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9 Books You Should Read If You Really Want To Understand Feminism

By Arpita Pande: 

Feminism is a widely circulated concept, or more of a belief in the contemporary society. However, at many places, women were not even recognized as individuals till two centuries ago. For example, in 16th century England, rape was not even recognized as a crime against a woman’s body. If at all, it was to be persecuted, it was seen as a defiance of the father’s or husband’s virgin property. It was through ideological, social and repressive methods that male dominance prevailed for so long and still finds its existence. However, women have defeated patriarchy time and again. As informed young individuals it is important to be aware of what feminism is, what was the position of woman before, how they liberated themselves, where we stand today and finally how much more do we need to travel to reach the point of equality between the two sexes.

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1. Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft (non-fiction): Considered to be the very first formal paradigm to voice the emancipation of woman, Mary Wollstonecraft lays stress on female education. She believes that women should not just focus on courting men with their beauty and stick to being meek and coy but women should be reasonable and rational. She lays stress on education that would make them aware of their fundamental rights. She also believes that marriage should be a companionship, where both husband and wife share a mental compatibility too. Though she adheres to a woman’s role of taking care of the family and does not equalize woman to man. However, this work is credited with the beginning of feminist theories.

2. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (fictionalized essays): In this series of essays, Virginia Woolf sends out a strong critique on the uneven conditions of living and growth distributed amongst men and women. She establishes that the reason why women can so easily be subjugated is because they are deprived of education and money, thus women haven’t been able to articulate much in the world of literature. They do not have the time and space to perform such activities. Woolf through her imaginative narrator (“call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton…”) goes to the past and imagines a scenario, where if Shakespeare had a sister, despite the same talent she would go unrecognized because she would simply not be given a chance to express herself. The narrator also opens up literature for women. But these too are written by men who dictate their personal ideologies, thus further propagating patriarchal notions. The series ends with an exhortation of the existing traditions and Woolf’s plea to the women audience to condemn it.

3. The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar (non-fiction): This book finds its roots in the Charlotte Bronte’s Novel Jane Eyre. The character of Berth Mason, in Jane Eyre, represents the out spoken woman (a phenomenon uncommon in 19th century England) who refuses to submit to her husband’s (here, Mr. Rochester’s) will. And in order to restore the order of patriarchy, Bertha Mason is branded to be mad, locked in an attic and violently treated. Gilbert and Gubar select this marginalized character to question the polarities attached to a woman’s character as: “angel” or “monster”. These images were popularly circulated in the society and also within the canon of writers. The two theorists deconstruct this binary and question the practice of witch burning vis-à-vis notion of morality and the denial of freedom of speech for women.

4. A Literature of Their Own by Elaine Showalter (non-fiction): A Literature of Their Own encapsulates the growth of feminist theories and criticism from the Bronte sisters to Doris Lessing. Patriarchy being the dominant rule dictates the production of writings. Thus the literature produced by women is not independent of the style dictated by men. Showalter then explores the concept of “Amazonian Utopia”. She explains the growth of three waves of feminism and along with the growth of female writers. The first wave demanded for recognition of woman as a part of society, the second wave wanted equality with men. They launched the suffragette movement and wave of flapper generation recognizes these demands. The third wave looks at women as independent beings and not as a complimentary or equal to men. She also takes a step to recognize the unwritten struggles of woman written daily and believes that only the canonized writers don’t represent the entire realm of a woman’s struggle.

5. Sexual Politics by Kate Millett (non-fiction): This book deals with how the idea of “compliant woman” is actively accepted both in literature and society. She questions the all-pervading control that men exercise in all institutions like the police, church and so on. Further, Millett talks about the politics of subjugation that works by controlling a woman’s body in a male dominant society. A woman’s role is basically to satisfy the desires of man and her own sexual needs are either neglected or considered as evil. Their existence is a mutual barter: where women give sex to get food and shelter. And since women’s sexuality is easily suppressed, it becomes easy to control them. Rapes and domestic violence are an outcome when a woman sidelines herself from the norm. Millett’s urge is to restructure the existing system to that of equality.

6. Lihaf by Ismat Chughtai (fiction- short story): Chughtai explores female sexuality and lesbian bonding that is unacceptable by the society yet it exists. The narration opens up the reality beneath the veil.

7. The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir (non-fiction):One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”- this is the central idea around which this book revolves. It unlaces the ideologies that govern the subjugation of women. The subjugation is not only in form of violent repression but as a condition accepted by women and how the pre-defined roles aggravate this condition. For example, the role of a mother being the care-taker is performed with pride and it is natural for a woman to condemn her career to come back home and form a family. Gender is a produced category and the author criticizes the stereotypes that are culturally produced. Simone De Beauvoir sends out a message to women to re-examine their position in society.

8. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (fiction): This novel traces the double subjugation faced by the protagonist — Celie. First being a black, living in Georgia, she belonged to the race that was considered inferior in society. Secondly she was a woman who has societal norms dictating her obvious subjugation. The story traces Celie’s double fold struggle. First she bears up with the violence inflicted upon her, but later struggles her way out through the double fold subjugation. The novel also explores the essence of female bonding and homosexual desires.

9. Yellow Fish by Ambai (fiction- short story): Ambai is the pen name for the Indian feminist writer C.S. Laxmi. The story deals with the predicament of a woman who has no say in matters of female feticides, despite it being her own child. The narrator explains to us the position of a girl child in the society through the description of a yellow fish lying on the shore. The fish symbolizes the girl child and the sea symbolizes freedom. The woman imagines this fish as her lost child struggling to gasp water and she throws it down the sea giving it life. Though she could not save her own child, she wishes to save this fish. The very last line gives a sublime description of this act: “You can see its clear yellow for a very long time then it merges into the blue-grey-white of the sea”.

Feminists are often misunderstood. Women’s liberation is not about subjugating men, neither is it to shout out hoardings about patriarchy being bad. Feminism seeks a space for the 50% of the population that is repressed for unnatural reasons. The given books are but a fraction of narratives and accounts that are voicing the alternative discourse.

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  1. Sudha

    Good list! But 2 of my favorites are missing. Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a woman’ and Margaret Atwood’s ‘The handmaid’s tale’ are great books that should be in any feminist’s to-read list 🙂

    1. Arpita Pande

      Thank you! I shall read the suggested ones and maybe come up with another list. 🙂

  2. Babar

    Feminism thrives on playing the blame game, where men are responsible for all their problems and women are never at fault. Feminists want to absolve women from all their responsibilities, and love to play victims. Men face a lot more problems than women, but it is not highlighted in the media – since the media gets attention selectively highlighting crimes against women only. And, of course, a feminist is never going to write about men’s issues, despite claiming that feminism stands for the rights of both genders, because their agenda of creating a generation of men-haters will cease.

    We never talk about the biases that men face on a daily basis, how women usurp half of men’s properties during divorces, how courts give men stricter sentences for the same crimes that women commit, how juries give verdicts against men in domestic disputes, how men give alimony to women, misandry in the media, sexism against men, domestic violence against men, how men are locked up in false cases of rape, dowry, and domestic abuse, etc.



    Women perpetrate crimes against men – they are violent, abusive, misandrist, and sexist. Women also perpetrate crimes against women, from family politics to taunts and abuse, women have mastered it all. From backbiting to gossip mongering, they spread lies and deceits and break families. Grandmothers, mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law, sisters-in-law, you name it.

    Furthermore, men are unable to see how women use them. Today a husband is an ATM, driver, porter, dildo, and servant, who houses his wife, lets her drive his car, pays for her shopping, allows her unnecessary expenditure, buys her jewellery, pays at restaurants, puts food on the table, among a host of other things. Women always marry men richer than them, earning more than them, and men who are ‘well settled.’ Men always marry women who earn less than them – How many women marry men earning less than them? Women are goldiggers

    Feminists want to divide and rule. They want to create a war between the sexes so that they can get attention and funding. In the early 1960s, it was the Rockefellers who funded feminism to send women in the workforce and earn tax dollars, today feminists are funded by governments, feminist activists, and various pro-feminist groups to keep their equality propaganda alive. Women love attention. Similarly, there are some men too, who crave recognition and are desperate for attention, not to mention suffering from low self-esteem, who join the feminist cause.

    “The nuclear family must be destroyed, and people must find better ways of living together.” – Linda Gordon, Function of the Family, Women: A Journal of Liberation, Fall, 1969.

    “We can’t destroy the inequities between men and women until we destroy marriage.” – Robin Morgan, Sisterhood is Powerful, 1970, p.537.

    “No woman should be authorized to stay at home and raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.” — Simone de Beauvoir, “Sex, Society, and the Female Dilemma” Saturday Review, June 14, 1975, p.18

    “Marriage has existed for the benefit of men; and has been a legally sanctioned method of control over women… We must work to destroy it. The end of the institution of marriage is a necessary condition for the liberation of women. Therefore it is important for us to encourage women to leave their husbands and not to live individually with men.” -The Declaration of Feminism, November 1971.

    “Women, like men, should not have to bear children… The destruction of the biological family, never envisioned by Freud, will allow the emergence of new women and men, different from any people who have previously existed.” — Alison Jagger – Political Philosophies of Women’s Liberation: Feminism and Philosophy (Totowa, NJ: Littlefield, Adams & Co. 1977).

    “In order to raise children with equality, we must take them away from families and communally raise them.” – Dr. Mary Jo Bane, feminist and assistant professor of education at Wellesley College and associate director of the school’s Center for Research on Woman.

    “I want to see a man beaten to a bloody pulp with a high-heel shoved in his mouth, like an apple in the mouth of a pig.” – Andrea Dworkin from her book ‘Ice and Fire’.

    1. arpita pande

      The reason why you are reacting so much on seeing the word “feminism” is the reason why we need feminism! Despite knowing that the injustices prevail in the society. You picked up very convinient examples and played the victim-the very same accusations you threw on feminists. I am
      a feminist and i believe in equitic growth in society. You called feminist-extremists and here you turn out to be one!

  3. Babar

    “Men who are unjustly accused of rape can sometimes gain from the experience.” – Catherine Comin, Vassar College.

    “All sex, even consensual sex between a married couple, is an act of violence perpetrated against a woman – Catherine MacKinnon (Feminist).

    “All men are rapists and that’s all they are” – Marilyn French, Author.

    Feminists want everyone to assume that all men are rapists and pedophiles. This is why men are separated from children on planes (here), men should not walk with their daughters (here), boys are failed in schools by feminists (here), and they invent stories to demonize men (here).

    1. pooping on you

      Literally all the website names you gave are websites which are biased against women. Some are obvious ,like “petepatriarch”, while some are not as obvious, such as the dailymail, which is known to be a terrible website which misinforms (as you can see if you follow their citations). You are very obviously biased and probably lurk websites which give you links to articles which talk about how feminism is ruining the world. You probably also identify as an MRA (I know your type. I keep up because you make me lol).
      Also, out of 4 articles, only 1 actually mentions feminists in any way. So maybe you should do your research a bit better

  4. Trisha

    This is a great list. Have read a few, will definitely read the others

    1. Arpita Pande

      I am glad you liked it. 🙂

  5. Gaurav

    Good list. many more books available. orianna fallachi – force of reason is one.
    but the problem of feminism is that feminists are apologetic. why do you have to say that feminism means equality, why cant you be honest and say that feminism wants to get rid of men and all institutions made by men. Indian feminists are afraid of being honest and this tantamounts to being pseudo feminist and that is the primary reason why women continue to suffer. the first step is to shun marriage and ensure that no woman falls for this institution of marriage. once all women are free of marriage they will truly be free. the next step is to stop paying taxes and ask for a separate nation where you will be free of any male presence and finally building your own institutions. that will solve all problems.

    1. Allurielle

      You are obviously not a feminist and it is clear you are a man who hates feminism. Piss off and stop cluttering the comment section with your crap.

  6. Gaurav

    Indian women do not have the courage to confront the patriarchy. today’s feminists are corrupt. has any women had the courage to murder her father, that would send a strong signal to the patriarchy, but no indian woman has taken even a baby step in that direction. almost all indian women are still in the same home that their father lives in, sheer hypocrisy.

  7. Gaurav

    the only way to experience liberation is to free your self of male influence. but I bet most women would still like to maintain relationship with male friends, brothers, sons, father and husband. as long as women do not get rid of the corrupting influence of men they cannot achieve liberation. the feminists of today are living a sham faminism

    1. Fem

      Are you blabbering?

      You make no sense. Kill father? Build another nation? Pay no tax?

  8. Gaurav

    If a woman cannot murder her father and not regret it after he is gone, then and then only is she a real feminist, the others are just pretending to be a feminist. the father is the link to the patriarchy and as long as a woman is incapable of cut the umblical cord she is not true to herself and is weak and pathetic. what a farce Indian women are?

    1. Sophia

      You are awful and you are making awful comments that reflect the fact that you know absolutely zip about feminism. Please shut your mouth, annoying stuff is leaking out of it.

    2. Allurielle

      Gaurav you have evidently never attended a feminist philosophical discussion, nor read any feminist literature and you speak utter ignorant nonsense. Feminism is not about violence or hurting men. Feminism is about achieving equality. What oppresses women, also oppresses men. The system of patriarchy oppresses fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers. Go educate yourself before commenting about something you do not know enough about.

    3. Gaurav

      if women really intended to fight patriarchy they would have shunned arranged marriage and all other institutions built by patriarchy so your understanding of patriarchy is childish to the say the least.

      you have made a sweeping statement that feminism does not hurt men; you are so self deluded; what would you say to a man who makes a similar sweeping statement that patriarchy does not hurt women? yeah, that is how deluded you are?

      in another of your comment you said obviously I am not a feminist, clearly feminism if an exclusive misandry club which is meant only for deluded women like yourself. with this statement you have contradicted yourself.

      I have read the feminist literature and challenge you to elucidate the principles of feminism if you are so sure of your mettle.

  9. Gaurav

    it is always difficult to counter the truth, women are trying hard to eliminate men from the equation but their courage is wavering and they are unable to act against men and therefore the self defeating the charade , the farce called feminism. not a single feminist that can counter the truth that I have written below, not a single feminist that knows the goal of feminism and does not want to either fight against or engage men on their own terms.

  10. jpdas

    What is needed is a comprehensive understanding of the psychology of both sexes rather than a debate on their issues as divergent entities, which in turn fosters their mutual trust. And nothing dwells on female psychology as “In a different voice” by Carol Gilligan.She discovers the prime difference in the evolution of the psyche of both sexes,during their struggle for existence and brings home the missing points in our feminism or male chauvinism.

  11. Sadia

    1,2 &7 are done. eagerly waiting to read other books in my semester break. oh! December! Come soon!! Thanks Author for a wonderful reading list 🙂

    1. Arpita pande

      Thank you. Glad you liked it. 🙂

  12. akanksha

    Mr Gaurav and Mr Babar , please refrain from making statements until you are attempting to sound amusing or numerous because to miserably fail at that too.

    1. Babar

      Very intellectual comment!

      Since you can’t defend your absurd and bizarre theories in a rational manner, you indulge in personal attacks.

      Typical of feminists.

    2. Gaurav

      instead of ticking me or babar off you might want to explain feminism… unless ofcourse you agree with what i said

  13. Nisha Ravi

    The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer

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