I love to celebrate women every day, but especially as this month is about Women’s History, what should we be reading this month?
There are so many great books to choose from, but I’m breaking it down by the decade. From 1900 till now, I’ll recommend a book from each decade, and of course, there are so many more that we should be reading!
These books are all by women, they all feature a female protagonist, and they all in some way address “feminism,” however you define it. Our definition of this topic has certainly changed over the years, but I’m looking at books that empower and embolden women. I want to read books that give us hope for the future as females, or anyone who identifies as feminine, and read stories about people who have PMS, who talk about taboo subjects like menstruation, and who push us to strive for our feminist roots!
As a champion of feminist studies, here are some books to fill up your book shelves this March and to keep up Women’s History Month for all of those reading hours when you’re at home during the pandemic.
Let’s dive in to the books we need to read right now!
1900: The Awakening by Kate Chopin. This book is set in New Orleans at the end of the 1800’s and is about the protagonist Edna Pontellier and her views on feminist and motherhood living in the South. It looks at topics pertinent to women of the time and is considered a precursor to American modernist literature with its social commentary and psychological complexity. A compelling novel that changed the way women told stories, The Awakening is a must read on your course of feminist dialogues.
1910: Trifles by Susan Glaspell. This is actually a play, but might be an interesting read, especially in a time where we don’t have any theatre happening, you can read a script to keep the art alive. The play contrasts how women act in public and in private, and the performative nature of women around other women and then around men at that time. It’s an interesting read and very quick!
1920: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. Based on two lectures delivered by Woolf in 1928, this essay is about arguing for both literal and figurative space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by men. It’s a seminal feminist text that’s not to be missed and is also a fast read, and available for free online!
1930: Passing by Nella Larsen. Set in Harlem in New York during the 1920’s and it centers around two friends and growing up. The title refers to the idea of “racial passing” which is part of the novel and was significant for the time. When the book came out it was praised for its conversation surrounding race, gender and sexuality and is still a great read.
1940: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. This book is about the treatment of women throughout history. This book was actually considered to be what started the second wave of feminism, and first asks the reader for the definition of “what is woman,” which she then defines as “other” whereas the male is the “default.” An interesting read to go back and look at as we grow up, she has amazing insight into reproduction and views on our bodies.
1950: The Village by Marghanita Laski. This is a story that centers around a small English Village celebrating the end of World War Two and how the social situations change after this event. For women, it becomes more drastic, loosing their jobs they held during the war, and is an interesting read about this changing time in history.
1960: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. This book that was semi-autobiographical was first published under Plath’s pseudonym, “Victoria Lucas,” and is about the protagonists descent into depression. The Bell Jar is feminist because it deals with issues of power and sexual standards. The protagonist doesn’t have a happy ending, so be warned before you read it, but it is an incredible work of literature by what literary critics call a Feminist Martyr.
1970: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. This is the story of a young Black girl, Pecola who grows up following the Great Depression. The book talks about racism and incest and so was banned at a number of schools and libraries, but it’s an important book by this Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author about race and objectifying bodies.
1980: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. A dystopian world that somehow looks a little like our own, set in a near future New England in a patriarchal and totalitarian state. The protagonist is Offred, part of a group of “handmaids” who are forced to produce children for the males of this ruling class government. The book explores what a total patriarchal society looks like and what it means to be an individual. The adaptation of the novel on Hulu is also particularly great and a must watch!
1990: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. The book is about four Chinese-American immigrant families in San Francisco, who play mahjong together. The mothers and daughters come together to cook and eat, revel and play, and told through short vignettes about each character, the book is a great read.
2000: Moving Beyond Words by Gloria Steinem. No feminist book club would be complete without Gloria Steinem. Pick up any of her texts, or just listen to her speak. I love this book because this is a collection of provocative and entertaining essays, you can just read one and learn a little bit more.
2010: Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. Janet Mock writes in this memoir about her experiences growing up Trans and about the challenges and vulnerabilities that accompanied her life. The book is a powerful vision of possibility and self-realization and asks us to accept one another. A New York Times Best Seller, it’s a great read and one you should definitely pick up!
2020: Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs. Scholar Anna Malaika Tubbs celebrates motherhood with her research on the lives of moms who shaped America’s heroes. Teaching resistance and the worth of Black people to their sons, these mothers fought for equal rights within their families. You should grab this great book about womanhood, mothers, and fighting for your beliefs.