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10 Books That Are Shaping Modern Feminism

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It seems redundant to say, but I’ve always considered myself to be a feminist. A feminist activist, in fact. When I was eleven years old and my mom handed me my first copy of The Feminine Mystique. With a serious look on her face, she told me that reading it was more important than doing my homework. Her seriousness reflected the content of this manifesto — it’s not a light read. 

10 Books That Are Shaping Modern Feminism

It was the prose within this heavy book (which was an especially daunting book at such a young age — I wish there’d been an audiobook version back then!) that catapulted the feminist movement to new heights and pried opened the eyes of an entire generation. A generation of women, most of whom didn’t realize that they were being controlled by men, by the media, and by their own sexist expectations on themselves and other women. And while I may not have fully absorbed its importance at such a young age, when I re-read it as a teenager it helped me realize that to see the truth, I must first question every assumption, every photograph and article in the magazines I read, and -especially- my own perceptions of what’s appropriate for my gender.

Many have continued in Betty Friedan’s footsteps by writing books that challenge society’s gender grooves. Here are ten that are essential reading listening for any woman (or man) who wants to understand herself and the society we all live in:

We Should All Be Feminists

We hold this truth to be self-evident — am I right??! Then again, it’s not lost on me that the Declaration of Independence only cited that all “men” should be equal. This quick-listen audiobook is a rally cry for all feminists. Adapted from the author’s Ted Talk about her experience of sexism growing up in Nigeria and how it has affected her life, this moving monolog discusses why we still need feminism and why each and every person should be a feminist.

10 Books That Are Shaping Modern Feminism

All The Single Ladies

There is so much to love in this audiobook. In many ways, it serves as a validation of single life. I really enjoyed this look at the increasing number of single women in society and how single women have been treated throughout history. Previous generations of women didn’t think they had the option of being single, but all that is rapidly changing. Unmarried women have helped to usher in major social change, including abolition and the labor movement. The author illustrates that single women are multifaceted and can have full lives beyond trying to find a man. Any woman who spent some portion of their adult life single will see themselves in this book.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman

When you’re ready for some laughs, listen to this audiobook. It’s simultaneously hysterical and thought-provoking. She asks the question, “So, what do you do when you’re too big, in a world where bigness is cast not only as aesthetically objectionable, but also as a moral failing?” She is a big woman with a big mouth who doesn’t fit the mold of a “normal, pretty woman”. She tells her story in a brutally honest way, leaving us questioning our oppressive idea of beauty and where it came from.

I Am Malala

Perhaps the youngest celebrity feminist, this young woman deserves every accolade sent her way — and she’s received many. The story of Malala Yousafzai is remarkable in every way, and she is an amazing, courageous young lady. Her story is astounding; the circumstances that she was forced to live through, and her bravery and sense of purpose, brought world focus to the tragedies in her homeland. Malala’s powerful story has managed to inspire, engage and mobilize a young generation of both male and female feminists, and educate them about women’s issues around the world. No small feat!

10 Books That Are Shaping Modern Feminism

Fight Like a Girl

Another rally cry — you can feel the (justified) anger in her words.  She is unapologetic, fierce and informative. This audiobook will help you get fired up and assure you that you are not alone in how you feel. It’ll make you question sayings that you may not have noticed were oppressive and sexist, like “he (insert verb here)’s like a girl”, and how the modern-day patriarchy operates. It will make you laugh, cry and seethe with rage. And it’ll open your eyes.

How To Be a Woman

This excerpt tells you all you need to know about this funny and poignant audiobook: “We need the word Feminism back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29 percent of American women would describe themselves as feminist -and only 42 of British women- I used to think, ‘What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of “liberation for women” is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? Vogue, by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good s*** GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF SURVEY?’  These days, however, I am much calmer, since I realized that it’s technically impossible for a woman to argue against feminism. Without feminism, you wouldn’t be allowed to have a debate on a woman’s place in society. You’d be too busy giving birth on the kitchen floor, biting on a wooden spoon, so as not to disturb the men’s card game before going back to hoeing the rutabaga field.”

Everyday Sexism

On a mission to help women recognize and refuse the sexism we face on a daily basis, the author has started a movement to collect thousands of tales from women (and men) of abuse, catcalling, and sexism through social media. Each of the 12 chapters begins with two pages of eye-opening statistics, along with tweets from those who have experienced sexism in all its ugly forms. Groping. Pinching. Catcalling. Rape. Threats. Forced touching. Verbal slights. Public advertisements blatantly showing abuse. Sexual abuse. Gaslighting. “Can’t you take a joke?” Raging–physically raging–males. Domestic violence. Intimidation. And Fear. Fear. Fear. Keys in hands. Crossing the street. Parking under the streetlight. Locking the doors and looking in the backseat. Is someone following me? How to get home from the library after dark. Pepper spray. Off to the ladies’ room in groups. Not putting down a drink and going back to it. Passed over for a raise. Told to wear different clothing. Assumed to be the one serving the coffee. Who drives the car? Who always croaks in Disney films? Why does Xena wear a bikini to war? A constant and just-under-the-radar barrage that we all simply take as our daily world…until it’s gathered in one place and put on parade so we can see the hideous forest and not just a tree or two. Or ten. Or 70.

The Beauty Myth

After listening to this audiobook, you’ll never think of the word “beauty” the same way. Get ready to be exposed to the unfairness of the patriarchically-manufactured images of ‘beauty’ we see every day, and how it oppresses each and every woman. The author highlights the problems with gender in our society by shining a light on the issues of beauty and the everyday culture that focuses on women’s outer appearances instead of valuing who we are on the inside. By using examples of products, companies, and breaking down the mind games they play and the profits they make with the insecurities of women, this audiobook is an eye-opening masterpiece.

Delusions of Gender

In this fascinating and well-researched look at the “neurological” and sociological bases of gender, the author cites plenty of studies to demonstrate why the social environment that children grow up in is the major determinant of gender roles (and indeed, gender inequality). For example, telling girls that they are inherently not good at math has a damaging effect on their confidence. This, in turn, causes many girls and women to turn away from those fields. And vice versa- telling men they are not good at caring for others can cause them to turn their noses up at the idea of entering “girlish” fields. This audiobook is an engaging way to learn about gender roles, education, social psychology, neuroscience, evo psych, or just basically how people tick (as opposed how we *think* we tick).

A Brief History of Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice

In order to understand where we need to go, we first have to understand the past. Every woman inevitably experiences some misogynistic attitudes from both men and, ironically, women. It’s easy to get upset when somebody abuses or attempts to abuse you as a person. It is much harder to recognize that much of this abuse comes to you for a sole reason of being a woman. To realize that you are not at fault. That the reason of what you go through is systemic and pervasive, and so deeply rooted in our world history throughout the ages. That the only way to beat the monster of misogyny is with a consistent systemic change. And that this change can’t happen by itself. Women need to open their eyes and see what’s happening to them. And this audiobook is just that incredible guide that can help women do that.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Audible. The opinions and text are all mine.

A writer, artist and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary spends most of her time in France, but still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. Hilary spent the past decade living in NYC and has traveled extensively around the world, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and brands to bring to Urbanette readers.

42 Comments

  1. Sibel Jenkinson

    The Feminine Mystique is a classic and I think still relevant even in our modern day. It got me reflecting. However, I WON’T RECOMMEND the audiobook. Poor quality of reading, passion is missing, monotonous, flat and awful!

  2. Gregor Karsten

    Okay, I admit, I won’t or have a little time and patience about feminism. But what I appreciate about Audible and audiobooks is that I’m allowed to tackle and somehow learn about this topic that I find of little interest. I guess there’ nothing wrong in giving it a try.

  3. Rachel

    I believe these are mind-enriching books. Pardon me, but I’d rather read than listen to them. I find listening to words spoken as far less active than reading and I think it leads me to disengagement and less enjoyment.

  4. I find audiobooks more convenient than books for I can just load them on my phone and whip them out whenever and wherever I want. I’m a community library user and I usually find time to find great audiobooks from the library.

    I’m a subscriber of Audible.com as well. I appreciate that thousands of discounted (and a number of free) audiobooks are offered for a small monthly fee. I don’t mind paying as long as I’m “intellectually” contented!

  5. Definitely interesting! I’m a feminist and I’m looking for some ways to promote it. This helped me with some inspiration. I’m going to let my friends read this and I’ll encourage them to listen to at least one of these audiobooks you recommended. Thanks a bunch!

  6. Thina

    Naomi Wolf’s ‘Promiscuities’ would be a good addition to this list

  7. I’d add:
    Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
    The Women’s Room by Marilyn French
    The Female Eunuch by Betty Friedan

  8. Melissa Mendez

    To be honest – there is no ‘Top Ten Feminist Books’ list that can in any way convey the vast amount of stunning, intellectual literature (both factual and fiction) produced globally by women who might be called ‘feminist’, that addresses the issues of gender and its stratifications and inequalities. It feels rather futile and a little asinine to pretend it can, and excludes so many works of genius, and different aspects of the subject. That’s even before we consider feminist writing produced outside of books. This article reminds me of a North American I once heard in a Dublin bookshop saying “I wanna see the Top Ten Irish writers! Like Oscar Wilde and that”.

  9. Stephen

    Audible’s collection of books is pretty good. Thanks for recommending these titles. I can’t say I’m feminist but I still find them inspiring!

  10. Evelyn Harris

    I’m happy no one’s suggested Germaine Greer! For a different perspective, I’d like to mention Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. It tries to get down to what feminism is really about, and argues that certain rigid definitions of femininity actually harm the cause and exclude those that might be able to help progress it, namely transgenders.

  11. Luisa Rodriguez

    I would add the Female Eunuch. Of course, it’s a bit dated but it’s still relevant. I’m reading The Golden Notebook at the moment and probably would include that on my list of best feminist books, though I reckon the author would not have considered it as purely feminist. The story gives a good understanding of many aspects of women’s lives.

  12. Kimberly Holder

    I highly prefer audio books because it allows me to “read” while cycling, at the gym, driving, or even falling asleep with Audible’s great sleep mode feature.

    • Diana

      Yeah, I agree with your points. But I think audiobooks take longer to consume than actual reading does.

  13. Ani Hoker

    I started to listen to some Audible’s audiobooks (the short ones) and I find it interesting because I can remember gist better than reading.

    • Me too! It all depends on what type of learner you are… some people learn better by listening, some by viewing, and some by reading and writing.

  14. Luthi Sanders

    I find audiobooks perfect for those who struggle with sitting and actually reading a book. I think these are stimulating titles and I hope Audible produce more powerful titles like the ones already mentioned here.

  15. Kseniya Tomlin

    Imaginative, creative and encouraging works for Audible! Thanks for the heads up, Urbanette!

  16. Jesse Wyss

    Great read! I listen to audiobooks but I think I retain information better when I read. Do you think it’s because I’m not a good listener?!

  17. Jessie Fernande

    I’m thankful Audible is around. I listen to audiobooks when I travel for work. I think listening is more natural, isn’t it that we were trained with bedtime stories (read by our parents) before we learned to read by ourselves?

  18. Lana Wiliam

    Not a fan of audiobooks but a bookworm. I wonder if listening to audiobooks have the same intellectual impact as reading???

    • I guess it depends on how closely you listen, and if you take notes 🙂

  19. Alena Martin

    Intelligent, influential and inspiring!!!

  20. Nataliya Smith

    I just realized that there’s a lot of privilege I take for granted. I can be influential in a positive way. #feminist

  21. Jurik Smith

    “Audiobooks work better for me than in-text and I’d like to commend Audible for always giving me my money’s worth.

    Hilary, your article is a great list that can help me assess which ones to subscribe to after I finish Stephenie Meyer’s “”The Chemist.”””

  22. Angelo Henderso

    I’ve read “The Beauty Myth.” It’s disturbing because it highlights a lot of issues women face. I wonder if it will have the same impact when I listen… 🤔

  23. Selli Coaze

    I’m doing myself a favor, I’m listening to all. I’d like to start now, but I wonder if I can get any of these for free? My free subscription to Audible is going to end in 8 days.

  24. Juli Woods

    I want to learn and develop intellectually, but I’d rather listen than read. I appreciate that Audible creates stimulating works like these.

  25. Hena Taylor

    You’re a brilliant thinker and writer, Hilary! Thanks for sharing these influential and encouraging titles. I’m confused thinking about which one to listen to first!

  26. Cristina Joseff

    Life changing books!

  27. Nancy Smith

    You just changed my views, Hilary! Thanks for putting your incredible thoughts and suggestions.

  28. Maria Bruce

    Bookmarked! I’m going to share this thought-provoking article with my friends! Let’s all unite to make a difference 🙂 These audiobooks are perfect starting point! I would also add The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

  29. Jessi Agusta

    These ‘top 10 feminist books’ don’t actually list the top 10 feminist books by either sales, critical acclaim, intellectual rigour, word of mouth, impact on society, raising of public consciousness or any other yardstick other than the journalists apparent desire to list obscure works. Ok to list as interesting feminist books but I doubt even Caitlin Moran thinks the above list is ‘top 10’.

    • Lusi Martin

      “Only one of your criteria can be objectively measured. The rest of your point is consequently invalid as your subjectivism is no more ‘accurate’ than the author’s subjectivism. You could of course conjure your own list on such terms, but it wouldn’t detract from this one.

      The dual purposes of any list such as this is, A) to highlight works and B) provoke debate.

      You complain that these are “”obscure”” titles. Perhaps others will find them obscure too, and seek them out. That’s a good thing, right?”

    • Anila William

      These are great books there is no doubt. And i wouldn’t dispute the list to much. In terms of getting boys/lads into a bit of feminist reading though…you could do a lot worse than putting Caitlin Moran’s how to be a women, and the everyday sexism book into a few hands. It’s your everyday boy/lad/man that needs to get engaged with this stuff

  30. Honey Smith

    “After reading The Feminine Mystique, I learned to look at things a little differently. I learned how to be part of the changes in this world, I decided not to fear.

    My NOTE to Audible: Please re-work the recording. I think you need a narrator who can read the work more passionately.”

  31. Bela Christo

    I haven’t read or listened to any of the titles you mentioned but browsing through your article made me feel like I was conversing with a best friend, confiding the secrets and weaknesses of my heart that no one else understands. Thanks for being feminist and sharing your views with us, your readers!

  32. Quin Meri

    Impressive article, Hilary! Fantastic work, Audible! I’m excited to listen to at least 3 of these. They are inspiring and serve as the eye-opener to modern womanhood!

  33. Jenifer Jeni

    Great read! You just challenged my thoughts, biases, judgments and stereotypes!

  34. Ana Brose

    “I’m an audiobook fan, I enjoy “”reading with my ears.”” I’ve had listened to a number of audiobooks from Audible but I never tried checking out these titles that have strong and smart tone.

    Thanks for the write-up, Hilary! I believe every woman should read these. Let’s be outspoken, let’s fight for our rights and equality, we have our weapons — wit and high spirits!”

  35. These books remind us of how crucial it is for our society to change, how our ambitions are taken for granted.

  36. Ani Hoker

    Great job, Hilary! You’ve recommended a book for everyone: a diehard feminist (who knows what she wants to achieve); a confused one who’s still unsure what the word means; and for those who are feeling tired of “feminism.”

  37. Eloisa Clay

    “Thanks for the recommendation. Among these, I’ve only read “”We should all be feminists.””

    I consider myself a “”feminist activist”” too. I can see how the indignities displayed in the public sphere have been going unchecked. I believe that WE, women, should persist and get involved to make sure our voices are heard.”

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