This is the final installment of our Books for Feminists series. If you missed it, there are three other parts: feminist books for children, feminist books for teens, and contemporary feminist books for adults. Now we’re going to talk about classic feminist literature.
Feminism has been around for a long time in the United States. From Abigail Adams’ letters to her husband, John Quincy Adams, asking him to “remember the ladies” when he worked with the constitutional congress on the establishment of this new nation to Sybil Ludington, the woman rider who rode twice the distances as Paul Revere on the same night to warn the Americans that the British were coming.
Feminism isn’t a movement restricted to one geographic location, indeed, it spreads across landmasses, nations, color, and gender. The books included on this list come from around the world and are all essential to any feminist’s reading.
This book by Mary Wollstonecraft was first published in 1792. It is considered one of the first manifestos of women’s rights. Wollstonecraft’s classic book makes an argument for women to be educating, noting that “Tyrants and sensualists are in the right when they endeavor to keep women in the dark, because the former want only slaves, and the later a plaything.” Her assertion that women should be educated to enable their independence was radical at the time it was made, despite women’s education not being questioned in current times. This book shows the evolution of thought and how it sometimes takes a radical to get an idea started that later becomes part of the common practices of a culture.
Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is a French classic, first released in 1857. While the link above is to a translated version of the text, I hear reading it in its original language is an absolute-must for people who are able because a lot of nuances can be lost in translation. Emma Bovary is bored. She’s a housewife and life couldn’t be duller for her, so instead of being an obedient wife, she pursues an affair with Rodolphe. This novel is often credited with being one of the first modern realism in addition to being celebrated for its poetic craftsmanship.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote this short story based off of her own experiences with depression (from the semi-autobiographic story, it can be asserted that she had postpartum depression) and her lack of power over her own treatment for her ailment. When the woman in the novel asserts that she would really feel better if she was able to get up, move, write, and see her baby, her husband, a doctor, banishes her thoughts on her own medical treatment and insists that she ascribes to his prescribed rest cure. Being locked up in an old nursery, unable to write, interact with people, or exercise her own will and judgement, the narrator slowly goes mad and starts seeing a woman in the yellow wallpaper of the room.