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The Lalagirl Looking Through Books
The Lalagirl Looking Through Books
Her Campus Media

5 Must-Read Books For Any Feminist

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Plattsburgh chapter.

As much as we all love cute infographics and snappy and sweet social media posts, educating yourself on women’s issues and female liberation is so much more than just that. To be a good activist, you need to be well-read and well-informed, and no matter how much we all wish it would, that doesn’t happen by watching Tiktoks or scrolling through Tumblr. It doesn’t help that trying to get through some books on women’s issues and feminist manifestos are a total slog. Authors like Valerie Solonas and Andrea Dworkin contain beautiful and meaningful quotes hidden deep within passages upon passages of jargony nonsense.

The lack of beginner-friendly writing out in the open makes it easy to get discouraged trying to learn more. To make it all easier for you, you’ll see my favorite works of feminist literature below and a compiled list of the most informative, yet accessible, books that won’t melt your brain when you try to read them.

“Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only.’ Not ‘as long as.’ I matter equally. Full stop,” wrote Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“Dear Ijeawele” originated in an email Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sent her friend after being asked how to raise a feminist daughter, in which she replied with the titular fifteen suggestions. Of course, the manifesto and the standards shared doesn’t just apply to mothers raising daughters, and Adichie outright rejects the idea that it was a parenting book. The suggestions can and should be taken into account as you develop and grow as an activist. The narrative device of being a series of letters to a friend draws you in and keeps you hooked, and Adichie’s skill in writing in a warm, thoughtful, but incredibly frank manner makes the book all the better.

Adichie’s fifteen suggestions and the ways in which she describes how to apply them are deeply intertwined in her experiences as a woman in Nigeria, and the way Nigerian culture responds to feminism. However, her suggestions can be applied universally no matter where you’re from.

“Invisible Women: Data Bias In A World Designed For Men” by Caroline Criado Perez

“(The gender data gap) is therefore a way of not thinking. A double not thinking, even: men go without saying, and women don’t get said at all,” wrote Caroline Criado Perez.

“Invisible Women” is one of the hardest books I’ve ever read and it’s not due to any difficulty in the language or material. Caroline Criado Perez spends 323 pages exposing all the ways our patriarchal world disregards and ignores women, and it is incredibly depressing. Some of the cases Perez brings up are slight annoyances on the surface, but demonstrate how deeply patriarchy saturates our world, from office temperatures being catered to men, to smartphones being too big for the average woman’s hand. However, other cases are genuinely frightening. For instance, the cardiac resynchronization device used to save people from heart failure and death after heart attacks was too slow to effectively work on women, causing the death of an incalculable amount of women. 

Despite being a statistics and data heavy book, with an incredibly long bibliography, it’s written in layman’s terms, with Perez extensively explaining things that the average person might not understand. She condenses this mountain of information into an easily understandable and consumable book, and once I started it, I was hooked.

While the book is angering, depressing, and a little scary, it leaves you with a sense of freedom and relief. Even if you’re not aware of the data gap, you can’t help but notice how there’s almost no research on diseases like polycystic ovarian syndrome, but hundreds of treatments for male pattern baldness. The “double not thinking,” as Perez puts it, makes you feel crazy when you notice it, but “Invisible Women” reassures you that no, you’re not crazy, this is all happening. As well, being aware of it happening is the first step to changing it for the better.

“Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology” by Deirdre Cooper Owens

“The historical arc of American gynecology resembles other American histories in that it is triumphant. It is a polyphonic narrative that contains the voices of the elite and the downtrodden, and if studied closely, this history evidences how race, class, and gender influenced seemingly value-neutral fields like medicine,” wrote Deirdre Cooper Owens.

“Medical Bondage” is an extensive history of American gynecology, how it was built from the suffering and dehumanization of Black and immigrant women, and how this treatment continues today. Owens showcases how in a field meant to be for women, it centers men, from forcing enslaved and poor women to be guinea pigs with no regard for their personhood or safety, to naming parts of our bodies after men, to appropriating the achievements of midwifery.

You will learn something new when you read this book, guaranteed by the amount of information Owens managed to contain in it. It should be a book anyone entering into the medical field should have to read, not just feminists, to fully expose themselves to the horrors oppressed peoples have went through at the hands of elite privileged physicians, in a field that is meant to prioritize our safety and our health.

“Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work Is Done” by Susan J Douglas

“Images of ever more empowered, confident, independent women are seamlessly accompanied by incessant harangues that we’re still not thin enough, busty enough, gorgeous enough, or wearing the most enviable logo,” wrote Susan J Douglas.

We’ve all met someone who is utterly convinced that a western first-world woman has no need for feminism anymore, and they’ve gotten all their rights already, so there’s no point. Hopefully after the Supreme Court’s revisit to Roe v. Wade, the amount of those kinds of people have dwindled. But thinking this way is not entirely their fault. Susan J Douglas’ “Enlightened Sexism” exposes how the entertainment industry and popular culture has been pushing this message since feminism became mainstream. This book really opens your eyes to the ways anti-feminist messages have been pushed with a faux-empowerment disguise. The book opens new perspectives when consuming and analyzing media, and the agendas that may be involved when creating them. 

“Enlightened Sexism” isn’t for everyone; Douglas’ writing is dense and wordy. However, I feel it is important as an activist to be aware of the many ways those who oppose progress push their message in popular culture. As well, it is crucial to understand the difficulty in eradicating intolerance when it is constantly maintained in everything from the way we are taught, to the movies we watch.

“The Natural Superiority Of Women” by Ashley Montagu

“Let us apply another test. What is the answer to the question: Which sex survives the rigors of life, normal or extreme, better than the other sex? The answer is: The female sex,” wrote Ashley Montagu.

This book rarely makes feminist reading lists due to the fact that Ashley Montagu, best known for “The Elephant Man,” is a man, and countless women have covered this topic before and after him in books, like Moderata Fonte’s “The Merits Of Women.” While supporting the work of women is incredibly important, most of those books are a lot harder to find, and “The Natural Superiority Of Women” wasn’t considered a major second-wave document for no reason. Montagu dedicated his career to revolutionizing the field of anthropology, focusing his work on race, gender, and their cultural and political implications, which unfortunately got him blacklisted from academia during the Second Red Scare. 

Montagu, while making it clear that no sex is superior over the other, challenges the cultural belief that men are superior to women by proposing the opposite. He discusses biological advantages that women have such as higher intelligence, stronger immunity and better endurance, and how in a world not built for men, women’s superiority would be undeniable. Montagu also discusses the cultural aspects that lead to the development of patriarchy and how they result from male envy of the titular superiority of women. He showcased international examples from indigenous Australian rituals where men “menstruate,” to the Abrahamic belief of a male god and Adam birthing Eve. 

Some things to keep in mind are this text was originally written in 1952, with the third edition published in 1973, so some language and research may be outdated. However, Montagu’s anthropological and humanist analysis still rings true today, and is an incredibly important book for any woman or man to read.

Awareness of the injustice of the world is scary, but is also empowering and important. You can’t change the world if you don’t know what to change, and I hope this list can be a jumping off point for your own personal research! Ask other women about what they recommend or find interesting, find a topic you’re passionate about and focus on that, or anything that feels right to you. Happy reading!

Olivia Davis

Plattsburgh '26

A first-year student from NYC, majoring in Anthropology and Theatrical Production and Technology, as well as minoring in Archaeology. Chronic museum dweller and active feminist. Has interests in advertising, graphic design, photography, film, and animation.