11 Essential Feminist Books: A Reading List by The New York Public Library

We now find our­selves about a third of the way through March, more inter­est­ing­ly known as Wom­en’s His­to­ry Month, a time filled with occa­sions to round up and learn more about the cre­ations and accom­plish­ments of women through the cen­turies. And “who bet­ter to hon­or this March than his­to­ry’s influ­en­tial fem­i­nists?” writes Lynn Lobash on the New York Pub­lic Library’s web­site.

We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured trea­sures from the New York Pub­lic Library, includ­ing art postersmapsrestau­rant menusthe­ater ephemera, and a host of dig­i­tized high-res­o­lu­tion images. Today it’s time to high­light one of the many rec­om­mend­ed read­ing lists that the NYPL’s librar­i­ans reg­u­lar­ly cre­ate for the read­ing pub­lic. “Know Your Fem­i­nisms”–a book list “essen­tial for under­stand­ing the his­to­ry of fem­i­nism and the wom­en’s rights movement”–could eas­i­ly be used in a Fem­i­nism 101 course. It runs chrono­log­i­cal­ly, begin­ning with these ten vol­umes (the quot­ed descrip­tions come from Lynn Lobash):

  • A Room of One’s Own by Vir­ginia Woolf (1929). “This essay exam­ines the ques­tion of whether a woman is capa­ble of pro­duc­ing work on par with Shake­speare. Woolf asserts that ‘a woman must have mon­ey and a room of her own if she is to write fic­tion.’ ”
  • The Sec­ond Sex by Simone de Beau­voir (1949). “A major work of fem­i­nist phi­los­o­phy, the book is a sur­vey of the treat­ment of women through­out his­to­ry.”
  • The Fem­i­nine Mys­tique by Bet­ty Friedan (1963). “Friedan exam­ines what she calls ‘the prob­lem that has no name’ – the gen­er­al sense of malaise among women in the 1950s and 1960s.”
  • Les Guéril­lères by Monique Wit­tig (1969). “An imag­in­ing of an actu­al war of the sex­es in which women war­riors are equipped with knives and guns.”
  • The Female Eunuch by Ger­maine Greer (1970). “Greer makes the argu­ment that women have been cut off from their sex­u­al­i­ty through (a male con­ceived) con­sumer soci­ety-pro­duced notion of the ‘nor­mal’ woman.”
  • Sex­u­al Pol­i­tics by Kate Mil­lett (1970). “Based on her PhD dis­ser­ta­tion, Millett’s book dis­cuss­es the role patri­archy (in the polit­i­cal sense) plays in sex­u­al rela­tions. To make her argu­ment, she (unfa­vor­ably) explores the work of D.H Lawrence, Hen­ry Miller, and Sig­mund Freud, among oth­ers.”
  • Sis­ter Out­sider by Audre Lorde (1984). “In this col­lec­tion of essays and speech­es, Lorde address­es sex­ism, racism, black les­bians, and more.”
  • The Beau­ty Myth by Nao­mi Wolf (1990). “Wolf explores “nor­ma­tive stan­dards of beau­ty” which under­mine women polit­i­cal­ly and psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly and are prop­a­gat­ed by the fash­ion, beau­ty, and adver­tis­ing indus­tries.”
  • Gen­der Trou­ble by Judith But­ler (1990). “Influ­en­tial in fem­i­nist and queer the­o­ry, this book intro­duces the con­cept of ‘gen­der per­for­ma­tiv­i­ty’ which essen­tial­ly means, your behav­ior cre­ates your gen­der.”
  • Fem­i­nism is for every­body by bell hooks (2000). “Hooks focus­es on the inter­sec­tion of gen­der, race, and the sociopo­lit­i­cal.”

To see the very newest books the NYPL has put in this par­tic­u­lar canon, the lat­est of which came out just last year, take a look at the com­plete list on their site. There you’ll also find “Well Done, Sis­ter Suf­fragette!,” a short­er col­lec­tion of five books on his­to­ry’s fight­ers for wom­en’s rights: the slave-turned-ora­tor Sojourn­er Truth, activist Eliz­a­beth Cady Stan­ton, social reformer Susan B. Antho­ny, nine­teenth amend­ment-pro­mot­er Alice Paul, and rad­i­cal Catholic jour­nal­ist Dorothy Day.

Note: You can down­load Glo­ria Steinem’s recent auto­bi­og­ra­phy, My Life on the Road, as a free audio­book if you sign up for Audible.com’s free tri­al pro­gram. It’s nar­rat­ed by Debra Winger and Steinem her­self.  Learn more about Audible’s free tri­al pro­gram here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Simone de Beau­voir Explains “Why I’m a Fem­i­nist” in a Rare TV Inter­view (1975)

Simone de Beau­voir Tells Studs Terkel How She Became an Intel­lec­tu­al and Fem­i­nist (1960)

The First Fem­i­nist Film, Ger­maine Dulac’s The Smil­ing Madame Beudet (1922)

The Fem­i­nist The­o­ry of Simone de Beau­voir Explained with 8‑Bit Video Games (and More)

100,000+ Won­der­ful Pieces of The­ater Ephemera Dig­i­tized by The New York Pub­lic Library

Food­ie Alert: New York Pub­lic Library Presents an Archive of 17,000 Restau­rant Menus (1851–2008)

New York Pub­lic Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online & Makes Them Free to Down­load and Use

The New York Pub­lic Library Lets You Down­load 180,000 Images in High Res­o­lu­tion: His­toric Pho­tographs, Maps, Let­ters & More

Down­load 2,000 Mag­nif­i­cent Turn-of-the-Cen­tu­ry Art Posters, Cour­tesy of the New York Pub­lic Library

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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