books? Will you?
Check out more in the Feminism 101 series here!
Beth O’Brien is a library assistant and book blogger. Born and raised in Atlantic Canada, she lives in picturesque Nova Scotia with her cat Edith. You can often find her rocking double denim with her nose in a book and a craft beer in her hand. Follow her on Twitter @fuelldbyfiction.