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The 29 best feminist books and novels to read in 2021 – Business Insider

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Feminism is a powerful social and political movement that calls for economic, cultural, social, and political equality for women. As such, the movement makes its greatest strides when it’s intersectional — which is why books that explore feminism across class, race, gender identity, ability, and sexuality help foster greater inclusion and change. 
To gather most of these best feminist book recommendations, I spoke to Dr. Sara Matthiesen and Dr. Barbara LeSavoy for their scholarly expertise in feminist theory. Dr. Matthiesen is an Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and History at The George Washington University. Her expertise is in feminist theory and US social movements. Dr. LeSavoy is an Associate Professor in the Department of Women and Gender Studies at SUNY Brockport. Her scholarly expertise is in feminist theory as well as intersectionality and gender equity. I also added a few popular feminist titles — personal favorites with many positive reviews on Goodreads and Instagram book reviewers.
By learning about the history of feminism and striving for intersectionality in all forms, the feminist movement gets vastly closer to a future of true equality. 
A few years before the publication of this book, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received a letter from an old friend, asking how to raise a baby girl as a feminist. Written as a letter in response, this book outlines 15 vital suggestions from open conversations about sexuality to debunking historical, misogynistic myths. This manifesto is short but powerful — and necessary in helping define how we create a feminist future and what it may look like.
Memorable quote: “Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only.’ Not ‘as long as.’ I matter equally. Full stop.”
Mary Beard is an English scholar of Ancient Roman civilization. In this book, she retraces the origins of misogyny to explore how women have been denied, mistreated, and silenced throughout history. She includes her own reflections and narrations as well as examples from Homer to Hillary Clinton to illuminate the centuries-long tumultuous relationship between women and power. LeSavoy recommended this manifesto, saying that she’s drawn to books “that have historical roots because [she likes] to look at how we accumulated the inequalities that we experience right now.”
Memorable quote: “You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure.”
This part-memoir, part-manifesto is written by Valarie Kaur, a renowned Sikh activist, filmmaker, and civil rights lawyer. Kaur tells her story of growing up as a Sikh woman in America spurred to fighting injustices after learning of xenophobic reactions to 9/11 and healing after her own traumatic experiences. She uses her personal history to call readers into action, demonstrating how using love as a revolutionary force can create new possibilities and opportunities that can quite literally change the world.  
Memorable Quote: “Deep listening is an act of surrender. We risk being changed by what we hear.”
“Feminism for the 99%” uses a few pages to make a simple case: That feminism does not exist to simply fight inequality in the workplace, but must start at the bottom and address healthcare, housing, and poverty disparities. This is one of LeSavoy’s favorite recommendations, expertly critiquing “the ways capitalism and materialism envelop inequalities.”
Memorable quote: “We have no interest in breaking the glass ceiling while leaving the vast majority to clean up the shards.”
Julia Serano is a lesbian, transgender activist and professional biologist whose experiences both before and after transition offer observations into the ways in which negative societal attitudes towards feminity shape our reactions to trans women. Serano’s writing reflects her exceptional intelligence, using acute arguments to prove that deep-rooted cultural beliefs connecting fragility and femininity are misogynistic misconceptions that must be dismantled in order to empower women to embrace femininity. 
Memorable quote: “The hardest part has been learning how to take myself seriously when the entire world is constantly telling me that femininity is always inferior to masculinity.”
Through interviews with founding members of the Combahee River Collective and contemporary activists, scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor revisits the Collective’s “A Black Feminist Statement.” The 1977 manifesto demonstrated the interlocking systems of oppression against which movements must fight, stating that “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free.” This book is recommended by Matthiesen, who says it “anticipates intersectionality [before we had a name for it] and provides a roadmap for how to build solidarity across difference.”
Memorable quote: “Always ally yourself with those on the bottom, on the margins, and at the periphery of the centers of power.”
 
This classic anthology of essays, poems, interviews, visuals, and criticism written by radical women of color, originally published in 1981, is considered a foundational text of feminism. Recommended by Matthiesen, who likes this collection because it “centers the experiences of women of color,” this book uses first-person narratives to define feminism that embraces and encourages the complexity of race, class, gender, and sexual identities — and reject the idea of one singular idea of womanhood.
Memorable quote: “…It is not really the difference the oppressor fears so much as the similarity.”
In her collection of critical essays on politics and feminism, Roxane Gay grants us insight into the evolution of her identity, culture, feminism, and place in the world. She offers the reflection that we become what we consume, we all carry racism, and how we still need to be better. Recommended by LeSavoy, Gay’s essays are moving, uncomfortable, and encouraging all at once. Readers of all kinds will undoubtedly find an essay that resonates and calls for self-reflection of our feminism and accountability. 
Memorable quote: “I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human.”
LeSavoy recommends reading Fannie Barrier Williams, whose writing and speaking brought light to the difficulties African American women experienced in the Progressive Era and helps us “return to some of these early thinkers who were overlooked by white dominance.” Highly influential and successful, Fannie Barrier Williams spent the entirety of her life fighting for change and equality preserved in this collection of speeches and essays. Though this book may be difficult to find online today, it’s available in many libraries. 
Memorable quote: “The fixed policy of persecution and injustice against a class of women who are weak and defenseless will be necessarily hurtful to the cause of all women.”
Audre Lorde was a profound, distinguished feminist and civil rights activist, dedicating her life to addressing inequality and injustice. Recommended by LeSavoy, this collection of essays and speeches is from 1976-1984, where Audre Lorde wrote and spoke about her beginnings in empowerment movements and the importance of increasing the visibility of minority women. Audre Lorde advocated the necessity of distinct representation within feminism, anticipating intersectionality years before the word was coined. Her writing demands to be not only heard but consumed and carried, becoming an essential part of readers’ feminist journeys. 
Memorable quote: “Your silence will not protect you.”
In this educational collection of interviews, essays, and speeches, Angela Y. Davis discusses the importance of illuminating historical movements of liberation to connect the history of international oppression to the feminist revolutions of today. Without honoring the legacies of injustices, the journey towards gets inevitably longer and more difficult. But if we can face long-lasting issues, such as the prison-industrial complex, then we can draw the connections that will create pathways to an inclusive, feminist future. 
Memorable quote: “Whenever you conceptualize social justice struggles, you will always defeat your own purposes if you cannot imagine the people around whom you are struggling as equal partners.”
Recommended by Matthiesen for its “beautiful reflection on life and death as well as the necessity of queer kinship,” “Waiting in the Wings” is a memoir from Cherrié Moraga, a Chicana lesbian writer and activist. This story resonates with all women for the fears and miracles of pregnancy and the trauma of the near-loss of her son. However, Moraga’s story is one of lesbian motherhood amidst the AIDS crisis and legal uncertainty for the “queer family.” Moraga’s memoir explores the ways in which a family is not only dependent on shared genetics.
Memorable quote: “I am trying to write about the impossible. The ordinary beginning and ending of a life.”
Harilyn Rousso is tired of being patronized as a woman who is so much more than her disability, yet it seems to be the only thing the world sees about her. Her memoir is vulnerable and honest, managing to capture a breadth of emotions on the journey that is the relationship between her and her disability. This novel is a celebration of life, growth, and overcoming the prejudice surrounding disabilities. 
Memorable quote: “As a visual artist I think about a book as a collage or a series of images about my life rather than a formal portrait.”
The 2021 National Book Critics Circle Award Winner for Best Autobiography, Cathy Park Hong’s “Minor Feelings” is a combination of memoir, cultural criticism, and history together in an essay collection about being a Korean American daughter of immigrants. The “minor feelings” that Hong felt arose when she believed the lies she was told about her racial identity. Hong’s essays span her relationships with the English language, depression , her family, and other women. “Minor Feelings” validates the experiences of Asian American people — especially women — who have faced racism and invalidation throughout their lives by bringing racial consciousness to the forefront. 
Memorable Quote: “I have struggled to prove myself into existence.”
 
This collection of essays from Tiffany Midge encapsulates the life and identity of Native women in America, a distinct voice that’s been missing from the comedy landscape. Her short, stand-alone essays are mostly either humorous social commentary or autobiographical musings and confessions, using her identity and voice to disrupt the common narrative and offer a unique perspective on culture, media, and feminism from an indigenous, female lens. 
Memorable quote: “Being that so many white people believe that Indians practice magic, you’d think they’d try to be nicer to us.”
In “Hood Feminism,” author and activist Mikki Kendall spotlights the blind spot of modern feminism: failing to meet the basic needs of survival for women of color and instead focusing on increasing the privilege of the few. LeSavoy recommends this book because it addresses “the issues of white feminism excluding women of color,” offering practical ways to becoming greater allies. By recognizing white, middle-class privilege within feminism, we can take the first step towards active allyship and inclusive feminism in the future. 
Memorable quote: “There’s nothing feminist about having so many resources at your fingertips and choosing to be ignorant.”
In her study of the movement for women’s rights, activist and political figure Angela Y. Davis uses an expanse of history from abolitionist days to now in order to demonstrate how classist and racist bias of leaders hinders the progression of women’s liberation. This read is recommended by LeSavoy, and although nearly 40 years old, is still highly relevant today.
Memorable quote: “If most abolitionists viewed slavery as a nasty blemish which needed to be eliminated, most women’s righters viewed male supremacy in a similar manner — as an immoral flaw in their otherwise acceptable society. “
Using a combination of humor and critical commentary, Rebecca Solnit addresses a problem that we often refer to as “mansplaining,” writing about men who incorrectly assume they know things that women do not and the role that gender plays in these interactions. Sharing some of her own notable encounters with mansplainers, Solnit leaves us with the message that silencing women in large or small ways has the potential to be dangerous to women in the long run — making it a read recommended by LeSavoy.
Memorable quote: “Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that.. crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world.”
“Feminism is for Everybody” uses an engaging and open style to analyze critical issues that feminism faces, such as domestic violence and reproductive rights. Social activist and professor bell hooks demands intersectionality in feminism, welcoming people of all races, sexualities, abilities, and identities to collaborate on feminism that can create alternatives to the current patriarchal structures in society. This recommendation comes from LeSavoy who, like hooks, stresses that feminist knowledge must be accessible.
Memorable quote: “As long as women are using class or race power to dominate other women, feminist sisterhood cannot be fully realized.”
Recommended by Matthiesen, “Black Feminism Reimagined” is a philosophical and political take on intersectionality in feminism that begins with basic concepts and grows to explore deeper and more complex issues. In her mission to reclaim intersectionality, Nash encourages inclusion that will open feminism to a world of analytical freedom.
Memorable quote: “The labor of Black feminist scholarship, then, is to incite the reader to protect intersectionality from a set of forces — colonization, appropriation, gentrification — that are undeniably violent.”
“Living a Feminist Life” is an accessible take on feminist theory, one that uses everyday experiences to prove application of practical changes can help anyone live a feminist life. Sarah Ahmed notes that feminists often become estranged from the problems they are trying to solve — but can create solutions that address the issues facing women of all races, classes, abilities, and sexualities. Recommended by LeSavoy, it’s an academic feminist text that refuses to feel like one, opting for a narrative storytelling style that begs inclusivity of all feminist conversations. 
Memorable quote: “If talking about sexism and racism is heard as damaging institutions, we need to damage institutions.”
In his contemporary fiction novel about the Black British experience, we follow 12 stories of mostly women and their families, friends, and lovers. This book is full of energy, vibrantly embracing the struggles and successes of Black womanhood. Spanning across countries and years, Bernardine Evaristo creates a diverse spectrum of voices and experiences that represent womanhood in many of its forms. 
Memorable quote: “Gender is one of the biggest lies of our civilization.”
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is a classic, feminist reading list staple. Both a satire and a warning, it depicts a dystopian fantasy where women are valued only as reproductive vessels. In this fiction recommendation from LeSavoy, Offred is a Handmaid to the Commander in a world where reproduction is declining, laying down once a month and praying the Commander gets her pregnant. In a strictly enforced republic where women aren’t even allowed to read, Offred can remember the times before and longs for the days of freedom in her past. This powerhouse of a novel is frightening, one that still feels contemporary despite 20 years passing since its publication. 
Memorable quote: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”
“The Girl With The Louding Voice” is a courageous, contemporary story about Adunni’s formative years in Nigeria. Adunni lives in a rural Nigerian village until she is granted the opportunity to leave her impoverished community in pursuit of an education and a good job. Even though it means leaving her family and risking her safety, she decides achieving her dreams is worth the risk. Adunni’s unique voice is instrumental in the reader’s comprehension of her growth as she pursues education. Throughout the book, her voice slowly but deliberately evolves as she uses her new experiences and education to find her true voice. 
Memorable quote: “My mama say education will give me a voice. I want more than just a voice, Ms. Tia. I want a louding voice.” 
In this iconic story about African American women in 20th-century rural Georgia, Alice Walker breaks the silence about domestic and sexual abuse, buried pain, resilience, and recovery. Nettie and Celie are sisters separated by an ocean and connected only through the letters Celie writes first to her sister, then to God. Attempting to survive immeasurable pain, Celie’s strength is drawn from the women around her. This novel uses magnificent storytelling to pull a visceral and deeply empathetic reaction from readers, garnering profound love for powerful and admirable characters. 
Memorable quote: “Let ‘im hear me, I say. If he ever listened to poor colored women the world would be a different place, I can tell you.”
Sue Monk Kidd reimagines history in this novel of Ana, the brilliant writer and wife of Jesus. In “The Book of Longings,” Ana is a feminist before her time, writing about silenced women, protesting injustices, and using her passion and womanhood to influence a time in history where she is otherwise destined to be stifled. This book is as powerful as Ana, following her rebellious and daring spirit from her rejection of the man her family wishes her to marry, to her marriage to Jesus and resistance to Rome’s occupation. This historical fiction novel is an example of strong and courageous women demanding to be heard. 
Memorable quote: “Anger is effortless. Kindness is hard. Try to exert yourself.”
While working in a factory in her native China, Scarlett Chen fell in love and got pregnant by her married boss, who sent her to America so their son would have better opportunities as a US citizen. After a shocking sonogram, Scarlett escapes the maternity home in Los Angeles and finds herself in Chinatown amongst other immigrants in search of the American Dream. It’s a story that encompasses a diverse lens of identity across nationality, class, documentation status, and motherhood. 
Memorable Quote: “Here in America, she might change the world — but she had to hurry before someone else did.”
This remarkable debut novel from Yaa Gyasi an emotional historical fiction novel that spans 300 years. Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born in different villages in Ghana in the 18th century. When Effia is married off to an English man in a castle, she has no idea her sister is imprisoned in the dungeons beneath. As the story spans generations, the narration splits between the slave trade and British colonization in Ghana and slavery and the Civil War in America. Gyasi’s writing flows beautifully through this portrait of womanhood.
Memorable quote: “We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must ask yourself, whose story am I missing?”
In this multigenerational story of Arab women in America, Deya is 18 years old and her grandparents are beginning to force her to meet suitors, despite her near-refusal to get married. Her mother also had no choice when she was forced to leave Palestine to marry her husband in America. While they seem to mirror each other, Deya slowly discovers that her story is vastly different from her mother’s. This isn’t a happy story, but a memorable novel about the role of women in families, cultures, and communities. Recommended by LeSavoy, it highlights the ways in which traditions can be oppressive to women and while individualism and the ability to choose can be powerful, it can also have consequences. 
Memorable quote: “A real choice doesn’t have conditions. A real choice is free.”

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