Feminist Must-Reads

In September we asked the readers of The F-Word to send us their lists of recommended feminist books: what are their favourite feminist must reads? Here's the results. The most recommended book? Germaine Greer's The Whole Woman.

, 16 October 2002

From Anna Norstedt

This is off the top of my head; I haven’t been reading as much as I would like


  1. “Stone Butch Blues” by Leslie Feinberg
  2. “Cunt” by Inga Muscio
  3. “To be Real” by Rebecca Walker (ed)
  4. “Tales of the Lavender Menace” by Karla Jay
  5. “S/He” by Minnie Bruce Pratt
  6. “Lesbian Ethics” by Sarah Lucia Hoagland
  7. “Herland” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Both Inga Muscio and Rebecca Walker have spoken at my college, so that’s why I’m

partial to these two books. “Cunt” is just all-over a good book, and touches

on a lot of issues, and “To Be Real” is a compilation of essays, so it has

various perspectives. The rest focus on glbt issues. “Lesbian Ethics” is a

bit scary if you’ve never been aware of separatism, but it makes some good

points. “Herland” is a book I had to read for my Utopia class, and it shows a

potential feminist utopia.

From Charlotte Augst

My all time feminist favourites:

  1. The Colour Purple
  2. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
  3. The golden Notebook
  4. The Poisonwood Bible
  5. The Lovely Bones
  6. Rubyfruit Jungle

Sorry that they are all fiction books, but they just stay with you for

longer, I think.

From AuroraLuckystar


I will love to see the results of your reader’s top feminist books!

Here are the ones I could think of on the spot…

  1. Manifesta – a new perspective on feminism.
  2. Reviving Ophelia – Psychologist’s studies of several young girls and

    what adolescent girls today must face. An important read for parents! (of sons


    daughters!- about young girls, but raising feminist friendly sons is



  3. We Gotta Get Out Of This Place – A story about the history of rock


    roll. But doesn’t include Beatles or Elvis, rather all of the women who


    shaped the music of the past century! Awesome!

  4. You Can’t Keep A Good Woman Down, Alice Walker – She is just an

    incredible story teller. It is a collection of short stories told from the

    perspective of different black women, mostly during the Civil Rights Movement.

    Alice Walker doesn’t just write stories, she transports her readers into her

    characters worlds!

From Carol Kubicki

Dear F word,

Not being a teenager, I always keep Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman by

my bedside.

From Jean Betts

Hi F-word – books

  • The Second Sex – Simone de Beavoir
  • A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
  • Brecht & Co – John Fuegi
  • Ophelia Thinks Harder – Wm Shakespeare and Jean Betts
  • An English Miss – Alicia C Percival

Not a bad start, I reckon.

From JoJo Kirtley

This is my top ten list of so-called ‘feminist’ literature (not in order). These

women have influenced, changed and inspired me. Most importantly though these

writers have given me (and hopefully loads of other women) the strength,

courage and wisdom to continue my quest for female equality.

  1. The Vagina Monologues – Eve Ensler. The most important book, an absolute masterpiece in every way. Ensler writes “In

    order for the human race to continue, women must be safe and empowered. It’s an

    obvious idea, but like a vagina, it needs great attention and love in order to

    be revealed.” (Ensler, 1998). Amazing…Truly Amazing…

  2. The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman. An important piece of feminist literature very simply written but showing how

    women were completely powerless in the Victorian times.

  3. Bridget Jones’s Diary/The Edge of reason – Helen Fielding. Aimed at such a diverse readership this book is uniquely written and so accessible to all types

    of women, even my grandma loves it!

  4. Sex and the city – Candace Bushnell. Changed the outlook of female sexuality, proved that sex is important to us

    women too and you can’t deny that there’s a bit of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda

    and Charlotte in all of us.

  5. I know why the caged bird sings – Maya Angelou (and any poetry she

    writes). This woman wrote the beautiful poem, Still I rise where she wrote the

    line, “Because I dance like I’ve got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs.”

    Wow! Her autobiographical novel is just as intense and wonderful.

  6. Masterpieces – Sarah Daniels. Daniels eats up the taboo issue of pornography and spits it out in a feminist


  7. Ourselves Alone – Anne Devlin.

    Irish women deserve a voice too and Devlin gives them a unique one.

  8. The Feminine Mystique – Betty Friedan. A complete classic..enough said.
  9. Beloved – Toni Morrison.

    This woman is a genius, in this novel she writes about the plight of black

    women and shows the marginalisation of them in American society.

  10. Big Women – Fay Weldon. Middle class feminism at it’s best. Weekend her short story is also

    brilliant and extremely funny.

In case I have angered a few people I have to mention five more amazing


  • E.Annie Proulx’s almost perfect novel, “The Shipping News” (not entirely

    feminist but worth reading).

  • Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”
  • The Vindication of the Rights of women, by Mary Wollstoncraft (a turning

    point in feminism)

  • Sexual Politics – Kate Millett
  • A room of one’s own – Virginia Woolf

My list is unique to me and I think it is important to include a diverse range

of women’s literature, even if this means that I have left out classic feminist

texts! If you haven’t read any of these books then I recommend them all, become

a vagina queen and indulge.

From Sniff

I’d like to recommend “Refusing to be a man” and “The end of


parables on sex and selfhood” by the American radical feminist

John Stoltenberg.

Reading these books has changed my life. Stoltenberg articulates the model

of masculinity as no one else ever has. At last, all those frustrating

things about manhood that you knew were forms of terrorism but couldn’t

articulate why are brought together and the pieces of the jigsaw really fit.

Pornography, prostitution, being crap at relationships, the myth about

male labido etc etc – are all now ONE coherent issue, one blueprint that

explains every question I have ever grappled with and exposes the fact that

it is MASCULINITY that feminists must address – not just female oppression

over and over again. Every thinking person should read his work.

From Holly Combe

These are in no particular order and the list is by no means exhaustive. There’s

loads of important first wave stuff missing and nothing that mainly focuses on

ethnicity, employment or war (for example). My main area of interest right now

is sex, so much of what I’ve listed deals with issues around this subject.

Basically, these are just a few of the books that initially inspired me so the

list definitely won’t please everyone!

Bad Girls and Dirty Pictures – Alison Assiter and Avedon Carol

It was around 1997 when I first read this collection of essays by Feminists

Against Censorship. This was the first time I had seen a detailed exposure

of the patronising sexism lurking beneath anti-pornography dogma. Three years

later, I joined the group (something I should have done much sooner).

Anti-censorship feminism is often very misunderstood and mislabelled and I

would recommend this book to anyone, whatever their stance.

A Return to Modesty – Wendy Shalit

Great style, brilliantly written – shame about the politics. The writer

basically gives the impression that we can either return to modesty and cosy

sexism or expect a barrage of misogyny and rape. Are men really so unable to

respect genuine female autonomy? Must ‘respect’ have a smug price attached to

it? Shalit seems to suggest that, if a woman wants to have any sense of control

over her body, her only sensible option is to put her sexuality on hold. She

implies that accepting our inevitable ‘feminine’ passivity and saying no to sex

until we find someone ‘special’ is the best deal we can hope for if we want to

avoid the wrath of hard-done-by men.

Though some of the overall contrived sweetness and humour does occasionally

grate, this book is often genuinely witty, forceful and charming. It didn’t

change my views on sex, but it’s a book I won’t forget.

Women, Celibacy and Passion – Sally Cline

Again, this is essential reading but with a few disappointments along the way.

Cline is right in her assertion that ‘fifty years ago it took courage for a

woman to admit she was enjoying an active sex life’ and that ‘today it takes

courage to admit that she is not’. I would agree that society places far too

much pressure on women to sexually perform or find a partner. I was, however,

disheartened with the ‘Perpetual Virgins’ chapter of the book, as I would like

to see a denouncement of the very notion of virginity itself and the idea that

anyone who has not had conventional penis-in-vagina sex is a virgin. Virginity

is a socially constructed commodity, which is designed to be given away or

taken. The ‘virgin’ is at a disadvantage, liable to being patronised and

incapable of being equal to a sexual partner, unless, they too, are a ‘virgin’.

It doesn’t matter whether the state is, as Cline discusses in ‘Celibacy and

Passion’, ‘transitional’ (unwanted) or ‘perpetual’ (part of a deliberately

celibate person’s sexual identity). In fact, I would argue that the term

probably almost always holds a transitional implication, as ‘virginity’ is

commonly viewed somewhat differently from non-‘virginal’ celibacy. This is

because the ‘virgin’ has never had so-called ‘real’ sexual intercourse and

therefore, through the current discourse on sex, holds ‘something’ that can be

potentially taken.

If I remember rightly, Cline does not address these issues. It’s still a good

book though…

The Female Eunuch & The Whole Woman – Germaine Greer

Yes, it’s an overly obvious choice and hard to sum up without saying what

everyone else says, but I just couldn’t leave out Germaine Greer. ‘The Female

Eunuch’ is essential second wave reading and her polemical style never dates.

‘The Whole Woman’ is the sequel that Greer said she would never write. But in a

climate where so many people seemed (and, a few years later, still seem) to be

saying that feminism had ‘gone far enough’, Greer understandably felt that

silence would have been ‘inexcusable’. In a programme screened around the time

the book was published, she summed up the common attitude as:

‘Now we can vote, feminism has achieved its aim and can fold its tent and piss


However ambivalent I might feel about Germaine Greer, (why does she keep

associating herself with the Daily Mail? Didn’t she slag off Suzanne Moore for

wearing lipstick in 1995? Did she really call Jade Goody a fat bitch in 2002?),

I could never discount her influence and power.

The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf

I read this shortly after reading ‘Female Desire’ by Rosalind Coward.

Both these books made me think about desire and sexuality in a way that I had

never consciously confronted before. We (women) are culturally trained to focus

on how others see us and this gets in the way of our own sexual development and

desires. Meanwhile, young boys are culturally trained to deny their charm,

prettiness and potential to be objectified or consumed by another person. This,

in turn, gets in the way of not only their own sexual development but also that

of the women who are orientated towards them. My particular stance is that,

whilst I sometimes enjoy the mirror, I will not allow my own sexual desire to

be distracted by it. Essential reading.

Fire With Fire – Naomi Wolf

This is a much needed antidote to the kind of ‘victim’ feminism that, for a long

time now, has actually been undermining us rather than helping us to achieve

our goals. This book is an optimistic and pragmatic look at how we can move

forward. Having read this book, feminism is still a serious issue for me and

there is still much to be done, but I always try and bear in mind that a

feminist existence needn’t be a miserable and depressing one.

Virtually Normal – Andrew Sullivan

The writer is always objective, thorough and reasoned, even when dealing with

prejudiced and bigoted arguments about homosexuality. This book is relevant

reading for anyone with a commitment to sexual liberation and a zest for

outwitting the opposition.

The Hite Report (Updated Edition) – Shere Hite

The highly personal and revealing survey responses always draw me in again

whenever I take it off the shelf. But most importantly, it was one of the first

books I ever came across that really challenged our society’s most common

definition of ‘proper’ sex.

My Secret Garden – Nancy Friday

This book liberated me in terms of my attitude towards female masochists and

masochist fantasists. I think there is a rather unfortunate tendency within the

feminist movement to try to police each other’s sexual fantasies. This really

is almost as unhelpful to the cause for women’s sexual freedom as society’s

heterosexist expectations are. It’s true that I am often bored and disappointed

by the same old sermons about what women are supposedly programmed to

automatically want sexually. However, this does not give me the excuse to write

off another person’s fantasies as invalid or assume that another woman can’t

possibly be a feminist if she enjoys something which I find hard to square with

my feminist politics. Of course, her not being a feminist at all wouldn’t write

her off either (and to say that does not undermine my commitment to


From Catherine Redfern

My list – in no particular order!

  1. The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf.

    Amazing and powerful analysis of the pressure put on women and girls to be thin

    and “beautiful”.

  2. The Whole Woman – Germaine Greer.

    Flawed but energetic and passionate book which varies from chapter to chapter.

    She’s not always right, but she’s still got it.

  3. Manifesta – Jennifer Baumgarnder & Amy Richards.

    Comprehensive introduction to the Third Wave

  4. In Our Time – Susan Brownmiller.

    Enthralling memoir about life during the whirlwind of the American Second


  5. Listen Up – Barbara Findlen (ed).

    Interesting and encouraging collection of essays from a new generation of


  6. Cunt – Inga Muscio.

    Lively, fun, entertaining and inspiring book about “the anatomical jewel”, what

    it means to be a woman, and more.

  7. Bust Guide to the New Girl Order – Stoller & Karp (eds).

    Proving that feminism can be fun and intelligent at the same time.

  8. Backlash – Susan Faludi.

    Classic explanation of how feminism is denegrated time and time again just

    as women begin to make progress.

From Jamie Lee Merrick

Currently I am interested in researching cultural and anthropological

differences towards women. Especially the biological myths that science and

religion and to some extent mythology, have always perpetuated. I recommend to

everyone, Natalie Angier’s Woman: an intimate georgraphy. The

biological inaccuracies expounded by society and science that she exposes are


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