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Feminist books: Essential reads to smash the patriarchy

Feminist books that every woman – and man – should read.

Whether attacking the power structures of the present, or creating imaginative utopias and dystopias, literature has long been an effective way to spread ideas about equality. These feminist books will inform and empower you.

We have a provocative introduction to the Women’s Liberation Movement from one of the most exciting young philosophers working today – Amia Srinivasan, and fiction recommendations from talented authors Kirsty Logan and Anna Mainwaring.

From the abolition of men to the queen of the modern gothic and female fantasy heroes, you’ll find plenty to inspire you within these pages.

Feminist books from the US Women’s Liberation Movement, recommended by Amia Srinivasan

Amia Srinivasan is one of the most exciting young philosophers at work today. She is the current holder of the Chichele Professorship at All Souls College, Oxford – one of Britain’s most prestigious academic positions, which was previously held by Isaiah Berlin.

Her latest book, The Right to Sex is a work of feminist theory that centres on the politics of sex, in the wake of #MeToo. In it she discusses how sex needs to be rethought as a political phenomenon, elaborating on the ethics of sexual desire, rape, rape culture, sexual harassment, porn, male sexual entitlement, sex work, and state power.

These are her recommendations for books about feminism, focusing on the US Women’s Liberation Movement.

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The Dialectic of Sex by Shulamith Firestone (1970)

“A wildly ambitious book that tries to do for the analysis of patriarchy what Marx and Engels did for the analysis of class domination,” says  Srinivasan. “The book includes a number of radical utopian proposals, including the dissolution of the nuclear family, the end of gender, the liberation of children and the use of reproductive technologies – like artificial wombs and IVF – to free women from their bodies. A provocative, rich and challenging book.”

Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich (1976)

“Adrienne Rich was both an extraordinary feminist theorist and a deeply talented poet. In this book she argues that we should distinguish between motherhood as a cultural institution that oppresses women – and the potential of motherhood to be something that sets women, men and children truly free. An extraordinary meditation on mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, bodies, medicine, psychology, history, politics, and Rich’s own experience of being a mother to three boys.”

Women, Race & Class by Angela Davis (1981)

“Angela Davis is one of the most significant political visionaries of our time. As the title suggests, this book offers an analysis of how three structures of oppression – patriarchy, racial domination and class domination – interact to mutually sustain each other and to devastate the lives of the worst-off women and men. In other words, Women, Race & Class is a foundational text of what we now call intersectional feminism.”

The SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas (1967)

“A wild and provocative feminist manifesto, in turns disturbing and exhilarating and deeply funny. It’s a problematic text in all sorts of ways, but a potent reminder of the place of the outrageous and the carnivalesque within feminism – and well worth the read.”

Sisterhood is Global edited by Robin Morgan (1984)

“This anthology offers an encyclopaedic overview of the condition of women, and their ongoing political struggles for equality, in 70 countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. While the essays reveal an incredible diversity of background conditions against which feminist struggle occurs, certain themes echo throughout the book, most notably that women’s emancipation must go hand-in-hand with an end to colonial and racial domination, capitalist exploitation, and environmental degradation. An important reminder that feminism is not something owned by any one group of women.”

The Right to Sex is published on August 19 (Bloomsbury)

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Feminist horror books, recommended by novelist and poet Kirsty Logan

Kirsty Logan is a Scottish novelist, poet, performer, literary editor, writing mentor, book reviewer, and writer of short fiction. She calls herself “a professional daydreamer” and has written three novels, The Gloaming, The Gracekeepers, and Things We Say in the Dark. Here she picks the very best feminist horrors.

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson

“She’s considered the queen of modern gothic, and for good reason: these stories are sinister, gleeful, mysterious, desperately sad, and so tense I forget to breathe while reading them,” says Logan.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“Mexico is perfect for a gothic story. It’s more than just seeing the usual gothic tropes overlaid on a non-European setting; Mexico’s history and culture are vital to the narrative. And the evil at the heart of the story? Patriarchy!”

Beloved by Toni Morrison

“You can never go wrong with Toni Morrison, but this is my favourite of hers. The tale of the ghost baby and the horrors of her world will forever haunt me.”

Point Horror: Dream Date by Sinclair Smith

“Since starting Teenage Scream podcast, I’ve read almost 100 teen horror books from the 1990s – most terrible. But this is a hidden gem: a quick, creepy read that also asks some serious questions about domestic abuse.”

Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kröger & Melanie R. Anderson

“An insightful, interesting overview of women writing horror, from the classics like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein right up to the modern day with Helen Oyeyemi and Sarah Waters.”

Feminist books for young adults, chosen by YA author Anna Mainwaring

Anna Mainwaring writes for young adults. Her books, Rebel with a Cupcake, Firefly and Tulip Taylor, all aim to make readers laugh but also think. Here are her choices for books for the young feminist in your life.

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

“Set in the near future where girl babies are no longer born, EVEs are designed in the lab to be either wives or concubines for the elite young men of society. The Eves have to compete on appearance and personality in order to survive with devastating consequences,” says Mainwaring.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

“When Star Carter is a witness to a police shooting, she needs to find her voice and learn how to take a stand in a divided society. Thomas’ central character and her richly drawn family and friends make a compelling read from the opening chapter.”

A Darker Shade of Magic by V E Schwab

“As a girl who loved fantasy in the eighties, I struggled to find female protagonists who had real agency. This book was written for the 13-year-old me who would have loved Lila Bard: brave, duplicitous, complex, dark and resourceful. A superb start to a compelling series.”

Gloves Off by Louisa Reid

“Written in verse, Gloves Off follows Lily, who is bullied for her appearance and learns to fight back in so many ways.”

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

“Would this be YA if it were published today? Plath follows teen Esther Greenwood as she interns in 1950s New York, struggling to navigate the various roles a young woman should play in society. As relevant now as it was when published, The Bell Jar remains a disturbing but compelling read.”

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