Any list of the best feminist books would not be complete without the following six books:
A Room Of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
This book by Virginia Woolf is one of the best feminist books of all time. It is based on the lecture notes used by Virginia Woolf when she had been asked to deliver a series of lectures in 1929. These notes are considered non-fiction, but Woolf created a fictional character to narrate her insights to make her points clear. The lectures were about the inequalities that dominated the lives of women writers at the time.
A Room of One’s Own was the conclusion Woolf came to when she was pondering what women needed to become writers. It was a time of great inequality between the opportunities and lifestyle choices available to men and women.
Men could have an education, while women were expected to find fulfilment by having a family and staying in the home. Men had money, and even controlled the money of their wives. This gave them the time and financial freedom to write when and where they pleased without being hampered by the demands of the family and the responsibility of household chores.
Woolf concluded that to become writers, women needed a room of their own. That was a metaphor as well as a fact. This early feminist text argues that women need a literal space to write as well as freedom from the dominion of men if they are to become writers.
Reviewers of both genders acknowledge that A Room of One’s Own is a thought-provoking read that has stood the test of time. It is a reminder to women of the sacrifices that have been made by women in the past to enable them to rise above the submission expected of them in a male-dominated society.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
This dystopian story is included in the best feminist book list because it has been described as life- changing and chilling. It serves as a prediction or a warning of what could happen in a world that is dominated by fanatical men who want to retain power at any cost.
The story is told by a Handmaid, called Offred. She narrates about the awful world she must now live in and how the world has changed. She had gone from having a normal life with a husband, a child, and a job, to her forced occupation as a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead.
She and the other Handmaids had been specially taught to be submissive incubators. In a world where women had diminished opportunities to fall pregnant because of pollution, any woman who was fertile had no choice but to become a Handmaiden.
Their training had been given by the cruel and watchful Aunts. Her only value in this new society is her ability to reproduce. Her job is to get pregnant and she is expected to sleep with the Commander once a month until she succeeds. She must do this because the Commander’s wife is infertile.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred shares her longing for the freedom to talk, to read, and to touch another human being in a comforting and natural way. She tells of her virtual imprisonment where the only opportunity to leave the house is to shop in the food market once a day.
This author has an engaging writing style and even manages to add a touch of humor in an otherwise bleak and dark tale. The Handmaid’s Tale is a horrifying story that is compelling and chillingly credible. It is a warning that everyone, especially women, should heed.
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
The Second Sex is one of the best feminist books that has been translated into English in a new edition. Written originally by Simone de Beauvoir in 1940, it reminds women of all that has been accomplished by those who have gone before to attain equality for women.
In France, as well as other places in the world, women have been subjugated by men for generations and The Second Sex explains the lasting effects this has had on women. The world that Simone de Beauvoir describes in those times, saw women as mere objects.
Married French women were considered minors of their husbands and forced to obey them by law until 1942. They also had no choice about using birth control or choosing to have an abortion, amongst other restrictions on their liberty.
Since then, the choices that women can make about their careers, motherhood, and ways of living have changed considerably, but there is still a hangover from the old ways. Misogyny, sexual, and emotional abuse is considered a right of the male and even form the basis of many jokes and stories in the media.
Some book reviews of The Second Sex, label Beauvoir as a man-hater. This is unfair because she does not only blame men for this situation but also women for being so submissive and not taking responsibility for their own thinking.
The Second Sex implores women to wake up and learn to live their lives however they choose without apology. As a feminist, Beauvoir exhorts women to take their rightful place as equal to men intellectually as well as in every other aspect of society.
Beauty Myth – How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf
Naomi Wolf is an author and journalist who has written this feminist book to raise awareness amongst women that there is another threat to their equality. It is a trap that they are unwittingly walking into with their eyes tightly shut.
The Beauty Myth is one of the best feminist books dealing with the idea that women have been conned into believing that they have to attain “flawless beauty” at any cost. They must achieve this to attract men and be successful in life.
In The Beauty Myth, Wolf claims that women’s hard-earned rights are being eroded by a different type of limitation that is being placed on them by society. It is also one that carries dangerous side effects for their physical and mental wellbeing. By being obsessed with attaining perfection in their bodies, women are now suffering from a range of eating disorders, low self-esteem, and spiraling depression.
They enter a cycle of punishment and elation which is fed by endless “selfies” on social media and mindless vanity that detracts from all the hard work by feminists in the past who worked tirelessly to achieve equality for women.
Wolf claims that once again women are being oppressed by men and they seem to be completely oblivious to the fact. Attaining beauty has become the currency used by men to manipulate and suppress them.
She blames the patriarchal society that we live in for perpetuating the myth that a woman must do everything in her power to be beautiful and attractive to men. Whether that means breast augmentation or other types of surgery, women believe that they must perfect in every way to fulfil the fantasies of men.
While no-one refutes the truth of the message in The Beauty Myth, book reviews indicate that readers believe that Woolf could have achieved far more for feminism if she had taken more care to collect accurate data on the size of this problem.
She also needed to refine her research skills to add impact and credibility to her information. Naomi Wolf did not mention the power of the advertising and manufacturing industries that is brought to bear on women, luring them into purchasing the latest fashions and make-up to attain beauty.
Unfortunately, Wolf loses credibility because she does not present a balanced argument and places all the blame for the Beauty Myth at the feet of men.
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
It raises the question of why women were so unhappy after all that women in the past had done to attain equality. At a time when women had achieved the right to vote, to have an education and freedoms that could only be dreamed of by their mother’s, they seemed to have once again become dominated by men.
They had become imprisoned in their homes and held hostage by their families. There was a collective feeling of emptiness and helplessness experienced by women at this time and The Feminine Mystique was an attempt at getting to the heart of the problem.
Many women could not identify why they were feeling this way, but as they began to share their problems, it became clear what the issue was.
Reviews of Betty Friedan’s book indicate that she intended to create a mirror in which women could see that they were going about trying to fill the gap in their lives in the wrong way.
With their husbands out at work or in their clubs and children away at school, women had too much time on their hands for the first time in their lives. The addiction to alcohol and drugs, which were freely prescribed, was only making the problems worse.
The Feminine Myth was intended to empower women to take back control of their lives after marriage, just like they had before they had wed. They needed to take responsibility for developing their own interests, careers, and above all, be true to themselves.
This was not intended as a war cry against men, although many took it to be a militant feminist’s rant against the oppressors. The Feminine Mystique was meant to be an honest observation of society at that time.
Book reviews are not without criticism for The Feminine Mystique and some readers point out that the author failed to record a balanced view of the pressures that were on all people at the time – not just on women. Men were under pressure to provide a perfect home and lifestyle for their “little women” and their families.
Friedan’s answer to all the problems was for women was over-simplified. She believed that they would be able to find fulfillment outside of the home. Possibly in resuming a career or by cultivating new hobbies and interests. But she did not take into account the domino effect this would have on childcare and other domestic issues.
Someone had to keep the home fires burning and she offered no solutions to the new problems that would arise as a result of her advice. By focusing on the average rich, white American woman, she excluded all other women. Failure to include the women of color who were living in poverty all over the world, left a huge part of her potential audience feeling resentful and angry about this book.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie is a Nigerian woman by birth. Sadly, she has observed and experienced the divisive nature of sexual politics all over the world. She believes that only when we all experience equality- irrespective of gender and race, can all reach our full potential in our modern world.
From the title, We should All be Feminists, the reader may expect this to be a heavy, militant message delivered in angry, aggressive tones. It is quite the opposite. Adichie has a light and witty style that in no way detracts from the seriousness of her message. Powerfully making the point that gender inequality harms us all, this is a book that is a clear and true message that has been received with heartfelt enthusiasm by men and women readers alike.
For a change, this is one of the best feminist books that does not seek to insight division and friction. Instead, it offers a solution without the need to attribute blame to any particular gender. The author maintains that we are all responsible for removing prejudice in future society.
She maintains that the only way to do that is to refrain from passing on our old hypocritical ideologies to our children. We should All Be Feminist’s book reminds us of the impossible burdens that are placed on both sexes from the time that we are born in a misguided belief that we must strive for success in material forms.
The expectations of our families and society force us to adopt these beliefs and then we behave in a certain way whether we choose to or not. The wonderful message of this book is that we are encouraged to live authentic lives. In that way, we will still be able to treat others with the respect and dignity they deserve, no matter what race, gender, or social status they belong to.
We Should All Be Feminists is a fresh, new perspective and an updated view of feminism. Book reviews suggest this cannot be limited to being just a feminist book because its universal message is one that everyone should heed.