Feministe Feedback – Feminist Primers

Feministe Feeback

We have a request for books that are intelligent and representative of modern, intersectional feminist analysis but that aren’t too jargony (so no Judith Butler), abstract or radical:

A male friend of mine (who I think has potential to be a feminist, or at least a feminist ally) recently mentioned to me that he’s looking for a book to read and was thinking about getting The Feminine Mystique. I made a joke about that being a little bit out of date as far as today’s feminist theory and practice goes, despite it obviously being a classic and historically significant. He then turned the tables back on me, though, and asked what he should read that would better! So now I want to suggest something to him that would include discussion of things like liberal vs. radical feminism, sameness vs. difference feminism, other ongoing debates in feminism like pornography, and of course multiculturalism and intersectional analysis… you know, all that good stuff that has happened since the days of Betty Friedan and our other feminist foremothers! However, I don’t want to throw him in over his head too soon with a ton of jargon or abstract theory, or anything too radical that might turn him off before he really thinks about it. I have a couple of ideas, but I want to hear what you guys think. My feminist cred hangs in the balance! :)


About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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48 Responses to Feministe Feedback – Feminist Primers

  1. steven crane says:

    julia serano’s whipping girl. it’s a compelling read.

  2. FashionablyEvil says:

    I love Susan Douglas’s Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media

    It, more than anything else, helped me become a more conscientious consumer of media. It’s also an easy read–low on jargon, with lots of interesting cultural references.

  3. ccuomo says:

    I am still a big fan of bell hooks’ Feminist Theory from Margin to Center. Or I wonder if he’d have fun with a good intro to Women’s Studies textbook, such as Paula Rothenberg’s Race Class and Gender in the U.S.

  4. DAS says:

    I shucks. I was gonna recommend something by Judith Butler. Not that I’m familiar with her oevre, but I went to a talk she gave at my university, and it was beyond excellent.

  5. Lance Hunter says:

    While it doesn’t cover all of the topics you’ve listed, I would highly recommend Susan Faludi’s Stiffed. It’s especially good to give to guys who are just getting interested because it uses feminist theory to examine male issues, showing that feminism is not solely the domain (and feminist issues not solely the concern) of women. I know that it’s the book that made me a feminist.

  6. Justine says:

    bell hooks – Feminism is for Everybody

    Margaret Walters – Feminism: A Very Short Introduction

    Ed. Melody Berger – We Don’t Need Another Wave

    Chandra Talpade Mohanty – Feminism Without Borders

    Ed. Beverly Guy-Sheftall – Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought

    Ed. Vivien Labaton, Dawn Lundy Martin – The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism

  7. Suz says:

    FULL FRONTAL FEMINISM!! This book opened my eyes to what feminism is really about. I think it is a good “starter” for those who are new to the whole idea of feminism. I had been brought up in an ultra-conservative environment, so I of course had all the wrong ideas about what feminism was about. The book was suggested to me as I was recovering from an eating-disorder, and at the risk of sounding cliché- it really changed my life :)

  8. feministgal says:

    I gotta say the book i always recommend to people wanting to learn more about feminism is bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everyone – short, sweet, and to the point :)

  9. prefer not to say says:

    Susan Faludi’s _Backlash_ worked for me in college, but yeah, that was 15, 20 years ago.

  10. Laura M says:

    I second the recommendation of hooks’ Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center, I absolutely loved it.

    Perhaps something like Joanna Russ’ How To Suppress Women’s Writing would be good, not so much as a theory primer but as an example of not-too-scary feminist analysis? It’s partially available on google books, http://tinyurl.com/3cwrmf

  11. Jo says:

    A lot of people have said it already, but I’d just like to second the bell hooks suggestion. And I was also going to throw out there Full Frontal Feminism as a good intro read. But yeah, hooks. Definitely bell hooks.

  12. Kacie says:

    Refusing to be a Man by John Stoltenberg

    A bit on the radical side, but it’s geared towards male feminists, and why men should be feminists.

    Very strong read. Warning: it may make him a little angry.

  13. amyc says:

    How about a subscription to Bitch? Or at least the Bitch 10-yr anniversary anthology?

  14. Hugo says:

    Kacie’s right, Stoltenberg will make him angry. But in a good way, like Robert Jensen’s recent and wonderful book about porn will make him angry: Getting Off.

    Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism is a quick and useful read. And I second Justine’s recommendation above of bell hooks, “Feminism is for Everybody.”

  15. Daisy says:

    The chapter on ROMANCE in Shulamith Firestone’s THE DIALECTIC OF SEX is brilliant… it really woke me up to what was happening in my own life. It was like the light shining in. I went from there to other feminist books.

    It’s interesting; much of the rest of the book I didn’t like, at the time…(I do now!)… but I just idly flipped to the chapter titled “Romance”–just curious to see what these women’s libbers (as we called them in the 70s) had to say about men-women relations. I was in high school, and the whole chapter just unexpectedly blew me away.

    One of feminism’s great tragedies is that SF never followed up that book with another. :(

  16. Liz says:

    I would definitely recommend bell hooks’ feminism is for everybody, much like many commenters already have.

    For a more alternative perspective, I would recommended Colonize This!. I read that in one of my upper division WMS classes when I was in college and it was a very enlightening read. It was nice reading something written by young woc that was easy to relate to, no matter your gender or race.

  17. Christine says:

    Estelle Freedman’s No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women. It does a great job of contextualizing ideas that have emerged with their time and place.

    Fatema Mernissi’s Scheherezade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems. Great stuff about “the gaze,” the construction of women as objects, and a critique of Western feminism that is brilliant and nuanced. Let’s say…she’s not a fan of Naomi Wolf, methinks.

  18. Lirpa says:

    I have heard great things about Whipping Girl as well. Also, maybe a bit on the radical sideif he’sa male new to feminism, but I recently finished Cunt, and loved it. Although, it was given to me by my boyfriend, who said that it changed his life and that everything I like about him started with him reading that book years ago. So maybe it wouldn’t be too radical after all.

  19. evil fizz says:

    I was also a fan of Where the Girls Are. It’s not a 101 primer in that it’s focus is a bit limited, but it’s a damn good book. Also, I have to recommend Sarah Bunting’s fabulous essay Yes, You Are

  20. rowmyboat says:

    Backlash is still good.

    My vote is for Transforming a Rape Culture, ed. by Emilie Buchwald, Pamela Fletcher & Martha Roth. It’s like a feminist all-star compilation.

  21. rowmyboat says:

    Also, The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf.

  22. Smartpatrol says:

    Everything by Susie Bright. Everything.

  23. r@d@r says:

    it depends on how much reading your friend is interested in doing or is willing to do. for me, being raised feminist by my mom on a diet of ms. magazine, and then being exposed to germaine greer, de beauvoir, etc., i became curious enough to explore more radical and “out there” writing – which led to my reading of mary daly, starhawk, andrea dworkin, etc.

    in addition to maintaining a spirit of curiosity and willingness to explore different and even controversial positions, i think it’s important for men to read more writing by women in general – poetry, literature, science, history, art criticism, etc. when roaming about in the sphere of women intellectuals, you’re bound to have a feminist perspective creep up on you. if there’s an official feminist canon i haven’t found it, wikipedia entries notwithstanding.

    that being the case, the two most powerful feminist influences on me bar none have been ursula k. leguin, adrienne rich, and (for the womanist perspective) audrey lorde.

  24. r@d@r says:

    oops, i guess that’s three, sorry. and i need to go back to my texts and reconsider labeling audre lorde (sp) as womanist, which may be incorrect.

  25. IowaFeminist says:

    Another one: No Turning Back by Estelle Freedman, written exactly for the kind of reader you’re talking about.

  26. Jamie Jeans says:

    I whole heartily recommend anything by Cynthia Enloe, as her material is a good, easy read that still makes you think nice and deep about the world, and Alice Day Walker has a number of interesting articles about the problems women face in Africa and the Middle East.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any books of theirs to recommend, as I can’t remember any.

    One I do have, though, is called Being A Broad In Japan by Caroline Pover. It’s mostly an informational guide for women living in Japan, but it talks plenty about experiences and makes for a good, beginning read.

  27. Marissa says:

    Maybe as another reader suggested, Full Frontal Feminism because it is intended for beginner feminists. I understand Judith Butler speaks much differently than her books read. Although she is much more readable in Undoing Gender for anyone interested, although I would no recommend her to a first timer to feminism. I think the Beauty Myth is a good starter book too, but it didn’t go over so well with one of my friends I gave it to because it has a sense of density to it, but no Judith Butler density. Probably best to stick with a book meant specifically for beginners.

  28. trailer park says:

    I’ve got to second FULL FRONTAL FEMINISM! That book is awesome!

  29. Daisy Bond says:

    I’d recommend getting him into blogs, actually. That’s how the feminist awakenings of many of my friends happened. Feministe and Broadsheet are where I started.

    Blogs are ideal because they’re very connected to current events — a convenient tie-in, especially if he’s interested in politics at all, or even just interested in books, culture, etc — and they’re very accessible (both literally and in terms of theory/jargon). And you can go at your own pace; one will lead you to another, and then another, and then another, if you want them to. And of course they are abuzz with all the most current conversation.

  30. Gil says:

    Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (predates Friedan, I know, but it’s still a wonderful read)

    Carol Tavris, The Mismeasure of Woman

    any of Katha Pollitt’s collections of essays

    Carol Stabile’s White Victims, Black Villains

  31. Anne Onne says:

    Yes, Daisy, I was just about to say the same. I actually haven’t yet read any proper ‘feminist’ literature per se, but the internet scene got me to examine what my ‘feminism’ was all about, and was really an amazing thing to happen to me. Took up like, half my time, but amazing.

    There’s a Feminism 101 blog, which could be an excellent place to start.

    Also, I only really know of Amanda Marcotte’s books and Jessica Valenti’s in terms of really new feminist literature aimed at the 101 level (I’m sure there are others, too, I just don’t know them), so that might be a start.

    I’d like to see books marketing feminism to guys, too. Not in a ‘what about teh menz’ way, but in a ‘this is your problem, too, so look at the facts and help clean it up’ way. Maybe they could call it ‘feMANism: a man’s guide to helping fight for equality’

    I can’t help but think it sounds a bit patronising, though. Oh, well, better luck next time.

  32. rowmyboat says:

    If you want some fiction, to kinda come at it sideways, there’s Melanie Rawn’s Exile trio (of which only two are written though), Tamora Pierce (if you dont mind books written for 12 year olds), Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Dispossed by LeGuin, The Penelopiad or Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
    Room of One’s Own is somewhere between fiction and non-fiction, by Woolf.

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  34. rowmyboat says:

    Sorry, I keep thinking of things. Also, Sherri S. Tepper. Gate to Women’s Country, Grass, Plague of Angels.

  35. bushfire says:

    Why hasn’t anyone mentioned reading the blog FEMINISTE!!! (much love).

    What is Feminism? by Chris Beasley is a short intro to different theories of feminism. Although it’s on the theory side, it’s a good read.

  36. SherlockHolmes says:

    The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory. Edited by Linda Nicholson.

    Seriously changed the way I see the world. An amazing collection of essays from bell hooks, the Radicalesbians, The Combahee River Collective, Norma Alarcón, Simone de Beauvoir, etc. Really a kind of intellectual history of second wave feminism. Fantastic overview.

  37. Caro says:


    This was my question, and you’ve given me a ton of great ideas, both for my friend and of some books that I haven’t yet read myself! Thanks a lot!

    (And I will absolutely tell him that he should be reading Feministe!!!)

  38. wall-flower says:

    I’m a bit late to the discussion, but I will add my voice to those who recommend Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks. Although I suppose it’s not *marketed* to men in the way Anne Onne mentions, hooks explicitly says her goal was to write a primer for the average person and even specifically the average man, who has a lot to gain from feminism.

    Also I will second The Handmaid’s Tale.

    Finally, I will add one I don’t think has been mentioned yet: Am I That Name?: Feminism and the Category of Women by Denise Riley. A really underrated book, it addresses how women have interrogated the very category of “woman” over the years (like, she starts with medieval writers) and performs a Butler-esque critique without all the “jargon.” (Also, a good way to get introduced to Butler is to read interviews she’s done, where she explains her theories in a much clearer way than she writes them.)

  39. AB says:

    Female Chauvanist Pigs by Ariel Levy. Great read, interesting, and really eye opening, both for me and my boyfriend

  40. Cortney says:

    Susan Bordo writes fabulous feminist theory that is complex yet easy to read. I adore her!
    Unbearable Weight is my favorite.

  41. La Lubu says:

    I’m currently reading “Taking on the Big Boys” by Ellen Bravo, and think that it should be on this list. I alos give a strong second to everything by bell hooks, and “Feminism is for Everybody” is a good place to start.

  42. Melissa says:

    So this is a week late, but nobody mentioned Manifesta by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards? It’s a little dated now but it’s still excellent.

  43. Courtney says:

    Anything by Audre Lorde, Susan Jane Gilman for fun, The Handmaid’s Tale or the Edible Woman, and I actually dig Butler too :)

  44. oregonienne says:

    De-lurking to recommend Pink Think by Lynn Peril. I just read it not that long ago and it was a really interesting look at how femininity is marketed to women.

  45. Ampersand says:

    For a smart but readable introduction to feminist theory, I’d recommend Allan Johnson’s The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy.

    This is a particularly good book for men, as Johnson does a great job of anticipating objections and questions that are likely to occur to male readers in particular and addressing them. But I think it’s a good book for anyone; I see it recommended in a lot of Women’s Studies courses.

  46. Maya Kovsky says:

    Although not written by a woman, Michael Warner’s The Trouble with Normal is a manifesto against sexual conformity that includes critiques of many social expectations that shape women’s identities.
    My girlfriends who are single and childless by choice are particularly drawn to its argument against privileging partnership over autonomy. It’s a vindication of social independence in general, queer and feminist. Also, there’s no theory-speak.

  47. Isab says:

    Where The Girls Are is in fact awesome, but if your friends wants a slightly meatier read with the same easy-yet-smart, try The Mommy Myth, by Susan Douglas (who rules) and Meredith something. Touches on a lot of issues, both pop-cultural and not.

    Backlash is somewhat out of date and can come across a little conspiracy-theorist to the uninitiated, I think, but has the benefit of being occasionally completely hilarious.

    This isn’t really current, but some of Gloria Steinem’s old essays (the collections is I believe called Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions) still ring pretty powerful for me (even though I’m only 20 and wasn’t even alive when Steinem was the face of feminism), and they are definitely easy to read. She isn’t perfect by any means, but her style is impassioned and smart and she does touch on things still being discussed–and because it’s a collection of essays, she touches on all sorts of things, which both displays how feminism is applicable all over the place, and opens up avenes of further inquiry.

    And I second the Sarah Bunting “Yes, You Are” essay up there.

  48. Charlotte says:

    Backlash by Susan Faludi!

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