“I’m not a feminist because I feel that the concept of feminism needs to be defined first”. This was the mantra of the bygone years. Then came Lemonade by Beyoncé followed by Hillary Clinton, Dior t-shirts, more Beyoncé, and suddenly you couldn’t make it to the bus-stop from all the feminists blocking the streets.
This is, of course, great. Feminism well and truly mainstreamed. And as long as there is a hashtag and designer handbag with an empowering logo available, few people seem to care terribly about the definition of the conceptanymore.
I’ve written quite a bit about the commercialisation of feminism and while I haven taken an annoyingly sarcastic tone while criticising feminist fashion merchandise, I don’t fundamentally have a problem with any of that. I do believe that feminism even as a mere fashion phenomenon must be better than none at all.
Pop-culture, fashion and social media are great ways to convey messages to the masses and hopefully get people interested in the feminist movement and find out what it’s all about. Many bookstores are well and truly riding the #metoo -wave by displaying feminist literature prominently. There’s lots of interesting new and easy-reading literature about gender equality, such as Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism.
Yes, of course you can be a feminist without ever having read a single book about it. This is not my point. There’s no classification for good and bad feminist based on how much academic literature one has ploughed through. However, for all those needing definition to the concept, I have a couple of classics to recommend.
Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex is a tedious read. Yes. It’s not just you. It is hard work. Yet there is also something very classic and therefore cool about it. It’s very nerdy, especially the first part, but gets jazzier towards the second part. You will love her other books as well, I especially liked “Woman, Destroyed” a lot (it’s also some 500 pages shorter than the Second Sex). Those who read French, there’s an interesting article about de Beauvoir’s unearthed love letters and her affairs in the latest French Vanity Fair.
Toril Moi: Sexual, Textual Politics – Feminist Literary Theory is probably not a universal feminist classic, but it is to me. As part of the curriculum of my German feminist literature course at uni (I admit, an acquired taste), it was also one of the first feminist theory books I properly read. The book is a useful reader to the differences of Anglo-American and French feminist schools, and references feminist theorists such as Cixous, Irigaray and Kristeva.
Feminist Theory – From Margin to Center by bell hooks is another millennial classic. It is a criticism of feminism being “owned” by white, middle-class and professional women while poor women and women of colour have quietly been left out of the movement’s limelight. A very useful read especially now as feminism has also become a marketable good – whose spokeswomen tend to be wealthy, white women.
Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is quoted so widely all over the place these days that there’s barely need to actually read it, but do. It’s a beautiful essay, nowadays available in various lovely versions, so make sure you pick a nice copy. I’ve read about many contemporary writers who keep a copy of “The Room” at their workspace so that they can refer to it and read from it for inspiration.
I also count Caitlyn Moran’s “How to be a Woman” to be a modern feminist classic. Definitely not nerdy, academic, boring or tedious, it is a fantastic effort to explain feminism not as a theory but as a lifestyle. It’s also actually really funny.
I have left out lots of good feminist books, but I wanted to do a post on the super-classics, inspired by the de Beauvoir -article in Vanity Fair. For more tips for feminist reading, check out here and here.