My employer, The Feminist Press, has launched a read-a-thon for the month of August that challenges readers to enjoy one feminist book per week. As part of the promotion for it, all staff and interns were asked to pick our favorite feminist book. There are a wealth of books that have influenced me as a feminist, but the first one that came to mind was Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. It was the first book that showed me some women have desires outside of marriage and the family, that some women want to buck tradition and be artists. It was one of the first books where I could see myself in the protagonist. I also have a soft spot for books that end with drownings.
Thinking about the other feminist books I’ve read and loved, I compiled a quick list of my suggestions, broken into a few categories.
My classics: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Therese and Isabelle by Violette Leduc, Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown, Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
The fiction that inspired and allowed me to write about female sexuality (or rather taught me that I don’t need men to allow me to write about female sexuality): Little Birds by Anaïs Nin and Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill.
The manifestos: Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, and The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy.
The books I have on my to-read pile: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, All The Women Are White, All The Blacks Are Men, But Some of us Are Brave by Akasha Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, and The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir.
The book that is currently blowing my mind: King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes.
I just finished Apocalypse Baby, Virginie’s take on the neo noir, so I kept my French feminist kick going and picked up her important non-fiction contribution to the feminist canon, King Kong Theory. I have wanted to jot down every line from this book because every line is something I want to tell my friends or my mother or my niece.
It takes an unflinching look at the way the genders are conditioned to fit certain standards of masculinity and femininity and how that plays out in rape, pornography, and prostitution. Namely that in all circumstances, the men are to hold the power and the women are to be reminded that they are weak and inferior. She pushes back hard against these disgusting norms, speaking from her personal experiences as a rape survivor and sex worker. I can’t do this book justice in a few paragraphs. Every person, man and woman, needs to read it and consider the systems that are in place that allow for men to feel they have ownership over women’s bodies or that rape is ever the victim’s fault.
I finished the book this morning on my subway ride into work. An old man sat beside me and proceeded to ask me if I were a model and then to compliment me on my tan. I angrily gripped the book and read: “Ours has always been the gender of endurance, courage, and resistance.”