Know Your Feminisms
March is women's history month: a time to reflect on the lives and accomplishments of women and their contributions in history and in contemporary society. Who better to honor this March than history's influential feminists? The books on this list are essential for understanding the history of feminism and the women's rights movement. Feminism 101.
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.
Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards (2000)
These authors explore the state of feminism in the year 2000 where the movement was at a crossroads between “girl power” feminists who sought personal empowerment and established institutions such as Ms. and NOW who were fighting for political equality.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2004)
A memoir of a young girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution told in black and white comic strip images.
The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel (2009)
Chronicles of contemporary lesbian life (includes the Bechdel test.)
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (2014)
A collection of feminist essays and cultural criticism.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit (2015)
Solnit tackles gender and power with a keen wit prose.
Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your picks! Tell us what you'd recommend: Leave a comment or email us.