I remember when I became a feminist around the age of 16 or 17. Part of my journey through this activist landscape was reading books from other women who have done ground-breaking work to fight systems of oppression.
I used to *love* digging into autobiographies which was usually more exciting to me as a teenager than seeing a film or hanging out with friends.
As I’m sitting here typing this, I’m looking around at the massive amount of feminist books that I’m surrounded by and reminiscing on when I read each one and how it impacted my views of feminism. I am literally going to choose 4 books that are in front of me and tell you why you should seriously consider checking them out. Some I read when I was 17 and others I’ve read a few months ago.
If you’re a budding feminist, or you know someone who is interested in becoming one, take a look at a few of the books below to help with your journey:
1. Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
I read this book a few months ago and it was definitely a page-turner. Janet’s childhood stories couched in between probing intersectional analysis of culture, gender, race, and class is superb. I seriously felt like I “knew” Janet after reading this. In my head I was like, girl, let’s go get a coffee!
Her candid writing style makes it easier to digest some of the more difficult aspects in her life like sexual abuse, homophobia, transphobia, and racism.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who needs real-life examples to see how how oppression operates. Janet does an awesome job mixing in feminist analysis with personal narrative which helps to make theory a bit easier to understand.
Here’s a quick snippet from the book: [this is one one of my favorite parts]
“Witnessing these women, albeit in the bits and pieces and slices that I was lucky to observe, contributed greatly to my womanhood. Collectively, they made the demure secretary I had said I wanted to be in the second grade look like a caricature. They elevated my possibilities. They were pleasure-seeking, resourceful, sexy, rhythmic, nurturing, fly, happy, stylish, rambunctious, gossipy, feeling, hurt, unapologetic women. They were the kind of women I wanted to be.” [pgs. 65-6]
(2) The Autobiography of Angela Y. Davis
Though Davis only wrote the book when she was 28, it is chock-full of intense experiences as a result of the racist, sexist system she was living under. Each chapter flows between her childhood as well as through her time in prison, her famous trial, and life after prison.
It is astounding reading some of her experiences at my age [I’m 26, two years younger than her when she wrote this]. Her autobiography is one of the very first books I’ve ever read as a feminist. It literally changed my life and inspired me to do social justice work. She is my hero and I had the honor of meeting her this past March at a tiny feminist conference at my former university. I walked her out to her car [which was like a dream come true] and we had a quick conversation about racism, feminism, and veganism [since we’re both vegan].
I have read her auto-biography at least 4 times and I can’t wait to re-read it again.
Here’s a segment in the book where she describes her fear out of getting caught by the FBI:
“Precisely at that moment when all panic should have broken loose inside of me, I felt calmer and more composed than I had in a long time. I lifted my head higher and began to stride confidently toward my room. As I passed the open door facing my room, the frail man reached out and grabbed my arm. He said nothing. More agents were pouring out behind him and others were streaming out of a room across the hall. ‘Angela Davis?’ ‘Are you Angela Davis?’ The questions were coming from all directions. I glared at them.” [p.15]
(3) Sister Species edited by Lisa Kemmerer
Because my feminism incorporates animal bodies, I think it’s important to list a book that makes a connection to animal rights and feminism. This book is an anthology of sorts, compiled with essays from social justice vegan feminist activists who share their personal stories and their views on animal bodies and feminism. In particular, the reader is invited to make connections between specieisism, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.
One of my favorite black vegan feminist scholars of all time Dr. A. Breeze Harper has an essay in the book as well. Here is part of it:
“How is covert ‘whiteness’ in the United States maintained by sensationalizing and reprimanding DMX and Michael Vick for animal torture and cruelty, while ignoring the ‘animal gaming’ pastimes of white privileged males, casting them as nondeviant ‘normative’ behaviors?…My work requires me to engage in uncomfortable—but necessary—‘border crossing’ in order to explore how critical race, critical whiteness studies, and postcolonial feminist theory can help us to understand the Western world’s unique, ongoing, systemic, racist beliefs and acts, in which whiteness, speciesism, and sexism are the norm.” [p.75]
(4) Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins
Pat Hill is like my favorite feminist theorist at this moment. Reading her words provides me with a sense of profound community. Her ability to overtly draw connections between oppressions is what drives my own activism. While she specifically centers black women and their oppression, she is very adamant about building coalitions with other groups to ensure that capitalist, white supremacist patriarchy is dismantled.
The book is also chock-full of *awesome* quotes if you ever need one that is sharp and empowering.
Here’s a quote that I love:
“I knew that when an individual Black woman’s consciousness concerning how she understands her everyday life undergoes change, she can become empowered. Such consciousness may stimulate her to embark on a path of personal freedom, even if it exists initially primarily in her own mind. If she is lucky enough to meet others who are undergoing similar journeys, she and they can change the world around them. If ideas, knowledge, and consciousness can have such an impact on individual Black women, what effect might they have on Black women as a group?”