By BDP Staff
Women’s rights is a hot topic at the moment, and more and more college-aged women are proudly describing themselves as feminists. While some young feminists are choosing to major in subjects like Women’s Studies, others are expressing their feminist views at rallies and in campus clubs. But in addition to donning the obligatory pink cap, it’s helpful to know a little bit about what exactly feminism means, the women who have paved the way, and the things worth fighting for. The 30 books listed below can help a proud woman get started. These are the 30 books every young feminist should own.
Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism
Bell hooks’s Ain’t I a Woman? remains as relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1981. Hooks writes specifically about the experiences of women of color in various feminism movements throughout history, ultimately making the argument that most movements do not fully recognize diversity.
All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation
If only Betty Friedan, Sylvia Plath, and other early feminists could see American women now! While the aforementioned wrote about the ways in which women in the 1950s and 60s were stifled by marriage and other traditional gender roles, journalist Rebecca Traister documents the growing trend of independent women in her 2016 book All the Single Ladies. Traister declares that more and more American women are choosing to live outside of the traditional social norms often expected of women. According to Traister, the modern American woman wants the career and financial independence, but not the ring.
The battles fought by women today are some of the same fought — literally — hundreds of years ago. Written sometime before 442 B.C.E., Sophocles’s classic Antigone tells the story of a woman unwilling to play the part assigned to her by hate. Indeed, she dares to physically challenge the patriarchal authority that surrounds her by standing up to her nemesis, Creon.
Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture—And What We Can Do About It
According to author Kate Harding, rape culture is definitely a thing and society is totally to blame for instilling it. But, she says, there’s hope for getting out of it. In her book Asking for It, Harding explains exactly what rape culture is, how it’s affecting our female population, and how we as a society can fix the problem we are responsible for creating.
Since the publication of her book Bad Feminism: Essays, Roxane Gay has become one of the foremost names in the world of feminism. In her follow up book, Bad Feminist, Gay muses on the fact that she’s not the “perfect” feminist. The “perfect” feminist, she says, simply doesn’t exist. Gay points out a major irony of feminism as she comments on the current feminist wave’s tendency to place unfair, unattainable expectations on their feminist idols. Anger follows when those idols are unable to measure up.
The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women
Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth acknowledges the great strides made by the feminists of the past. But she asserts that women’s newfound success has come at a cost. Specifically, eating disorders are more common, cosmetic procedures are almost the norm, and the pornography industry is practically defined by misogyny. Wolf’s bestselling book details how women have fallen for the unattainable “beauty myth.” She describes how such unattainable ideas of womanhood have only served to exploit and undermine women.
The Bell Jar
Most books on our list of the 30 books every young feminist should read fall into the non-fiction category. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is an important exception. Narrated by a young woman disillusioned with her life in 1950s America, The Bell Jar is a good way to set the tone before diving into Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Manifesto. The two were published in the same year, and Friedan’s book was inspired by women just like Plath’s main character.
Bossypants is a must read for any young woman hoping to make it in a male-dominated industry. In this hilarious memoir, Tina Fey recounts the many talented women with whom she worked. She also writes about the talented men she was consistently compared to as she climbed the ladder to become one of the most famous female comedians of all time.
Fear of Flying
Young feminists in need of a little light reading should pick up Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. This mainstream novel made major waves when it was first published in 1973. It unapologetically features a young female character purposely fulfilling her sexual desires outside of marriage. In fact, the book was so popular amongst feminists it even inspired the coining of a new phrase to describe women who choose to have sex for the sake of pleasure: the “zipless fuck.”
Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture
As one of the first popular feminist books of the 21st century, Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs asks questions like:
“Why do so many women still act to maximize their sex appeal?”
“Why are so many women performing in porn?”
“Why is plastic surgery so popular?”
Levy answers these valid questions by describing the ways in which some females still choose to seek male attention more than careers and financial independence. Though it was first published more than a decade ago, Levy also offers a terrifyingly accurate image of how such a mentality cannot lead to anything positive for women.
The Female Eunuch
Published in 1970, Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch was a call to arms for women. Greer boldly encouraged her female readers to buck traditional gender roles, question traditional authority figures, and explore their sexuality. Sound familiar? Though written nearly half a century ago, Greer’s passionate words remain just as timely today as when she first declared them.
The Feminine Mystique
As the book that “pulled the trigger on history,” Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique is perhaps the most famous book about feminism. Friedan initially set out to write a book about what it means to be a woman. However, as she conducted her interviews, she began to realize just how stifled many women felt by traditional gender roles. Published in 1963, The Feminine Mystique is credited with bringing feminism to the forefront of suburban life, and is an important read for any young feminist.
Feminism is For Everybody: Passionate Politics
Feminism is For Everybody is yet another work by bell hooks on our list of the 30 books every young feminist should read. In this one, hooks uses friendly, easy-to-understand statements to explain what feminism is, how it can impact the life of anybody and everybody, and how a feminist can make a difference in the world. Feminism is For Everybody is the perfect primer for the person just diving into feminism, and those who aren’t sure what the movement is about.
Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us
Part memoir, part feminist manifesto, Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw offers up a unique perspective of womanhood: that of the trans woman. Bornstein discusses exactly what a woman is in cultural, political, and social terms. She then asserts that as a society, we need to not only accept, but celebrate, those “gender outlaws” — that is, those who don’t quite fit into the traditional gender boxes.
Though not strictly about feminism, #GirlBoss is the story of a powerful woman who beat the system to become an industry powerhouse. Sophia Amoruso describes how she went from selling used clothing on eBay to running a multimillion dollar company that turned the fashion industry on its head. Throughout, she also offers tips on how to stay strong and not give up on one’s ultimate goals.
How to Be a Woman
Caitlin Moran isn’t quite as well known in the U.S. as she is in Britain, unless you’ve read her novel How to Build a Girl, also a good read for the young feminist. Her memoir How to Be a Woman is one book that every feminist — nay, every woman — read. With stark humor and refreshing honesty, Moran discusses what it means to be a woman during times like these, when the definition of “woman” and what is expected of her seems to change by the day. Moran practically declares every woman a feminist, then goes on to discuss a long list of topics ranging from plastic surgery to bikini waxing.
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
It’s likely every young feminist knows the name Malala, but does every young feminist know her story? Born in Pakistan, Malala was shot in the head after publicly fighting for her right to be educated. The attempt to kill Malala failed, and the young woman has remained a passionate advocate for the education of girls everywhere. She became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Jane Austen: The Secret Radical
Was Jane Austen a radical feminist? Oxford professor Helena Kelly thinks so, and she makes her compelling argument in her book Jane Austen: The Secret Radical. According to Kelly, hidden behind the unwavering manners of her characters and the by-the-books courtships, Austen imparted what would have been considered extremely radical viewpoints on the female mind and a woman’s place in the world.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling book Lean In is a must read for any feminist in high school or college. She uses anecdotes from her own life story. She shares her observations about women in the workforce from her view at the top of the ladder. Finally, she encourages female readers to take control of their own lives and pursue any and all leadership opportunities.
The Little Book of Feminist Saints
This is one for the bookshelf! Julia Pierpont’s The Little Book of Feminist Saints plays upon the Catholic tradition of praying to patron saints for different things. In this version, the saints are matrons, and include: Lise Meitner, the matron saint of discovery; Maya Angelou, the matron saint of storytellers; and the matron saint of every home, Oprah Winfrey, along with 97 others. Each feminist entry is accompanied by a short biography and a stunning illustration by Manjit Thapp.
Men Explain Things to Me
Today, “mansplaining” is a common term, and we can thank Rebecca Solnit for that. The term is used throughout her book Men Explain Things to Me to describe the ways in which men’s opinions and explanations are favored more often by society than women’s. The book is made up of essays, each of which discusses how the female experience is so often undermined by males abusing their privilege.
My Life on the Road
Is there a feminist today who is more famous than Gloria Steinem? Probably not, which is why her memoir is a must read for any young feminist. My Life on the Road tells Steinem’s life story, though she focuses on the specific experiences that helped her to grow into a powerful woman in today’s powerful women’s movement.
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, & So Much More
There aren’t many books written about intersectional feminism, but Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness is definitely one of the best. Mock’s book is a memoir in which she recounts honestly what it was like to go from poor to powerful as a multiracial transgender woman.
A Room of One’s Own
In this feminist classic, Virginia Woolf muses about what things could be like for talented women of her era if only they didn’t live under the thumb of a patriarchal society. For example, would Jane Austen have received more success during her lifetime if she had had access to her own writing space and money to support her work? What if she had had professional mentors to nurture her creative process? Though Woolf doesn’t get everything right (a number of assumptions are made), her point is comes across and her frustration at the plight of women in society is made crystal clear.
The Second Sex
Simone de Beauvoir
It’s part anthropology, part sociology, part psychology, part biology, and all feminism That’s how we would describe French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir’s quintessential classic The Second Sex. Published 1949, de Beauvoir’s important work is about all that a woman naturally is. And it has remained incredibly timely.
Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own
From its earliest days to today, feminism has been about breaking the traditional mold set for women by society. Though more and more women are choosing to forego marriage for a career, financial independence, and maybe even single parenthood, the bulk of society isn’t on board with such women. In Spinster, author Kate Bolick explains why it’s perfectly acceptable for a woman to make a life for herself, and why society still tends to look down upon those women.
Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why
In recent years, the term “trainwreck” has come to mean any woman who behaves, well, unlike a woman. But how is a woman supposed to act, and according to what standards? That’s the question posed and explored by Sady Doyle in Trainwreck. Using examples ranging from Lindsay Lohan’s dramatic fall from stardom to Britney Spears’s shaved-head incident, Doyle discusses the boundaries placed upon women by society and what happens when women cross those boundaries.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects
For the true student of feminism, or those who really want to see how far women have come, Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is an eye opener. Published in 1792, Wollstonecraft’s book was perhaps the first feminism-themed book in history to make a splash. Her essay describes her timeless thoughts about how and why women possess incredible power because of their minds and bodies.
We Should All Be Feminists
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This short, but powerful manifesto by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is so powerful that every 16-year old in Sweden is given a copy by the Swedish government. Adichie discusses topics such as discrimination against women, the male bias so rampant in society, and the various things that define feminism. All while she draws upon her own life experiences. We Should All Be Feminists discuses feminism on a global scale, making it a unique and informative read for any young feminist.
What Will it Take to Make a Woman President?: Conversations About Women, Leadership, and Power
“What will it take to make a woman president?” is a question a lot of people were asking in 2016. Marianne Schnall’s book is comprised of interviews with powerful women such as Nancy Pelosi, Maya Angelou, and Melissa Etheridge, among many others. She asks them a variety of questions, but it’s their answers to the titular question that should inspire any young feminist — especially those with political ambitions.