What does the F word mean to you? If this question makes you confused or — worse — draws a blank, you haven’t really given feminism a thought. We are currently experiencing fifth-wave feminism, and if you haven’t figured out what feminism means to you, you’re the kid learning the alphabet while your classmates do calculus. As we come to the end of the UN’s ongoing 16 Days campaign calling for an end to violence against women, nourish your mind with our pick of feminist books every man and woman should read.
‘I would like to ask that we begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently…’ writes feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her book, We Should All Be Feminists, which features in our list of the top feminist books. Change begins from childhood!
1. Shut It Down
Author: Lisa Fithian
For decades, Lisa Fithian’s work as an advocate for civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action has put her on the frontlines of change. For anyone who wants to become more active in resistance or is just feeling overwhelmed or hopeless, Shut It Down: Stories from a Fierce, Loving Resistance offers strategies and actions you can take right now to promote justice and incite change in your own community.
In Shut It Down, Fithian shares historic, behind-the-scenes stories from some of the most important people-powered movements of the past several decades. She shows how movements that embrace direct action have always been, and continue to be, the most radical and rapid means for transforming the ills of our society.
2. I Am Malala
Author: Malala Yousafzai
The youngest ever winner for the Nobel Peace Prize, at the tender age of sixteen, brings you her tale. The book talks about a society where sons are revered and daughters shunned and how one family fights against repressive norms. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban explains the power of words – and that they can create fear but can also bring hope.
Author: Simone de Beauvoir
When this book was first published in 1949 it was to outrage and scandal. Never before had the case for female liberty been so forcefully and successfully argued. De Beauvoir’s belief that ‘One is not born but rather becomes, a woman’ switched on light bulbs in the heads of a generation of women and began a fight for greater equality and economic independence.
Author: Maya Angelou
In this first volume of her six books of autobiography, Maya Angelou beautifully evokes her childhood with her grandmother in the American south of the 1930s. She learns the power of the white folks at the other end of town and suffers the terrible trauma of rape by her mother’s lover. However, far from being dispiriting, American novelist late James Baldwin writes, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings liberates the reader into life simply because Maya Angelou confronts her own life with such a moving wonder, such a luminous dignity.’
Authors: Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva
Do women involved in environmental movements see a link between patriarchy and ecological degradation? What are the links between global militarism and the destruction of nature? In exploring such questions, the authors criticize prevailing theories and develop an intellectually rigorous ecofeminist perspective rooted in the needs of everyday life.
Author: Virginia Woolf
Constructed around Woolf’s idea that to write fiction a woman must have money and a room of her own, this revolutionary work depicts a woman’s predicaments as she struggles deep within for some place of her own where she can work without restrictions. It brings forth the differences, biases and conventional attitudes that have caused immense suffering to women across the centuries.
A major work of 20th century feminist literature, A Room of One’s Own is an extended essay based on a series of lectures titled ‘Women and Fiction’ delivered at two women’s colleges in Cambridge. More than 90 years after its publication, this book continues to be an inspiration for women across the globe.
Author: Scarlett Curtis
A collection of writing from extraordinary women, from Hollywood actresses to teenage activists, each telling the story of their personal relationship with feminism, this book explores what it means to be a woman from every point of view.
Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And other lies): Amazing Women on What the F-Word Means to Them book aims to bridge the gap between the feminist hashtag and the scholarly text by giving women the space to explain how they actually feel about feminism. Published in partnership with Girl Up, the UN’s women’s foundation, royalties will benefit the charity.
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In this personal, eloquently argued essay – adapted from her much-admired Tedx talk of the same name – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the 21st century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness. Drawing extensively on her own experiences and her deep understanding of the often masked realities of sexual politics, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman now – an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.
This article is part of our series on the international 16 Days of Activism campaign with the theme “Orange the World”.