Books To Read If You're An Activist

As we celebrate International Women's Day, ELLE's Literary Editor picks the books every women's rights activist should read

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As we mark International Women's Day and find ourselves taking to the streets because of recent political events, it's important to be conscious of the struggle that came before in order to fully understand what we need to do next as well as pay homage to the women who have passed the baton to us.

Today we have enlightened feminist books that shine a light on current issues - including Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nasty Women by 404 Ink and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.

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The next set of books would make great shelf-mates to the above and remind us that without the past we cannot have a present or future.

GENDER TROUBLE by Judith Butler

In Gender Trouble, American philosopher Judith Butler argues that gender is a kind of improvised performance.

The book was as celebrated as it was controversial when it was first published in 1990.

Butler takes the reader on a fascinating journey exploring the relationship between power and categories of sex and gender.

Gender Trouble by Judith Butler (Routledge, 2006)

VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN by Mary Wollstonecraft

In 1792, following hot on the heels of The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine, the Grand Dame of Feminism, Mary Wollstonecraft produced her own declaration of female independence which laid the foundation of female emancipation and demanded equality for the education of both boys and girls.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (Penguin, 2006)

AIN'T I A WOMAN by bell hooks

This is the book for anyone who wants to understand Intersectional Feminism.

bell hooks examines how Black women, from the seventeenth century to the 1980s, were and are oppressed by both White and Black men and by White women. There's an understanding that race and sex are separate but bell hooks reminds that they are always intertwined and this is an argument that still rages today.

Ain't I A Woman by bell hooks (Pluto Press, 1987)
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THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE by Betty Friedan

First published in 1963 The Feminine Mystique confronted women's liberty in American society and shook up the oppressive ideas of women's role in the home while arguing that advertising and the male gaze was having a negative effect on women's psyche.

Although fifty-four years old, this groundbreaking book still feels relevant and reminds us what it was like to really live in a man's world.

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (Penguin, 2010)
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THE SECOND SEX by Simone de Beauvoir

Fresh out of the existentialist movement, de Beauvoir's work set a different tone.

This 1947 text is the starting point for the second-wave of feminism.

Political, anthropological and psychoanalytical in prose it is a spellbinding, nuanced and reflective account of women's oppression.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (Vintage, 2007)

THE HIDDEN FACE OF EVE: Women in the Arab World by Nawal El Saadawi

The Hidden Face of Eve was published in 1977, when women rights were still being contested and modern Arabic writing was often missing from the debate.

It is a powerful non-fiction account of the oppression of women in Muslim society encompassing the historical and the present day.

This book prevails in conveying a strong sense of urgency for women's rights through Nawal El Saadawi's experience of working as a doctor in villages around Egypt, witnessing prostitution, honour killings and sexual abuse.

Her bravery gives voice to this suffering.





The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World by Nawal El Saadawi (Zed Books, 2016)
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