Two years ago I began asking if feminist was a label for me. The answer has been a gradual dawning, awakening more questions. What is feminism? What does it mean to call yourself a feminist? Why is it so controversial? It surprised me to learn that it is controversial even in “the world”. I thought that all non-ATIA mainstreamers were feminist. Why would women, who so apparently live its values, not want to be called a feminist?

To answer these questions I have sought out and gradually begun reading books influenced by feminism. Here is a list of the books I have read over the last two years (the ones I remember anyway :P)

Virginia Woolf,  A Room of One’s Own

Margaret Atwood,  A Handmaids Tale

Jean Shinoda Bolen, Goddesses in Every Woman

Hmm, I see that I leaned heavily toward fiction,

Barbara Kingsolver:
The Bean Trees
Pigs in Heaven
Animal Dreams
Prodigal Summer

I have not gotten my hands on a copy of The Poisonwood Bible, yet

Sue Monk Kidd:
The Mermaid Chair
The Secret Life of Bees

Katheryn Stockett, The Help

Rebecca Well, The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood

Lois Lowry, The Giver

Not exactly feminist or female centric but I also read:

Jeffery Eugenides, Middlesex: A Novel

Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated

I just realized that this burst in fiction reading was the direct result of shedding taboos I had about reading sexually themed or explicit content. It was about the time I made the bold move, or so it felt, to read “A Room of Ones Own” (I mean even the title sounds wrong, kids don’t need their own rooms, it just leads to hidden sin. One more good reason to have a bazillion kids and proof it really is “God’s Way”!) that I realized that at 30 something years of age I had only read (don’t laugh!) junior fiction. As I looked around our library I found old friend after old friend in the junior fiction section and none in the main fiction area. None. Well, maybe some fundy approved classics. Jane Austen anyone?

This year I would like to indulge in some scholarly feminist works as well as more fiction, starting with Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf”. I had never heard of it until I read this post at The Crunk Feminist Collective which I found via Women In Theology which I found via Julie Clawson at onehandclapping (I warned you about the bunny trails, right?) and chose to check it out.

Do you have any must read feminist classics to recommend to me? I have gift money to spend. 😉


About soffiasoul

Woman, wife, mother of daughters, expat, former fundamentalist, reader and bunny-trailer par excellence. I dream of taking women's studies and becoming a women's health nurse, among other things :-)
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6 Responses to Booklist

  1. Hey Soffia,

    I’m a huge lover of books, so it was with great delight that I read this post. I’ve got a couple of personal favourites, although your mileage may vary. My background is a bit different from yours, so I’m not sure if these will speak to you. If not, no worries. Some of this is geared towards exploring feminism/theory/gender/sexuality/etc, some of it is just good fiction. I also lean towards science fiction/fantasy, as a lot of cultural critique and exploration happens in this “not so serious” genre of speculative fiction.

    If you’re in the mood to still indulge the fiction itch, I’d highly recommend Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hanish cycles. She was one of the first science fiction authors that I read where I realised women could write just as well as men, and female characters can lead the show. My favourite is “Left Hand of Darkness” and there is a “trilogy” that starts out the series called “Worlds of Exile and Illusion” that has Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exiles, and City of Illusions all together. For non-science fiction fiction of Le Guin’s, I love Lavinia (based on the expansion of the character Lavinia in Virgil’s Aeneid, which is a good read, but Le Guin’s book is still an entertaining read even if you haven’t read the Aeneid), and Always Coming Home.

    Another one of Margaret Atwood’s books that I really dug was “Blind Assassin”. It’s not a dystopic world like Handmaiden’s Tale is, but it is an interesting book, nonetheless.

    His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman might also be a fun read. Officially it’s a young adult fiction series, but it’s one I keep coming back to, time and time again. It’s a fabulous blending of complex ideas, poignant characters that are flawed and real and interesting, and good ideas and thoughts to chew on. The first book is “The Golden Compass”. I also absolutely adore Lyra, the main character, who is a kick ass young woman.

    For any of the feminist theory that I would recommend, it would come with the caveat that not everyone gets it right 100% of the time. There are some really good thoughts that a lot of people bring to the table, but sometimes it gets mixed up with thoughts that are pretty mean and nasty. Some feminist don’t treat people who are not read as Caucasian very nicely. Others feel that only specific types of women are allowed to be women, and all others are something else (this is more of a “radical feminist” line of thought that has been used to exclude women born and labeled as “men”, women who sleep with men, women who have children, people with intersex characteristics who identify as “woman”, etc.). Some people are pro-sexuality, others are not. There’s disagreement regarding sex work, pornography, “proper” sexuality and expression and a whole host of other issues. A lot of the 2nd wave feminists (1960s and 70s publications) are very anti-homosexuality, with Betty Freidan coining the term “Lavender Menace”. There’s plenty of fear of the “other” within these works, so you know; grain of salt and all that.

    bell hook’s “Ain’t I a Woman?”
    Gloria Steinem’s “Revolution from Within”
    Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues (a play, and I think there’s a movie out about this, too)
    The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner

    I have more, but I realised that I have already given a ridiculous amount of books and rambled for far far too long.

    I’m not sure where you stand on a lot of these issues, so I apologise if anything I’ve recommended is not your cup of tea. I’ve hijacked your thread enough, so I’m going to go wander back into the kitchen and finish prepping food for the week! If you do pick up anything from my suggestions and find it a good read and want to discuss, let me know! I’m such a sucker for a good book discussion.

  2. Also, super amused that fundies think Jane Austen is “safe”. Ha!

  3. soffiasoul says:

    No highjacking apologies needed 🙂
    I see you are a doula, so we have several interests in common 🙂

    Science fiction and fantasy have not been especially interesting to me but the idea of exploring culture and ideas via that medium makes me want to give it another try. I have heard of “His Dark Materials”, maybe it would be good to read aloud with my kids. The movie “The Golden Compass” comes from that series, right? Although I would totally read it just for myself, I like the sound of that female heroine!

    Thanks for the recommendations for books on feminism. I am looking forward to learning more about the different schools of thought and who their major proponents have been. When I first did some research online about feminism I was overwhelmed and put off by all the in-fighting, and as you put it the “fear of the other”. Having spend the better part of the last decade extricating myself from fundamentalist thinking it was a huge turn off! Discussions at Feministing and Scarleteen have helped me weed though it and although I don’t have a set perspective I do lean toward a third wave point of view. I think. (Shrug)

    Feel free to make more recommendations! I am eating it up 😀

  4. You might also dig Shakesville (run by Melissa McEwan, and has some FABULOUS commentators and bloggers), which deals a lot with the intersectionality of various forms of feminism and other important issues (social justice, ableism, classism, racism, etc.) Also, any time you wander into the realm of gender/queer/feminist theory on-line, invariable stupid things will be said and apologies will probably need to be dispensed. (Although — maybe that last thing is just me! ;))

    Science fiction and fantasy is just like any other genre of literature — there’s a LOT of crap out there! The key is figuring out where the good stuff lies. (Ha! Easier said than done). Golden Compass is the first of the His Dark Materials trilogy, and is one of my favourite books to read (and reread and reread… well, you get the idea). One way I kind of sort through which books seem worth reading and which aren’t is through which books get nominated for awards. Certainly, I’ll miss some good ones if those are the only books I read, but it might be a good way to explore unfamiliar genres. At least, that’s what’s worked for me.

    For authors that are known to write works dealing predominately with gender/sexuality/etc within science fiction, I found this website to be handy: I’ve been working my way through it, and there are some excellent discussions that go on, regarding titles, causing me to examine works in a way that I would not have had the opportunity to do otherwise.

    You’re also fairly close to my age (I think) and so might really dig some of the “young” feminist writings:

    Jessica Valenti (from Feministing), author or editor:
    Full Frontal Feminism (this is geared towards people first exploring feminism; I know my husband found it to be an excellent introductory read at the start of his journey)
    The Purity Myth
    Yes means Yes (an anthology about sexual autonomy; it does deal with rape. so it may not be appropriate for everyone)

    bell hooks:
    Feminism is for everybody

    Ariel Gore and Bee Lavender:
    Breeder (I HIGHLY recommend this one. It’s absolutely hysterical, and as someone who spends a lot of time in the world of family work, it was spot on.) Both of these ladies don’t write books about feminism so much as feminist works of literature and discussion. Gore also focuses on parenting, and has been really fun to read.

    Mary Daly, Germaine Greer, Betty Freidan, Simone de Beouvoir, and the other assorted writers from the 2nd wave feminism movement are also worth a read, but I hesitate to recommend them. Most of them are super transphobic, and there was this huge thought during the 60s to 80s that the “Lavender Menace” would make feminism uncredible — so we had to disavow lesbians. There’s also a whole lot of inadvertent racism and classism — most of these women were white, upper middle class women with lots of privilege. Don’t get me wrong, these are the ladies that my mother handed to me when I started getting called a feminist as an insult at school. There’s a lot of good in there. There’s just also a lot of thought that I’ve decided is completely unhelpful, especially when it comes to creating a society in which people are free to explore what works for them, their families, their communities. For most of these authors, their earlier works were things that I have found the most enjoyable. Especially Mary Daly — she seems to have wandered off into a realm I don’t quite get towards the later portion of her writing career. She even went so far as to ban male-identified persons from her classroom, saying that they disrupted the learning environment. So, you know…

    If you have some serious free time to burn, I’d recommend reading through the 1st wave original feminists. Wollenstonecraft is a bit densely written, and is definitely not before bedtime reading, but has a lot of interesting things to say. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns are very interesting (I wanted to be either Alice Paul or Elizabeth Cady Stanton when I grew up — when I learned that Stanton had 7 kids, and Paul never got married, that maybe I should make my own path!) and there’s a lot of other authors here that are good reads.

    Also, Christina Hoff Summers and Phyllis Schlafly aren’t really writing from a feminist theory perspective, as much as they put “feminism” into the titles of their books. Both seem to be approaching gender theory from the perspective of “traditional” thought; women and men are essentially different creatures with different roles to play and that’s just the way it is, damn it! Okay, okay, so that was a bit of an unflattering representation of complementarism, but it is possible to see biological differences without telling half the population that they are bound to their biology to only play certain roles. Certainly, both are worth a read, I just wouldn’t spend a whole bunch of money on them!

  5. Mm, also, a lot of feminism (read as white, middle/upper class American) between 1950 to 1990 (maybe even still to today? It’s 2am, and thought makey thing not work so good) doesn’t do family very well. So, if anyone else reading has suggestions, I’d love to add to my library as well!

  6. soffiasoul says:

    Oh goody! I can’t wait to get started. Thank you so much for the recommendations! I just started listening to For Colored Girls, it is gorgeous. I think it’s going to make me cry though. The Vagina Monologues is waiting for me to read as well.
    It is cool that your mother encouraged you to read about feminism. In grade school I was totally on board (I was a tree climbing, born in my blue jeans kinda girl) and could not believe the things I heard about women not being treated the same as men. It was unfathomable to me. But then I got sucked up into the whole “Biblical Womanhood” thing. Sigh.

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