10 Essential Feminist Books Every Woman Should Read
With all the incredible fiction, essays, and criticism written by and about women, creating an exhaustive list of inspiring stories would be impossible. Last year alone was packed with empowering reads, and we’re only getting hungry for more as the winter blahs start to fade in the spring sun. Whether you’re looking to curl up with a classic heroine, shudder at a terrifying vision of the future, laugh at brutal honesty, or be inspired by how far we’ve come (and yet how far we still have to go), these are some of our favorite feminist books to crack open as the days get longer.
1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë ($44): Written by a poor parson’s daughter and originally published under a male pseudonym, this explosive Victorian novel continues to spark conversations about romance, injustice, and equality. The eponymous Jane is a survivor — assertive, curious, independent, and impassioned — and even after 172 years, Brontë’s poetic novel with its pint-sized heroine still demands our attention.
2. Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom ($25): In eight razor-sharp, humorous, devastating essays on topics including race, gender, sexual abuse, beauty, and education, sociologist McMillan Cottom doles out wit and wisdom. She often tempers her academic insight with personal experience, but it’s her piece about losing a child — and the high mortality rates for black women and infants — that will shatter readers.
3. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery ($16): Published a decade before white Canadian or American women had the right to vote, Montgomery’s tale of an undaunted orphan still delights kids and adults alike. Anne proclaimed her own value as a girl — and asserted it with her flaming temper (an early example of the power of women’s anger). And for all of us nerdy, bookish girls, she was one of the first heroines who revealed a path to a brighter future created not through marriage but through our minds.
4. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan ($18): Based on her interviews with other postwar suburban housewives, Friedan’s 1963 nonfiction book became a foundational text of second-wave feminism. This groundbreaking work sharply critiqued the poor treatment of mental illness in women patients, society’s diminished view of women’s contributions, and the institutions that thwarted women’s ambitions — and showed women how they could reclaim their lives. Over 50 years later, it continues to inspire women to persist.
5. Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister ($27): Part historical exploration, part rousing polemic, Traister’s book breaks down the cultural catalyst that is women’s anger. Long before the Women’s March or #MeToo, female fury has both fueled social change and been used against women by those in power. This treatise is ultimately a galvanizing cry to harness our collective anger, to press on, and to shape the future.
6. She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore ($26): “If she was not a woman, she would be king,” the wind says of Gbessa, a West African exile in Moore’s electrifying reimagining of the 1821 formation of Liberia. Magical realism weaves through history as three gifted characters converge in the settlement of Monrovia. While formerly enslaved people and Indigenous tribes clash, they use their special abilities to help ease tensions and form the new nation — albeit one irrevocably tied to the United States, and perhaps reflecting its weaknesses.
7. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott ($10): Alcott may have been hustling to pay the bills (and defying 1860s conventions herself) when she wrote the story of the close-knit, bold March sisters, but she also illuminated many different ways to be a woman. Not without their personal conflicts, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy still remain each others’ greatest supporters and fiercest defenders as they each forge distinct paths through life, love, and loss — earning them a special place in the hearts of generations of women.
8. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood ($16): A seminal work of feminist speculative fiction, Atwood’s novel portrays a world where a servant class of women capable of getting pregnant must bear children for the elites while others are eliminated. As reproductive rights continue to be politically contentious, the story (now also an Emmy-winning drama) remains as relevant today as it was 30 years ago.
9. The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer ($28): In Wolitzer’s satisfying latest tome, a young woman finds inspiration in a feminist icon who later becomes her boss and confidante. When she gets close, though, both the choices and the compromises made by her mentor — and the previous generation of feminists — are put into stark relief, presenting a story that’s timely, complicated, and ultimately hopeful.
10. The Power by Naomi Alderman ($26): In the near future of Alderman’s version of our world, teenage girls discover the ability to unleash electricity from their very skin. This new power brings retribution by victims of trafficking, sexual assault, domestic abuse, and other horrors and propels women to leadership around the world. But what arises in the wake of these changes might be far from a women-led utopia.
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