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i received an email from aila, a 19-year-old student and womanhouse zine supporter from ireland a few days ago talking about her new interest in feminist studies and asked what i would consider to be essential feminist reading. i figured more than one person could potentially benefit from seeing this so i’m just going to post it here for everyone to see.
i don’t pretend i have read everything about feminism, but i am a nerd and went to an all women’s college and studied women’s studies, so if i leave something out that you think is really essential you should message me and i’ll post it. i also definitely think that “essential” feminist reading is different for everybody because the movement and its history is so interdisciplinary and far-reaching. i come from a feminist arts background, for example. i think it’s very important, regardless of your niche, to know the history and to know the great theorists before you get more specific. so this list is going to be more of a “classics of feminist readings” if that makes sense.
i’ll suggest 5 and i’m going to start with my favorite of all time:
1. feminist theory: from margin to center by bell hooks, 1984
i bought this book new and it’s basically annihilated right now because i underlined and highlighted and wrote in the margins and drew a lot of exclamation points and that’s all completely reflective of how i felt the entire time i was reading it. bell hooks’ writing style is very easy to follow and her theories are written with the goal of teaching her readers more than using elitist language to comply with feminist academia. feminist theory is a really good introduction to intersectionality and describes hooks’ own struggles as a woman of color in the women’s movement of the 1970s. i think the best part of this book is the fact that hooks is ruthless in addressing problems and discrimination within the movement, but ends each section with a suggestion of political action and hope for change.
(let’s be real. any book by bell hooks is essential feminist reading but you should start with this one)
2. the feminine mystique by betty friedan, 1963
this was the first book related to feminism and the women’s movement that i ever read. it’s also easy to read and gives a good historical perspective of women’s struggles at the time. however, it’s important to keep in mind while reading the book that while it is a “feminist classic” and is assigned in all women’s studies classes and is probably the #1 book people associate with feminism, there are also a lot of huge problems with it such as the fact that it’s written by (and largely for) a white audience. it suggests that all women at the time were living the same life and facing the same oppression without any consideration for other races or classes. this will make more sense after you learn about intersectionality.
3. women, race and class by angela davis, 1981
angela davis rules. after you are done freaking out over her intelligence and how good her orange turtleneck looks with that blue background you should read this book because it’s essential reading that indirectly addresses the racism in the women’s movement from the white “feminist mystique” perspectives. it gives a black women’s perspective which is completely essential to understanding feminism and contributing to an inclusive movement.
4. undoing gender by judith butler, 2004
judith butler’s work focuses on gender, sex, sexuality and psychoanalysis. i think the most powerful parts ofundoing genderare about performativity; how gender is socialized and how we “perform” our identity for other people. it’s important to say that while judith butler is one of the best things that’s happened to feminism and gender/sexuality academia her writing is difficult to absorb sometimes. the good thing is that once you have read the same passage over 5 or 6 times and finally understand it, it ends up being the best thing your mind has ever processed. here’s an example: “let’s face it. we’re undone by each other. and if we’re not, we’re missing something. if this seems so clearly the case with grief, it is only because it was already the case with desire. one does not always stay intact. it may be that one wants to, or does, but it may also be that despite one’s best efforts, one is undone, in the face of the other, by the touch, by the scent, be the feel, by the prospect of the touch, by the memory of the feel.”
5. manifesta: young women, feminism and the future by jennifer baumgardner and amy richards, 2000
this is the bible of the third wave! i just finished this last week and it’s really good and inspiring and well written and insightful. i think the coolest part is that the writers just sat down one day and decided that a book needed to be written and they made it happen.manifestatalks about how the direction of the movement has changed since the 1990s and gives suggestions for feminist activism. i particularly liked the section “feminists want to know: is the media dead?” because it talks about the importance of diy/punk/riot grrrl movements (and zines!) in feminist activism and politics.
summer reading for leah????
bidi & karen can you guys also send over some more material for me please? especially something on cultural appropriation or neo-racism (*_*) just articles/essays are fine too, i don’t really have too much time for entire novels in just a few weeks …