Essential Books on Intersectional Feminism
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.