Tired of the same old academic books on feminism? Bored to death by your women's studies' reading list? Allyson Whipple is here to help...
In my college women's studies classes, I often found myself bored by the required reading. It seemed the feminist canon was incredibly small, because we read the same texts over and over. So I decided to develop my own list, with works that you have not necessarily read before. These books are presented in no particular order, because I don't think any particular is more important than the other.
The Mists of Avalon
The Mists of Avalon is a feminist retelling of Arthurian myth. Morgain (Morgan Le Fay) is the central protagonist, but Gwenhwyfar (Guenivere), Igraine, Viviane, and Margause are important characters as well. The novel discusses female strength, sexuality, and spirituality. Bradley wrote several other Avalon books. While the spinoffs are not as strong as the original, they are all compelling, inspiring stories.
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: A Biomythography by Audre Lorde
Reading Zami will make you recognize every privilege you might have. White, heterosexual, beauty, and class privilege are all discussed in Lorde's telling of her life story. If you have one or more of these privileges, you will develop an awareness of privilege that you never have before. Zami literally changed my life, and it's one of the works that's responsible for making me the feminist I am today, because it is one of the most comprehensive examples of the ways in which gender is informed by other aspects of a person's life.
Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska
Bread Givers is the story of Sara Smolinsky, a young woman living with her Orthodox Jewish family in the 1920s. In addition to her strict religious upbringing, her parents are immigrants and her father refuses to assimilate. After seeing her two older sisters married off miserably, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She leaves home, gets a job, and puts herself through night school. Sara Smolinsky is a true feminist hero for any woman who feels trapped by her social situation.
Language and Woman's Place by Robin Tomalch Lakoff
Yes, the book is outdated. Yes, Lakoff writes from a white, middle-class perspective and does not adequately address issues of race or class. Nor does she address homosexuality, transpeople, or disabilities. But all flaws aside, Language and Woman's Place was one of the first books to address the intersection of language and gender. It's worth your time because it set the foundation for discussions of sexism in language. And unfortunately, despite the books age, many of the problems she addresses still exists. While it's far from perfect, Language and Woman's Place is still relevant when thinking about the ways in which linguistics and gender intersect.
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
A Room of One's Own is the common book people think of when discussing Virgina Woolf's feminist works. However, I've always considered Orlando to be a much more creative and engaging feminist book. Orlando starts the book as a man, but at some point in his life becomes a woman. During the portion of her life as a woman, she struggles with gender issues, marries, and has a child. Plus, Orlando ages very slowly - at the end, she's still in her thirties, but 400 years have passed. It has feminist themes and an amazing storyline; an all-around wonderful book
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Hurston's protagonist, Janie Crawford, refuses to let society's rules for women and for black people keep her from living her life. Forced into marriage, she has no qualms about leaving her husband when a man she likes more comes along. When her second, abusive husband dies, she is content to live alone, savoring the independence she lost. And when a significantly younger man named Tea Cake shows up, she has no problem marrying him.
While some might think that Janie devotes herself too much to the men in her life, the text shows that she cares for herself before she cares for others. When Tea Cake, infected with rabies, tries to hurt her, she shoots him to save her own life. Janie is a character who shows that love and regard for oneself is the most important love of all.
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