March is Women’s History Month, so what better way to celebrate that than by reading some of the most essential feminist texts written by the best and brightest female writers. And I feel like I’m going to be starting every description with “this book changed my life” but in mosts cases, it’s 100% true.
So here is a list of some of my favorite feminist texts:
I talked about this in a blog post a couple months ago, but this is basically a transcript of Adichie’s Ted Talk, which was also sampled in Beyonce’s song, ***Flawless. In it, she discusses her childhood growing up in Nigeria, about how she came to realize that “feminist” isn’t a dirty word, and how she believes that all people should be feminists, end of discussion.
I read this book when I was 13 and, you guessed it, it changed my life. I became mildly obsessed with Sylvia Plath in middle school in the way that all angsty, precocious preteen girls with vocabularies and glasses too big for their own good do. But the Bell Jar is Plath’s seminal work, a vaguely autobiographical novel about her struggles with depression and anxiety and her suicide attempts. It perfectly
I recently read this book of poetry, which beautifully encapsulates womanhood through the lens of romance, sexual assault, abusive relationships, love and loss. I highly recommend it to everyone everywhere.
Yet another book I read in high school that changed my life, this book is the story of a teenage girl, Melinda, who is raped by a prominent and popular upperclassman athlete at a party before her freshman year. She is alienated by her friends and peers, and sinks into a massive depression. Eventually, she is able to reach out to her old friends, and to cope with her experiences. It’s touching and haunting and beautiful and I think I need to re-read it soon because it’s so GOOD.
I also went through a phase where I was obsessed with the Bronte sisters after doing a massive project on Wuthering Heights in my freshman year of high school. Wuthering Heights was published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, because men sell better right? It’s one of the foremost Victorian gothic novels, and the fact that it was written by a woman was revolutionary.
Another early female author that transcended the genre, there have been countless adaptations and works based on the seminal figures of Lizzie and Darcy. (Plus, as I like to remind everyone at regular intervals, I share 3/4 of a name with Lizzie Bennet).
Because she’s one of the most popular, published and influential (female) authors of the 21st century, and has produced many of the foremost feminist figures in modern children’s literature. (And yes, I know there’s been a lot of discourse about it, but despite her flaws, the series still transcends the boundaries of most of children’s literature).
I’m currently reading this right now, and I absolutely love it. In her series of essays, Roxane Gay examines how we as a society are so quick to put so-called “feminist icons” up on a pedestal, and so quick to tear them down once they make a mistake. She postulates about how hard it is to enjoy much of mainstream media and pop culture once you become an enlightened feminist, because so much of it is so awful and un-feminist. She calls herself a bad feminist because she does not want to be placed on that feminist icon pedestal, because she knows that sometimes she can succumb to less productive ways of thinking, and how sometimes being feminist is having to choose cognitively to think a certain way and ignore the prejudices and preconceived notions society forces upon us.
In this seminal text, Woolf discusses female writers, and how many were stunted by their lack of ability to govern themselves freely. She argues that many female writers of the earlier centuries could have been so much more prolific if their talents had been nurtured and if they’d been allowed to get a room of their own to pursue their work without distraction and societal expectations.
This book, which is about to be a Hulu series this year, describes women’s lives in a right-wing dystopian society where women have been stripped of all rights and agencies and instead are treated as prize breeders, used only for their reproductive capabilities. Gosh, sounds sort of familiar? Sadly enough, the novel, written in the Reagan era, just keeps getting more relevant. Sigh.
This book, for all intents and purposes, kickstarted the second wave of feminism in the 60s. It’s a compilation of data that Betty Friedan collected from college women about how satisfied – or, more accurately, unsatisfied – they were with their lives. Once it was published, many housewives and other women realized they weren’t alone in their ennui and general dissatisfaction, and began to question the reasons why they were downtrodden and subservient to men.
I read this book a few years back (and forgot to include it in the photo, whoops) and was absolutely enthralled. It examines the laotong relationships in 19th century China, which were essentially unbreakable sister-friendships formed by contracts between two prominent young girls’ families, much like an arranged marriage. It chronicles two such girls, Lily and Snow Flower, through their lives from young childhood through marriage and beyond.
This was one of the first so-called “feminist texts” which was written by mother of Frankenstein author and creator of the horror genre, Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley. In it, Shelley argues that women could not be expected to contribute to society if they were not given proper educations, an argument which is, unfortunately, still alive and well today, some 200 odd years after it’s publication.
I think I’ve read this short story in every English class I’ve been in, from middle school to college, and with good reason. The story follows a woman whose husband has deemed her too fragile to do anything after childbirth. She is confined to her bedroom under her husband’s and doctor’s orders, where she slowly begins her descent into madness, fixated on the garish yellow wallpaper. What seems like a creepy story is actually a wonderful examination into the patriarchal society and gender roles of the Victorian times, and how they often negatively impacted the women who bore the brunt of them.
I read this book in my college prep English course in high school, and I loved it. In a sea of stuffy “great American novels” by bland, boring white dudes, this book stood out to me like a lifeline. It follows the protagonist, Janie, through three marriages as she strives for empowerment and sexual awakening against the backdrop of strict gender roles and racist ideologies.
It’s all in the title, folks. bell hooks is one of the foremost black, feminist writers of the modern era, and in this text she lays out the history of the feminist movement thus far, and seeks to persuade the reader that feminism, is in fact, for everybody.
Obviously, this is not a complete list, and is limited largely by my own knowledge and experiences. I’d love to see your suggestions!