6 Books that shaped my Feminism (IWD 2022)

For the fourth year in a row, I am dedicating a blog post to my forever favourite day: International Women’s Day. To everyone who celebrates, happy IWD 2022. I hope it is a positive day for you filled with love, hope and happiness. For me, IWD is a time to remember the foundations of my feminism, and to reaffirm the core values that I have learnt and internally developed over the years.

One of the key influences on my feminism has always been books, perhaps because my degree inherently required me to investigate academic texts on feminism, but also because I had a genuine desire to read feminists texts (both within and outside of academia) in my formative years. Either way, I would like to dedicate IWD 2022, to 6 books that shaped my feminism, and the authors that wrote them. I will always be grateful to them for the words, the ideas, and for shaping who I am today.

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Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton

You’d be hard pressed to find a woman my age who hasn’t at least heard of Dolly Alderton and her best selling memoir ‘Everything I Know About Love’. I, like many others, was a massive fan of Dolly before this book and reading it only served to cement that love. The reason I include it in this list is simply because Dolly writes about female friendship like no one else. I think Dolly is so popular because she made tangible this unspoken feeling of being totally and utterly obsessed with your best friends. She put it into words, and she even made it sound cool. There is a long history of young women being made to feel inferior, silly, over the top or ‘too much’, for just simply existing, and the value of female friendship was the object of a lot of this scorn. I have always been overwhelmed with the love I have for my friends, for the sheer joy I experience by being with them, the gratitude I feel for being able to do life with them – but it was Dolly who showed me how to celebrate this. It may seem silly but celebrating female relationships is a cornerstone of my feminism, and I wholeheartedly thank Dolly Alderton and ‘Everything I know About Love’ for transforming that celebration into words I can read forever.

To the Vertuous Reader by Emilia Bassano

I will never forget standing in a queue at the Globe Theatre, and seeing a flyer advertising the new play by Morgan Lloyd Malcom, ‘Emilia’. I have spoken about this play and it’s impact on me countless times, today I am talking about Emilia’s writing itself. The flyer read: “Men, who forgetting they were born of Women, do like vipers deface the wombs wherein they were bred”. I quickly googled the quote and found the entire passage, published in 1611 alongside an anthology of Emilia’s poems, which is even more outstanding. ‘To the Vertuous Reader‘ is the first example I had ever come across, of a woman not only defending her sex, but actually calling out the patriarchal attacks against her sex as unfair and unfounded – I was hooked. Obviously now I know that Emilia was by no means the first person to do this, but she is the one that means the most to me. This quote was pivotal for me: I first read it when I was 21 and in my final year of my undergrad, I knew what Gender History was but I didn’t really know how to engage with it. This quote blew the doors wide open and made me want to engage. I was fascinated by the thought of women in the 1600s defending their sex, it inspired me and it made me want to learn more. It was the beginning of my academic feminism, it shaped my research and I am so happy it was Emilia Bassano who showed me the way.

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

I read this book whilst researching for my master’s thesis, I had wanted to read more perspectives on intersectional feminism, and movements like Me Too and Black Lives Matter that came from non-white authors. I think it is important when discussing feminism to acknowledge your own privileges, and your own limitations. As a white-cis woman, I cannot fully understand, or write about movements without listening to the people directly affected by them. ‘Hood Feminism’ allowed me to be a better historian, and a better feminist. ‘Hood Feminism’ was not revolutionary for me in its content, but in the way it posed its arguments. It presented me with new perceptions, debates and a language that I could not possibly have written myself, it taught me about my own privilege and cemented within me a new understanding of how I could use that privilege. I recommend this book to everyone who wishes to make their feminism more inclusive, or to anyone who is struggling to articulate the importance of intersectional feminism. The values I learnt in this book are implemented into every piece of writing and every activism I engage in.

Liberating Women’s History: Theoretical and Critical Essays edited by Berenice Carroll

Where ‘To the Vertuous Reader’ was my introduction to Gender History in terms of practice, ‘Liberating Women’s History’ was my introduction to Gender History in terms of theory. Published in 1976, this collection of essays was based upon the emerging conversations being held at various History conference panels in 1970s America. I would highly encourage anyone beginning research into Gender History, to read these essays as a starting point. They capture the early enthusiastic desire to study the female experience throughout history, and to ‘uncover forgotten stories’ from the past. Obviously Women’s History, and subsequently Gender History, has come on leaps and bounds since the publication of this book but this early foundational work is, in my experience, essential reading. These essays helped me think critically about Gender History, they developed my skills in analysing historiography itself, and essentially cemented my understanding of what Gender History could and should be. In short, if you are engaging academically with Gender History, you MUST read this book.

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

My sister gave me this book for Christmas one year, and it was possibly one of the most thoughtful presents I have received, simply because it taught me so much. ‘Invisible Women’ is a study on how women have been systematically excluded from key decision making, and overlooked in data which has resulted in a world that is quite frankly not made for them. This book genuinely blew my mind. The amount of minute, everyday aspects of life that have been adapted for men but not for women is fascinating. My favourite tidbit (which I always quote at work) is that the guidance for workplace temperatures was decided upon based on male bodies, however female bodies naturally run 2 degrees colder – which explains why women are more likely to feel cold at work, because the guidance does not consider them. This book, like the others in the list, fundamentally adjusted my thinking and gave me the best argument for why equality and diversity is essential in positions of power where decisions are being made. The men making the decisions noted in this book were not purposely ignoring the specific needs of women, in most cases they simply didn’t even consider these needs, because they had never had to consider them. It was an incredibly coherent and well-argued book on exactly why having diverse people ‘in the room’ really did make positive changes – because they picked up on things that other people would undoubtedly miss. The frame with which this book posed this narrative of power and privilege has permanently altered my beliefs, for the better.

Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights edited by Polly Russell and Margaret Jolly

I discovered this book through a colleague at work, who I admire immensely, and who actually wrote one of the chapters, dedicated to Women in Public Life. ‘Unfinished Business’ was published alongside the British Libary’s 20/21 exhibition of the same name, both of which map out the history of women’s rights through a series of objects, sources and cultural references. The exhibition was one of the best I have ever seen, and despite being relatively small was so immersive that I ended up spending hours looking around. The book, brilliantly captures the beauty, enthusiasm and power of the exhibition. It is by far the most aesthetically pleasing academic text I have ever owned, and it is also just bloody interesting. The history detailed in this book was not necessarily new to me, as I had fully committed myself to the field of Gender History by the time I bought it, but it is nevertheless key narratives and stories, that everyone should know about. For me, this book is what I would present to someone if they asked me why I am a feminist, and why I will continue to stay dedicated to the fight, not only for women’s rights, but for the rights of all marginalised group’s.

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I hope you enjoyed this whirlwind tour of my feminism through books, and I hope I have convinced you to go out and read at least 1 of the 6 from my list. IWD, for me, has always been an excuse for a wholly positive celebration of all women, their lives and their experiences and I am excited to continue that tradition for many many years to come!

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