Essential Books on Intersectional Feminism

  Collection of books atop a photo of the grandmother of our Editor-in-Chief, Almila Kakinc-Dodd, to remind the power of women's lineage

Collection of books atop a photo of the grandmother of our Editor-in-Chief, Almila Kakinc-Dodd, to remind the power of women's lineage

Essay Collections

"Bad Feminist" by Roxane Gay

In a culture of the so-deemed “problematic faves,” critic & essayist Gay advocates for the idea of imperfect feminism. Through this collection of humourous yet poignant essays, Gay highlights the irony of holding others up on a pedestal of direly high standards of thought and behavior in addition to trigger warnings; popular songs with catchy yet degrading lyrics; and the negative effects of tokenism on women and people of color.

"You Don’t Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism" by Alida Nugent

In the age of “problematic faves,” cultural critic Gay embraces and advocates for the idea of imperfect feminism in her collection of funny, honest essays. Pointing out the irony of holding our icons up to impossible-to-meet standards of thought and behavior, Gay takes on trigger warnings, the complications of loving catchy songs despite their degrading lyrics, and the ways in which tokenism in media negatively impacts women and peo

"This Bridge Called My Back, Fourth Edition: Writings by Radical Women of Color," edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa

This anthology powerfully chronicles the fight for equality by women of color feminist activists during the last quarter of the 20th century through poetry, art, interviews, essays, and more. This is an excellent primer to get a handle on what inclusive feminism could look like.

"We Should All Be Feminists" By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes eloquently about what it means to be a feminist in the 21st century, based off her own experience. She argues that feminism is about basic human rights, and focuses on the experience of women of color and the sexual politics that all people, regardless of race or gender, face in this country.

"Men Explain Things to Me" by Rebecca Solnit

Best known for popularizing the term “mansplaining,” Solnit’s collection of personal yet decidedly un-saccharine essays delves into big themes of the modern feminist experience with clarity and humor. From having your own interests explained to you and the #YesAllWomen movement to marriage equality, Solnit’s pieces are a relatable—often secondhand rage-inducing—look into gender in the 2010s.

"Sister Outsider" by Audre Lorde

Intersectional feminism has raised its profile in recent years, with a more diverse range of voices participating in the conversation than ever before. Much of that is owed to work by writers like famed poet and author Audrey Lorde, who brought a black, queer, feminist perspective to the forefront of the cultural discussion in this iconic collection of essays and speeches on racism, sexism and homophobia.


Novels

The Handmaid's Tale

A dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood & now a critically-acclaimed T.V. show, originally published in 1985. It is set in a near-future New England, in a totalitarian state resembling a theonomy, which has overthrown the United States government.

"The Second Sex" by Simone de Beauvoir

Author and philosopher de Beauvoir’s 1949 book began as an autobiographical essay exploring why she thought of herself as a woman first and everything else second. It reclaimed “the problem of woman,” which, as she put it, “has always been the problem of men.” Sharp-witted and winding, de Beauvoir combines critical theory with personal observation for a formative work of the feminist canon.

"Stone Butch Blues: A Novel" by Leslie Feinberg

Hailed by many feminists as one of the most important books that give life and understanding to the treatment of transgender people in the United States, Stone Butch Blues follows the courageous  story of how the author “learns to accept the complexities of being a transgendered person in a world demanding simple explanations.”

"Women, Race, and Class" by Angela Y. Davis

Veteran political activist Davis’s essential collection of speeches and essays revolve largely around the ways in which the conversations around sexism, racism and economic equality shifted in the latter part of the 20th century. From stories of female genital mutilation in Egypt to examinations of rap lyrics and the personal. This book is definitely one of the must-reads for any intersectional feminist. A bit dated at this point, but still important, it takes a look at the very issues of exclusion that have hindered the feminist movement since abolition days.

"Gender Outlaw" by Kate Bornstein

While non-binary may be a relatively new term to mainstream readers, non-binary people and writers have been discussing the complexities of gender fluidity for decades. Originally published in 1994 and recently revised and updated, self-described “nonbinary transfeminine diesel femme dyke” Bornstein explores the layers of cultural, political and social factors that inform and shape gender performance, calling out the rigid expectations of a gender binary as harmful to people of all presentations.

"The Face Behind The Veil: The Extraordinary Lives of Muslim Women in America" by Donna Gehrke-White

For years, the image of the Muslim woman in America has been as mysterious as the face behind the veil. Is she garbed in the traditional hijab and chador? Is she subservient to a male-dominated culture and religion? Does she grocery shop, do her nails, go to the gym?

"Feminism is for Everybody" by bell hooks

Suffice to say that feminist theory can be a bit dense for some. That’s why beloved feminist author and cultural critic bell hooks set out in 2000 to create a educational text for those whose understanding of feminism comes from passing TV references and outdated ideas about “femi-nazis.” A passionate treatise for the lay-feminist, hooks explains and examines inclusive feminism and the practical application of it in a way that is both entertaining and informative. A must for every feminist's—and feminist-in-the-making’s—bookshelf.

Theory, History, & Criticism

"Transgender History" by Susan Stryker

Want to know about the largely unspoken history of transgender people in the United States? This amazing book chronicles the milestones, events, and writings from the mid-20th century to today and covers in impressive detail both the transsexual and the transvestite communities.

"Sisters in Spirit: Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Influence on Early American Feminists" by Sally Roesch Wagner

Ever wonder how Native American women have impacted the feminist movement? In this beautiful book, Wagner explores the social impact that the Iroquois women’s philosophy on freedom had in shaping the early American women’s struggle for equality.

"Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World" by Laura Barcella

Fight Like a Girl introduces readers to the history of feminist activism in the U.S. in an effort to celebrate those who paved the way and draw attention to those who are working hard to further the feminist cause today.

"Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk " by Melinda Chateauvert 

This daring and amazing book details the efforts of prostitutes, hustlers, escorts, call girls, strippers, and porn stars to gain legal protections and rights through sex-worker activism over the past five decades.

"The Vagina Monologues" by Eve Ensler

While it may not be a traditional book, Ensler’s episodic play has become a major feminist touchpoint in the more than twenty years since it was first performed. With sections dedicated to sexual consent, body image, sex work, reproduction and more, Ensler’s work was designed to give a voice to women of many races, identities and experiences.

"The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan

The quintessential text of second wave feminism, Friedan’s 1963 book became one of the original pieces of feminist theory to become a mainstream hit. Its indictments of the “MRS. Degree” mentality of higher education for women, the substandard treatment of mental illness among female patients and the cultural perception of women as cogs of consumerism, not creation, have shaped the dialogue of feminist discourse for over half a century.

"Women & Gender in Islam" by Leila Ahmed

Need to check your assumptions about Islam and the treatment of women in the Middle East? Leila Ahmed’s book is an invitation to do just that. So many stereotypes and assumptions about Muslim women and their treatment under Islam abound, but one can hardly make snap judgements about Islam any more than you can about any other religion. Ahmed dives into the text itself and the history of the Western gaze that has led to misunderstanding about Islam and gender.

"Assata" by Assata Shakur

Part memoir of the radical awakening of a young black woman in the '60s and '70s, part personal testimony of a broken, racist justice system. In all its parts it’s a lyrical, addictive read that immerses you in one of the most important eras in the Black liberation struggle. By the end you’ll be outraged, angry, and itching for revolution.


Children's & Young Adult Books

"The Complete Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis is the story of Satrapi's unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming--both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.

"Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott

Though feminism may not have been on her mind when she wrote the story of the intrepid March sisters in the 1860s, Alcott has influenced numerous generations of bold, loving and unconventional women. Following Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy as they grow, find love, pursue their art and endure loss, Little Women shows the many ways to be a woman, and earned a place in the hearts of feminists of all stripes.

"The Feminist Activity Book" by Gemma Correll

This book hilariously takes down gender-based stereotypes, while teaching teens about what feminism is and how to be an activist. This is a great way to start the conversation about feminism with young people.