My Feminist classics-

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

I thought I’d do something slightly different for this week’s post, instead of one big review, I wanted to do five short ones, more specifically what I’m going to call ‘my feminist classics.’ I love feminist literature, in fact, it often leads me to explore genres I wouldn’t usually choose.

I find there is much dispute around what constitutes a ‘classic’, the confusion goes even further when you get to subsections such as so-called ‘feminist classics.’ There seems to be an endless list of books we should read simply because someone has said so.

This list is made up of ‘my feminist classics’; books, I have loved, that have made me proud to be a feminist, even if they aren’t the ‘typical’ feminist classics a lot of critics would agree on! It is by no means an exhaustive list that others should follow, it is simply a way to document the top three feminist books that have touched my life.

I have spoken about a few of these briefly on my Instagram before, but there are still some new ones, hope you enjoy-

My top three feminist classics-

  • Memoirs of an ex-prom queen:

First published in 1972, Alix Kates Shulman’s novel has had a profound impact on me. I only read it a couple of months ago, so to list it as one of my top three really illustrates how instrumental the novel has been to me. Following Sasha Davis (the titular prom queen), Shulman’s book explores the sexual discrimination, lack of job opportunities and prevalence of the patriarchy in the 1950s and 60s. However, what stood out to me was just how sadly relatable to the modern age the book is as well as, Shulman’s focus on the beauty myth. Sasha’s ‘high school peak’ as a prom queen is the crux of the novel as she consistently compares herself to the beauty, she believes she had and lost, a portrayal that is recognisable in the beauty industry today through advertisement etc. Yet, Shulman also captures issues of her time (sexual abuse, the wage gap, job markets, women being viewed as unintelligent, sexuality) whilst still remaining bittersweetly relevant to us now. Being written in the 70s, the novel, of course, misses the mark on intersectionality, yet, it is powerful, relevant and relatable.

The Handmaid’s tale:

Possibly, one of the best-known pieces of ‘feminist literature’, Attwood’s text was a formative read for me. It is the first ‘classic’ I remember reading. Looking at the Republic of Gilead where fertile women become ‘handmaids’ sent to houses of male commanders (who can no longer have children) to aid reproduction. It is a harrowing read that puts into perspective the rights surrounding women’s bodies, reproductive rights and the slippery slope to political mayhem. Gilead is a world of fear and manipulation, yet most vividly a world where women’s rights are non-existent. Reading the Handmaid’s tale, for me, was most importantly a tool to realising just how vital bodily autonomy was, it opened a door to me being able to voice my identity and my rights. The scariest thing about the novel is just how real it is. Yes, it is a dystopian science fiction text but it by no means relies on an unrecognisable world. It is a world that we know but has been transformed by corruptness, a world which is all too familiar.

I know why the Caged Bird sings:

Maya Angelou’s, I know why the caged bird sings is the first in a series of seven autobiographies. Following her childhood, Caged Bird chronicles the extreme poverty, racial and sexual discrimination of Angelou’s childhood. It is a visceral portrait of her difficulties (including the trauma she experienced at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend) that allowed me to understand a world I would otherwise not know. Yet, beyond this, Angelou’s story is one of hope. It shows us that despite it all we can rise up against our past and write our own history. I usually dislike autobiographies, but this is one like no other. Not only was it written to not read like an autobiography (a challenge set by James Baldwin) but it is beautiful, bittersweet and heart-warming, a task a lot of autobiographies fail to achieve. I know why the Caged Bird sings is a story for all time, that has personally taught me (despite the vast differences in life experiences) that we can all rise out of trauma.

Honourable mentions-

  • What would Boudicca do? A non- fiction book that looks at different women throughout history. Each section follows one figure and shows how our ‘everyday problems’ can be solved by looking at them i.e. – Frida Kahlo and finding your style.

  • The World’s Wife: Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry collection is inspired by the quote ‘behind every famous man is a great woman.’ Each poem takes a look at the women behind famous men, giving them a voice and story. Often witty, sometimes sad and always brilliant this is truly a gem. Standout poems include- The Devil’s Wife (Myra Hindley/Ian Brady), The Kray sisters and Little Redcap.