HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY!
This is such an important day for so many people across the world, women and non-binary people and all of our allies.
The fight for women’s equality is still on-going, but I believe we will get there one day. What’s important to remember is that while it may seem like we’ve reached that point already because women can vote (har har), there’s still a long way to go, especially for women of colour, queer and trans women, and non-binary people.
Everyone in this world should be a feminist and uphold women’s rights, but what’s more, we should all be intersectional feminists. Women experience oppression and suffering in different ways, depending on their marginalisation, and that is something we need to remember on this day.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of feminist books out there — all of which I want to read — but I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes these feminist theory books can be quite dry. And it’s hard to read a book when you can’t get into the writing, or the book in general — which is a shame, because the books are very important.
So in celebration of this day, I put together a list of what I believe to be recommended feminist reading — books that entice you, draw you in, and won’t have you DNF-ing after ten pages.
This list is not just for International Women’s Day — it’s for all those intersectional feminists out there, and for those who want to read more books by women, about women’s issues.
On this list, you’ll find non-fiction, biography and memoirs, and fiction titles from a broad range of women. Hope you enjoy it!
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
At the heart of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay is the question: what does “feminism” mean today?
Drawing her experiences from Nigeria and the U.S., Adichie discusses how feminism has developed in the twenty-first century, and how its become more inclusionary and aware.
She also discusses the insidious and systemic behaviours that force women all around the world to remain oppressed, and how this patriarchal world also negatively affects the very men its meant to uphold.
Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women by Various
50 awesome Australian women are featured in this illustrated novel about the lives and achievements of these women.
From Cathy Freeman to Turia Pitt, Edith Cowan to Julia Gillard, Cate Blanchett to Olivia Newton-John, plus rally car drivers, molecular biologists, and more, this book is a celebration of women in all fields, from all walks of life, from Australia’s past and present. The accompanying images are brought to life by female artists.
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock
In 2011, Marie Claire magazine published a profile of Janet Mock where she came out as a trans woman for the first time. That profile ended up changing her life, turning her into an influential public figure.
In her biography, Janet discusses what it was like growing up as a poor Black and Native Hawaiian transgender woman in America. From her loving parents that weren’t able to provide her with the resources she needed, to a teenager who found a group of friends and mentors, this memoir follows Janet’s quest for identity through hormone medication and sex reassignment surgery.
Redefining Realness depicts an authentic woman who is unapologetically herself and encourages everyone else to be the same.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
In her iconic essay “Men Explains Things To Me”, Rebecca Solnit looks at conversations between men and women: how men wrongly assume they know things and assume that women don’t, and why this happens in the first place.
This collection of essays features issues all women can relate to, as well as marriage equality, the rise of violence against women, and an examination of Virginia Woolf’s writing.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay has always discussed with intimacy and sensitivity her relationship with her body and food. In this memoir, Roxane explores the shared anxiety we all have over consumption, pleasure, appearance and health — and the psychological affects.
Roxane understands the struggle between desire and denial, self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her own past and the act of violence that acted as a turning point in her life — brining readers along on her journey and encouraging them to understand.
Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember: The Stroke That Changed My Life by Christine Hyung-Oak Lee
Christine Hyung-Oak Lee woke up with a headache one morning; by the next day, she was unable to form a coherent sentence. After days in the hospital, the doctors told her that she had had a stroke — at the age of 33.
In this memoir, Lee navigates her childhood, teenage years and the early days of her marriage, and then in unflinching detail, her stroke and the damage it caused. Lee highlights the connection between memory and identity and discusses the importance of women understanding their bodies, should something like this should happen to them.
Rise Up Women!: The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes by Diane Atkinson
On February 1918, after campaigning for over 50 years, British women were finally granted the right to vote. The following year, Lady Nancy Astor became the first women to have a seat in the House of Commons.
Rise Up Women! reflects on the daring and painful struggle women undertook to secure equal rights. From the founding of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage in 1860, to the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903, this book follows the rise and fall and rise again of the Suffragettes.
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
From stand-up comedy to acting, Tiffany Haddish’s collection of personal essays are unflinching and hilarious.
Growing up in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of L.A. in a foster home, Tiffany learned to survive by making people laugh. Her main goal was to make enough money to get her nails done and maybe get a boyfriend. While that didn’t work, it did allow her to work doing what she loved: comedy.
Her essays include stories from her childhood and teenage years, from getting revenge on an ex-boyfriend, to learning how to handle fame while still having a broke person’s mindset. She recounts how she came from nothing and was able to achieve her dreams, and wants to help heal others.
Not Just Black and White by Lesley & Tammy Williams
As a child, Lesley Williams is forced to leave her family at Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement in Eastern Queensland to work as a domestic servant. Aside from some pocket money, Lesley never sees her wages — they’re kept “safe” for her and for other Indigenous servants like her. Desperate, she begins to wonder where all her money has gone, which sets off a nine-year journey for answers.
Inspired by her mother’s journey, Tammy Williams enters and wins a national writing competition, writing an essay about injustice. Together, mother and daughter travel to the United Nations in Geneva, finding courage and friendship along the way. This memoir is the combined work of two Indigenous Australian women, determined to ensure that their history is not forgotten.
Women and Power by Mary Beard
In Women and Power, Mary Beard traces the origins of misogyny to its ancient roots, examining the ways gender has evolved and how history has mistreated women since the beginning of time.
Beard explores why women have been prohibited from leadership roles and how men have defined public space and speech as male, examining Homer’s Odyssey, the lives of Medusa and Philomela, Hilary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren and many more women. Beard shows how powerful women provide a necessary example for all women, and why women should resist being cast into a male template.
Including personal reflections on her own experience with sexism and misogyny, Beard asks: if women aren’t perceived to be within the structure of power, do we then need to redefine power? And how many more centuries should we be expected to wait?
Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler
Gender Trouble has been one of the key works of contemporary feminist theory, being studied in thousands of universities across the globe.
Butler’s text questions everything society knows about gender, queer theory and the politics of sexuality. Butler was the first to advance the idea of “performative theory”. Essentially, gender is a performative repetition of acts that are usually associated with male or female. What makes someone a woman has nothing to do with their genitals, rather, how they perform the role of a woman.
I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, a young girl stood up and preached about the importance of educating women. In 2012, this young girl, Malala, was shot at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school because of her beliefs. No one expected her to survive.
But she did. Her miraculous recovery took her on a journey from Pakistan to England to the United Nations, and eventually, to a Nobel Peace Prize. I am Malala, her biography, explores the roots of global terrorism, the fight for women’s education and a father’s love for his daughter.
Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang
Jenny Zhang’s collection of short stories examines how family and history can weigh you down and lift you up, and revolves around a community of immigrants who left their dangerous lives in China and Taiwan for a life of poverty in New York City in the 1990s.
From a young woman coming to terms with her grandmother’s role in the Cultural Revolution, to a daughter struggling to understand where her family ends and she begins, to a girl discovering the power of her body, each story reveals the complex and messy inner lives of a group of girls struggling to define themselves.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
In the near future, the United States is now the Republic of Gilead, a republic created in response to social unrest, a declining birthrate and a rise of the original Puritan way of life. Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic.
She used to have a husband, a daughter, a job, money of her own and access to knowledge. Now herself and many other women have no rights and they’re are only valued for their ovaries. Each night, the Commander she “works” for tries to get her pregnant. But Offred won’t quietly accept this new life.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Ada is a troubled baby, born in Southern Nigeria. Her parents successfully prayed her into existence, but as she grows into a splintered child, it becomes clear something went awry. When Ada comes of age and moves to America for college, the groups of selves within her grow agency. An assault leaves these selves becoming sentient: Asughara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind, these selves take control and her life spirals into a dangerous direction.
Narrated by the selves within her, and on Emezi’s realities as a non-binary person, Freshwater discusses the ways we all construct our identities.
Daughters of a Nation: A Black Suffragette Historical Romance Anthology by Kianna Alexander, Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart, and Piper Huguley
In the Morning Sun by Lena Hart
With the election of 1868 underway, Madeline is on a mission: to educate and enlist Nebraskan freedman to vote. After losing the man she loved to war, Madeline leaves her life behind to make a difference in the world. Union veteran James Blakemore is tired of the injustices of America, and he sets his sights for Canada … until he meets Madeline. Enraptured with her, James joins Madeline on her cause, despite Nebraska’s anti-miscegenation laws. Now Madeline must choose between a life with a new man she’s fallen for or the chance to shape a new country.
The Washerwoman’s War by Piper Huguley
In 1881, Maime Harper arrives at the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary as a substitute teacher. There, she sees with her own eyes the injustice the washerwomen experience. Maime is the daughter of the most famous Black suffragette in America, so she can’t keep quiet when she sees mistreatment. As the Black washerwomen go on strike, paster Gabriel Harmon is brought in to mediate a solution … but soon realises that the leader of this opposition is the very women who rejected his courting years ago.
A Radiant Soul by Kianna Alexander
In 1881, Sarah Webster is returning home to Fayetteville to celebrate her mother’s birthday, after spending the past two years working as a pastry chef in a hotel. Now she’s a completely different person: unbeknownst to her family, she has become a suffragette. Carpenter Owen Markham, making a gazebo for Mrs Webster, is intrigued by Sarah. Sarah’s father believes they’re a match made in heaven, but when he hears her unconventional stance on women’s rights, he’s not so sure.
Let Us Dream by Alyssa Cole
In 1917, Bertha, cabaret owner, decides to use her persuasive skills to encourage the men of New York to vote in the upcoming election for women’s rights. Chef Amir Chowdhury, immigrant and chasing after the American Dream, is shocked by the racism in America. He takes a job at Bertha’s cabaret, dreaming of making it big. Bertha and Amir clash, but her knowledge of politics and his knowledge of dance brings them together. But Bertha has the police watching her and Amir soon receives devastating news from home — can Bertha and Amir hold onto their growing love?
A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett
This short story collection features eleven stories, from a rural Canadian Mennonite to a hipster gay bar in Brooklyn.
Each story features young trans women stumbling through their lives, dealing with loss, sex, love, and even harassment.
These stories show that growing up as a trans girl can be funny, frustrating, sad, charming, and never predictable.
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi
In Kabul, 2007, Rahima and her sisters sporadically attend school and can rarely leave the house, due to their drug-addicted father. Their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young women to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school and chaperone her sisters.
But Rahima soon learns she is not the first in her family to adopt this custom. A century earlier, her great-aunt, Shekiba, orphaned by an epidemic, saved herself and built a new life as a man.
Told in alternate perspectives, crisscrossing in time, The Pearl that Broke its Shell, tells the tale of two women, separated by centuries, who share the same destiny.
Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
When Artemisia Gentileschi’s mother died when she was twelve, she had a choice: live life as a nun in a convent or be stuck grinding pigment for her father’s artwork. She chose paint.
By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia was one of Rome’s most famous Renaissance painters … but no one knew her name, for her father claimed her work as his own. But Rome 1610 was a world where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape, Artemisia is forced to make another decision: live a life of silence or take her rapist to court.
Blood Water Paint is a novel in verse, and based on a true story.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
A prequel to Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea tells the story of Bertha Rochester, Mr Rochester’s wife, who he keeps locked up in the attic.
Born into an oppressive, colonialist society, Creole heiress Antoinette Conway meets a young Englishman who is drawn to her innocence and beauty. But, not too long after their marriage, rumours of madness running through her family line poison his mind against her, and he begins to force Antoinette to conform to his rigid, Victorian ideals.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
In this collection of horror short stories, Machado bends genre and shows the many ways that violence shapes women’s lives and bodies.
A wife refuses her husband’s demands to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman retells her sexual encounters as a plague that is slowly consuming humanity. A sales worker makes a horrifying discovering at her store. A woman’s weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in another story, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Ageing and reclusive Hollywood actress Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous life … and the seven husbands she had along the way. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why did Evelyn choose her? And why is Evenly telling her story now, after a life of silence?
But Evelyn has chosen Monique to write her biography, and Monique is determined to use this chance to jumpstart her career. Summoned to Evelyn’s apartment, Monique listens in fascination as Evelyn tells her story: from traveling to L.A. from Cuba in the 1950s, to leaving show business in the 80s, Evelyn reveals a life of ambition, friendship and a great forbidden love.
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
In Homer’s The Odyssey, Penelope, the wife of Odysseus and cousin of Helen of Troy, is seen as the ultimate faithful wife and her story has been used as a model of wifely representation for centuries. While Odysseus fights in the Trojan War, Penelope is left to rule the Kingdom of Ithaca by herself for twenty years, while fending of hundreds of suitors. When Odysseus finally comes home — after enduring ten years at sea, battling monsters, and sleeping with two goddesses — he kills the suitors and, surprisingly, twelve of her maids.
In Atwood’s contemporary twist to the ancient story, Penelope is now the narrator of the story, as well as her twelve maids, asking: “What led to the deaths of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?”
Have you read any of these books? What books would you read for International Women’s Day? Let me know!