I don’t think anybody can deny that there’s been a real shift towards gender equality this year. Not massively, but subtly. Whilst we still haven’t convinced the concrete misogynists to change their tone, what we have gained is a stronger voice. As recently as the Weinstein scandal last month, women have spoken loudly and clearly, and demanded to be listened to. We have a long way to go, as Lena Dunham’s idiotic statement the other day proved, and we do sometimes get it wrong. But the first step is for the masses to start speaking up, not just a select few. It seems the publishing world has picked up on this trend as well, as there have been slews and slews of feminist books hitting the shelves these past few months. I thought it would be wonderful to share with you a few of my favourite titles – some of these books could make excellent presents for those bad-ass feminists in your life, and also those who perhaps need to be educated that women are, and always have been, fundamentally awesome!
100 Nasty Women Throughout History – Hannah Jewell (£18.99)
This is my absolute favourite, by a mile and I’m desperate to own it. It’s written in a hilarious tongue-in-cheek way, and comes with an ‘old person glossary’ for explaining terms like ‘bae’ and ‘side hustle’, to give you an idea of the tone. Each section is categorised into what these women from history did, and why they are so important. I actually hadn’t heard of most of them, as she goes way back in history to find some. Other books that are similar to this annoy me as they tend to contain a couple of paragraphs on the subject and then fill up the other page with an illustration. This one doesn’t, and you get two full pages of normal-book size print, which leaves you with just enough information to stop you Googling everybody that’s mentioned!
Women and Power – Mary Beard (£7.99)
This is the cutest little hardback, sneakily published around Christmas-time, containing two essays, the longest of which is a reflection on the relationship between, you guessed it, women and power. She’s always engaging, and makes several good points. Why is it that women would be seen as ‘frosty and cold’ if they sent a short, direct email to somebody, whereas we just accept that that’s how male bosses ‘are’? Why are female bids for leadership consistently billed as ‘grasping for power’, as if it’s somehow out of our reach? Beard usually writes about Rome, which is her specialist subject as a historian, but I’m so glad that she’s reached out and penned this volume – I hope it goes far.
The Mother of All Questions: Further Feminisms – Rebecca Solnit (£12.99)
Rebecca Solnit is perhaps the second name that springs to mind when you think of feminist literature, second only to Germaine Greer, and that’s mostly thanks to her runaway bestseller Men Explain Things to Me which is constantly touted by feminist celebrities such as Emma Watson as being incredible. And it is. But I prefer Further Feminisms as it’s softer somehow. She explores the ways in which women are silenced in the modern world, but also takes a moment to consider the ways in which men are silenced too. Women writers, she argues in the first essay, are categorised by their spouses first, their talent second. Last month, I went to a talk on Sylvia Plath’s letters, and a good half of the subject was focussed on her marriage to Ted Hughes, and how he influenced her writing more than anything else. It angered me at the time, but Solnit’s essay made me realise this is a wider problem than I first realised. This is the kind of book that will open your eyes in little ways like that, and see the bigger issues before you focus too hard on the smaller ones.
Riot Days – Maria Alyokhina (£16.99)
This is slightly different to the other books in this post, in that it’s someone’s autobiography. But not just anyone’s. Maria Alyokhina was a member of the famous activist group Pussy Riot, who were sentenced to prison in Russia for what they believed in. This book is relatively short, but packs a real punch. Alyokhina writing is almost a call to arms, so strongly does she incite the reader to fight for their freedom every second of every day. What happened to me in Russia, she says, could happen to anyone. Anywhere.
21 Women Who Changed Britain – Jenni Murray (£9.99)
I admit, I was sceptical of this one. It’s more mass-market than the other titles here and it comes with a by-line from the Daily Mail emblazoned on the front cover (usually a large warning sign as this is where both Piers Morgan and Katie Hopkins are actually given their main public platforms). However, it’s commercialism works in its favour. Each of the 21 women get a full-on chapter, which is a mini biography of their life and achievements. The only downside would be that a lot of emphasis and cultural context is placed on the shoulders of the men surrounding these women. Did I really need to know that Ada Lovelace was Lord Byron’s daughter? No, I did not. She was a mathematician, not a poet. That said, this book is the most modern in this list, as it devotes whole chapters to Margaret Thatcher and Nicola Sturgeon.
For Younger Readers
Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls – Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo (£17.99)
This is a beautifully illustrated collection of inspirational women throughout history such as Rosa Parks and Amelia Earhart. It’s perfect as a bedtime story compendium for children as young as 5, or as an empowering gift for anything up to a 12-year-old. I kind of want it myself! It’s a large sized hardback book and the illustrations are gorgeous.
Things A Bright Girl Can Do – Sally Nicholls (£12.99)
This is a fiction book, aimed at the YA audience, and draws on the momentum of other similar books doing well in the genre. The difference with this book, is that it weaves together historical struggles with modern ones. Set just before WW1, it follows three very different women who join the cause for women’s suffrage. There are both ethnic minority and LGBT characters, which is (although it shouldn’t be) an achievement for a white woman writing about historical Britain. Nicholls writes incredibly well, and her tone always strikes true. Young girls who are unaware or ambivalent towards the struggle that went into allowing the female gender to vote need to read this. Sadly, it is a privilege, not a right.
And that’s it, although I could keep going! I hoped you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed reading it, and do let me know if you’ve read any of these books!