Centuries Of Feminism: Books To Read Before The Women’s March On Washington

Elvert Barnes
Elvert Barnes

Friday marks the inauguration of that misogynistic tangerine, our President-elect. With the soon-to-be leader of our country being an unashamed p*ssy grabber, women’s rights and health are under serious threat. In response, over 200,000 people are slated to march in the Women’s March on Washington. Whether you are marching or not (you should!), it’s a great time to revisit the works of classic feminist writers who spoke out and resisted the sexism of their eras. These texts will help us remember where we as women started and why we still need to fight in 2017. This list is not exhaustive but makes a good starting point!

1. Sappho

We know about a lot of dudes in ancient Greece, but rarely do we read about women. Sappho was a highly regarded, important poet of her time; she gave a unique voice to women’s experiences and female sexuality. As Willis Barnstone puts it: “In Sappho we hear for the first time in the Western World the direct words of an individual woman”. Browse Sappho’s poetry here.

2. Margaret Cavendish

She may have been politically conservative, but Margaret Cavendish joined the boy’s club of science before any women did and wrote prolifically in science, philosophy, poetry, and fiction. She also published under her own name, which was a big no-go for women in the 17th century. Check out her poems here.

3. A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft’s manifesto argued, progressively for her time, that men and women were equal in the eyes of God. She advocated for co-education, called out double standards, and reasoned that women and men should both share the burden of parenting duties (a proto-Lean In!)

4. The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Gilman’s protoganist in The Yellow Wallpaper is immured in a prison of domesticity until she goes crazy and starts seeing a woman in her wallpaper. Ugh, talk about a controlling patriarchy. Perkins offered a platform to discuss the medical, professional, and domestic oppression of women.

5. A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf

Adapted from a series of lectures Woolf presented to female colleges at Cambridge University, A Room of One’s Own argued that relative poverty and social subjugation restricted women from writing. To write fiction, “a woman must have money and a room of her own”. What if, Woolf speculates, Shakespeare had a sister who was equally gifted yet unable to express her talents, denied the freedoms that precondition writing?

6. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neal Hurston

Zora Neal Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is a female-driven narrative that charts Janie’s struggle between love and agency, all contextualized by the constraints put upon her by her class, race, and gender.

7. The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir

Widely regarded as the text that kickstarted second-wave feminism, De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is truly a magnum opus, interrogating countless scientific, philosophical, and political discourses that mystified, mythologized, and ultimately oppressed women. While certain aspects might feel dated, this is an indispensable, revolutionary book.

8. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Audre Lorde

A self-proclaimed “black feminist lesbian mother poet,” Lorde’s memoir (or a biomythography, as she calls it) follows her as a young woman in New York. Through eloquent prose and sharp wit, Lorde provides a profound exploration of her experiences as a black lesbian.

9. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

It is important to read feminism from outside the Western sphere. Filled with vivid drawings, Satrapi’s incredible autobiography takes the form of a graphic novel and tells a coming-of-age story about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.

10. We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This little book is so awesome it should just be handed out on street corners. It should be global required reading. Adichie writes with such clarity and grace, arguing that strict gender codes are harmful and limiting for both men and women. She ends with a hopeful message that we all can and should do better. TC mark

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