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Women's History Month

Essential Texts in Feminist Theory & Feminist Thought


In celebration of Women's History Month, I have put together a list of works that I feel are essential to feminist theory/feminist thought. From proto-feminism to third-wave post-modernist, here are some of my (mostly Western) favorites. What are some feminist works you favorite or feel are essential to the canon?

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft: An 18th century work that argues for the education of women for the betterment of society. It was one of the first works to view men and women as equal and deserving of the same fundamental rights.

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf: A statement on women and the creation of creative written works. Equates artistic creation with financial freedom.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvior: Published in 1949, this was one of the first works to separate gender from sex, recognizing that gender is a learned trait without biological basis. It was also the first to describe the male-gender as the standard from which women deviates, causing the creation "The Other".

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan: Published in 1963, this book was a catalyst to the second-wave feminist movement by bringing to light the deep lack of fulfillment pervasive in Untied States middle-class housewives. The popularity of the book has recently been rekindled because of the television show Mad Men.

Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement by Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall: A collection of pamphlets, comics, leaflets, and essential documents from the second wave of feminism 1968-1977. 

The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer: A confrontational work calling for the sexual liberation of women.

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem: A diverse collection of essays by one of the pioneers of second-wave feminism.

Witches, Midwives, & Nurses by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English: A second-wave feminist statement on the historic demonization of women healers juxtaposed with the contemporary rejection of women from the traditional medical establishment.

Our Bodies, Ourselves by The Boston Women's Health Book Collective: Although primarily a health reference book rather than theory, OBOS historically challenged male-dominance over women's health by providing information and resources about women's bodies directly to women themselves.

Ain't I A Woman? Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks: Named after a Sojourner Truth poem, this book is a comprehensive look at black women within first and second wave feminist movements and examines the problematic aspects of black women feminists within white feminist structures.

Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis: Explores the underlying racism of the suffrage movement and the intersection of race and class within feminist contexts.

In A Different Voice by Carol Gilligan: Challenges the male standard of psychological testing, especially in relation to the stages of moral reasoning presented by Piaget

This Sex Which is Not One by Luce Irigaray: Focusing more on female difference rather than female sameness, Irigaray challenges years of psychological and philosophical "phallogocentric" thought.

Gender Trouble by Judith Butler: Postmodern third-wave feminist queer theory, Butler calls into question the use of pronouns and rigid ideas of gender within feminist theories.

Dislocating Cultures by Uma Narayan: A  post-colonialist feminist work which examines the appropriation of Western values by Western feminist on Third World women's ideology, particularly in relation to American and East Indian women.

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf:  How the Western culture of beauty is damaging on a social and personal level.

Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women by Susan Faludi: Faludi explains how feminist achievements from the 1960s led to a (mostly media-fueled) backlash against American women in the 1980s.

Reviving Ophelia by Mary Piper:  Explores how adolescent girls are in constant struggle with their "true self" vs. the "girl-poisoning" culture in which they live.

Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins: Interpretations of black feminisms within academic and non-academic platforms, including poetry and oral history.

This Bridge Called My Back by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua: Writings by radical women of color from an immigrant perspective.

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Feminity by Julia Serano: Searching for acceptance as a transwoman in the feminist community.   

Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam: Theories of maleness & masculinity in relation to drag kings, butch women, and female-to-male transgenderism.


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My recommendations

Here's a combination of thought and fiction that empowers the feminine spirit that I recommend :The Power of Beauty by Nancy Friday, Story of O by Pauline Reage, The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by A.N. Roquelaure, The Clan of The Cavebear b...y Jean Auel Essay From the Web by the Journal of Gender Race and Justice: PinUp Feminism :


Thanks for commenting, Monica. I'm working on a feminist fiction list, so thanks for the recs! The article you posted is really interesting, I was just thinking about that exact subject the other night...


This is a great list-- I would also recommend anything and everything by Helene Cixous and Silvia Federici. Shulamith Firestone is a must read. One feminist/philosopher also to look out for: Nina Power, "One Dimensional Woman". Absolutely brilliant.

Thanks Trevor!

Thanks for the suggestions. All really good stuff. I haven't read Nina Power's book yet, but it sounds very thought-provoking-- especially in regards to feminism as commodity. Let me know if you have any fiction suggestions too.

Hmmm. I'm not the best to ask

Hmmm. I'm not the best to ask for women's/feminist fiction titles, but via Power I know about Charlotte Roche's awesome "Wetlands", and of course Angela Carter comes to mind.


I never read "Wetlands". I just put it on hold! Thanks for the suggestions.

Classic Feminist Texts

Of course I am more than a little concerned with the art side of the feminist movement, but who could forget The Obstacle Race by Germaine Greer ( Then there's that Kate Millett, with Sexual Politics, which The New York Public Library owns only in, ahem, Spanish ( But with several other of her seminal works in English, you'll get lucky ( I was lucky enough once to visit Kate in her studio (think East Village). That was back in the day. Lately I'm inclined toward certain guerrilla girls (

Thanks, Susan!

Thanks so much for the comment. I can't believe I forgot the Guerrilla Girls! I had them on the list inside my head & I just totally blanked when it was time to post this. Thanks for reminding me! I included Kate Millett's The Loony-Bin Trip on my Women, Creativity, & Madness post:

Essential Texts

Thanks for compiling this list, it's really great. A quick note, the title of the Wollstonecraft work is "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (not Women). Thank you!


Your list is a good starting point. As a student at the Center of Global Affairs at NYU this list serves as my go to place. Thanks Neela

Additional titles and a request

The Gender Workbook by Kate Bornstein Transgender Warriors by Leslie Feinberg More work on feminism and class in the US; Correct to Simone de Beauvoir; What about feminist thought in Asia, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America?


Thank you so much for putting this list together. Also Judith Butler's Gender Bending, Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera, Zilah Eisenstein's Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, Monique Wittig"s The Straight MInd.

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