"A Well-Read Woman Is a Dangerous Creature:" 10 Books With Big Ideas

Updated 04/19/19
Best Books on Feminism

Somewhere along the way in the movement for equality, the "F-word" has become a euphemism for feminism, implying that it's dirty, shameful, and offensive. While it seems to be getting more and more loaded and misunderstood, it also grows more and more essential. Indeed, at its core, feminism is "the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men," as the dictionary defines it.

In an effort to reshape the conversation and spread the knowledge of what gender equality is all about, we rounded up 10 books that challenge, inspire, uphold, and unpack feminism. After all, as author Lisa Kleypas says, "A well-read woman is a dangerous creature." Each book teaches us about feminism's transformative power, why we need it, and how to really harness it to create effective change. To turn the page on equality, check out the 10 empowering books on feminism below, from novels and memoirs to scholarly works.

Morgan Jenkins This Will Be My Undoing $11

Morgan Jenkins writes about the intersection of sexism and racism and what it means to be a black woman in America today. She reveals the ways in which the mainstream feminist movement has silenced and marginalized her, and how we should get it back on track. Each chapter tackles a different subject, ranging from her relationship with her body, traveling to foreign places as a woman of color, the painful ramifications of colorblindness, and more. 

Words of Wisdom: "We cannot come together if we do not recognize our differences first. These differences are best articulated when women of color occupy the center of the discourse while white women remain silent, actively listen, and do not try to reinforce supremacy by inserting themselves in the middle of the discussion."

Another Feminist Book Like This One: Sister, Outsider

Virginia Woolf Three Guineas $20

Though many applaud A Room of One's Own as Woolf's seminal feminist manifesto, Three Guineas definitely deserves a spot on your gender studies shelf. In fact, reading this book will change the way you perceive and express patriotism as a woman. It was originally written as a letter expressing why she could not support the anti-war movement as men had, despite being a staunch pacifist herself. 

Words of Wisdom: "Though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes."

Another Feminist Book Like This One: Regarding the Pain of Others

The Yellow Wallpaper Charlotte Perkins Gilman $1

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story is one of the first of its kind to emerge in 1892. You can read it as a feminist gospel that speaks to the patriarchal oppression of women both in private and public life, or you can read it as a horror story about one woman's descent into madness. 

Words of Wisdom: "You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well under way in following, it turns a back-somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you."

Another Feminist Book Like This One: The Bell Jar

Maggie Nelson The Argonauts $7

Maggie Nelson has a way of combining innovative intellectual thoughts with emotional impact. Seriously, every sentence in this critically acclaimed genre-bending memoir is worth underlining. In this book, she wrestles with notions of desire, identity, and the limitations (and possibilities) of love and language. She also offers up new ways of being feminists today, ways that don't live neatly inside the mainstream conventions. 

Words of Wisdom: "How does one get across the fact that the best way to find out how people feel about their gender or their sexuality—or anything else, really—is to listen to what they tell you, and to try to treat them accordingly, without shellacking over their version of reality with yours?"

Another Feminist Book Like This One: Makes Me a Modern Girl

Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele When They Call You a Terrorist $12

Written by one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, this book is essential reading. Khan-Cullors opens about her own life and discusses what catalyzed her to spearhead the movement to end police violence against people of color. In it, you'll hear about the ways in which the human rights movement overlap with anti-sexism and anti-racism.  

Words of Wisdom: "What kind of society uses medicine as a weapon?"

Another Feminist Book Like This One: Women, Race & Class

Maxine Hong Kingston The Woman Warrior $12

Maxine Hong Kingston's book is now considered an American classic, and she is one of the pioneering memoirists to challenge the conventions of the genre. Neither straight autobiography nor fiction, she writes about her family's past, Chinese legend, The Woman Warrior cover's the authors own childhood, and how all of these manifest to both define, reshape, and fuel her place in feminism. 

Words of Wisdom: "I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes."

Another Feminist Book Like This One: The Second Sex

Roxanne Gay Not That Bad $11

Edited by Roxanne Gay, this collection of essays features voices and stories from across the board. It's a call to action to bear witness to sexual assault and combat the actions and words that enable or normalize rape culture. It's a powerful collection that will change the way you think about agency, intimacy, relationships, power, and so much more. 

Words of Wisdom: "No one gets to rake over the details of my life and determine if they think what happened to me was bad enough for me to have earned my scars, my limitations, my superpowers."

Another Feminist Book Like This One: We Should All Be Feminists

Gloria Anzaldúa The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader $16

Pick up this reader if you're interested in learning more about identity formation, intersectional feminism, and immigration. Since she's a cultural theorist, the concepts Anzaldúa grapples with are as groundbreaking as they are complex, so it helps if you come with patience and a dictionary. We recommend starting with the essay "Borderlands / La Frontera," in which she discusses the construction of borders, both empirical and abstract, that separate, control, hierarchize, and mark people.

Words of Wisdom: "Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition."

Another Feminist Book Like This One: Passing it On

Rebecca Solnit Men Explain Things to Me $12

This book-length response to the maddening phenomenon of mansplaining puts words into the feelings many of us have. Some of it is humorous, some of it cathartic, and always poignant and eye-opening. Her prose is smart, direct, and easy to follow, expressing the ways in which language and discourse perpetuate gender inequality (and how we can actively change that). 

Words of Wisdom: "Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being."

Another Feminist Book Like This One: The Feminine Mystique

Bell Hooks Ain't I a Woman $24

Named after Sojourner Truth's famous speech delivered in 1851, this book explains the need for an intersectional framework in law, mass media, education, and more. She's a renowned leader in intersectional critical theory and she brilliantly dissects social patterns and mass media, putting hard-to-grasp concepts into language we can understand and grow from. 

Words of Wisdom: "The process begins with the individual woman's acceptance that American women, without exception, are socialized to be racist, classist and sexist, in varying degrees, and that labeling ourselves feminists does not change the fact that we must consciously work to rid ourselves of the legacy of negative socialization."

Another Feminist Book Like This One: Living a Feminist Life

Related Stories