J. Howard Miller
In 1971, New York representative Bella Abzug passed a resolution through Congress designating August 26 as Women’s Equality Day in the United States to commemorate the certification of the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the constitutional right to vote. The struggle for equal rights for women and especially women of color certainly did not end in 1920 (women of color didn’t gain the right to vote until well into the 1960s and are still restricted by systemic forms of racism such as voter I.D. laws), but we recognize this day as one of the first major steps.
To celebrate Women’s Equality Day 2017, here are–in no particular order–ten books to remind you that the fight is far from over.
Disclaimer: While the rhetoric used both in this article and in the quotes featured from the authors use terms such as “female” and “woman,” the intersectional feminist movement is inclusive of those with gender identities across the spectrum and the following books–many of which showcase the perspectives of women of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and sexualities–can be enjoyed by all.
Bad Feminist (2014) by Roxane Gay
In Bad Feminist, founder of Tiny Hardcore Press Roxane Gay takes on the challenges of being feminist while enjoying things that can seem to conflict with feminism. The book, as Gay herself describes it, is “not even about feminism per se, it’s about humanity and empathy.” This collection of essays attempts to take down the perception that feminism requires you to be perfect, and to many is what Time Magazine called “a manual on how to be human.”
Best quote: “I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.”
Review on GoodReads: 3.91/5
We Should All Be Feminists (2014) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer who divides her time between her home country and the U.S., first gained fame for her 2012 TEDx talk also titled “We Should All Be Feminists,” which was later sampled in Beyonce’s single “Flawless.” This essay adapts her talk and reflects on her own experiences with sexual politics while also touching on how putting men into a box of masculinity can be harmful towards women as well. Put simply, this book is the culmination of the argument of why we should all be feminists.
Best quote: “My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better.”
Review on GoodReads: 4.5/5
The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood
You watched the hit series on Hulu, now try reading the actual inspiration. The book follows a character named Offred (literally, Of-Fred) and her experiences serving as the “handmaid” of one of the high ranking officials in a dystopian theocratic state called the Republic of Gilead. Gilead is set in a world where increasing infertility leads women to become handmaids who serve their households by being forcibly impregnated each month by the man of their household. Atwood herself describes the book as “a study of power, and how it operates and how it deforms or shapes the people who are living within that kind of regime.” While not originally written to be a feminist novel or political message, many have heralded The Handmaid’s Tale as a feminist analysis of women’s role in society.
Best quote: “We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”
Review on GoodReads: 4.06/5
In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens (1983) by Alice Walker
A typically neglected side of female advocacy, a womanist, as the author herself describes, is “a black feminist or feminist of color.” To many, womanism is a safe space for feminists of color and especially black feminists who feel pushed aside by mainstream feminist movements. In this collection of 36 essays, Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple (1982), explains her understanding of womanist theory and explores themes from unsung black female heroes to the importance of the Civil Rights Movement to black women’s experience with self-worth and self-respect.
Best quote: “For you will find, as women have found through the ages, that changing the world requires a lot of free time. Requires a lot of mobility. Requires money, and, as Virginia Woolf put it so well, “a room of one’s own,” preferably one with a key and a lock. Which means that women must be prepared to think for themselves, which means, undoubtedly, trouble with boyfriends, lovers, and husbands, which means all kinds of heartache and misery, and times when you will wonder if independence, freedom of thought, or your own work is worth it all. We must believe that it is. For the world is not good enough; we must make it better.”
Review on GoodReads: 4.22/5
We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement (2016) by Andi Zeisler
For better or for worse, feminism has bloomed into a cultural phenomenon. Celebrities like Taylor Swift, Lena Dunham and Beyoncé regularly profit off of co-opting the feminist message and making it their own, and fast fashion companies like H&M and Forever 21 boost profits by branding their clothing with feminist messages and imagery. In We Were Feminists Once, Andi Zeisler argues that the commercialization of feminism is one of the biggest problems with the movement today because it paints a picture of success that masks the continuing struggles of the women and issues that the media doesn’t promulgate. Zeisler’s book is the ultimate reality check for everyone who thinks that buying a feminist t-shirt makes them a feminist.
Best quote: “Treating feminism like it’s a personal accessory that just isn’t appropriate anymore obscures the places where feminism hasn’t made strides for people who still need it.”
Review on GoodReads: 4.12/5
Loving in the War Years (1983) by Cherríe Moraga
Cherríe Moraga’s book combining both prose and poetry and Spanish and English attacks the idea that one can’t be equally one thing and equally something else. Drawing on her experiences struggling with the identity of being both Chicana and lesbian, Moraga urges oppressed groups to bond together–retaining their individual identities, but working together–to form a coalition that can fight for the equality of all. Through the lens of her own Mexican-American, childhood in California and biracial identity, she issues of sexuality, freedom, culture and family. Both this book and Moraga herself are notable for being some of the first forays into issues about Chicana lesbianism.
Best quote: “In this country, lesbianism is a poverty–as is being brown, as is being a woman, as is being just plain poor. The danger lies in ranking the oppressions. The danger lies in failing to acknowledge the specificity of the oppression. The danger lies in attempting to deal with oppression purely from a theoretical base. Without an emotional, heartfelt grappling with the source of our own oppression, without naming the enemy within ourselves and outside of us, no authentic, non-hierarchical connection among oppressed groups can take place.”
Review on GoodReads: 4.18/5
How to Be a Chicana Role Model (2000) by Michele Serros
In this book, Michele Serros, the author of Chicana Falsa, explores her path towards becoming a professional author and her own development while being labeled “not Latina enough” because of of the way she spoke Spanish. Serros’ analysis of growing up feeling like she wasn’t accepted by her own community can be a relatable tale for anyone who has ever felt like they weren’t [X] enough.
Best quote: “I can’t help but feel that whites always gotta know the answer to everything. It’s like they’re uncomfortable not being able to categorize things they’re unfamiliar with and so they need to label everything as quickly and neatly as possible.”
Review on GoodReads: 3.87/5
Seeing Like a Feminist (2012) by Nivedita Menon
In Seeing Like a Feminist, Nivedita Menon, an Indian feminist author, examines the crossroads between feminist and politics. She discusses institutional barriers that disadvantage women as well as gender as a social construct and the process of “gendering.” To Menon, feminism is less about the final result and more about the gradual process of dismantling oppressive structures in our society.
Best quote: “[S]ocial order displays not the absolute presence or absence of intolerance to difference but a spectrum of intolerance. Each of us bears responsibility to some degree for maintaining these protocols of intolerance, which could not be kept in place if every single one of us did not play our part. From bringing up children ‘appropriately’, to lovingly correcting or punishing their inappropriate behaviour, to making sure we never breach the protocols ourselves, to staring or sniggering at people who look different, to coercive psychiatric and medical intervention, to emotional blackmail, to physical violence–it’s a range of slippages all the way that we seldom recognize.”
Review on GoodReads: 4.22/5
Fat is a Feminist Issue: The Anti-Diet Guide for Women (1978) by Susie Orbach
Psychotherapist Susie Orbach introduces a psychoanalytical approach to the impossible body standards applied to women. Orbach attacks the unconscious motivations between feeling fat or thin as well as compulsive eating. By revealing that the true cause of body image and eating issues stem from internal fears and insecurities, Orbach makes her titular argument that fat is a feminist issue through case studies and simple exercises. She concludes that redefining your relationship with food entails addressing your relationship with yourself first. If you really love this book, you can check out her sequel, Fat is a Feminist Issue II: A Program to Conquer Compulsive Eating, released in 1982.
Best quote: “Dare to be as physically robust and varied as you always were.”
Review on GoodReads: 3.75/5
Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (2000) by bell hooks
According to bell hooks, “to be in the margin is to be part of the whole but outside the body.” Accordingly, hooks acknowledges that there are many groups who exist in the margins, from intersectional feminists to men who also experience inequality in our society. She imagines a version of feminism where women of all sexualities and races as well as men are incorporated into a culture based on understanding and appreciation rather than victimization. hooks’ Feminist Theory encapsulates a solution to groups that are typically at odds: western and intersectional women, women and men and the educated elite and the poor.
Best quote: “..the struggle to end sexist oppression that focuses on destroying the cultural basis for such domination strengthens other liberation struggles. Individuals who fight for the eradication of sexism without struggles to end racism or classism undermine their own efforts. Individuals who fight for the eradication of racism or classism while supporting sexist oppression are helping to maintain the cultural basis of all forms of group oppression.”
Review on GoodReads: 4.34/5