Book Club / Culture

20 of the best feminist books that should be required reading

best feminist books

If you're anything like us and have been meaning to watch less and read more, consider this the welcome nudge you've needed. With so many book genres out there to try, from historical fiction to blood curdling thrillers, it can be difficult to find the perfect novel to sink your teeth into. Sometimes, our brains crave expansion, stories outside our own experience. In this case, let us introduce you to 20 feminist books we've read and loved.

Whether you’re trying to learn more about reproductive rights, consent, or simply want a book that's offers up learning in disguise, here's where we would start.

Some of these books opt for a background into the history of feminism, while others speak more pointedly on the multi-faceted, non-homogenous, modern female experience. So with all that said, happy feminist reading, we hope it rouses the urge to take some action and fight the good fight.


1. A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf

best feminist books

Based on two of Virginia Woolf's lectures, here she shuts down the notion that women are inherently less talented than men. A careful examination into some of the structures that oppressed (and continue to oppress) women, including domestic labor and access to education. A relatively short book, with its page count coming in at 172, read it in two sittings. It's a classic for a reason.


2. Talkin' Up to the White Woman by Aileen Moreton-Robinson

best feminist books

Just when you think you understand feminism, Goenpul professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson deconstructs how much of what is touted as feminism today willfully ignores Indigenous women. I first came across Moreton-Robinson's writing in university, and the learning curve was steep. Much like Hood Feminism, in Talkin' Up to the White Woman, the professor calls out the way white western feminism has served their own needs at the detriment of BIPOC with examples, interrogating the way First Nations women are spoken on behalf of and misrepresented when it comes to the subject of their own liberation.


3. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

best feminist books

Not the longest read but every sentence is worth its weight in historical and educational gold. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains why feminism is for all people, of any race of gender, while discussing the overt and more insidious manifestations of patriarchy. The pocket size book is the perfect entry into the genre, and makes for a thoughtful gift.


4. Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

Feminism means little and can do little if we only look at it from the perspective of gender. In Hood Feminism, Mikki Kendall writes with no intention of sparing your feelings. She comes with the authority and conviction of someone who has lived the experience of being pushed to the periphery, demanding to be seen and heard. For Kendall, feminism is intrinsically linked to race, class, gender and violence. It is about food deserts and homelessness, things that are not considered when we approach feminism with a trickle down mindset. In Hood Feminism, Kendall burns down the notion of choice feminism and argues the reality that there are some women oppressing others.


5. Girlhood by Melissa Febos

best feminist books

Ever looked back at the conditioning you've received and realised how messed up it truly is? This book is an absolute must. Here Melissa Febos analyses the messages young girls have been given and how they can go about reclaiming their power and agency. An investigative memoir, you'll want to put these thoughts into good action.


6. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

In this collection of witty and blunt essays, cultural critic Roxane Gay pushes for the idea of "imperfect feminism". Gay discusses with nuance, the shades of grey within our culture and the many ways that tokenism and negative aspects of media impact women of colour. An elastic look at feminism with lashings of humour.


7. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

best feminist books

Best known for coining the term mansplaining, Rebecca Solnit writes a collection of pointed essays that delve into feminism from cultural touchstones as varied as Beyoncé to the to 2014 Isla Vista killings. From having your own experiences explained to you to equal opportunities for women, her candour is a welcome commentary on the friction between men and women.


8. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

A quasi-autobiographical tale of one woman's experience mental illness in the 1950s. The Bell Jar is a vital part of any coming of age feminist reading experience. A poetic mirth of wisdom, Sylvia Plath captures the desire, disillusionment, and fear of being young, confused, and confined to the rules of a patriarchal society. This is simply a classic piece of feminist prose everyone must read.


9. Sex and Lies by Leila Slimani

best feminist books

While in Morocco promoting her book Adèle, which followed a woman who was addicted to sex, Slimani began encountering women who shared the details of their own sex lives; harrowing, fuelled by desire and more vivid than the laws allow women to be. In Morocco, adultery, abortion, homosexuality, prostitution, and sex outside of marriage are all punishable by law, however they do not reflect the lived reality. In Sex and Lies, the Moroccan-born, Parisian-based writer argues for a sexual revolution in the Arab world via the vignettes she collected of these women's sex lives.


10. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

If like us you're a fan of the feminist fairytale retelling then The Bloody Chamber is the perfect entry point. A central figure to the concept, Angela Carter's 1979 collection of short stories spawned an entire sub-genre. The tales include villainous Little Red Riding Hoods, other worldly Sleeping Beauties, the beauty who turns into the Beast. Her stories remain some of the purest examples of the style and a clever spin on the feminist experience.


11. The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir

Empathetic and injected with de Beauvoir's signature observant eye. In The Woman Destroyed, the premise is straight forward. The French feminist thinker presents three long stories that dig into the lives of three different women as they are confronted with personal crises in their middle age. It's strength lies in the strength of its characters as they rebuild their lives from the rubble.

12. This Bridge Called My Back by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa

Reissued nearly thirty-five years after its inception in 1981, This Bridge Called My Back is a collection of essays, criticism, testimonials, artwork that explores "the complex confluence of identities—race, class, gender, and sexuality—systemic to women of color oppression and liberation".


13. Sweatshop Women: Volume 2 editor by Winnie Dunn

best feminist books

Edited by writer and soon-to-be author Winnie Dunn, Sweatshop Women returns with another anthology that spotlights the prose and poetry written by women from Indigenous, migrant and refugee backgrounds. Read works from Amani Haydar, Shirley Le, Sara Saleh and more, with a foreword written by Ruby Hamad.


14. Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister

Fuelled by her own rage in the wake of the 2016 US Presidential Election results, in Good and Mad Rebecca Traister argues for the power of female rage as a tool, discussing its maligned past as a way to hamper women's momentum and action in the face of inequality.


15. See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill

A feminist issue told through an Australian lens. Journalist Jess Hill examines Australia's silent epidemic: our nation's problem with domestic abuse. The statistics tell us that one in four Australian women have experienced violence from an intimate partner, yet survivors are being met with little more than lip service. In See What You Made Me Do, Hill hovers a torch over the systems that enable this abuse to unfurl and the way they work against survivors.


16. Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami 

best feminist books

The first novel from Japanese author, Mieko Kawakami, to make its way to and English-speaking audience. Breast and Eggs paints a portrait of working class Japanese womanhood, through the relationship between adolescent girl and her mother who communicate exclusively through writing.


17. The Mother Wound, Amani Haydar

best feminist books

Amani Haydar was five months pregnant when her father murdered her mother in a brutal act of domestic violence. Her mother's death forced her to confront mothering and the kind of mother she wanted to be. It also forced her to reassess what she thought she knew of her parent's relationship, the role of intergenerational trauma, culture and context, and the limits of the justice system as a lawyer herself. A memoir filled with unimaginable pain, executed with grace and love.


18. The Story of Art Without Men, Katy Hessel

If you're familiar with the enthusiastic and energetic podcast of British art historian Katy Hessel, then you'll be delighted to finally encounter her findings in written form. If you're not, then allow Hessel to whisk you through the history of art told with the inclusion of the women that influenced it. Here, Hessel discusses the forgotten faces that ignited a movement and the art forms that have been dismissed as frivolous or unimportant simply because they were executed by women.


19. Ain't I A Woman by bell hooks

We know that Black women are oppressed by white men. But how many of us are ready to accept that they are also oppressed by white women? In Ain't I A Woman bell hooks lays out how Black women are affected by both race and gender, speaking to intersectionality before we had the language for it.


20. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

Torrey Peters writes a tale of two lovers, Amy and Reese, who have created a life that many trans women before them could only dream of. The only thing missing was a child. But when Amy detransitions and becomes Ames, the cosy life they share falls apart. Reese is caught in a cycle of self-destructive behaviour and Ames isn't happy either. He wants to return to Reese – she was the only family he had, and when his lover and boss falls pregnant, he sees a window of opportunity to bring all three of them together in an unconventional family.


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