This year, I’ve decided to set a reading goal to read more books by female authors than by men. I came kinda close in 2018 and I want to do better this year. One of the things I like most about reading is that it helps you get out of your own head and experience someone else’s worldview, and that’s the point I’m trying to work toward with this goal.
I thought it might be helpful for me to put together a list of books about feminism in general and about the more specific topic of female anger. Female anger is a concept I’m interested in learning more about this year. It’s the idea that a woman’s anger or dissatisfaction is routinely treated as unacceptable despite the fact that women have plenty to be angry about. I feel like I have at least a baseline understanding of this concept as a gay man, but as a white man I think I have enough privilege that I need to understand it more in order to be a better person.
Books About Female Anger
I’m halfway through Rebecca Traister‘s nonfiction book from 2018 called Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. The title pretty much spells out what this one covers, but the idea is that Traister follows female anger from the suffragette movement to the current political climate to see the ways in which it can cause great change and, in other times, how it can be suppressed in order to prevent change. It’s very good so far.
There are other nonfiction books about female anger, but I’m moving to novels because as a man I like the way novels put me in the head of the character. It helps me understand. The first novel will be familiar to anyone who saw Glenn Close’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes this year: The Wife, by Meg Wolitzer. If you missed the speech, this book is about a wife who put her own literary ambitions to the side in order to help her husband get his writing career off the ground. When he is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, it serves as a catalyst for her to think about everything she gave up over the years and realize that she has incredible amounts of suppressed rage to contend with. I have some issues with parts of the book, but as a catalyst for understanding female anger as it relates to expectations and opportunities, this book is great.
I also found The Woman Upstairs to be a flawed novel (and I have a contentious relationship with its author, Claire Messud), but I thought Messud’s use of tone to be phenomenal. This novel sustains anger throughout every page, and comes across as very compelling because of it.
And here’s one from my TBR: Naomi Alderman‘s The Power was one of The New York Times‘ Ten Best Books of 2017 and imagines a world in which teenage girls are suddenly gifted with the power to inflict great pain (and even death) on others, totally upending the traditional power dynamic within society.
Books About Feminism
Another book on my TBR is Lindy West‘s Shrill, a memoir-ish look at how Lindy West grew up understanding what society expected her to be as a woman (quiet, docile, and compliant), and how she just did not fit those qualities at all. It’s also about how Lindy West went from being a shy and insecure person to an outspoken activist.
I couldn’t do this list without including Virginia Woolf‘s classic feminist text A Room of One’s Own, which blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction because it is essentially an essay but it also has a fictional narrator. In it, Woolf argues that women deserve a proper place in the literary world that was (and unfortunately still is) dominated by the patriarchy.
Another classic is Aristophanes‘ ancient Greek play Lysistrata. I read this in high school and remember it being terribly funny and surprisingly relevant given how old it is. Given that it’s about women who go on a sex strike until their husband’s agree to stop warring with each other, it also neatly points out the ways in which women express authority and agency even as they live within a patriarchal society.
And this list couldn’t be complete without the OG modern feminist: Gloria Steinem. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions is an essay collection from 1983 that collects Steinem’s most famous writing, including her classic piece “I Was a Playboy Bunny.” I am ashamed to admit that I have never read anything by Steinem, and hopefully, this goal will prompt me to fix that.
If I don’t manage to get Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s We Should All Be Feminists in this year, it will be a travesty because this slim volume is the text of Adichie’s TED Talk on the subject. The audio version is only 45 minutes and it’s supposed to be wonderful.
Finally, there are a lot of books by Roxane Gay that I could put on this list, but I think the one that best serves this list’s purpose is Bad Feminist, an essay collection about Gay’s evolution as a person and as a figure in the feminist movement. It also deals with feminism’s ongoing struggle with intersectionality, which is a topic that can’t be missed in any proper reading of feminist texts.