11 Feminist Books for International Women’s Day
On 8th March every year women around the world celebrate International Women’s Day. If you’re looking for some great feminist books to read to celebrate, then look no further!
What makes a book feminist? For non-fiction this seems obvious: information or opinion about gender equality. For fiction, this question is a bit more complex. Should a story simply highlight inequality, or suggest solutions? Stories that feature women prominently are not always feminist by definition. For example, Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t a feminist book just because it features a central female character, but The Handmaid’s Tale is feminist, despite its central character having no personal agency.
Most feminist books are either inspirational or aspirational, and they make change seem inevitable and imperative. Although this change can mean different things depending on when the book was written and from what cultural background, a desire for progress is always central.
As ‘Press for Progress’ is the theme for International Women’s Day 2018, here are eleven books that all press for progress:
1. We Should All Be Feminists: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We Should All Be Feminists is based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2013 TED Talk of the same name. It became popular because of it’s central message: teach girls that they can have ambition, but not too much … to be successful, but not too successful, or they’ll threaten men. The talk has become highly influential since, and was even featured in Beyoncé’s 2014 track ‘Flawless’. We Should All Be Feminists looks to define feminism for the 21st century. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie argues that “feminist” shouldn’t be an insult, and describes the ways all of culture can change to reach equality. This is a must-read.
2. The Handmaid’s Tale: Margaret Atwood
Although it has never been out of print since it was published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale has seen a renaissance recently. Along with George Orwell’s 1984, the book shot up the bestseller lists in early 2017 in response to the US election. The famous red capes and white bonnets that the Handmaid’s are forced to wear have been seen across the world at protest marches. There has been a successful television adaptation, voted best TV show of 2017 for its unflinching portrayal of an ultra-conservative American future. If you need any more persuading to read this feminist classic, take it from one of the novel’s central messages: Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum or Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down.
3. She’s Not There: Jennifer Finney Boylan
What does gender mean? What does it mean to be a woman? Jennifer Finney Boylan explores this in her book about transitioning from male to female. In the process, she discovers the unexpected results of being seen as a woman in society. Where Jennifer fights the urge to eat salad, James would eat plates of ribs. Jennifer’s impression of what it is to be a girl turns out to be very different from the reality of being a woman. This is an honest and frank memoir about what it is like to transition that benefits from a significant afterword from Jennifer’s best friend, Richard Russo, about the experience of coming to terms with his friends new identity.
4. Suffragette: Emmeline Pankhurst
What list of feminist books could be complete without a tale of the Suffragettes? Emmeline Pankhurst is arguably one of the most famous names in the fight for the right for women to vote and in Suffragette she explains the history of the women’s suffrage movement and the struggle to be taken seriously. The book was first published in 1914, before the right for women to vote was won in 1918. Despite knowing how history panned out, this is still a compelling book that gives a first-person insight into what went into gaining the right to vote.
5. Beloved: Toni Morrison
Sethe is born a slave at the Sweet Home plantation, until she manages to escape to Cincinnati, Ohio. But she is still not free. Her memories of slavery continue to haunt her. Beloved is a very powerful novel about the traumatic impact of slavery, and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It also has black women’s experience at its heart, looking deeply at mother-daughter relationships. This is an excellent book to read on International Women’s Day.
6. Women In Science: Rachel Ignotofsky
You’ve probably heard of Marie Curie, but what about Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon? Women in Science sets out to correct this. It features 50 inspirational women from the ancient to the modern world. It’s a scientific fact: women rock! If you’ve ever thought about getting into a STEM field, this is the book for you.
7. Feminist Fight Club: Jessica Bennett
Jessica Bennett once attended a monthly meeting where women shared sexist job frustrations and tactics for tackling them. Later, this sharing turned into the book Feminist Fight Club. Unlike 100 years ago, much of the sexism present in today’s working world is harder to identify, though no less insidious. As Bennett describes, it’s about recognising when men expect women to take notes in a meeting, or being consistently talked over in a group setting. However, this book has many useful tips and strategies for navigating these troubles in the workplace successfully. Read this book then start your own Feminist Fight Club.
8. A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
First published in 1929, this is one of the most famous feminist books. It is based on a series of lectures Virginia Woolf gave at Cambridge University in 1928 arguing for literal and figurative space for women writers. Woolf invents the character of Judith Shakespeare, an imaginary sister to William Shakespeare, who would never have achieved the same success because of the different ways men and women are treated. She argues that women must have financial freedom to rent ‘a room of one’s own’, in order to write fiction in a literary tradition dominated by men. Inspiring words for any feminist.
9. Wonder Woman – Warbringer: Leigh Bardugo
A Wonder Woman book? Sign me up immediately. However, this is also a great feminist book. Diana, the Princess of the Amazons, is desperate to prove herself to her warrior sisters. But, when the opportunity comes, she throws it away to save a mortal, Alia Keralis. However, Alia is a Warbringer – a descendent of Helen of Troy – fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery. To save the world, Diana and Alia must stand side-by-side against the tide of war. This book features female friendships, multi-dimensional characters, and overflows with empowerment.
10. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings: Maya Angelou
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is Maya Angelou’s autobiographical account of her childhood years. At the age of three, her and her brother were sent to live in Stamps, Arkansas. While living there, she experiences racism, segregation, and an attack from a man much older than her. Looking back on her experiences, Angelou relates how strength of character and a love of literature helped her overcome trauma. This is a seminal book about forming a cultural identity as a black woman, and how literacy can express it.
11. Everywoman: Jess Phillips
Jess Phillips is a current MP for Birmingham Yardley, so she knows something about speaking up. ‘Any woman who dares to speak out has to prepare herself for the slow and subtle push for her voice to conform to the norm’, she says. Everywoman is similarly unpretentious throughout. It describes the workings of the UK Parliament and calls for ordinary women to get involved in politics. An inspirational and insightful treatise that is perfect for International Women’s Day.
All of these titles are available from the Listening Books library as audiobooks. Visit our our website to find out more membership!
What are your favourite feminist books? Let us know in the comments!
If you liked this post, you may also like #ThanksforTyping; The Women Behind Famous Male Writers.
This post was written by Abigail Jaggers.