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Tuesday 8th March is International Women’s Day! It’s a perfect time to celebrate the incredible strength and achievements of women around the world, as well as acknowledging the obstacles we face. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of my favourite feminist non-fiction reads.
From pregnancy to navigating elite academia and the criminal justice system, these feminist reads will show you how gender inequality still pervades every corner of life – and what we can do about it.
1. Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere by Jeanette Winterson
Synopsis: In this incisive yet digestible essay, Jeanette Winterson examines the history of feminism to reveal how far we’ve come, and how much is still to be done in the name of gender equality. Topics as diverse as the Suffragettes and social media are explored, all accompanied by the author’s characteristic wry streak of humour.
Why I Chose It: Short and sweet at only 80 pages, Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere is the perfect beginner’s introduction to feminism and its history.
2. Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture ed. by Roxane Gay
Synopsis: Edited by Roxane Gay, bestselling author of Bad Feminist, this urgent essay collection reveals what it means to be a woman navigating a world that is permeated by rape culture. When fear and trauma threaten us in education, the workplace, and the streets, and are incessantly replicated in sensationalist media, it’s no wonder that safety is proving so elusive.
Why I Chose It: Not That Bad is relentless, hard-hitting, and provokes the kind of productive fury that I look for in a feminist essay collection.
3. Zami by Audre Lorde
Synopsis: Zami is a Carriacou word that can be loosely translated to ‘love between women’. It is difficult to imagine a more fitting title for Audre Lorde’s memoir: a story of the pursuit of love. As a Black lesbian coming of age in 1940s/50s New York, she fights to belong in a world that unrelentingly seeks to push her to the margins.
Why I Chose It: Rich, imaginative, and searingly honest, I found Zami such a hopeful read that foregrounds friendship, solidarity, and love.
Full review here.
4. Eve Was Shamed: How British Justice is Failing Women by Helena Kennedy
Synopsis: Working as a high-level barrister at the very heart of the justice system, Helena Kennedy is well placed to examine whether this system is working for women. In her book, she draws on extensive experience working with women, both as victims and perpetrators of crime, and the challenges she has faced as one of the only QC female barristers.
Eve Was Shamed is a shocking revelation of how women remain discriminated against by the law. It is also a powerful call for change.
Why I Chose It: Much analysis of the fraught relationship between gender equality and the justice system is based upon the United States, so I was delighted to find a book relevant to where I live across the pond.
Full review here.
5. It’s Not About the Burqa ed. by Mariam Khan
Synopsis: In this essay collection, British Muslim women share their opinions on topics from divorce to media representation. Taking control of their own stories, these women create a polyphony of powerful voices and resist the limiting identities that have been forced upon them.
Why I Chose It: Narratives about women and Islam have traditionally been constructed for, rather than by, the women at its centre, but not anymore – these essays delve into the experience of British Muslim women with nuance and individuality.
6. Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally by Emily Ladau
Synopsis: Have you ever considered whether events you organise are accessible to people with disabilities? Are you inadvertently using language that is demeaning to disabled identities? Do you notice harmful tropes about disability in the media? In her consciousness-raising book, Emily Ladau offers a wealth of practical advice for how we can create a more accessible world for everyone.
Why I Chose It: Emily Ladau is determined to challenge the exclusion of disabled women in feminist movements, and this book provides a straightforward introduction to the issues at stake.
7. Becoming by Michelle Obama
Synopsis: In 2009, Michelle Obama became First Lady of the United States. Life in the White House is a long way from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago. To survive in the harsh spotlight of politics, she will have to advocate on her own terms, redefine motherhood, and fight for both herself and her family.
Why I Chose It: Not only is Michelle Obama one of today’s feminist icons, but her memoir is full of the women role models who inspired her every step of the way.
8. Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women by Lyz Lenz
Synopsis: The USA is perceived as one of the most powerful countries in the world, yet it also has one of the highest maternal death rates. And those rates, already high, skyrocket if you happen to be a woman of colour, a gay or trans parent, or a working-class mother. In Belabored, Lyz Lenz pulls apart these grim statistics to reveal just how harmful our cultural myths of motherhood have become.
Why I Chose It: Belabored is a furiously feminist manifesto that, finally, puts pregnant people, their bodies, and their choices in the foreground.
Full review here.
9. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Synopsis: ‘Memoir’ seems far too simple a word to describe I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Maya Angelou, a writer and civil rights activist (among numerous other careers) recounts her childhood experiences growing up first with her grandmother in the poor, isolated small-town Stamps and later with her mother in the lively glamour of San Francisco. However, she also relates these experiences to much wider issues, from oppression to women’s sexuality.
Why I Chose It: Full of wisdom and vulnerability, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is the poignant, inspiring story of a woman finding her voice.
Full review here.
10. Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights by Helen Lewis
Synopsis: Difficult Women explores the legacies of women throughout history, from well-known suffragettes and lesbian politicians to overlooked working-class activists. Rather than being reduced simply to icons of inspiration, these feminist figures are brought to life in all their complexity and controversy.
Why I Chose It: Helen Lewis acknowledges the imperfection of feminist spaces, full of divisions and flawed role models, but holds out hope that difficult women can continue to bring about meaningful change.
11. Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi
Synopsis: Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi draw on their personal experiences of studying at Cambridge to highlight the obstacles facing Black women in elite academic institutions. As well as guiding Black girls through the university experience, this book also demands change and encourages collective effort towards the decolonisation of academia.
Why I Chose It: Decolonising academia is certainly a hot topic, with widespread media coverage and hashtags such as #RhodesMustFall. Taking Up Space shares the perspectives of the students and graduates at the forefront of change.
12. Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
Synopsis: From limited career progression to queueing for aaaages in the ladies’ loos, there are some struggles that women across the world have resigned themselves to. But what if it didn’t have to be like that? In this collection of case studies covering cities, the workplace, hospitals, disaster zones, and beyond, Caroline Criado Perez reveals how, in a modern society that revolves around data, women are being systematically excluded.
Full review here.
Why I Chose It: For those who like a methodical and rigorous approach, Invisible Women shows that data and statistics don’t just illustrate gender inequality – they are actually part of the problem!
Have you read any of these books? What feminist non-fiction reads would you recommend? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!