So, this isn’t the most imaginative or creative Feminist blog post but it is a topic that comes up continuously on Mumsnet. And, for me personally, I do find it incredibly interesting what individual Feminists believe are the most important texts to read. Books are the windows to people souls: even if they just own copies of leather-bound classics which have never been opened. You just know that a man who owns everything ever written by Norman Mailer and has clearly read them multiple times is probably a nincompoop and undateable to boot. A man who reads nothing but mysteries but has never heard of Dorothy L. Sayers is probably a little bit on the serial killer/stalkery side of the not dateable material.
Some of these books were FeMNist Book Club choices on MN and I have linked to those threads where applicable. I also couldn’t limit myself to 10 but it’s my blog so I didn’t; despite the title.
1. Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse: This is perhaps the most deliberately misread and misquoted second wave Feminist text. The question: “what intercourse is for women and what it does to women’s identity, privacy, self-respect, self-determination, and integrity are forbidden questions; and yet how can a radical or any woman who wants freedom not ask precisely these questions?” is central to her thesis but fundamentally deliberately misread. Read it and judge for yourself.
2. Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences. This book isn’t actually a “Feminist text” but the basic premise behind the book is that sex/gender differences aren’t biological but rather reflect socialization and cultural practises. Or, at least, there is currently no evidence that sex differences are biological and until the point that we can definitely prove otherwise, it is simply bad science to pretend otherwise. Fine argues that the differences we “see” are simply sexist myths dressed up as science. It also contains my favourite debunking of the theory that men need to be taught to be Daddies: the story of the Daddy Rat. You need to read it for this story alone.
3. Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women. This book is 20 years old but basically could have been written yesterday. All you need to do is replace the chapter on kinder-whore fashion with BDSM fashion and replace the names of Right-wing reactionary Handmaidens of the 1980s with people like Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Amanda Platell, Jan Moir and Nadine Dorries. Faludi does this herself in The Terror Dream: What 9/11 Revealed About America but Backlash remains as important a Feminist text now as it did 20 years ago. In fact, in many ways, the backlash of the 1980s was nowhere near as destructive as the current backlash which has taken its cues from the pornography industry.
4. Natasha Walter’s Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism: Selling women and girls bodies as “empowerment”: the new Backlash. The real consequences of “choice” Feminism.
5. Robin Warshaw’s I Never Called it Rape: The Ms Report on Recognising, Fighting and Surviving Date and Acquaintance Rape. The title is self-evident. This is one of those books which should be a required text in PSHE.
5. Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion: The Truth about Women and Men Today: This is basically a catalogue of reasons why Feminism is more important today than it ever was. The fact that a teenage girl in South Africa is more likely to be raped than literate or that 2/3 of illiterate people are women and 2 women a week in the UK are killed by their current or former intimate partners are statistics that can not be denied; even by MRAs although they do try. It’s not theory but a manual on how to combat misogyny [or at least recognise misogyny]. This should be another mandatory text for PSHE.
6. Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. This is simply about just how damaging hyper-sexuality and the pursuit of physical perfection as the source of female empowerment really are; empowerment being one of those things that people with actual access to power don’t need to bother with. It’s the terrifying story of mass-consumerism and the destruction of girls. This should be required reading for upper primary children.
7. Susan Maushart’s Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women: This should be another set text in school. There are far too many people running about claiming that men can’t be good at housework because they don’t “see” it. The real problem is that men benefit from this myth at the risk to women’s emotional and physical health. The idea that men need to be told what to do take live in their own house is misogynistic bollocks of the worst kind.
8. Sheila Jeffreys’ Beauty and Misogyny: This is another deliberately misinterpreted book and one that you definitely need to read for yourself. The critiques of the fashion industry and the comparison with high heels and Chinese foot-binding are brilliant. Cultural relativism has a lot to answer for.
9. Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue: This is one of the classic second-wave Feminist texts which is more relevant today than when it was first written due to the increase in discourse about women’s value being solely about their appearance and the idea that the only women who have value are “thin”.
10. Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics: This is another classic second-wave text although one which feels a bit dated to those already interested in Feminism and Feminist theory. It was ground-breaking when it was first written and it’s a testament to the power of Millett’s work that we now consider her work “normative.”
11. Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room: This is the only fiction book on my list but it’s the one which demonstrates the true power of Feminism: women supporting and loving other women.
12. Susan J Douglas & Meredith W Michaels’ The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women: It’s exactly what the title says: why mothers are demonized and how that demonization destroys women. It should be given out as a mandatory text at the first midwife/ adoption/fostering appointment.
13. Gail Dines’ Pornland:How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality: This is an incredibly distressing book and one that needs to be read but it is triggering and horrifying and utterly depressing. Robert Jensen’s Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity is worth reading in conjunction but only if you are feeling emotionally capable.
14. Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men: Another required text at PSHE. The ability to identify abusive men is a gift we need to give our daughters. We need to stop pretending Beauty and the Beast is a romantic film and that Norman Mailer is anything but a violent misogynist.
15. I Blame The Patriarchy: Technically, this is a blog not a book but I think it deserves to be considered under the rubric of “must-reads”.