Books Every Women's Rights Activist Should Read

What does it mean to be a woman in the world? That's a question that merits some examination. You can look inward. You can look around you. You can go to marches. But to situate yourself globally and historically, and to gain broader perspectives than your own, you'll have to hear from others.
There's no easier way to speak to others than to read a book. In each of these feminist texts, you'll hear from brilliant and visionary minds whose observations about history and sociology will make you understand the world, and your place in it, more completely.
In these books, you'll experience snippets of history — like the final hour of the women's suffrage movement in 1920, or the first class action lawsuit for workplace discrimination against women. And snippets of lives, from women on the front lines of the feminist movement in the '70s to Malala Yousafzai. And finally, get the philosophical structure necessary to understand it all.
Without further ado: The books all women eager to learn about the fight for women's rights should read.
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A Room of One's Own (1929)
By Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was known for her novels — but she also wrote some incredible feminist criticism like A Room of One's Own, which remains relevant almost a century after its publication. A Room of One's Own is an extended essay that explores why, historically, women haven't written fiction. Without money and independence, Woolf argues, fiction writing is nearly impossible. Though the book is about women authors, it's really about the societal forces that have kept women constrained and restricted over the centuries.
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Ain’t I A Woman? (1981)
By bell hooks

Historically, Black women have been excluded from the mainstream feminist narrative. In this revolutionary book titled after Sojourner Truth's speech of the same name, bell hooks examines how the intersections of sexism and racism has always affected Black American women. Ain't I A Woman is the intersectional feminist text that everyone should read.
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The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women (1991)
By Naomi Wolf

Have you ever felt pressure to look a certain way? Dress a certain way? Be a certain way? This pressure originated long before the Instagram Discover page. Naomi Wolf’s 1991 book translates the subliminal messaging that essentially all media projected — that beauty is the ultimate goal, or the necessary virtue, for women to achieve.
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In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution (1999)
By Susan Brownmiller

In 1968, Susan Brownmiller, a feature journalist, attended her first informal feminist meeting. She was 33 and had no idea her life was about to change. But in that room, Brownmiller felt comfortable enough to open up about her own experiences with abortion and discrimination. After that, she enmeshed herself in these social circles. Brownmiller was on the front lines of the women’s movement, and she infuses this book with thrilling anecdotes that only an insider could have. Thanks to Brownmiller’s warm prose, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem appear as human characters, not just icons.
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Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth And What Can Be Done About It (2010)
By Mariko Lin Chang

Women earn less than men do. 75 cents on the dollar, to be precise. Many of us know that acutely (including Claire Foy, who was paid less to be the Queen on The Crown than Matt Smith was to play the Queen's consort). But why? Mariko Chang’s academic investigation into the gender wealth gap reveals that the problems are more far-reaching than just salary, and have everything to do with women's role in society.
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The Unfinished Revolution: Voices From the Global Fight for Women’s Rights (2012)
Edited by Minky Worden

The fight isn’t over, folks. Even though women’s rights have come a long way in the past three decades, this book highlights the work that needs to be done to secure equal rights for women and girls throughout the world. Featuring essays by 30 advocates for women’s rights — from former Irish President Mary Robinson and journalist Christiane Amanpour, to aid workers and academics — The Unfinished Revolution provides a holistic view on how far we’ve come, and how far is left to go.
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I Am Malala (2013)
By Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai is a modern day icon who needs no introduction, but we'll give one anyway. When she was 11, Yousafzai spoke out against Taliban rule in her home of Pakistan, and demanded that girls have the right to an education. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, while coming home from school, Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban soldier. She survived, and continued to work as a beacon for girls' rights and the importance of education. She received the Nobel Peace Prize when she was 17. This is her story, in her words.
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Men Explain Things to Me (2014)
By Rebecca Solnit

In the first essay of this brilliant book, Rebecca Solnit identified a phenomenon that many women immediately related to: men explaining things to women where it wasn’t welcome or necessary. The phenomenon has since been capped by the term “mansplaining.” But Solnit’s book can’t be boiled down into the identification of a single kind of interaction. The essays in Men Explain Things to Me explore various facets of women’s experiences, from violence to the writing of Virginia Woolf. It is essential reading.
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A Cup of Water Under My Bed (2014)
By Daisy Hernández

Journalist Daisy Hernandez exists between worlds. As she jokingly explained in a Huffington Post interview, her tagline is "bicultural, bilingual, bisexual.” In this heartfelt memoir, Hernandez examines what Cuban and Colombian women in her family taught her about race, gender, dating, and how she should be. As Hernandez grows up and begins dating women and trans men, the gulf between her and her family widens. This is part memoir, part exploration of identity and the Latinx experience.
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We Should All Be Feminists (2014)
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Even if you haven’t read this slim, 64-page book, you’re definitely familiar with it. Adichie’s book is based on a TED Talk she gave of the same name. Beyoncé sampled a portion of the TED Talk in her 2013 song “***Flawless.” But to really understand Adichie’s point, you’ll have to read the book. In this personal yet universal book, Adichie lays the groundwork for a new, more inclusive form of feminism — one that doesn’t leave anyone out.
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The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace (2016)
By Lynn Povitch

The Good Girls Revolt book was adapted into a short-lived, and much beloved, Amazon original series. Since we unfortunately don’t have more than one season to watch, read Povitch’s book instead. In 1970, 46 women employees of Newsweek accused the magazine of discrimination against its women employees. This led to the first female class action lawsuit, and a movement that reverberated throughout media.
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The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote (2018)
By Elaine Weiss

In this book, Weiss transforms the fight for women’s suffrage into a downright nail-biter. The Woman's Hour is set in Nashville in August of 1920. At this moment, only more state's vote is needed in order to ratify the right to vote. What will the suffragettes need to do to win over Nashville politicians? And what causes will they throw by the wayside? Understanding the factors that went into the passage of the 19th Amendment will put many of today’s dynamics in clear focus.
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All the Women in My Family Sing (2018)

All the Women in My Family Sing is a mosaic of stories, essays, and poems, brought to you from 69 women of color. You'll read America Ferrara's speech at the Women's March in Washington, D.C., Porochista Khakpour's experiences cross-country flight under Trump's Muslim travel ban, and Lalita Tademy's journey from executive to bestselling author — and much more. All the Women in My Family Sing is remarkable because it was entirely edited, published, and designed by women of color, in addition to being written by women of color.
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