A Feminist Booklist to Help You Find Your Voice
Communicating your truths can be incredibly powerful as evidenced on the podcast I host but how do you get to the point where you feel best equipped to do this? What’s more, how do you get to the point where you feel secure enough in your own learning journey that you can support the work of others? If there’s anything that I’ve learned in my exploration of feminism, it’s that finding your voice is a powerful weapon in the fight against oppression. When you feel confident to ask questions as much as you do to provide answers to them? Change can happen.
Over the past few years, I’ve heard from a lot of people who feel overwhelmed by the idea of activism or not informed enough to even enter into a discussion. With this in mind Mairi and I sat down together and thought about a cross section of books that might help you develop your understanding of intersectional feminism as well as confidence in yourself and your learning experiences with others.
This is by no means a perfect list. Consider this booklist a starting point to your own learning journey. You’ll notice anthologies are featured heavily and there’s two reasons for this. The first is accessibility. Bite size chunks often work better when getting to know a new topic and for those of you with concentration difficulties like me, this is a manageable way to read widely. The second reason is adding a rich variety of voices and diversity rather than a singular voice wherever it was available. I wanted everything from Islam to sex work and gender norms to feature here. It was no small task.
As much as possible, I’ve tried to spread out the cost of books and looked for a range that you might be able to pick up on offer as an audio book or even second hand in a charity shop. Some aren’t as easily available and might be a special purchase.
Finding the perfect feminist book is next to impossible. Some prove problematic in their approach or do not age well in the face of evolving debate or research. Others have stood the test of time pretty well (and for that we thank you Bell Hooks). The main criteria I’ve gone for here is an intersectional approach to examining oppression. What I hope I’ve created is a diverse reading experience that takes in class, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexuality and more.
Let’s dig in:
‘All About Love’ by Bell Hooks- No feminist booklist should be without Bell Hooks. Her writing is accessible, powerful and gets under your skin in a way it transforms your world view forever. This text places human connectedness at the core of our ability to thrive and questions love beyond romance. Loving ourselves and treating one another with love just might hold the key to how we break through pain, and then heal.
‘Everyday Sexism’ by Laura Bates– If you’ve ever been dragged into any kind of pub argument about why feminism is still so relevant today, this is your reference guide. Laura navigates through statistics and recent research and applies her laser sharp focus to young women, women in the media, women in politics and more. This is very digestible and easy to access.
‘Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive’ by Julia Serano- This is a book about full and equal participation in Feminism. ‘Excluded’ highlights structural concerns whilst carefully navigating sexuality and gender concepts that often mean these are policed even within feminist debate. There’s a meaty section on Trans Feminism and a lot of explicit picking apart of binary views of gender and sexuality.
Nasty Women– A Collection of essays and accounts of what it is to be a woman in the 21st Century, published by the independent publishers, 404 Ink. What’s particularly helpful in the collection is the range and depth. It avoids broad-brush strokes because of in depth writing from subcultures such as punk but remains accessible as the female writers relate this back to a wider context. Look out for Laura Waddell’s essay in particular that explores the reality of growing up working class in Glasgow.
‘Hope in the Dark’ by Rebecca Solnit- This is for anyone who has wondered if they can make a difference or wondered what the point of it all is. Rebecca draws on her own personal experiences as well as taking a historical look at activism across the last few decades. Hope in the Dark is a much needed injection of optimism for anyone feeling as if the world is going to shit and that we are powerless in the face of it. I particularly like her reminders about what action looks like and how change might happen.
‘It's Only Blood: A Global Perspective on Menstruation and Power’ by Anna Dahlqvist - This book explores how menstruation taboos affect women in different cultures around the world. What I liked about this book is that Dahlqvist points out that women are not the only people who menstruate and also discusses people who are not women but are also affected by the taboo. It was helpful to have a book that is so in depth and encompassing all at once that also includes so many different cultures.
‘Your Silence Will Not Protect You’ by Audre Lorde- For me, my feminism and understanding of myself clicked into place when I first read one of Lorde’s essays. This collection of her essays, speeches and poetry carries the theme of the importance of speaking up. That speaking up starts with yourself and Audre Lorde is very skilled at making explicit the ways in which we can listen to our inner most selves and models beautifully how to define and speak your truth.
‘White Privilege, the Myth of a Post-Racial Society’ by Kalwant Bhopal- Privilege is a word that gets used a lot in discussions around oppression and discrimination and this is the book that has the social science research to support why it needs to remain central to policy change. If you’ve acknowledged White privilege exists (it does) and read Reni Eddo-Lodge and Ijeoma Oluo? This is your next step into putting those books in further context. It includes chapters inclusive of Gypsies, Travelers and Romani which I was grateful for as I often find texts exclude discussions around indigenous and transient culture.
‘Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man’ by Thomas Page McBee- This book is an autobiography that explores violence, masculinity and begs the question what makes a man? Thomas Page McBee is a transgender man, a narrative all too often erased in debates about transgender. This is a deeply personal book that makes visible so many important conversations about gender violence and construction.
‘The Things I Would Tell You, an anthology of British Muslim Women’– This collection, edited and curated by Sabrina Mahfouz is an insight into a community that is so often politicised and debated in media without giving much ground to their individual voices and lived experiences. This book provides the multifaceted nature of those who identify as British and Islamic women. From sex work to online dating, it’s all here.
‘Hunger’ by Roxane Gay- Another personal account for this booklist, this time exploring body issues, fat and perception. Body positivity is currently something of a buzz word and this book takes all the buzz out and places things firmly back in the personal. Roxane has a disarmingly simple way of describing and reflecting on her truths but this in turn, packs a punch. This is precise and Roxane is not here to make things comfortable (nor should she).
‘Encounters With Strangers’ by Jenny Morris- The story behind this book’s inclusion is that I felt no list was complete with only able bodied scholars and activists. Digging deep, we struggled to find anything that matched this classic from the 90s. This tells us a lot about which voices are readily included in recent feminist material so the activists and scholars essays brought together here by Jenny Morris seem even more important.
‘Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?’ by Katrine Marçal- One of the hardest topics for me to engage with at policy level has always been economics so Marçal’s book is a good jumping off point. This book provides historical prospective and offers analysis into the concept of the economic man through a feminist lens. Looking at women’s unpaid work is central to understanding change that needs to be made around issues such as the pay gap but so often, policy makers are shaped by words from the economic man, a concept this book critiques heavily.