Feminist Books Everyone Needs to Read

7 Mar

I am a self-professed book junkie who needs her fix of new reading material on a regular basis. Even when I have at least half a dozen other books sitting on the shelf collecting dust just waiting to be read, I still somehow manage to find new books to fall in love with. I’m currently reading Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti and all I can say is WOW! This girl is on fire. She covers a vast array of topics in one book including reproductive rights, access to affordable birth control, how social class affects women’s day-to-day lives, equal pay for equal work, the politics of sex education (literally! You would not believe how much American politics influences the type of sex education and misinformation kids are fed these days) and so much more. I remember hearing about this book almost a year ago and eventually getting around to actually buying it. I must confess, it’s been sitting on my book shelf for months (gotta keep my schoolwork and class readings as my first priority!). Now that I’ve started reading it I find it very difficult to put down. There are some very heated topics in this book and some people might find her tone a tad bit offensive (she swears. A lot!).

There were even a few times that I clearly stopped and thought, “Well wait a minute! I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that point” but that’s because my upbringing, personal background and even culture have all shaped my understanding of feminism differently from Valenti’s. There’s nothing wrong with that because obviously not all feminists agree on certain topics. For example, birth control came up a lot in this book. Valenti and many other feminists (think back to what you’ve been hearing in the news lately about Rush Limbaugh’s rude comments towards one young feminist) have been arguing for accessible and affordable birth control. Why? Because women want to be able to control when they will have kids and how many they would like. Not to mention that in most US states and Canadian provinces, abortion is not even available (or legal) so even if you get raped or have a slip up and get pregnant there are very few options out there to help women.

The other side of the argument is that these large pharmaceutical companies are not out to help women but rather to take advantage of them– and historically this is exactly what happened. The history of making birth control available in the North American market is not a pretty story and there’s no way of telling this tale without the cold hard truth. It involved a lot of devaluing of coloured women, infringing upon countless human rights, and leaving a dark colonialist legacy in South America’s recent history. To make a long and depressing story short, rich white men and women in lab coats went to South America to test birth control pills on women (because obviously testing on white people was illegal since their lives were and still are more valued than coloured people). During these tests, many variations of the pill were created and tested on women resulting in all sorts of negative side effects (and in some cases death). While this was happening in South America, up in North America young white feminists were marching the streets fighting for their reproductive rights (such as access to birth control.. ahem!) so that they, not men, could be in control of their bodies. Little did these feminists know the drugs they were fighting so hard to gain access to were being inhumanely tested on their fellow South American women. How’s that for a twist ending? (You can pretty much guess my take on birth control pills at this point). In any case, you can see what I mean by feminists not always agreeing on some topics!

Here’s a list of some other pretty amazing, insightful and educational feminist literature out there that I encourage everyone to check out:

- “The Meaning of Wife” by Anne Kingston

This book basically discusses in great detail the consumerist culture surrounding brides, weddings, and the “happily ever after” endings that every woman is taught to desire from a very young age. Great book! I remember reading this back in high school and thinking to myself, “Holy crap! How did I not ever notice this stuff before?” After reading this book (especially you ladies), you’ll start to notice the hidden and not so hidden messages society is always throwing at us about how we’re supposed to bring ourselves one step closer to our “happily ever afters” with our “prince charmings”.

- “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know” by Jessica Valenti

Again, great book by Valenti. My initial reaction to this book was anger not because I didn’t agree with her but because everything she wrote about was so damn true! And guys, it wouldn’t hurt you either to read this book so at the very least you are aware of some of these things that are happening to the women you care about (your mothers, wives, girlfriends, sisters, cousins, aunts, etc). It might bring us one step closer towards reducing double standards if people are actually aware of their existence.

- “States of Race: Critical Race Feminism for the 21st Century” by Sherene Razack, Malinda Smith, and Sunera Thobani, eds.

Am.a.zing! When I was preparing for a lecture I gave to a first year Women’s and Gender Studies class last November at the University of Ottawa, I was searching for books relating to the topic of Western feminism as the legitimate form of feminism in academic and social institutions, and how this idea can be highly problematic when dealing with political issues (my lecture was specifically about Afghanistan, so I tied this concept into one of the reasons why development has not reached it’s fullest potential in Afghanistan– because the methods used by Western politicians and Western feminists to identify Afghan women’s oppression disregarded the history and geopolitics of the region). Then I came across this book and it was like the clouds had parted and God was on my side. This book is a gold mine if you’re into de-colonialist, anti-racist feminism. There are so many different articles by different authors that you just can’t go wrong this one.

- “Orientalism” by Edward Said

I have developed the biggest love affair with Said’s work. Perhaps that’s not the best way to describe it, but you get the idea! I was first introduced to his work about six years ago in my History and Politics of the Middle East class and I didn’t quite understand what I was reading. The focus in this class was on the history and politics of the Middle East (duh! That’s the title of the class) and not so much the theoretical and philosophical aspect of Said’s work. Years later, I came across his work in some of my Women’s and Gender Studies classes and had a totally different understanding of his work because these classes took a different approach to studying Said. We learned about the effects of colonization, issues surrounding dislocation and identity for exiles, refugees and immigrants and above all the concept of Orientalism (a highly racist way people in the Middle East were identified and studied by people in Europe and North America). Though this book is not directly feminist I can understand why his work is studied in Women’s and Gender Studies classes. It is because within the concept of Orientalism lies this idea that the “other” (the non-white person) is somehow effeminate or less than the non-Oriental (or the white person). For example, an Oriental man is somehow less masculine than a non-Oriental man because he does not have the same manners, clothing, and upbringing. I’ve written about this topic before and it never gets old because it’s so complex. I definitely urge all of you to read some of Said’s work because the man was a genius and if he were still alive today I’d fly to wherever he is to hear him speak and to make him autograph my books.

I’m always looking for great feminist and political books out there to add to my collection. If you know of any and would like to share them please feel free to comment below this post!

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