An Introductory Feminist Reading List

We’ve been having a lot of conversations on the blog about feminism this week, and a reader wrote in asking for suggestions of non-fiction if he wanted to give himself a basic primer on feminism as intellectual tradition. Lots of you wrote in with good suggestions, so here are my favorites and the books that were recommended most often by the masses.

1. Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft: The foremother of feminist philosophy, Wollstonecraft used this piece to push back against arguments that women should only receive domestic education, and to lay the foundations on which other women would build the argument for equality between the sexes.

2. A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf: Woolf is arguing for educational access and economic independence as necessary preconditions for women who want to write, but her arguments are applicable to women seeking self-determination in any manner of arena.

3. The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan: There’s no question that Friedan is a problematic figure, particularly given her attitudes towards people of color and lesbians, but her analysis of the gap between what society wanted women to aspire to and the happiness it actually brought them played a critical role in the national feminist conversation of the last century.

4. Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde: Friedan’s flaws are Lourde’s triumphs: a black woman, a lesbian, and the child of immigrants, Lourde’s work makes a major contribution to a vision of feminism that isn’t the sole preserve of and salve for the wounds of white, heterosexual, middle-class women.

5.Gender Trouble, Judith Butler: Butler’s critique of the idea that femininity is natural rather than constructed is a perfect introduction to gender theory for first-timers.

6. Justice, Gender, And The Family, Susan Moller Okin: Reccomended by philosopher friends, Moller Okin takes the concept of justice from public life and applies it to the private sphere.

7. The Second Shift, Arlie Hockschild: A landmark examination of how domestic labor is divided in families where both parents work.

8. This Bridge Called My Back and Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldúa: The former is an essay collection including work by Anzaldúa and other women of color, the latter a collection of prose and poetry by Anzaldúa, recommended to me by Chicana friends in college and vital reading.

9. Ain’t I A Woman?, bell hooks: Another critically important book about the intersections of race and gender, examining the magnifying impact of sexism on slavery, sexism in the black community and racism among feminists.

10. Backlash, Susan Faludi: Particularly valuable context on the War on Women, which is not precisely new.

11. Crazy Salad, Nora Ephron: Lots of folks think of Ephron solely as a creature of Hollywood, but her reporting on the women’s movement as it came into flower in the twentieth century is vital, and funny, and very much gives a sense of what it must be like to have lived through the contradictions, victories, and failures of the moment.