Matador Network Editors Matt Hershberger, Ana Bulnes, and Morgane Croissant, as well as MatadorU Writing Faculty Member Mary Sojourner selected 7 books (fiction and non-fiction) written by women about the female experience. If these don’t make you want to smash misogyny and eradicate patriarchy, nothing will.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
As a man, what is often most astounding to me is how much different a woman’s life — even one lived in close proximity to mine — can be from my own, without my knowing. One of the first books that jarred me out of that bubble was The Color Purple. If it’s tough to be a woman now, it’s nothing compared to being a black gay woman in the 1930’s American South. The Color Purple is an uncomfortable book, and that’s the point. It lets us into the lives of women who are brutalized by pretty much everyone around them, and it makes us feel their pain, and lets us see their strength. And what’s literature for, if not that? –Matt Hershberger
We should all be feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This little book (less than 20 pages) has so much in it, once you read it you just want to buy a couple hundred copies and give them away to passers-by, in the hope it will make everyone really understand why we need to have that dreaded gender conversation. Based on one of the author’s most successful TED talks — it’s basically the same text, so I guess you can also share it on Facebook, but giving books away is way cooler — it will also provide you with the perfect responses to all those typical things some people will say when you identify as a feminist. So, next time someone asks if you hate men or why you say you’re a feminist instead of a believer in human rights, offer the book as a reply. –Ana Bulnes
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale had me gasp every few pages. Not because it is shocking or outrageous (although it is both), but because it was scary in a way that felt much too real. Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel takes place in theocratic New England at a time where the birth rate has declined and fertile women are rounded up and indoctrinated in “schools” to become “handmaids”. Once properly trained, the handmaids are forced to live with high-ranking couples and bear the children of the husbands. Although published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale has never gone out of print and the reason for its success is its relevance — there was never a time in the history of the world where women’s reproductive rights were not under threat of being controlled. –Morgane Croissant
Sisterhood is Powerful, edited by Robin Morgan
I was forty, raising my three kids in an urban anarchist commune. I went to school full-time, worked part-time and had begun to notice that most of the smart strong women I knew lived the same way — and most of us were exhausted. We talked about how it seemed that we had to do twice as much work as men did to be recognized and respected. In that autumn of 1970, a friend invited me to a women’s consciousness raising group. I had no real idea what would happen, but I knew that something had to happen.
I found my place in the circle of women in a candle-lit living room. Though we had no real leader, one of the women pulled a book from her bag. “Wait till you read this,” she said. “It’s perfect for what we are going to do. Sisterhood is Powerful is a collection of essays, edited by Robin Morgan. Most of them were written by women who got fed up with the way men dominated radical politics. The writers are different races, ages, and sexual orientations. I guarantee you that you will find part of your story in this book.” I did.
Sisterhood is Powerful was the primary text for Second Wave feminists — it is a wise, pissed-off, and accurate history for today’s feminists. After all, to not know the past is to be doomed to repeat it. –Mary Sojourner
The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich
You might have watched Amazon’s TV show based on this story, how in 1970 Newsweek’s female staffers sued the magazine for not allowing women to write and, more importantly, have their own bylines (because they did write quite often, but their articles were always signed by their male colleagues). What you won’t see on the show, because Amazon decided to cancel it, is what happens after they sue — how the agreement they reached was soon forgotten, and how 40 years later women in Newsweek still had it much more difficult than men. The book is written by one of the staffers who sued Newsweek back in the day, and became, five years later, the magazine’s first woman Senior Editor. Reading the book you’ll realize how far we’ve come, but how long the road ahead still is — as The Atlantic reported, no women were involved in Amazon’s decision to cancel the show. –Ana Bulnes
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman is a collection of hilarious personal essays about being a woman in the modern world. Sometimes it reads like a rebel’s rant, but most times it simply says out-loud and without frills what women usually keep buried in and it’s refreshing. Abortion, bad and good relationships, periods, Brazilian waxes, miscarriages, porn, motherhood, etc. all of it gets sliced open by Moran’s salty tone. My favorite part, you ask? “Do you have a vagina?” she writes, “Do you want to be in charge of it?” If you answered yes to both questions, “Congratulations! You’re a feminist.” –Morgane Croissant
Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
I was brought up Catholic in the Forties and Fifties. God was a weird old man who sat on a throne, needed to be constantly told how fabulous he was and could see right into a little girl’s mind — and maybe even her clothes. I fled the church when I was thirteen — the story, Soul-kissing in Purgatory is in my first memoir, Solace: rituals of loss and desire. For decades, I either checked out different religions or declared myself a non-believer. I loved folk legends, myths, and T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, a four-part retelling of the Arthur/Merlin/Guinevere/Morgaine legend. Now, I understand that most of the legends and myths featured male gods, male wizards, and male warriors.
In 1983, I began working as a feminist counselor. My mentors and teachers were the women breaking traditional psychology into shreds — and creating a new understanding of women’s mental health from the broken pieces. I taught workshops on themes like Women and Anger; Learning to Want; Leaving a Destructive Marriage. One of the participants brought me a package at the end of one of the workshops. “This will shake your world,” she said. I opened the package to find a book, The Mists of Avalon. “Don’t start reading it tonight,” she said. “You won’t get any sleep.” That night I crawled into bed and opened the book. By morning, the author Marion Zimmer Bradley had shattered my childhood religion and dethroned the weird old god — as well as my sleep. She moved aside Arthur and Merlin and brought the stories of Guinevere and Morgaine into the foreground. I understood that I’d been robbed of my birthright and that a cosmos filled with goddesses had brought me medicine for my heart. –Mary Sojourner