In the 20th and 21st century, women writers have begun to speak up and truly make their voices heard. Classic feminist books have won the Pulitzer Prize and become bestsellers across the United States as both men and women have embraced the women’s movement and sexual politics as a whole. Young women, women of color, and women writers of all races and backgrounds are taking the stage and letting their creativity flow. Some of the most notable feminist literary authors such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Alice Walker, Kate Millett, and Simone de Beauvoir paved the way for more recent generations of feminist writers. There is an endless list of excellent literary works out there, but here are some of our favorite classic feminist books we think you should read!
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf is considered a pioneer feminist literary author and one of the more famous feminist writers of the 20th century. Her feminist essay, A Room of One’s Own, was inspired by a lecture given at Cambridge, and it focuses on the women’s need for intellectual freedom in the world. Woolf fought for female creativity and empowered young women to embrace the power of the mind. This classic feminist book is a must read.
The Beauty Myth by Virginia Wolf
This classic feminist book is a necessary addition to all women’s reading lists, because in this book, Naomi Wolf addresses how society places unrealistic expectations on women when it comes to beauty. The women’s movement tries to redefine beauty standards, and empowers women to embrace their natural selves. Wolf argues that the beauty myth is the idea that all women must try to fit into this physical idea of perfection, when in reality, we are perfect the way we are.
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
One of the most popular classic feminist books to date is The Feminist Mystique by Betty Friedan. This book was groundbreaking when it was written in the 1960s, at a time when being the perfect housewife was the goal of most women in the United States. Friedan addresses some of the common issues that sparked the women’s movement of the 20th century, including women’s need to spread their intellectual wings, get out of the homemaker role, and find their voice.
Emma by Jane Austen
Emma is one of Jane Austen’s classic American novels, and it is also a classic feminist book because the character Emma Woodhouse goes against normal gender roles of her time by being wildly independent and not needing a man to take care of her. While Austen was not a radical feminist, she was absolutely a feminist, and Emma represents all independent young women who went against the traditional views of marriage and stood up for themselves, as well as the women’s movement.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is Maya Angelou’s autobiography. This is a classic feminist book because Angelou explains how she was able to overcome prejudice in her life, and not only be an empowering role model in the women’s movement, but in the fight against racial injustice as well. Women writers such as Maya Angelou are inspiring because of the duel battle she had to fight as a woman of color.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Wild by Cheryl Strayed has recently been added to the list of classic feminist books, but classics don’t necessarily have to be old. In just a short amount of time, Strayed has taken the United States and the world by storm with her inspiring true story of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail all on her own in order to find herself after going through divorce, drug addiction, and the death of her mother. One of the best women writers of our day, Strayed inspires other women to get out on their own, find their independence, and heal themselves through self-discovery. Her journey is unique and touching, and absolutely a book for the modern feminist.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, which has recently become hugely popular because the story was made into a TV show, is one of the best classic feminist books to date. This is such a unique dystopian novel about how the women’s movement could be reversed in the future; a book commonly labeled a mandatory read by common collegiate core classes, and should be read in school. In the book, the patriarchy takes back control, and women are forced to become birthing machines. It is horrifying and eye opening. Atwood shows how women must fight for their rights in this fictional portrayal of sexual politics at their darkest.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gray
Roxane Gray takes a more humorous approach in her book of essays titled, Bad Feminist. In this book, Gray explains what it’s like being a woman of color in today’s society. She explains feminism today from her own experiences, and she comments on how both men and women need to do better to support the cause.
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Caitlin Moran is a hilarious modern-day writer, and adds new meaning to the classic feminist book. In this bestselling story, Moran takes a look at feminism today and the issues we still face as women. We may have conquered our right to vote and to work alongside men, but our beauty standards are still slanted, we still compete with one another daily, and we are still constantly undervalued by men. These are serious issues, but Moran makes reading about them entertaining. This book is necessary for all feminist reading lists!
Sister Outside: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
Sister Outsider is a collection of essays and speeches by notable writer and feminist Audre Lorde. These were all written in the 1970s and 80s at the height of the women’s movement. Lorde, being a woman of color, spoke for many when she discussed themes of prejudice in both the gender and race sectors. Her words have outlasted the decades, and this classic feminist book remains inspiring to many.
All of these classic feminist books are worth reading because we still face issues of gender discrimination in our society today. It is important to be enlightened on the history of the women’s movement, so we can continue to progress towards a better future.