I saw a book table in Indigo around the summer of 2019, titled something similar to Must-Read by Women. The book that caught my attention was pink with tattered edges; Severance, by Ling Ma.
In a subtle apocalypse landscape, a woman deals with surviving, pregnancy, and heartbreak. As engaging as the book is, it was refreshing to see a woman – written by a female – dealing with a familiar trope (the zombie apocalypse).
When people asked me what I was reading that summer, they assumed it was feminist literature. And, while I guess it was. It didn’t feel like feminist literature to me. But it brought up several questions about feminist literature, and friends prompted me to share my feminist literature knowledge.
I am always looking for book recommendations, so shoot me an email, or comment below!
– Where to start With Feminist Lit-
Well, the best place to dip your toes in these waters is with whatever it is you like reading or are most curious about. You’ll be more engaged and it is easiest to compare something through a female perspective against something you’re already familiar with. I found this is what pushed me to explore more with my self-guided education in this area. But, if you’re looking to follow along with something I’ve already done, the list of links is divided by sub-genre below.
I’ve found the more I read, the more books I want to add to the list. If you’re still unsure where to start, try picking a classic, and rotating genres from there, to keep things interesting.
Classic Feminist Literature
The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
I know why the caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou (Coming Soon)
The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf (Coming Soon)
The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir
The Feminine Mystique – Betty Friedan
Women, Culture, and Politics – Angela Y. Davis
Moving Beyond Words – Gloria Steinem (Coming Soon)
Fiction Fem Lit
Non-Fiction Feminist Literature
Fem Lit Essays and Collections
Feminasty – Erin Gibson (Coming Soon)
Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay
Daughters of Development – Sinith Sittirak, Sinith, Maria Mies
My Favourite Fem Lit Reads
Supper Club – Laura Williams
The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf (Coming Soon)
– Books On My Feminist Reading List –
Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions – Gloria Steinem
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America – Melissa Harris-Perry
Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl – Carrie Brownstein
King Kong Theory – Virginie Despentes
Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China – Leta Hong Fincher
Sex & World Peace – Valerie M. Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, & Chad F. Emmett
I ain’t a Woman – Bell Hooks
Her Body and Other Parties – Carmen Maria Machado
Whos Story is this? Old Conflicts, New Chapters – Rebecca Solnit
Men Explain Things To Me – Rebecca Solnit
How to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran
Delusions of Gender – Cordelia Fine
Sex Object – Jessica Valenti
The Flight Cage – Rebecca Dunham
Everyone’s’ perfect place to start will be different. If you’re having trouble choosing one, pull names out of a hat? Some of the books may be hard to read. They may be boring or seem dated. Try and at least skim those for key insights. Make sure you read things you disagree with as well, it will be a quick way to gain a whole lot of insight into why you don’t agree with it.
And if worst comes to worst, you can always try a new book.
– Key Movements in Feminist Literature –
Feminism has undergone 4 key movements so far. While each movement has distinct issues, we are still dealing with some of the same issues our grandmothers were. Reading the classics lets you appreciate how far women come, and I find they can be really succinct in articulating cultural issues that are more complex in the modern day.
First-wave feminism occurred from the 18th century to the 1920s. Women were defending themselves from gropers using hat pins. The suffragettes were trying to get voting rights, the right to divorce, and, abolition. These women also get a bad rep for prohibition; they supported the lobbyists of as a way to curb abuse from husbands and limit a woman’s chance of being married to an alcoholic with no way out.
The second wave of feminism, spanning from the 1920s-70s, didn’t see widespread acceptance until just after WW2 when women were expected to move out of the office back into domestic life. One of the earliest and most noted books from this period is Simone de Beauvoir‘s The Second Sex, said to unite housewives spread throughout suburbia. Early in the ’60s, the pill was approved by the FDA, renewing women’s ability to pursue education and careers while delaying a family.
Third-wave feminism occurred from the 1980s to the early 2000s, reinforcing the focus on sex positivity, and focused on the economic position of women. This makes sense, as women were finally allowed to open bank accounts by themselves. Third-wave feminism sought for women to be respected for their merits, and many advancements were made in how women were expected to present themselves, or what they were legally allowed to wear (read more about this in The Beauty Myth).
We’re still considered to be in the early stages of fourth-wave feminism. I’ve seen many conversations and other blog posts about what defines this wave. A few of the key ones include intersectionality, rape culture, and the ability to organize and share information around the world. More women have access to social media, widespread new outlets, and television, and they are speaking up for their sisters with hashtags like #metoo and #timesup.
Where is this wave going? I don’t know, but we are starting to see several young women making names for themselves. Many are arguing that we need to enroll men in the fight as the final way to achieve equality. But that also means that we need men who are willing to step up and educate themselves. So if that’s you here – then I welcome you wholeheartedly. (Coming Soon – A Beginners Guide to Feminist Literature for Men)
– Questions I Find Useful while Reading –
Because there is such a range of time in the books you may be reading, it’s good to refresh yourself on any big political or societal influences the publishing decade may have on the writers’ interpretation of a subject.
The next important thing I like to do when analyzing media is something a journalist taught me. Who is it written by? For? And for what purpose? This will allow you to figure out how to understand the perspective of their words better and help you check bias against the author’s intention of the book.
Finally, as key topics are being brought up, I like to see how the author is reflective of the population. Were the ideas radical, revolutionary, later discredited? Are they inferring the right thing from the works that they’re reading? Is their reading list dated, ad if so are they acknowledging that, or providing other relevance?
And if you’re not into academic reading, or you don’t have the capacity to at the moment, that’s okay! Some great non-fiction books are just as thought-provoking and informative. (Coming soon, Easy Books for your first Fem Lit Read)
It may seem like a lot of work to go through when reading a book, but the more you’ll be able to absorb more from the content you are consuming. It’ll help you apply the knowledge better in everyday contexts. It’s relevant in all books to know the authors’ main purpose in writing the book, I find the best time to analyze this is after reading.
Common Questions for Non-Fiction Lit
What social circles or other studies what the author related to? Who were their friends and what kind of works; literature, art, or otherwise – were they producing?
What has changed since this book has written? What has not?
Has this work been traditionally celebrated or ignored by the general public? Why? Do you agree?
Common Questions for Fiction Lit
Who are your favourite and least favourite characters? Why?
Did the book’s ending satisfy you? How so?
What was the author commenting on at the time the book was written. How accurate was it to how the problem was/is being dealt with?
What psychological effects of the patriarchy on characters and what were ways they expressed that to others?
What expressions of sisterhood were there in the writing? Was it used as a solution or liberation from the patriarchy in any way?
– what have I learned from fem lit? –
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde
I keep coming back to this quote. The more I read about different women and their experiences, the more I see my own. But I also get to learn so much more. You get to judge your own culture and be more critical of it when you get to see that there are other ways to do things. And to fix our problems, every woman needs to work together to keep each other safe.
How I See Myself and the Media
When you grow up digesting women written by men, largely for men, it can feel like a lot of the problems you have are pretty foreign. It has been so refreshing to see ideas that I was taught growing up all my life were ‘radical’ have been rationalized and debated for decades.
It made my decisions to stop shaving and wearing make-up* feel more grounded, and had me caring less what people thought of those choices. I have Naomi Wolfe, Gloria Steinem, and Roxanne Gay to give me a pep-talk when I need it.
It has also been some of the first times I remember feeling joy about existing past 50. Even when I was young, I wasn’t sure what was out there for older women if you didn’t have children. This was one of the first times I didn’t feel like the odd one out for being upset about how birth was viewed by men. And I learned horrific things that men do to women during, and after birth… ahem*husbandstich*.
*I still like to get dressed up. I grew up dancing and makeup can be such a fun art! I also wear it for work, as it’s generally required in the hospitality industry for women. I’ve been told going into interviews to ensure I wear makeup.
I worried that Feminism wouldn’t allow me to be the mess of a woman I know myself to be. But then I began to learn more…Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
I Feel Better
Feminism felt a lot heavier before I started reading comical essays on it and reading essays that talk about competitive scrabble. But things usually feel lighter when we find others who are struggling with us, don’t they? It’s important to see how others dealt with issues that don’t have the proper space they deserve in society. Books allow you to explore intimate issues at your own pace and in the safety of your own place.
That is not to say that these books aren’t difficult or triggering. It can still be hard to read about experiences. I will do my best to create trigger warning collapsible sections as part of the reviews.
But, overall it does feel better to be able to help educate others and to know how others process things that you may or may not know anything about. It can help you be a better support to loved ones going through issues. It can help you identify issues, and create strategies to fight sexism in your everyday life. And those who know me know I like a structured plan.
It’s Made Me MORE Empathetic
I found myself becoming pretty burnt out when it came to feminist arguments leading up to my year of female exclusive reading. I would be harsher about what I thought feminist actions were, and often I would judge others as performative feminists, not that I was perfect.
My reading has opened me up to so many different processes of thought, which I am grateful for, and has me thinking more before I do something. Seeing the existence of all these women fighting has me feeling more hopeful, which has, in turn, softened how hard I make myself fight. It allowed me to entertain a wider range of conversations, and link a wider range of ideas.
But most of all, it made me love older generations of women so much more. When you realize how much of women’s history has been erased, it makes you want to put in work to save more of it now. I also find myself with more patience for women who haven’t decided to educate themselves yet. It can be hard to process all the ways we are being oppressed, but we can’t make an effective change until we understand what we’re trying to change.
– Other Resources –
Probably the most famous book club by a woman is Oprah Winfrey’s (overflowing with reading ideas). Emma Watson was running Our Shared Shelf (focusing on feminist literature) until the beginning of 2020, but the GoodReads page is still up. On it, you can find not only a plethora of books to add to your reading list but insightful questions and reviews from other readers. New to the scene is Reese Witherspoon’s book club on Hello Sunshine, with both YA and adult reads.
If you’re ever looking for some good feminist reading, or want a new perspective on news topics, you should check out some of the feminist magazines. Mrs was co-founded by Gloria Steinem back in 1973 and is still running. For us Canadians, there are also Herizons. If you’re looking for some younger perspectives, be sure to check out Maggie, written by a couple of Toronto women.
If you’re looking for facts and figures, the Canadian Women’s Foundation is a good place to start. Plan International also does a lot of great articles, studies, and work across the globe for women and children. The Global Fund for Women also has a crazy number of resources, from scholarships and business funding to campaigns you can get involved with. There is also a large collection of studies from WHO and the UN Women.
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