Feministe Feedback: Feminist Lit

A reader writes in:

I have always considered myself “feminist,” but just recently I have been following your blog, and I feel like I’ve finally found my place in the world. I’m currently working towards my PhD in Urban and Public Affairs, but I have some extra time this summer to do some reading.

Can you recommend some reading for a newly-minted feminist? Much of my focus is on crime, but I am interested in anything and everything feminist-related. Basically, I want to know what you consider to be the essential readings for young feminists.

Suggestions? Help?

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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43 Responses to Feministe Feedback: Feminist Lit

  1. Jadey says:

    bell hooks. Everything.

  2. Ms Anthropy says:

    Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism is a good start. Greta Christina writes some incredibly informative stuff on her blog, and the Skepchick.org blog has some good resources as well.

  3. Han says:

    bell hooks. Everything.

    Seconded. Also, Audre Lorde. Everything.

  4. Kathy says:

    Specifically? Women, Race, and Class by Angela Y. Davis, Borderland by Gloria Anzaldua, Dorothy Allison’s Skin: Talking About Sex, Class, and Literature, Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl, Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde…

    These are a few that have meant a lot to me.

  5. Kathy says:

    Oops. I think I forget to close a tag there somewhere.

  6. oldlady says:

    Does no one read Simone de Beauvoir anymore? THE SECOND SEX is still an amazing and powerful book.

  7. Grace says:

    I second bell hooks! Plus Colonize This! ed. Daisy Hernandez, Feminism Without Borders by Chandra Mohanty, and maybe some Jaclyn Friedman (Yes Means Yes and What You Really Really Want, which is a little more self-help-y, but good).

    If you want some fun fiction, Octavia Butler (scifi), Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg (semiautobiographical queer and trans life pre-Stonewall), Kristin Cashore (YA fantasy), and Tamora Pierce (shut up YA fantasy is full of literary merit and also AWESOME!) aren’t usually mentioned on lists of feminist lit, I think. And of course Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison, who are usually mentioned on lists of feminist lit.

  8. TiG says:

    Backlash by Susan Faludi – changed my life.

  9. annajcook says:

    If you’re interested in crime specifically, a couple of recent works that might be useful to check out:

    Queer (In)justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States by Mogul, Richie, and Whitlock.

    From Disgust to Humanity by Martha Nussbaum.

    Hey Shorty! A Guide to Combatting Sexual Harassment and Violence in Public Schools and On the Streets by members of Girls for Gender Equality in New York City.

    And because I think talking back to the naturalizing of gender and sex stereotypes is increasingly important in this era of evolutionary psychology bullshit:

    Sexing the Body by Anne Fausto-Sterling.


    Brainstorm by Rebecca Jordan-Young.

  10. SaraC says:

    Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives by Carolyn Kay Steedman. Absurdly awesome and thought-provoking book.

  11. may says:

    Luce Irigaray:
    Speculum of the Other Woman 1974, (Eng. trans. 1985)
    This Sex Which Is Not One 1977, (Eng. trans. 1985)

    Donna Haraway:
    Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature
    and other works

  12. may says:

    And of course “A Room of One’s Own” by Woolf…

  13. Athenia says:

    Yes Means Yes edited by Jessica Valenti and Jaclyn Friedman

    The Mismeasure of Woman
    by Carol Tavris

    I also recommend Whipping Girl by Julia Serrano.

  14. Amanda says:

    Thanks so much, everyone! This is great, and I really appreciate the input! I can’t wait for summer-I can actually read for pleasure!

  15. Angel H. says:

    These are all great suggestions!

    Has anybody read both Queer (In)Justice) and The New Jim Crow? I’m curious because I had heard that The New Jim Crow, while good, doesn’t spend very much time talking about incarcerated LGBT people.

  16. LotusBecca says:

    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is a great dystopian science fiction novel with a lot of feminist themes.

    Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman, a turn-of-the-century feminist, is mainly about other political topics but has some very good essays about women’s rights, some of which were pretty cutting edge for her time.

    Intercourse by Andrea Dworkin, a searing critique of mainstream society’s views on sexuality. I don’t agree with most of her overall political framework, but it’s one of the most beautifully and powerfully written books I’ve ever read and uncomfortably thought provoking.

    The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf is a good overview of the bullshit standards women are subjected to regarding our appearance and how much harm they cause.

    Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein is a good introduction to transgender issues and queer theory that’s not academic and written with a lot of humor and pizzazz. One of the most exciting books I’ve ever read, partially for personal reaons as I first read it when I was a deeply closeted trans woman, but it aims for a broad audience.

  17. Angel H. says:


    Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life by Samhita Mukhopadhyay

  18. Sarah says:

    “Feminism is for Everybody” is a nice intro to different areas of feminism, and bell hooks is a great writer. I would also recommend her book “Black Looks: Race and Representation” for a number of interesting essays about feminism and race.

    For something a little different, try “The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader” if you can find it at a library. It’s a textbook that is a collection of essays about feminism and art/visual culture. I think it’s a good book to take a look at whether you are interested in art or not. It has a lot of essays by key theorists (bell hooks again, Judith Butler, Laura Mulvey and more), and it also shows feminism’s impact on another field. Some of the specifically art history essays also show how feminism can be used as an analytical framework.

  19. LotusBecca says:

    Oh, and I’m not sure how necessary this is, but just for emphasis I’ll third Julia Serano and fourth bell hooks. They both influenced my thinking a lot.

  20. Donna L says:

    Natalie Angier’s “Woman: An Intimate Geography”; see http://www.amazon.com/Woman-Intimate-Geography-Natalie-Angier/dp/0385498411

    If you read and like Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own,” try her “Three Guineas” — much more dense (especially with all the footnotes!), but I think it’s totally amazing.

    I would *not* recommend Bornstein’s “Gender Outlaw” as an introduction to transgender issues. The book is certainly interesting, but I strongly disagreed with her take on trans issues; that aspect of the book didn’t speak to me at all. For queer, genderqueer, issues, etc., it’s fine.

    I second the recommendation of Feinberg’s “Stone Butch Blues.” And of Julia Serano’s book.

  21. LotusBecca says:

    I would *not* recommend Bornstein’s “Gender Outlaw” as an introduction to transgender issues. The book is certainly interesting, but I strongly disagreed with her take on trans issues; that aspect of the book didn’t speak to me at all. For queer, genderqueer, issues, etc., it’s fine.

    Thanks for saying this, Donna, and I can definitely respect your position. I’m a relative newbie when it comes to discussing transgender issues, and I’m a bit afraid of saying something stupid or hurtful. I’ve rarely let that prevent me from spouting off my opinion on anything else though.

    So yeah. Anyway, Gender Outlaw really speaks to me (albeit not perfectly)–perhaps this is because I’m both genderqueer and trans. I do agree it has serious limitations. It’s not helpful for one trying to understanding the identities of binary-identified trans people or the largely biological basis of gender identity (which is real and is usually overlooked or denied by most people).

    I still think, though, Gender Outlaw can be part of a good introduction to transgender issues if read in conjunction with other books like Whipping Girl. This isn’t the case for all trans people, but for me personally I’ve found a synthesis of queer theory and Julia Serano’s ideas to be the most useful reading materials for understanding the transgender aspects of myself. And from what I can observe there’s a decent number of trans women who have a similar experience to that.

  22. Julia says:

    I still love the feminine mystique, because friedan was writing for an audience that as of yet didn’t have feminism. So for a beginner, she lays out the problems so clearly (plus, she’s a Smith alumna like me!)

  23. Laura says:

    I second the suggestion of Backlash by Susan Faludi. Despite being written two decades ago, much of what’s detailed, especially in the section on attacks on a woman’s right to choose, is sadly all too familiar today.

    I’d also recommend Against Our Will: Men, Women, And Rape by Susan Brownmiller. It’s definitely a bit dated now, but it’s still (in my opinion) an important work.

    On a completely different note, I think it’s very important that any young woman who considers having children some day to read The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts. Becoming a stay-at-home-mom can often be the path of least resistance for new mothers, but finding good job in the workforce (whether due to a desire to work outside the home or financial necessity) after even a few year’s absence can be much harder than a woman would expect.

  24. Jenn says:

    Fiction – Changeling by Kristen Cashore has a wonderfully strong female lead.

  25. Alcharisi says:

    Because any intellectual movement worth its salt will leave you with tensions and discomfort, read feminists whom you disagree with–and who disagree with each other. Two in particular that are excellent books in and of themselves, and are worth holding in tension with one another, are Martha Nussbaum’s Sex and Social Justice and Saba Mahmood’s Politics of Piety.

    Despite its datedness, homophobia, and myriad other problems, I also confess a soft spot for The Feminine Mystique. Reading it as a teenager–and in particular the parts in which Friedan (derisively) quotes her contemporaries’ writings on “women’s natures” was the first step for me in shaking the naturalistic gender essentialism I’d co-identified with feminism.

    Finally, if you are interested in religious feminism (or in the intersections of religion and feminism), I have several favorites (many specifically about Jewish feminism). Chief among them is Tikva Frymer-Kensky’s In The Wake of the Goddesses, which is a really powerful reminder that there is no direct correlation between the presence of Goddesses, or female or “feminine” deities or aspects of a deity in a culture, and how women (and other gender and sexual minorities) fare within that culture.

  26. Amanda says:

    Yes Means Yes was my introduction to feminism, and the reason I found this blog! Intersectionality is essential to my feminism, so I really value books like The New Jim Crow about the racism of America’s mass incarceration practices, and the foundational queer theory book Gender Trouble.

  27. Mika says:

    “No More Nice Girls” by Ellen Willis
    Also, Natalie Angier’s “Woman: An Intimate Geography” as DonnaL (#20) linked to above.

    Both books were and still are very meaningful to me, but Angier’s book is a must-read for everyone (women, men and transexuals), as she discusses aspects of biology and the physical body that we generally aren’t taught in school or the doctor’s office. It is really beyond politics – other than the politics and sexism inherent in how objective scientific data had previously been interpreted prior to Angier’s alternative analyses – which she discusses briefly but for the most part it is a book about human bodies.

  28. Mika says:

    By the way, please excuse my clumsy language in the above post. I probably should have written “bio and trans women and men” instead of “women, men and transexuals” which upon re-re-reading sounds totally wrong (othering, I suppose). But I don’t know how to edit the post. Anyway, she discusses gender variation a bit in the book.

  29. Andie says:

    Does a book have to be written by a woman to be feminist? I don’t know but a book I found interesting and got me more interested in feminism was jack holland’s “A Brief history of Misogyny: the World’s Oldest Prejudice”

  30. Mxe354 says:

    Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman, a turn-of-the-century feminist, is mainly about other political topics but has some very good essays about women’s rights, some of which were pretty cutting edge for her time.

    Emma Goldman is definitely one of my favorite feminist writers. Everyone should read her work – even if they disagree with anarchism.

    Equally excellent is Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication for the Rights of Woman. It’s old, but Wollstonecraft is quite inspiring, especially when you also consider how brave she was to write such a book in a deeply sexist culture.

    Finally, I haven’t had the opportunity to read it, but Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender is supposedly a fantastic book on feminism and science. Fine refutes the current, popular “research” findings that ostensibly suggest that gender stereotypes are actually justified. Moreover, she argues that men and women are mentally quite similar to each other. And she also discusses the distressing ramifications of stereotypes supported by pseudoscience.

  31. Mxe354 says:

    Does a book have to be written by a woman to be feminist? I don’t know but a book I found interesting and got me more interested in feminism was jack holland’s “A Brief history of Misogyny: the World’s Oldest Prejudice”

    Surely not all feminists are female, so a feminist book written by a man
    isn’t bad merely because the author is male.

    Also, that’s another great book!

  32. gratuitous_violet says:

    Team Angela Davis!

    Also, if you can find a copy of This Bridge Called My Back, the anthology of works by radical women of color edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherrie Moraga, I can’t recommend it more. It’s been out of print for awhile but it’s often available on the internets or at used bookstores, particularly the second edition, and it contains poetry and prose both.

    Or to start, pick up Killing The Black Body by Dorothy Roberts to learn why focusing on feminist/womanist writings by WOC is so damn important. This was exactly the 2nd “feminist” book I read, when I was thirteen and studying eugenics (I know, I know, I was a weird kid) and let’s just say it significantly changed my ideas of what belongs on a “required feminist” reading list.

  33. Tony says:

    Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn. I don’t agree with what they say about sex work, but it’s a great review of contemporary issues faced by women in developing countries. At least one of the stories in there actually made me cry.

  34. I can’t recommend bell hooks highly enough–her writing is an amazing combination of very-accessible-to-newbies and amazingly detailed, and complex. And mixing the two isn’t even her greatest strength, in my opinion…

  35. Alexandra says:

    Another fan of bell hooks.

    If the reader is interested in feminism and crime, the Susan Brownmiller rec – Against Our Will – is still a good one, if a little dated, for talking about sexual violence. One of the first books that got me interested in feminism was another Brownmiller book, “In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution.” It’s a fascinating insider’s perspective on second wave feminism, what went right and what went wrong, and full of juicy gossip about leftist backbiting. I remember it very very fondly.

    I enjoyed Faludi’s Backlash, and parts of Beauvoir’s Second Sex – but if you’re not well versed in Hegel and Heidegger, some of the passages in the middle sections of the book are going to be very hard going.

    The books that made me a feminist: Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique (my mother literally threw it at my head when, at 13, I said, “I’m not a feminist, but…”); Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics (warning: extremely dated! but great polemical writing, fascinating in sections, with a wonderful takedown of the great male literary lights of the 60s and 70s – Mailer, Miller et al.), and various essays by Andrea Dworkin and Shulamith Firestone, which were intoxicating, confusing, and totally over my head when I started reading them at 15.

  36. Meg says:

    I loved Alice Walker when I first read her.

    And on the more academic side of things, Iris Marion Young is a refreshingly clear writer on post-structural feminism and intersecting oppressions, especially Justice and the Politics of Difference.

    Carol Pateman’s The Sexual Contract is worthwhile if you use or have studied political theory – it’s a classic critique of the social contract.

    Have fun!

  37. Q Grrl says:

    Susan Griffin’ works a little more old school, but I found two of them to be life-altering:

    Women and Nature
    Pornography and Silence

  38. Grace says:

    Racialicious just tumblr-linked to this list of feminist works by women of color.

  39. Emily says:

    I definitely agree with reading Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism!
    I read it for my Women’s Studies class and it was amazing! Her book is not only eye opening, but an easy read. And she is a hilarious author. I could not put that book down.
    Also, Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation is a great read.
    It is a compilation of real life stories from all different kinds of feminists.
    Gives a lot of insight into people’s lives.

  40. melissa says:

    my top three books that changed my life:

    Assata Shakur’s autobiography

    Stone Butch Blues: Leslie Feinberg

    Conquest : Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide: Andrea Smith

  41. Ms. magazine does a rundown of 100 essential feminist non-fiction books. Have a look here

    For some interesting sci-fi about all-female societies, try Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, or The Disappearance by Philip Wylie.

  42. Sara says:

    I realise that I’m a little bit late, but better late than never.

    A lot of awesome authors have already been mentioned (bell hooks, Angela Davis and Susan Faludi among others). But I would like to add Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, a brilliant book about the ideological aspects of gender/sex research and science.

  43. Norma says:

    A handful that haven’t been mentioned:

    Mohanty’s Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity

    Enloe’s Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics

    Fiction: Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor

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