Hidden Bookshelf 6: My Favourite Feminist Reads
Feminist books have always been my favourite reads, as an early teen I became extremely interested in political and feminist literature, Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale was one of my first introductions to feminist writing. I become completely captivated by her writing, as she reveals the dark and twisted experiences of women in a dystopian world, which unfortunately resonates with the experiences of women in current times.
The more I read I realised how impactful feminist contributions to literature have been, as they reveal the personal, social, and political aspects of women-hood, they illustrate women’s plight as well as demonstrating the strength, courage, and resilience of women in an oppressive and patriarchal society. I have endeavoured to read as many feminist books by excellent female authors as I can, these books have never failed to inspire me and teach me valuable lessons. The diversity of the female experience in writing is so important as it demonstrates the intersectionality of identities, such as race and sexuality, the complexities of women’s lives, and most importantly sheds light on often unheard and untold stories.
There have been certain feminist books that have really stood out to me and made a lasting impact, it was extremely difficult to narrow it down, the list truly is endless, however, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourite feminist reads to choose a combination of fiction and non-fiction from different women to accurately represent the diverse lived experiences of women. I’ve continuously recommended these books and will continue doing so!
1) Audre Lorde – Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
I’ve placed this as number one as it one of my favourite books. Ever. Described as a biomythography; it combines history, biography, and myth and is one of the most beautiful and poignant reads. Lorde speaks of her early childhood, growing up in Harlem, New York in the 1930s, she recalls her racist experiences in schools, poverty, and tales of her parents’ heritage. Her journey of self-discovery continues through her teenage years and early adulthood, and she explores her identity as black, female and lesbian. What really stood out to me was how Lorde mentions the importance of women in shaping her as a person, it’s a beautiful ode to all the inspirational women she crossed paths with. Lorde’s Sister Outsider and The Master Tool’s Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House are also must-reads.
2) Molly Smith and Juno Mac – Revolting Prostitutes
This is the most recently read book on this list, written by two sex workers, it makes the most compelling argument for the complete legislation of all sex workers. Drawing from personal experience, alongside extremely well-researched case studies, they argue how the demonisation and criminalisation of sex work are extremely damaging and dangerous to women. The authors highlight how migrant women, who are usually women of colour and working-class women are disproportionately targeted, whether this is through being arrested, displaced, sexually assaulted, and in the worst cases, death. Smith and Mac critique liberal feminists who argue against the legalisation of sex work, and present the case that sex work is valid, and must be legalised and safe for women. This book was extremely insightful and eye-opening as it tells the stories of some of the most marginalised women in modern society.
3) Sylvia Plath – The Bell Jar
Originally published under a pseudonym, Victoria Lucas, The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical novel, which focuses on the protagonist’s descent into mental illness. The novel is parallel to Plath’s personal experiences and struggles with mental illness, she tragically committed suicide just a month after the publication of the novel. This is thought to be one of the most important books in the 20th century, and I completely agree. Plath beautifully captures the complexities and tragedies of womanhood, as the protagonist struggles with her feminine identity and 1950s’ societal norms. The novel really stood out to me for its honesty, although at times the novel can be distressing, it offers such an important insight into mental illness in young women.
4) Angela Davis – Women, Race and Class
Renowned activist and academic Angela Davis’s book is truly radical and exceptional. It’s a historical analysis of women’s liberation movements, starting from abolitionist movements through to contemporary movements. It’s analysed through a Marxist and Feminist lens and highlights so well the intersectionality of gender, race, and class. Davis covers so much ground, writing about the treatment of black women under slavery, and then subsequently, as domestic servants, sexuality, as well as critiquing white feminism. Davis also tells the stories of the most remarkable women, for example, Sojourner Truth, whose famous words in her ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ speech are truly amazing, and highlight how strong and incredible certain women were and continue to be in times of injustice and oppression.
The reason I selected these particular books is that they all focus on different aspects of female liberation and female identities, like mental health, sexuality and race. They’re extremely eye-opening, I’ve learnt so many valuable lessons, and also been reassured and inspired. Some other notable feminist books I’ve loved are The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter, Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks and the Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have and please share your recommendations, I would love to discover more fantastic feminist writers and books!
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