22 Feminist Books To Educate And Empower You

by Erika W. Smith


Any feminist has probably been asked some variation of the question, “What book should I read to get into feminism?” It’s a hard question to answer, simply because there are so many books about feminism out there! But after talking to BUST staff and BUST readers, I’ve come up with a list of feminist books to get you started.

Feminism simply means gender equality — but many feminists have different ideas on how to achieve gender equality, or what, exactly, true gender equality would look like. Many of the authors on the list below would disagree with each other, and you will find that there are some feminist writers who speak to you more than others. 

Other things to know: I stuck to a one-book-per-author rule (we could make a list of must-read books by bell hooks that would be just as long as this one), and defined “feminist books” as books — whether novels, memoirs, essay collections, or another genre — that critically engage with ideas about feminism, rather than simply books that have women protagonists, or great books by women writers. We’ll be publishing another installment soon, so please, tell us what we missed!

There Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)


“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.”

Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman by Lindy West (2016)


“I reject the notion that thinness is the goal, that thin = better—that I am an unfinished thing and that my life can really start when I lose weight. That then I will be a real person and have finally succeeded as a woman. I am not going to waste another second of my life thinking about this. I don’t want to have another fucking conversation with another fucking woman about what she’s eating or not eating or regrets eating or pretends to not regret eating to mask the regret. OOPS I JUST YAWNED TO DEATH.”

Outrageous Acts And Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem (1983)


“Now, we are becoming the men we wanted to marry. Once, women were trained to marry a doctor, not be one.”

Redefining Realness: My Path To Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock (2014)


“My family subscribed to this rigid belief system. They were unaware of the reality that gender, like sexuality, exists on a spectrum. By punishing me, they were performing the socially sanctioned practice of hammering the girl out of me, replacing her with tenets of gender-appropriate behavior. Though I would grow up to fit neatly into the binary, I believe in self-determination, autonomy, in people having the freedom to proclaim who they are and define gender for themselves. Our genders are as unique as we are. No one’s definition is the same, and compartmentalizing a person as either a boy or a girl based entirely on the appearance of genitalia at birth undercuts our complex life experiences.”

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

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“Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein (2015)


“We were never trying to deny our femaleness. Instead, we wanted to expand the notion of what it means to be female. The notion of ‘female’ should be so sprawling and complex that it becomes divorced from gender itself.”

Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name by Audre Lorde (1982)


“I remember how being young and Black and gay and lonely felt. A lot of it was fine, feeling I had the truth and the light and the key, but a lot of it was purely hell.”

Living A Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed (2017)


“Queer and feminist worlds are built through the effort to support those who are not supported because of who they are, what they want, what they do.”

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (1990)


“To live in a culture in which women are routinely naked where men aren’t is to learn inequality in little ways all day long.”

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)


“Race doesn’t really exist for you because it has never been a barrier. Black folks don’t have that choice.”

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (1949)


“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

Notes From A Feminist Killjoy by Erin Wunker (2016)


“The feminist killjoy takes pleasure in the work of interrupting the patriarchal norms that pass as joy. Burn it down! She gleefully lights the match.”

Feminism Is For Everybody by bell hooks (2000)


“Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”

The Crunk Feminist Collection edited by Brittney C. Cooper, Susana M. Morris, and Robin M. Boylorn (2017)


“We are Hip Hop Generation Feminists. We unapologetically refer to ourselves as feminist because we believe that gender, and its construction through a white patriarchal capitalist power structure fundamentally shapes our lives and life possibilities as women of color across a range of sexual identities.”

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)


“Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.”

Muslim Girl: A Coming Of Age by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh (2016)


“In order to be able to derive these logical conclusions about my religion, I had to go back to the basics and understand the very fundamental principles upon which it was founded: justice, social equality, racial equality, financial equality, and, possibly most important of all, gender equality. Thus began my lifelong love affair with Islamic feminism.”

Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis (1981)


“‘Woman’ was the test, but not every woman seemed to qualify. Black women, of course, were virtually invisible within the protracted campaign for woman suffrage.”


Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti (2007)


“As different as we all are, there’s one thing most young women have in common: We’re all brought up to feel like there’s something wrong with us. We’re too fat. We’re dumb. We’re too smart. We’re not ladylike enough – ‘stop cursing, chewing with your mouth open, speaking your mind’. We’re too slutty. We’re not slutty enough. Fuck that. You’re not too fat. You’re not too loud. You’re not too smart. You’re not unladylike. There is nothing wrong with you.”

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)


“All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men. But I never thought I’d have to fight in my own house. She let out her breath. I loves Harpo, she say. God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me.”

Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit (2014)


“Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don’t.”

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women Of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa (1981)


“A theory in the flesh means one where the physical realities of our lives — our skin color, the land or concrete we grew up on, our sexual longings — all fuse to create a politic born of necessity.”


Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (2014)


“I openly embrace the label of bad feminist. I do so because I am flawed and human. I am not terribly well versed in feminist history. I am not as well read in key feminist texts as I would like to be. I have certain…interests and personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism, but I am still a feminist. I cannot tell you how freeing it has been to accept this about myself.”

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