50 feminist books and authors to read

50 feminist books and authors to read | Witty Title Here

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Looking to jumpstart or continue your feminist education? This roundup of books is a pretty good start.

Below are 50 books by badass female authors who have all in their own way gone against the status quo. Though by no means comprehensive, this list ranges in genre and scope—including everything from poetry to memoir, 19th-century literature to 21st-century manifesto, and beyond.

Whether or not every woman on this list embraces the label “feminist,” every woman has in some way paved a path for the women who have come after them. These women gave a damn and used their talents as women and writers to make a difference. My only regret is that this list wasn’t twice as long, but then, I’d still be putting it together rather than making a dent in this list!

This roundup is in alphabetical order by author and includes either an excerpt from the book or a quote from a review.

So enjoy, and feel free to add books I missed in the comments. Like this list? Tweet about it.

1. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Nonfiction, 2014

Excerpt: “Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.”

2. Infidel: My Life by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Nonfiction – memoir, 2006

“Narrated in clear, vigorous prose, it traces the author’s geographical journey from Mogadishu to Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, and her desperate flight to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage.” – NY Times

3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Young adult fiction, 2004

“A frightening and sobering look at the cruelty and viciousness that pervade much of contemporary high school life.” – Kirkus

4. The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou

Poetry, 1994

Excerpt:

“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”

5. The Essential Ellen Willis, edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz

Nonfiction, 2014

“Edited by Willis’s daughter, it begins with a 1969 essay on Willis’s awakening to feminism and concludes with excerpts from an unfinished book exploring the ‘cultural unconscious in American politics.'” – NY Times

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Science fiction, 1985

“It has become a sort of tag for those writing about shifts towards policies aimed at controlling women, and especially women’s bodies and reproductive functions.” – The Guardian

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Fiction, 1847

Excerpt: “I am not an angel,’ I asserted; ‘and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me – for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you: which I do not at all anticipate.”

8. The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Fiction, 1899

Excerpt: “She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.”

9. Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros

Fiction – short stories, 1991

“The stories are often about the romantic dreams of young girls longing to escape stifling small-town life who discover that things are not much different on the other side of the border.” – Library Journal

10. The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton

Poetry, 2012

“[This] may be the most important book of poetry to appear in years.” – Publishers Weekly

11. When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins

Nonfiction, 2009

“Collins uses her great sense of revealing anecdotes, engaging personalities, representative case histories, resonant stories, and startling details to defamiliarize a decade we thought we remembered, and to show how truly far American women have come in every aspect of their lives.” – Huffington Post

12. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Nonfiction, 1949

Excerpt: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

13. The Hidden Face of Eve by Nawal El Saadawi

Nonfiction, 2006

“A powerful indictment of the treatment of women in many parts of the Middle East.” – Labour Herald

14. In Search of Islamic Feminism by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea

Nonfiction, 1998

“A remarkable, stereotype-shattering, gender-bending study of Middle Eastern women and their efforts to gain equality.” – Kirkus

15. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine

Nonfiction, 2010

Excerpt: “When the environment makes gender salient, there is a ripple effect on the mind. We start to think of ourselves in terms of our gender, and stereotypes and social expectations become more prominent in the mind. This can change self-perception, alter interests, debilitate or enhance ability, and trigger unintentional discrimination. In other words, the social context influences who you are, how you think and what you do.”

16. The Women’s Room by Marilyn French

Fiction, 1977

“A biting social commentary on an emotional world gone silently haywire, The Women’s Room is a modern classic that offers piercing insight into the social norms accepted so blindly and revered so completely.” – Goodreads

17. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

Nonfiction, 1963

Excerpt: “Over and over again, stories in women’s magazines insist that women can know fulfillment only at the moment of giving birth to a child. They deny the years when she can no longer look forward to giving birth, even if she repeats the act over and over again. In the feminine mystique, there is no other way for a woman to dream of creation or of the future. There is no other way she can even dream about herself, except as her children’s mother, her husband’s wife.”

18. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Nonfiction – essays, 2014

Excerpt: “It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away.”

19. The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar

Nonfiction, 1979

Excerpt: “A life of feminine submission, of ‘contemplative purity,’ is a life of silence, a life that has no pen and no story, while a life of female rebellion, of ‘significant action,’ is a life that must be silenced, a life whose monstrous pen tells a terrible story.”

20. The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer

Nonfiction, 1970

“The publication of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch in 1970 was a landmark event, raising eyebrows and ire while creating a shock wave of recognition in women around the world with its steadfast assertion that sexual liberation is the key to women’s liberation.” – Amazon

21. The Sex Myth by Rachel Hills

Nonfiction, 2015

“Hills argues persuasively that when our value is tied to sexual desirability and performance, we live with a new kind of shame…The Sex Myth provides a clarifying framework for understanding new versions of old contradictions…Hills makes a smart argument against that strain of neo- or anti-feminism that would have women rebel against objectification by objectifying ourselves.” – NY Times

22. Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks

Nonfiction, 1981

Excerpt: “If women want a feminist revolution—ours is a world that is crying out for feminist revolution—then we must assume responsibility for drawing women together in political solidarity. That means we must assume responsibility for eliminating all the forces that divide women.”

23. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Fiction, 1937

“A deeply soulful novel that comprehends love and cruelty, and separates the big people from the small of heart, without ever losing sympathy for those unfortunates who don’t know how to live properly.” – Zadie Smith

24. Cherry by Mary Karr

Nonfiction, 2000

“From Mary Karr comes this gorgeously written, often hilarious story of her tumultuous teens and sexual coming-of-age. Picking up where the bestselling The Liars’ Club left off, Karr dashes down the trail of her teen years with customary sass, only to run up against the paralyzing self-doubt of a girl in bloom.” – SF Chronicle

25. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston

Nonfiction – memoir, 1976

“Like the ‘ghosts’ in its subtitle (the word refers to the white Americans around whom Kingston grew up in Sacramento), The Woman Warrior stubbornly refuses to be either entirely fictive or entirely real. Perhaps the second most remarkable thing about the book is that in its wake, the American literary world still seems to regard the tissue-thin boundary between memoir and fiction as absolute and inviolable.” – Slate

50 feminist books and authors to read | Witty TItle Here

26. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Science fiction, 1969

“No single work did more to upend the genre’s conventions than The Left Hand of Darkness. In this novel, her fourth, Le Guin imagined a world whose human inhabitants have no fixed gender: their sexual roles are determined by context and express themselves only once every month.” – Paris Review

27. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy

Nonfiction, 2005

Excerpt: “A tawdry, cartoonlike version of female sexuality has become so ubiquitous, it no longer seems particular. What we once regarded as a kind of sexual expression we now regard as sexuality.”

28. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Nonfiction – essays and speeches, 1984

Excerpt: “Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.”

29. Sexual Politics by Kate Millett

Nonfiction, 1970

Excerpt: “Whatever the ‘real’ differences between the sexes may be, we are not likely to know them until the sexes are treated differently, that is alike.”

30. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Fiction, 1908

Excerpt: “Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them— that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.”

31. How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

Nonfiction – memoir, 2011

Excerpt: “What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be. Are you a feminist? Hahaha. Of course you are.”

32. The Diary Of Anaïs Nin by Anaïs Nin

Nonfiction – memoir, 1966

Excerpt: “I disregard the proportions, the measures, the tempo of the ordinary world. I refuse to live in the ordinary world as ordinary women. To enter ordinary relationships. I want ecstasy. I am a neurotic—in the sense that I live in my world. I will not adjust myself to the world. I am adjusted to myself.”

33. Fat Is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach

Nonfiction, 1978

“Orbach throws out old-fashioned notions of fat being the price one must pay for a life of greed and sloth. She proposes a vastly more complex thesis: namely, that gender inequality makes women fat.” – The Guardian

34. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Fiction, 2013

“Many of the elements of Nao’s story—schoolgirl bullying, unemployed suicidal “salarymen,” kamikaze pilots—are among a Western reader’s most familiar images of Japan, but in Nao’s telling, refracted through Ruth’s musings, they become fresh and immediate, occasionally searingly painful.” – NY Times

35. Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny

Nonfiction, 2014

Excerpt: “This is one of the reasons why women, and particularly young women, have adapted particularly well to the way in which social media and the capitalisation of the social realm requires everyone to apply the logic of branding to our own lives in order to gain followers. We have always been encouraged to understand femininity as a form of branding, albeit one burnt into our flesh at birth.”

36. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Fiction, 1963

Excerpt: “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”

37. Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt

Nonfiction, 2014

“Pollitt’s exploration of the hypocrisy of abortion opponents—including the ‘inverse relationship between support for abortion restrictions and support for programs that help low-income pregnant women, babies and children’—is so witheringly encyclopedic it will be an eye opener for those who have never darkened the door of a women’s studies classroom.” – NY Times

38. The Female Man by Joanna Russ

Science fiction, 1975

“It’s influenced William Gibson and been listed as one of the ten essential works of science fiction. Most importantly, Joanna Russ’s The Female Man is a suspenseful, surprising and darkly witty chronicle of what happens when Jeannine, Janet, Joanna, and Jael—four alternative selves from drastically different realities—meet.” – Goodreads

39. The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock by Tanya Selvaratnam

Nonfiction, 2014

“On one hand, it’s a critical inquiry into the world of reproductive technologies that have made it possible for women to have babies later and later in life. On another, it’s an examination of the cultural forces at play over the last 40-odd years that, Selvaratnam argues, have encouraged women to delay motherhood until they’re financially, professionally and emotionally ready. And on still another it is an angry, intimate account of Selvaratnam’s own struggle to have a child in her late 30s and early 40s—a struggle that led to multiple miscarriages, IVF, the discovery of and treatment for two rare cancers and, eventually, the end of her marriage.” – Chicago Tribune

40. Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons

Nonfiction, 2002

“There is little sugar but lots of spice in journalist Rachel Simmons’s brave and brilliant book that skewers the stereotype of girls as the kinder, gentler gender. Odd Girl Out begins with the premise that girls are socialized to be sweet with a double bind: they must value friendships; but they must not express the anger that might destroy them. Lacking cultural permission to acknowledge conflict, girls develop what Simmons calls ‘a hidden culture of silent and indirect aggression.'” – Amazon

41. Just Kids by Patti Smith

Nonfiction – memoir, 2010

Excerpt: “I’m certain, as we filled down the great staircase, that I appeared the same as ever, a moping twelve years-old, all arms and legs. But secretly I knew I had been transformed, moved by the revelation that human beings create art, that to be an artist was to see what others could not.”

42. Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith

Nonfiction – essays, 2009

“Smith casts her acute eye over material both personal and cultural, with wonderfully engaging essays-some published here for the first time-on diverse topics including literature, movies, going to the Oscars, British comedy, family, feminism, Obama, Katharine Hepburn, and Anna Magnani.” – Goodreads

43. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Nonfiction – essays, 2014

Excerpt: “Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don’t.”

44. Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag

Nonfiction – essays, 1966

Excerpt: “None of us can ever retrieve that innocence before all theory when art knew no need to justify itself, when one did not ask of a work of art what it said because one knew what it did. From now to the end of consciousness, we are stuck with the task of defending art.”

45. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem

Nonfiction – essays, 1983

“Steinem’s truly personal writing is here, from the humorous exposé ‘I Was a Playboy Bunny’ to the moving tribute to her mother “Ruth’s Song (Because She Could Not Sing It)” to prescient essays on female genital mutilation and the difference between erotica and pornography. The satirical and hilarious ‘If Men Could Menstruate’ alone is worth the price of admission. – Amazon

46. Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti

Nonfiction, 2007

Excerpt: “What’s the worst possible thing you can call a woman? You’re probably thinking of words like slut, whore, bitch, cunt, skank. Okay, now, what are the worst things you can call a guy? Fag, girl, bitch, pussy. Notice anything? The worst thing you can call a girl is a girl. The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl. Being a woman is the ultimate insult. Now tell me that’s not royally fucked up.”

47. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Fiction, 1982

“Alice Walker’s choice and effective handling of the epistolary style has enabled her to tell a poignant tale of women’s struggle for equality and independence without either the emotional excess of her previous novel ‘Meridian’ or the polemical excess of her short-story collection ‘You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down.'” – NY Times

48. Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolfe

Nonfiction, 2012

“Exhilarating and groundbreaking, Vagina: A New Biography combines rigorous science, explained for lay readers, with cultural history and deeply personal considerations of the role of female desire in female identity, creativity, and confidence, from interviewees of all walks of life.” – Goodreads

49. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

Nonfiction, 1929

Excerpt: “Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a protected occupation.”

50. Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Nonfiction, 1998

Bitch is a brilliant tract on the history of manipulative female behavior. By looking at women who derive their power from their sexuality, Wurtzel offers a trenchant cultural critique of contemporary gender relations.” – Goodreads

 

What books would you add to this list? Leave your suggestions in the comments, and I just might do a part two to this post.

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Comments

  1. A+++ list! Love seeing some of my faves, like Bad Feminist and Their Eyes Were Watching God. I’m definitely bookmarking this, as I need to jumpstart my 2016 reading list and the timing couldn’t be more fortuitous. 🙂

  2. This list is definitely missing hooks, bell (1981). Ain’t I a woman?: Black women and feminism and hooks, bell (1984). Feminist theory: from margin to center. So good.

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