The Best Feminist Books To Spark Your Awakening

Courtesy of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
So, you want to be a feminist? You've come to the right place. There's no better way to get educated, get angry, get inspired, and get impassioned than by cracking open a book.
Each of the novels, memoirs, and essay collections will draw you in with quality writing and even more compelling stories. These are books that give time to the stories, lives, and truths of women. Each is worth a read, and then worth buying for all your friends to read, too. Because once you've awakened, there's no going back.
Read These Stories Next:
1 of 17
Women Who Run With the Wolves (1992)

By Clarissa Pinkola Estés

In this fascinating book, Estés examines different archetypes of women found in worldwide mythology. Estés is mainly interested in the wild woman, the woman who "represents the instinctual nature of women" — both how she has been represented in folklore and history, and how we can get in touch with the wildness that still beats within us.
2 of 17
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America (2013)

By Melissa Harris-Perry

The media environment shapes how we perceive ourselves in the world. In this fascinating book, Harris-Perry examines the way persistent and damaging representations have affected Black women's senses of selves. Harris-Perry speaks to survivors of Hurricane Katrina to the First Lady, and provides ample literary analysis and political theory, all in the effort of weaving together an interpretation of how black women have been marginalized by mainstream media.
Advertisement
3 of 17
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (2011)

By Warsan Shire

Shire's conversational, sensual, beautiful poetry will touch you in deep and profound ways. Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet, and infuses her poetry with stories of her family, the Islamic tradition, and expectations of femininity.
4 of 17
All the Lives I Want (2017)

By Alana Massey

In a series of cutting, wise, relatable essays, Alana Massey looks at how female figures in pop culture have affected her personally, and have society at large. All the Lives That I Want uses the cultural figures we all know — from Scarlett Johansson to Anna Nicole Smith — in order to explore universal issues. For a taste, read Massey's brilliant essay on feeling like a Winona in a world of Gwyneths.
5 of 17
Feminism is for Everybody (2000)

By bell hooks

This primer for modern day, intersectional feminism begins with a simple proclamation: "Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression."
6 of 17
Courtesy of Haymarket Books
Men Explain Things To Me (2014)

By Rebecca Solnit

If you’ve used the term “mansplaining” to describe an incident when a man explained something to you pedantically, you have the first essay in this book to thank. Solnit’s slim essay collection is essential reading for all budding feminists. The first essay, entitled “Men Explain Things to Me,” takes a witty approach to explaining the power dynamics that arise in conversations between men and women. In the same refreshingly clear and readable prose, Solnit’s essay collection goes on to discuss the grisly prevalence of domestic abuse, the writing of Virginia Woolf, and the work that still needs to be done in the women’s rights movement.

With its unmissable title, we recommend you read this feminist manifesto for the modern age where ever it can be seen. Upon finishing, this is one you’ll want to give to your girl (and guy) friends.
7 of 17
Courtesy of Vintage
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2013)

By Jeanette Winterson

This memoir's title is what Jeanette Winterson's mother actually told her when Jeanette came out as a lesbian many, many years ago.

Written in a series of short vignettes, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? depicts different episodes in Winterson's difficult childhood in a fundamentalist Christian household in England. It's about her mother's intense preparations for Armageddon, a peculiar form of mania. It's about an industrial corner of England that no longer exists. It's about searching for a birth mother. It's about the past crawling out of the woodwork, just when you think you've painted it over.

Winterson made it out of her childhood home, but she carries the wounds. With fierce, lyrical language, she writes of those scars.
Advertisement
8 of 17
My Brilliant Friend (2011)

by Elena Ferrante

The first book in Elena Ferrante’s acclaimed Neapolitan Novels, My Brilliant Friend vividly describes the young adulthood of two women in Naples in the 1950s. While in her 60s, Elena, the narrator, sets out to tell the story of her friendship with Lila. My Brilliant Friend is the start of Elena's detailed project.

Lila is everything Elena wants to be: fierce, reckless, glamorous, and able to lord over their Neapolitan neighborhood with a manipulative streak. Elena, however, is determined to do something that Lila cannot: get out of Naples. From Italian politics to the politics of friendship, My Brilliant Friend sets up the themes which are explored throughout these four extraordinary books.

The series begs the question, what happens to two remarkably intelligent young women in a society designed to stifle female independence? What happens to a person when every step toward autonomy is met with opposition? You'll emerge from My Brilliant Friend changed utterly.
9 of 17
Courtesy of Graywolf Press
The Argonauts (2015)

By Maggie Nelson

Is The Argonauts an autobiography? An epic poem? A piece of academic criticism? All of the above? What’s for sure is that Nelson’s hybrid book is unclassifiable. While the book ventures into lofty ideas and personal essay, at the core of The Argonauts is something universal: a love story. Nelson describes her falling in love and starting a family with the fluidly gendered artist Harry Dodge.

Throughout the book, Nelson marries the events of her life with what theorists have said about marriage, child-rearing, sexuality and gender. What results is an drawn-out ode to, well — love.
10 of 17
Courtesy of Knopf/Doubleday Publishing Group
The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)

By Margaret Atwood

People have been buying dystopian novels in droves. 1984, Brave New World — you name it. But for women, the scariest, most prescient dystopia is undoubtedly The Handmaid’s Tale.

After a terrorist attack wipes out the U.S. government (à la Designated Survivor), a religious group establishes a new theocratic order called Gilead. Soon after the establishment of this new society, women are swiftly stripped of their rights and autonomy. Since fertility is seriously compromised in this brave new world, all child-rearing women are licensed out to rich and powerful families. Offred, a woman serving the Commander and his bitter wife, can remember a time before the coup, when she had a family, a job, and a name of her own.

The Handmaid’s Tale takes the legislation of female bodies to its logical, and terrifying, conclusion. The miniseries is coming to Hulu later this spring, but be sure to read the book first.
11 of 17
Courtesy of Harcourt Brace
A Room Of One’s Own (1929)

By Virginia Woolf

If, unlike us English majors, you haven’t already been inundated by Virginia Woolf’s brilliant take on feminism, here’s the best place to start. The conceit is simple: Woolf explores the history of women’s role in creating literature. However, the implications of women’s place in society is must broader. In a well-known segment of the book, Woolf famously imagines Shakespeare’s sister Judith, who was turned away from her own literary dreams to pursue a more conventional path.

Woolf wittily and charmingly leads you through her arguments, until, all of a sudden, you find yourself at some profound climax.
12 of 17
Courtesy of Penguin Random House
The Awakening (1899)

By Kate Chopin

Before books like The Feminine Mystique awakened entire generations of women to social inequity, women fought against the order in solitary, lonely ways. You can watch this unfold in vivid color in Kate Chopin’s novel about Edna Pontellier, a married woman living in New Orleans in the late 1800s. In this landmark novel of early feminism, Edna is unmoored from her domestic attachments following a torrid affair with a young man. By the time the novel ends, Edna has progressed from traditional wife to self-actualised and sexually liberated woman. The book makes you question whether it’s better to sleep peacefully or awaken to an impossible reality.
Advertisement
13 of 17
Courtesy of Harper Perennial
Bad Feminist (2014)

By Roxane Gay

Hilarious, personable, and blisteringly smart, Roxane Gay writes like the wise older friend you always needed in this collection of essays. With seemingly effortless prose, Gay discusses everything from her first year teaching to sexual assault to cultural appropriation to her professional Scrabble career. Whether it's Sweet Valley High or cultural criticism, Gay approaches every topic with the same bravery and emotional honesty.

So, what exactly is a bad feminist? You’ll have to read to find out, and we expect you’ll find the answer to be refreshingly relatable.
14 of 17
Courtesy of Vintage
The Bloody Chamber

By Angela Carter

This thrilling collection of short stories gives a modern twist to 10 classic fairy tales, from Beauty and the Beast to Bluebeard. In honour of the forthcoming live-action Beauty and the Beast, read both of The Bloody Chambers' interpretations of the classic folk tale. If you're at all a Disney fan, you'll go crazy reading these daring, inventive stories.

Not to mention, Angela Carter is the unsung literary genius of the 20th century, so you should read this for her, too. Read one, and you won't be able to resist the rest.
15 of 17
Sister Outsider (1984)

By Audre Lorde

Here's the essential collection of Black lesbian and feminist poet, Audre Lorde. There's no issue too large for Lorde to tackle in her sharp, incisive, unflinching prose. The collection's 15 electric essays explore the insidious forces at work behind everyday life: racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and class. She offers some actionable ways to move forward.
16 of 17
Courtesy of Harper Perennial
The Beauty Myth (1990)

By Naomi Wolf

In this ground-breaking book, Naomi Wolf argues that a prevailing obsession with physical perfection entraps women in a spiral of aspiration, hope, and self-hatred as she tries to achieve society's expectation of beauty. For those of you who find yourselves aiming to reach impossible standards of beauty (yes, that's pretty much all of us), this book's for you.
17 of 17
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of celebrity news, fun takes on pop culture, and trending stories on the Refinery29 Entertainment Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!
Advertisement