I promise this is not a list of man-hating, over-emotive, frumpy-lesbian essays. In feminist literature, female characters are the agents and the readings provide an understanding of the sensitive, subtle, intricate and complex minds of women.
Feminism also includes issues about sexual studies, body image and queer theory. These taboo topics make feminism a tough badge to wear. Even if you are not a feminist, male or female, these readings help you unlearn the misconceptions of sexism and chauvinism inculcated in our society for centuries. They’ll help you think deeply and more empathetically- something we really need at a time when our country is transitioning to greater modernity.
Let’s start with Mary Wollstonecraft, the pioneer of feminist thought. Her first publication ‘Thoughts on the Education of Daughters’ consists of brief discussions on such topics as ‘Moral Discipline’, ‘Artificial Manners’, ‘Boarding Schools’, ‘On the Treatment of Servants’, etc. She is best known for her ‘Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ and her influence on the Romantic Movement in the 18th century. ‘Mary, A Fiction’ and ‘The Cave of Fancy’ are more literary.
Now to introduce the Lady Gaga of feminism — Judith Butler. She is best known for ‘Gender Trouble: Feminism and Subversion of Identity.’ Check out her ‘Undoing Gender’.
If you’re interested in reading some more hard-headed feminist theory, also try Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, Milton Diamond, Christine de Pizan and Alma M Karlin.
Then there is Virginia Woolf. She wrote ‘Mrs. Dalloway’, ‘Orlando’, ‘A Room of One’s Own’, etc. and is one of the most important writers of the 20th century. Her writings are often educational just by virtue of her sarcasm.
Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ among her other works provides an excellent source of understanding the subtleties of feminine melancholy. Although not typically feminist literature, Tina Fey’s autobiographical work called ‘Bossypants’ is a hilarious but encouraging account of a young girl with a big dream that came true.Let’s not forget Eastern feminists and their breakthrough work. The first person that comes to mind is Arundhati Roy, author of ‘The God of Small Thing’s.’ For all the arguments she makes for women and equality, Roy actually shuns the stereotypes of feminist identity. Anita Desai is very interesting. She talks a lot about women and gender in her novels from a point of a view of an older woman as well as a young girl. Try ‘Fasting, Feasting’, ‘Voices in the City’, ‘Clear Light of Day’ and ‘The Artist of Disappearance’ among others. More South Asian feminist writers include Rani Manika (check out ‘Rice Mother’), Ismat Chughtai (‘The Crooked Line’, ‘My Friend’).
Please do check out Middle Eastern feminists as well. I’m personally attached to Shirin Ebadi’s ‘Iran Awakening: One Woman’s Journey to Reclaim Her Life and Country’ and Lila Abu-Lughod’s ‘Veiled Sentiments’. Also try out Leila Ahmed and Nawal el-Sadawi (both from Egypt).
Last but not the least is African and African American feminists. Maya Angelou is probably one of the most famous. Her ‘I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing’, ‘I Still Rise’ and ‘The Heart of A Woman’ are classics. Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use’ and ‘The Color Purple’ are also good places to start reading on ‘Black Feminism’.
Although there are a lot of names, my advice would be to start with fiction first before moving on to the theorists. If you’re more the type who reads snippets online try these blogs:
Cheers to a better world!