Feminism is just as vital today as it was in 1963.
It’s been more than 50 years since Betty Friedan wrote her landmark book, The Feminine Mystique, which sparked the second wave of feminism in America.
Yet despite making huge progress in the workplace and at home, gender issues are still very much prevalent in today’s society - just take a look at the the thousands of people who turned out for the Women's March on London last month for proof.
As this week, 8 March, marks International Women's Day, there's really no better time to start being part of the discussion.
But if you’re confused about where to start on the whole issue of ‘feminism’, this list focuses on the seminal texts every person should read: whether young or old, male or female.
Whether compelling, poignant, funny or factual, a good feminist read can make us feel eager for change, empowered with knowledge, or simply give us an insight into how the women’s rights movement has developed over the past century.
So put the kettle on, grab a blanket and get stuck into these ten brilliantly provocative books.
1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Set in the near future, Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel follows the story of Offred, a young handmaid to a powerful commander, who is a lynchpin in a totalitarian Christian theocracy which has overthrown the United States government. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. What unfolds is a story of female subjugation at the hands of a male dictatorship, and the desperate hope of a young woman who clings to the memories of her former life and identity. As unpleasant as it is brilliant, this cruel and bone-chilling story will stay with your for the rest of your life - not just because it’s terrifying, but because it’s terrifyingly possible.
2. Why We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adapted from her much-viewed TEDx talk of the same name, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 49-page call to arms asks the question ‘what does ‘feminism’ mean today?’ Drawing on her own experiences, she aims her literary harpoon at discrimination, and the institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world. So important, is her essay, that every 16-year-old in Sweden will receive a copy to read as part of a new government initiative. “My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better,’” writes Adichie in the essay. “All of us, women and men, must do better.”
3. How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran
Britain’s funniest feminist’s memoir helps women who are ‘too knackered and confused’ to work out if they are a women’s rights advocate (i.e the vast majority of us) to easily figure it all out.
Less of a glossy manifesto on women’s rights and more of an honest attempt to decode what it means to be female, this book is a great read for anyone who’s intimidated or confused by the shifting parameters that define feminism. While no stone is left unturned - from bikini waxing and plastic surgery to objectification and Katie Price - the crux of the book’s argument essentially boils down to this quote:
“Put your hand in your pants.
a) Do you have a vagina? and
b) Do you want to be in charge of it?
If you said 'yes' to both, then congratulations! You're a feminist."
4. Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit
Ever had something ‘mansplained’ to you? Then you’ll want to know about this book. Rebecca Solnit's essay 'Men Explain Things to Me' is credited with kickstarting the term - radically addressing the issues that a patriarchal culture may not deem as ‘issues’ at all. Exploring everything from rape culture to the nuclear family, Solnit’s prose reminds us of the basic right we all should have to a voice and an opinion.
5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
This Pulitzer-winning novel is set in Georgia in the 1930s and looks at the racism and sexism facing Celie, our heroine, as a black woman at the time. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls 'father', she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage. But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery - a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. A violent and explicit insight into the issues facing African-American women in the US, this book is a surprisingly uplifting and comforting reminder that strength can be found even in the most tragic conditions.
6. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
In these witty and intelligent essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of the evolution of modern woman - from the writer’s own experience with growing up to the wider popular culture influences that subtly define what it means to be a woman in today’s society. Bad Feminist should sit on every informed reader’s bookshelf - a sharp, biting and hilarious look at the ways in which our consumption shapes the person who we are.
7. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
This young adult novel is a brilliant starting point for teenagers who are interested in the topic of feminism. It is set in a future dystopian world in which everyone is turned "Pretty" by extreme cosmetic surgery upon reaching age 16. We meet our heroine Tally Youngblood, who rebels against society's enforced conformity, after her newfound friends Shay and David show her the downsides to becoming a "Pretty". This is a brilliant read for any young reader, or indeed fully fledged adult, who is beginning to question the meaning of beauty, identity and individuality in the age of vanity and social media.
8. The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir
No feminist should go without reading French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir's ground breaking study of women. Perhaps the most extensive and enduring feminist book, The Second Sex is at once a work of anthropology and sociology, of biology and psychoanalysis - a book that will make you question the worth of the woman in 2016 just as much as it did upon its release in 1949.
9. The Female Eunuch - Germaine Greer
When Germaine Greer penned the Female Eunuch in the early 1970s, a woman's role in society was still set by male expectations. While women were expected to work and be educated, they were still paid less than men for the same work, and were encouraged to marry and become housewives. The Female Eunuch called on women to reject their traditional roles in the home, and explore ways to break out of the mould that society had imposed on them. It also encouraged women to question the power of traditional authority figures and to explore their own sexuality.
10. The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
The American dream suburb of Stepford, Connecticut, has perfect houses, perfect lives, and perfect wives. This satirical thriller concerns Joanna Eberhart, a photographer and young mother who begins to suspect that the frighteningly submissive housewives in her new idyllic neighborhood may be robots created by their husbands. At once a psychological nightmare and a terrifying commentary on a media-driven society that values the pursuit of youth and beauty at all costs, The Stepford Wives will make you rethink the societal pressure to settle down, get a husband and ‘have it all’.
Follow Liz Connor on Twitter: @lizconnor_