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Essential Books on Feminism

March is Women’s History Month, which means now is the perfect time to brush up on your feminism. If you don’t know where to start, check out our list below! We’ve highlighted some of the most important feminist works in history. The list is in chronological order, from the foundations of feminism to the diverse modern movement of today.

 

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

This one is pretty dense, but it’s also perhaps the single most important piece of writing in the history of the women’s movement. It was written all the way back in 1792 and continued to influence feminists for generations. Feminism has evolved since Wollstonecraft, but this very old book was the start of something big.

 

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir was already a well-known existentialist philosopher and writer when she penned this book, which is considered one of the most important important feminist works ever written. The Second Sex went on to greatly influence second-wave feminism in the 60s and 70s. Today, it’s considered a classic.

 

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

The Feminine Mystique is one of the most important books ever written about women. By examining the problems of discontented housewives, it helped kick off the second wave of feminism. Merely being able to vote did not grant women full participation in society. Second-wave feminism answered that problem by opening new opportunities for women in the workplace and outside of the home.

 

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem is one of the most important feminists of the past half-century, which is why Emma Watson chose Steinem’s memoir as the first book for her online feminist book club. Steinem is so important because of her activism and strong writing. The latter is collected in this volume, which is (in our humble opinion) the best collection of Steinem’s writing.

 

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

A few decades after Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, women had made significant strides in the workplace. But, Wolf argued in her famous book The Beauty Myth, old myths hadn’t merely disappeared – they’d been replaced by new ones. Women of the 90s, Wolf says, were required to be sexy in the same way that they were once required to be domestic. The new rules were as restricting as the old ones.

 

Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks

Feminism is for Everybody takes a wide view of the feminist movement and dispels divisive myths about the movement. It’s a great primer for those unfamiliar with feminism and don’t know where to start. bell hooks also wrote a movement-changing book (Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women in Feminism), but this wide view of the movement might be her best work.

 

The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler

The 90s and 2000s saw the rise of the feminism’s third wave, which attempted to expand feminism’s traditionally white agenda to include women of color and changed the way feminism looked at sex. That second change is on display in Ensler’s famous play, which takes a cheeky and honest look at womens’ sexuality. Of course, feminism’s diverse voices frequently disagree with each other – some thought The Vagina Monologues was not sex-positive enough.

 

The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

You may have noticed that a lot of the books on this list were written by white women from the West. By the third wave, feminists had noticed this problem too. Modern feminism has gotten better at including the voices and concerns of women of color and women outside of the West, and the movement is richer for it. If you’re looking for a less Western-centric perspective on feminist issues, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s powerful first book is a great place to start. Ali focuses on her experiences in Somalia and the role Islam plays in repressing women there.