Introduction to a Genre: Feminist Literature

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Feminist Literature

Feminist literature can be a daunting space for someone new to the genre. So, I’ve compiled a shortlist of a range of texts from a range of writers, from poets to novelists, activists to theorists, and radicals to academics. All texts mentioned below are beginner-friendly and not too theory-heavy or dense with scholarly jargon. With digestible chapter structures and accessible language – feminist literature is definitely an easy genre to be excited about!

Audre Lorde, a self-proclaimed “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” is a must on your bookshelf if you’re interested in intersectionality within feminism. Lorde’s collection of poetic essays Sister Outsider illuminates and amplifies marginalised voices, bringing them to the forefront of the discussion. The collection ranges from topics on sexuality, race, class, solidarity, and the erotic with my personal favourite being Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power. In this, Lorde reclaims female sexuality and vouches for solidarity amongst women. Her work is undeniably empowering as she makes clear the importance of using your voice and rhetoric to fight against injustice. You’ll find yourself highlighting phrases, folding down nearly every corner, and scribbling lots of notes on the pages within this powerful collection.

You may know Valerie Solanas as the woman who shot Andy Warhol but she was incredibly significant to the feminist movement during the 1960s, which is ironic as Solanas would never personally identify as a feminist herself. Instead, she actually had some pretty controversial things to say about women! The SCUM Manifesto was considered to be one of the most radical, outrageous, and extremist tracts of its time. It is completely anti-patriarchal and attacking of the male-dominated status-quo of the twentieth century. Due to its radical nature, many readers hold the text as satirical or hyperbole. However, I believe that the sentiments expressed in the manifesto seem to be self-consciously comforted by their audacity. There is a dark humour, dry wit, and a comically inflammatory tone which makes the text a refreshing break from your typical scholarly source. Solanas was definitely ahead of her time and while you may find yourself cringing at her contradictions, sweeping statements, and generalisations, you will also find yourself laughing in agreement with her epigrammatic narrative. 

A classic from the 1990s, Naomi Wolf effortlessly articulates and completely redefines society’s view of the complex relationship between female identity and beauty. The Beauty Myth is a false narrative, Wolf explains, that traps women into an endless cycle of self-obsession, self-consciousness, and self-hatred of their physical appearance in the hopes of attaining society’s impossible ideal of female aesthetic perfection. Wolf completely exposes the tyranny of the beauty myth, a “political sedative”, depicting it as a destructive force against women, linking it to eating disorders, unpaid domestic female labour, and the wage gap. The bestselling text is a go-to for any feminist and, if you don’t fancy a long, dense piece of writing, why not opt for the Vintage Classics short-form edition where you can still find the key essence of her entire, more lengthy, piece.

Centred around the feminist movements in the United States, Angela Davis offers a refreshingly alternative view of female liberation. In Women, Race and Class, she examines the class and race prejudices pervasive in non-intersectional white feminism and successfully shines a light on the heroines of the female liberation movement who were previously silenced or forgotten. Although published in the 1980s, many, if not all, of the book’s themes are unfortunately very much so still applicable to our modern day where the mainstream feminist movement can often exclude and marginalise those who are not middle class, white, cisgender, able-bodied, straight, and more. Through the concise and highly informative register, Davis is able to completely break down how different levels of oppression have shaped society in different ways, providing such vital context for the current events which we are all witnessing together in the modern day. 

Cult author of the infamous and boundary-pushing French novel, Baise-Moi, Virginie Despentes’ King Kong Theory, dubbed “a manifesto for a new punk feminism”, is essential if you’re interested in the intersection between anarchism and feminism. Despentes draws on her personal experiences in this short collection of confessional essays, completely shattering pre-conceived ideas surrounding prostitution, sexual assault, pornography, and masculinity. Part-memoir, part-manifesto, part-critique on patriarchal capitalist society, Despentes’ prose is cutting, hilarious, and totally rock-and-roll. Amidst more sanitized and palatable versions of feminism, why not try out a more in-your-face, offensive, and radical piece? 

Slightly different from the other suggestions, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo is a collection of short stories, following the intricate and rich lives of twelve immensely different characters. Evaristo writes vibrantly of a contemporary, and perhaps unseen, Britain. She effortlessly incorporates within her characters varied themes of class, roots, occupation, region, sexuality, religion, immigration, and age. An intersectional feminist tract seems to be creatively woven throughout the piece, with due attention to a broad spectrum of black women’s voices and lived experiences. This is, personally, one of my favourite books to date with Evaristo’s ferociously intelligent, funny, and compassionate prose which beautifully rejects a conventional structure or use of punctuation – only adding to its charm!

From the second wave to modern-day, personal essays to self-help books, political manifesto to politically charged poetry – feminist literature encompasses every medium, genre, and style of writing you could imagine! So, next time you find yourself browsing through a book shop, online or in-person, use this little list as a guide to help you out!

Further reading

Here are some other powerful reads to check out if you find yourself blazing through the recommendations above:

All About Love bell hooks

The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir

Blood and Guts in High School – Kathy Acker

We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism – Laurie Penny

Pussy: A Reclamation – Regena Thomashauer

Hood Feminism – Mikki Kendall

Gender Trouble – Judith Butler

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

The Feminine Mystique – Betty Friedan

Words by Rhiannon Ingle

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