If one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2022 is to read more, we’ve got you covered. There are a ton of book genres to explore, from sweet (or steamy) romance novels to historical fiction to celebrity memoirs, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But if one of your other resolutions is to educate yourself on important issues, then books are your friend in that arena as well. Whether you’re trying to learn more about reproductive rights, mental health, immigration, or a different topic entirely, a good book is the first place to start. If you’ve decided it’s time to learn more about feminism, we’ve rounded up 21 essential reads to help guide your journey.
Some of these books will give you a window into the history of feminism, while others dive into more contemporary ideas and experiences. Many of them focus on the idea of intersectionality and examine how white feminist leaders have often ignored or oppressed women of color or those from other marginalized groups. Others include personal essays about fighting the patriarchy that may inspire you to think differently. And it’s not all nonfiction — we’ve included some feminist fiction and poetry sure to get you fired up. Here are 21 of the best feminist books you can read now.
In this classic 1983 book, Angela Y. Davis explores how racism and classism have infiltrated many feminist movements throughout history, with white women leaders often upholding ideals of white supremacy instead of advocating for women of color. She documents how well-known feminists like Susan B. Anthony and Margaret Sanger dismissed the needs of Black and working-class people in the pursuit of advancing their own agendas. Davis also shares how these historical inequalities in popular feminist movements influence how society views domestic labor, reproductive freedom, sexual assault, and other feminist issues to this day. It's a must-read if you're trying to learn more about intersectionality.
Rebecca Solnit (who has written many books about feminism) explores the #MeToo era in this book of essays that asks how power shapes whose stories are listened to and respected. It also touches on other important topics, like voter suppression and climate change, and how these issues intersect with power and gender.
If you've ever looked back and realized the messages you got as a young girl or woman might have been kind of f*cked up, this is a must-read. Melissa Febos analyzes what narratives society gives young girls and women about themselves and their roles in the world and how we can reclaim power, anger, grief, pleasure, and everything else. It's part memoir, part investigation, and you're guaranteed to come away feeling ready to make a change.
In this 1929 book based on two of Virginia Woolf's lectures, she completely shuts down the idea that women are inherently less talented writers and thinkers than men. To do so, she examines some of the structures that oppressed (and continue to oppress) women's ambitions, such as expectations around domestic labor and lack of access to education. It may be nearly a century old, but the ideas in this work are just as potent today as they were then.
In this book, Aileen Moreton-Robinson, a professor and Indigenous woman, examines western ideas around feminism. She is a Goenpul woman of the Quandamooka people, an Aboriginal Australian group, and she looks at how white feminists in Australia have frequently either ignored or misrepresented Indigenous women in their publications and teachings.
This book might be small in size, but its message is anything but. In under 100 pages, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains why feminism is for people of all genders. Adapted from her TEDx talk of the same name, the bite-sized book is the perfect introduction to the movement for anyone still skeptical about using the f-word.
We can’t talk about feminism without talking about intersectionality. What is intersectional feminism? We’re glad you asked. It’s feminism that’s conscious of the fact that a woman’s many identities—race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.—affect how she experiences disadvantages. Mikki Kendall takes the discussion around intersectionality even further by reminding us that we must acknowledge barriers like education, violence, hunger, medical care, and more.
Speaking of intersectionality, Unapologetic is also required reading on the topic, especially if you want to organize a social justice movement. Charlene Carruthers will change the way you think about race, class, and gender—and how the three affect each other. She’ll also inspire you to actually do something to help empower Black people and fight systemic injustices.
Not to be dramatic, but the patriarchy is trying to ruin our lives at pretty much every turn. Think we’re exaggerating? Allow Feminasty to elaborate. Erin Gibson comes in hot with facts and stories that’ll make your blood boil. In each chapter, you’ll learn about lesser-known women’s issues that aren’t making headlines but still deserve our undivided attention. Don’t even get us started on how doctors dismiss women’s health concerns.
While many tend to tiptoe around certain real world topics, Peggy Orenstein confidently tackles feminist issues with a deliciously clever personal perspective. She delves into the pains of teenage pregnancy and motherhood, breaks down how the media fabricates body image, and most importantly, explains why young girls shouldn’t aspire to be called “princesses.” Weaving scholarly research with her own personal stories makes way for a refreshing and remarkably compelling read.
bell hooks defines feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” She explains that everyone and anyone can be feminist and to do so, one most take a global and well-rounded perspective. She applies this theory to several global issues, including reproductive rights, domestic violence, race, age, and social status. Her writing style is captivating and delightfully blunt, which further strengthens her call to action.
In a world where misogyny sometimes feels inescapable, a fantastical story about female independence can be the easiest and most effective way to take yourself away from society’s harsh realities. The Power puts readers in a world where the patriarchy is facing its imminent demise, as young women are given the power to emit painful electric shocks that can be used at any time they want. Fighting off aggressors, as well as the ever-oppressive government is now (finally) possible, and despite the fact that it’s total fantasy, it definitely leaves you feeling more hopeful than ever.
Quick-witted memoirist Roxanne Gay recounts her lifelong struggle to get back in touch with her own body after surviving a sexual assault at only 12 years old. For several years after the trauma, the author shut herself off from having interpersonal relationships, turning to food and toxic relationships for emotional support. Through her writing and by facing her past, however, Gay learns to trust again, while choosing to further mend her relationship with her body, food, and loved ones. Her candid and resilient attitude definitely gives both survivors and interested readers alike hope for a brighter future.
Delving into various racial and gender issues, short fiction writer ZZ Packer tells several fictional stories about the struggles of young women in America, from an all-Black Brownie troop teaching an all-white Brownie troop about racism, to a Black freshman at Yale University, striving to navigate through highly unfamiliar surroundings. Each story leaves readers with a strong sense of nostalgia, the feeling of what it’s like to feel out of place, and the courage to stick up for oneself during times of hardship.
Esther Greenwood is a talented and dark-humored (yet staggeringly depressive) young woman, who is extraordinarily preoccupied with the oppressed state of the government. After facing relentless academic rejection, her mental health takes a downward spiral, and totally plummets. This 1963 novel is shockingly timeless, in terms of issues the protagonist faces, from mental health problems, to becoming overly consumed with nationwide issues. Aside from being unbelievably relatable at times like these, however, it also shows concern for what women faced (and still continue to face) in the modern world.
Hear what “feminism” means to Hollywood heroines like Keira Knightly and Saoirse Ronan, as well as renowned activists such as Charlie Craggs and Alicia Garza in this gorgeous compilation of short stories, essays, and poems. This collection is brought together by journalist and activist Scarlett Curtis. A variety of feminist icons give insight as to when they first proclaimed themselves feminists, why they’re feminists, and what they’re feeling in terms of the latest feminist and “me too” movements, while giving insight as to how you, as a reader, can get more involved with the cause.
The Argonauts starkly contrasts from Maggie Nelson’s much-darker book, Jane, enlightening readers with this memoir-meets-love story. Nelson recounts falling in love with her gender-fluid life partner, Harry Dodge. The two get married right before Proposition 8 passed in 2008, and three years later, Nelson gets pregnant while Dodge begins transitioning with testosterone — and after — top surgery. Throughout the book, Nelson explores what it means to be a “family,” working to change the heteronormative and patriarchal manner in which people discuss gender roles and marriage.
Following her first collection of short-form poetry, Milk And Honey, Rupi Kaur debuts her second anthology of short-form poetry, The Sun And Her Flowers. Amidst grieving the end of a long-term relationship, Kaur was sexually assaulted, sending her into a downward spiral. On a quest to begin loving herself again, however, she further explores her roots via beautiful prose, dedicating several pieces to her immigrant mother. Kaur recognizes the value of her own freedom, which her female ancestors missed out on, addressing various global feminist issues.
Through various essays and speeches, late poet, activist, and feminist goddess, Audre Lorde, aims to explain the importance of sticking together as women, no matter your race, class, where you’re from, or your sexuality. Through stories detailing her travels, encounters, and relationships, her passion shines through her work, inevitably giving readers hope for changes to come.
This is an anthology of Adrienne Rich’s poetry, celebrating women in every way possible. Divided into three sections: “Power,” “Twenty-one Love Poems,” and “Not Somewhere Else, But Here,” Rich blends historical female achievements, gorgeous love poems, and a comparison of women with natural elements. Throughout, she reiterates the message that social principles must change to create a “common language” between men and women.
Pecola Breedlove is a young African-American student growing up in Lorain, Ohio right after The Great Depression. In a predominantly white town, she’s constantly ridiculed for her appearance, causing her to develop a burning obsession to look more like the blond, blue-eyed girls she goes to school with. Morrison’s novel takes a deep look into the damaging toll white beauty standards take on black women, with the hope of breaking down “typical beauty standards.”