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
Various Authors, 16 October 2002
This is off the top of my head; I haven’t been reading as much as I would like to:
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.
My all time feminist favourites:
Sorry that they are all fiction books, but they just stay with you for longer, I think.
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…
Dear F word,
Not being a teenager, I always keep Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman by my bedside.
Hi F-word – books
Not a bad start, I reckon.
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.
In case I have angered a few people I have to mention five more amazing books:
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.
I’d like to recommend “Refusing to be a man” and “The end of manhood: 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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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 off’
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 feminism!).
My list – in no particular order!
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 astounding.
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