8 Books to Help You Get Your Feminism On


By Casey Rose Frank

If you’re anything like me the post-election world we live in is one that has not only instigated a feeling of wanting to create actual change, but has required it.

When I want to raise my voice louder but don’t know where to begin, or rather how to make sure that in my insistence to be heard that my message is clear, coherent, and one that I can be proud of, I want to hear from women who have already done an amazing job. I also want to learn what I don’t know.

It took until I was about 25 to understand what a patriarchal manufactured piece of garbage slut-shaming is. No one has the right to police any woman’s body or choices that way, regardless of good intentions, and it was my own strong liberal mother who created my shame about bare midriffs and attached the idea that women appearing to be interested in sex was inherently lesser.

Being introduced to new opinions and ideas has allowed me to grow beyond what has been handed to me as fact, and I find many of those ideas and opinions in books. Engaging in this kind of content and seeing women who are assertive helps me feel that there is nothing embarrassing about being adamant in my desire for human equality, and that being labeled a “loud-mouthed feminist” is just as ignorantly pejorative as calling Rosa Parks an “uppity negro”.

Obviously eight books are just a tip of an excellent iceberg of books on all things lady-empowering and gender equalizing, but these are a handful of books that I have personally read and can speak to why I think they make an important addition to your bookshelf.

Shrill by Lindy West

Lindy West’s writing is sharp, concise, and frequently of a level of observation and humor that doesn’t come easily to most of us. I’ve yet to be able to read her take on “fat female role models” without laughing to the point of crying, mostly because I’m of an age where I remember Lady Kluck, and in my childhood naïveté missed the most alarming and hilarious aspects of her character. This article is the first included in West’s collection and one worth reading because part of intersectional feminism has to include how fat women are treated by society.

“As a fat woman, my body is also lampooned, openly reviled, and associated with moral and intellectual failure. My body limits my job prospects, access to medical care and fair trials, and— the one thing Hollywood movies and Internet trolls most agree on— my ability to be loved. So the subtext, when a thin person asks a fat person, “Where do you get your confidence?” is, “You must be some sort of alien because if I looked like you, I would definitely throw myself into the sea.”

West also tackles rape culture, abortions, and what it means to live in the public eye in a world where internet anonymity creates an overwhelming volume of threats. She talks about it all with an awareness of her humanity and with the kind of clarity that makes readers feel better prepared for to be bold in their own arguments.

*Girl Up by Laura Bates

This book is geared towards a younger audience than I had anticipated, but I’m so glad that a book like this exists for young women and even for women who are for one reason or another behind on some of her basic anatomy and inherent rights as a human being.

It’s also full of interesting facts and examples that help illustrate the importance of feminism in a world where plenty of people, women included, are ready to tell you that feminism isn’t necessary.

There are tips about dealing with dick pics, avoiding turning on your fellow women in order to obtain the currency of social media superiority, how airbrushing “moves the goalposts,” why we need to feel comfortable using the word vagina, and how agency over our own bodies is a universal right regardless of gender.

There are also dancing vagina illustrations and I find them subversively fantastic in a world where we can’t escape dick pics and cock graffiti.

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Solnit begins this book with an essay that she wrote in 2008 that was essentially the catalyst for the phrase “mansplaining”.

The book is full of uncomfortable realities, but seeing the real numbers of the various kinds of violence against women committed across the globe and in our own country is the kind of shocking awareness that every single one of us should have.

Solnit explains perfectly why it’s important each and every one of us should raise our voice:

“Things have certainly gotten better, but this war won’t end in my lifetime. I’m still fighting it, for myself certainly, but also for all those younger women who have something to say, in the hope that they will get to say it.”

You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson

Robinson’s book is funny as hell, and full of the kind of stories that show what it’s like to be black in this country. She covers the idea of  “coded language,” and shares why seeing people of color portrayed as real, rich full-formed people in the media is necessary.

Included a list of requests she has for the first female president she says, “…don’t be trifling about being a feminist. It really infuriates me when high-profile people in your position self-identity as feminists just because it’s trendy at the moment and then don’t do any of the, you know, actual work of trying to make things equal for everybody. You’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and get dirty in order to create a society that takes women as seriously as the men. The type that encourages us to not define ourselves by who we go to bed with at night, but by who and what we see reflected back at us in the mirror in the morning. The type that recognizes that women are not a monolith and that they have wildly different experiences informed by their race and/or sexuality. Be that beacon of light that we can look toward. Be the feminist who will help normalize the idea of Feminism for society.”

Robinson also shares stories of New York City sidewalk rage, and while that has zero to do with feminism, it has everything to do with me adoring this woman for writing about one of my greatest personal struggles in the five years that I lived in the city. Sidewalk rage and train rage is why I moved.

*What’s A Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne

The third book in the “Spinster’s Club Series,” a title reclaimed by young women angry that men get names like “playboy,” Bourne writes a story in which one of the main characters decides to call out every act of sexism that she sees.

Bourne shows the importance of this kind of social dedication in paving the way for other girls to feel safe and vocal, and she explores the moments when it feels like a zero sum game for all genders. She even addresses cognitive dissonance within the context of feminism.

Bourne herself unfortunately had an extremely meta experience with this book, that only proved her point. In the book Lottie’s feminist movement gets a lot of public attention that results in threats of death and rape, and a cascade of other horrifying insults. So how did people who didn’t like the idea of Bourne’s feminist book respond? By filling her social media and inbox with death and rape threats, and a cascade of other horrifying insults. Cute, right?

But this is why Bourne continues to write, and why she encourages every reader to form their own “Spinster Club”.

It’s an entertaining and poignant narrative for readers of all ages.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

I can feel some of you wondering why I’ve included yet another Young Adult book in this list, and beyond my personal feelings that it’s a genre full of narratives that defy age brackets, YA content often has a way of showing not telling with the kind of precision that is often a more nuanced experience in literary fiction.

When you want young women to understand that being raped is not their fault, that they don’t have to live as pariah because of the experience, and that victim blaming should be eradicated, you want it done clearly and thoughtfully.

While at face value the book seems like it’s about cheerleaders and high school, (and loosely based on A Winter’s Tale) it’s really a complex example of a girl who dared to be an advocate for herself after being raped and consistently had people to back her when she needed it.

It’s a reminder that if we can keep working to change the conversation about rape that we can live in a world where males are taught “don’t rape” instead of females having to live their lives in a way that doesn’t “invite” rape.

Dietland by Sarai Walker

Walker’s book throws a spotlight on the social double standards of men and women, the unrealistic beauty standards set for women all across the world, and looks at the hypersexualization of women with a kind of unflinching focus that is bound to make some people uncomfortable.

There is also a level of ethical escapism that comes to feel like its own double standard. We criticize men for enjoying video games where women are subjugated, calling out the “but it’s fiction” response as not good enough, and then the book turns around and shows some women enacting a kind of revenge that while it may feel good in the moment, make it hard to feel like they’re any better than the people they are criticizing.

Regardless, Plum’s journey into a life where she is really alive, really living without having to wait until the imaginary “someday when I’m thin,” where she had pinned all her hopes and dreams is a revelation.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Kaur says that one of the biggest reasons she started writing is, “I need access to words written by people who look like me writing about the things I am going through,” and she wasn’t finding what she needed even in the hundreds of books she read.

One of Kaur’s poems in particular puts words to an apology that I hadn’t known was sitting inside me somewhere waiting to come out:

“i want to apologize to all the women i have called beautiful
before i’ve called them intelligent or brave
i am sorry i made it sound as though
something as simple as what you’re born with
is all you have to be proud of
when you have broken mountains with your wit
from now on i will say things like
you are resilient, or you are extraordinary
not because i don’t think you’re beautiful
but because i need you to know
you are more than that”

Bonus Round (or other lady books I loved):

At this point I assume that most people have read Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Mindy Kaling’s books but if you haven’t, besides the insane entertainment factor, they are all great women helping pave the way for other women.

Anna Kendrick’s memoir is full of more than an exploration of celebrity, exploring a woman’s sexuality with a wonderfully unexpected frankness.

*Sue Perkins shares great comedic stories in “Spectacles”, but also speaks as a lesbian woman in the public eye.

Misty Copeland’s “Life in Motion” is awesome and inspiring even if you’re not a ballet fan, and proves yet again the importance of public representation for people of color.

Kelsey Miller’s “Big Girl” is an honest examination of fat shaming and living in the face of abuse.

Sarah Ruhl’s plays are fantastic, but her collection of essays is full of interesting observations on motherhood and blew my mind with the idea that the early story arc for plays seems to be modeled after the male orgasm.

Lumberjanes is the perfect graphic novel/comic for girls and women alike, showing a world where girls can converse about so much more than boys and makeup, while never commenting on their body or those of others.

Really the list could go on and on.

But hey, have a feminist-inspiring book you think I should read? Please let me know in the comments.

*- These books are not easy to come by in the states, but regardless of where you live Book Depository is ready to come to your rescue. You have to wait a little longer, but the Europe based company ships for free all over the world.

Casey is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty on Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click HERE.

{featured image via pexels}

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