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International Women’s Day: 50 feminist books to smash the patriarchy

Feminist books that every woman – and man – should read.

International Women’s Day is the perfect moment to stock up your shelves with feminist books.

Whether attacking the power structures of the present, or creating imaginative utopias and dystopias, literature has long been an effective way to spread ideas about equality.

From great works about the intersection of race and feminism, to examinations of feminist thought and action in Ukraine, through philosophy, fiction, graphic novels, horror and books for young adults you’ll find plenty here to inspire, challenge, educate and empower you this International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day book recommendations from campaigners

Anna Birley

For International Women’s Day, the co-founder of Reclaim These Streets picked books that will give you new heroes, food for thought, and laughter.

Anna Birley's book recommendations for International Women's Day

Bloody Brilliant Women by Cathy Newman

My bloody brilliant mum gave me this book on the bloody brilliant women who helped shape our world. If you, like me, hated how women were airbrushed out of your school history classes, then this book is a must-read. Margaret Bondfield, the shopworker who becomes the first woman in cabinet, to Noor Inayat Khan who spied for Britain in the Second World War World War 2, this book leaves you reeling with new heroes and role models.

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The Power by Naomi Alderman

In this universe, girls rule the world. Naomi Alderman turns girls’ early teenage experience on its head. In the real world, that’s the age we learn that we’re not safe when we walk home. It’s the age we’re first catcalled, where our sexuality makes us targets. But in The Power, teenage girls are powerful, dangerous and something to be feared by men. This is an electric, dystopian novel that I read in one sitting.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

This is a funny, clever, confident story about race, class, sex, sexual orientation and identity. It freewheels and flows between the stories of 12 Bblack women, tackling contentious issues but never lecturing. I especially loved the relationship between Yazz and her mother Amma – the way each generation redefines their struggle and reinterprets our world. 

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia

I loved following these tales, traumas and triumphs of women across generations and country borders. It’s impossible not to empathise with the characters who display both strength and kindness in the face of so many challenges not of their making from conflict and colonialism to poverty and domestic violence. The book shines a light on the parallels between women’s experiences, the struggle for survival both inside the home and across borders – and it tells us loudly that as women, “we are more than we know.”

Making Space by Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative

This book challenges us to rethink our public spaces and challenges the sexist assumptions that have impacted the way buildings are designed and cities are planned. Instead of a world designed for the ‘ideal’ 6ft man, Matrix pioneered a new approach which centred women and empowered marginalised communities. The book was written in the 80s, when the original Reclaim The Night movement emerged in response to the Yorkshire Ripper, but was republished this year after an exhibition at the Barbican Centre. As we fight to Reclaim These Streets, this collection of essays is as relevant now as it ever was.

Reclaim These Streets campaigns to make public spaces safe for women. They speak up on street harassment of women and girls, educate boys and men to take responsibility for the problem of violence against women and girls, and work to challenge misogyny in the way our laws are written and enforced.

Alys Mumford

Alys is a feminist campaigner and the Communications and Engagement Manager for Engender. Her International Women’s Day picks include a primer to make you consider how much the world is designed for men.

Alys Mumford's recommendations to read for International Women's Day

To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe by Akwugo Emejulu and Francesca Sobande

So many books about Black feminism come from the USA, so I really recommend this collection of writing from across Europe. It’s a selection of short pieces ranging from letters examining relationships and burnout, to discussions of blackface used during European ‘traditions’, and everything in between.

Experiments in Imagining Otherwise by Lola Olufemi

Lots of people will (hopefully) have read ‘Feminism, Interrupted’, but this latest book by Lola Olufemi is also well worth picking up. Fragments of poetry, meditations on work, home, love and human rights – I absolutely loved it and revisit it often.

Feminist City by Leslie Kern

Planning is a feminist issue, and this short primer is a brilliant introduction to how our public space, transport, and buildings are all designed with men in mind. Warning, you’ll never be able to go for a casual stroll around town again.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

This brilliant comic is written from the perspective of a 10-year-old growing up in 1980s Iran, and beautifully portrays the impact of conflict and patriarchy on both individuals and wider society. I love Satrapi’s drawing style which can convey so much with a few strokes.

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

Feminism for the social media generation, this book is written through small chunks of internet randomness and touches on the absurdity of online life for women. It can split the room but I couldn’t stop talking about it – I laughed, cried and said ‘oh god it me’ at several points.

Engender is Scotland’s feminist policy and advocacy organisation. Find out more at engender.org.uk

Natasha Mudhar

Natasha Mudhar is an equality campaigner and founder of The World We Want (WWW), a purpose-driven global social impact enterprise launched to accelerate the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, through positive action, strategic communication, and global connections.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I’m a huge fan of Chimamanda’s work, be it her authorship or compelling TEDx address of the same title. In this book she intricately breaks down the nuances of feminism, debunking the myths that it is a radical movement which seeks some form of social leverage above men, or to completely vilify the opposite sex.

Feminism is not about wanting ‘special rights’ but rather unearthing the importance of ‘equal rights’. With that frame of mind, we should all indeed be feminists.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzia

Many will be familiar with Malala’s story. It is an eye-opening and emotional recollection of the assassination attempt on a young Pakistani girl whose only perceived wrongdoing was her desire for an education. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Malala in person at an Oxford Union gathering. She is a remarkable young woman and her story is a stark reminder of the struggles women and girls face in their pursuit of equal access to education and careers.

My grandmother for example dropped out of education aged 15 to marry back in India. She lost her opportunity to learn and her own story is a major reason I do what I do today.

Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

International Women’s Day is not only a celebration of the trailblazing women of our era and eras past, but also to recognise the strides we must make to achieve equality. When we think about the problems facing girls and women, I always feel it’s important to cast our minds overseas to civilisations far different to ours. Half the Sky depicts the sobering reality of young girls in pockets of the global south, but also how they defeat extreme adversity to become successful.

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

The words on the cover say it all for me. ‘Empowering women changes the world’. Put simply, how can we expect to be a prosperous generation if half of the population are shunned, oppressed or ignored? The World We Want is one where nobody is left behind.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

As you can probably assume from my above list, I tend to gravitate towards non-fiction more often than not, yet Girl, Woman, Other is a truly fascinating novel by Bernardine Evaristo. It’s not necessarily directly empowering, but it follows the lives of each of the 12 principal characters as they navigate the world – and everything that comes with it such as sexism, racism, politics and more. I find it fascinating how interconnected the characters are.

Moya Bailey is a feminist scholar, writer, and activist, notable for coining the term misogynoir, which describes the specific form of discrimination experienced by Black women. For International Women’s Day, she points us towards fiction, memoir and science.

Books about feminism and race, recommended by Professor Moya Bailey for International Women's Day

The Street by Ann Petry

The Street by Ann Petry is, in my opinion, one of the best sociology texts ever written, cleverly disguised as a breathtaking novel. From the first page to the last, I’m amazed by the way Petry makes the material consequences of misogynoir manifest in the life of the fated heroine Lutie Johnson. Petry’s prose pulls the reader along an exceedingly rich and often foreboding path of the harsh realities for poor Black people in 1940s Harlem.

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organising and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba

Kaba has been one of my many teachers on this thing called transformative justice. Her work with Shira Hassan, Fumbling Towards Repair, shaped the title of my book and how I think about transformative justice in the context of digital spaces.

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock

Though she’s gone on to bigger things, Mock’s memoir is an important coming of age narrative for Black girls. Mock describes her youth through her personal discoveries around gender, sexuality, and the more ugly sides of life including childhood sexual abuse, transphobia and misogynoir. She’s an excellent writer and her story, while difficult at times, provides such an important record of Black girl survival.

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison never really got the fanfare it was due. The story of a deep dark skinned child born to colourist light skinned parents illustrates the lengths we go to experience even a little love. This narrative, like some of Morrison’s other work, shows just how corrosive misogynoir can be when turned inward.

The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

This book asks us to reconsider science, especially who gets to produce it. By considering physics, arguably the most objective of sciences, Prescod-Weinstein asks us to consider how misogynoir, among other forms of systemic oppression, keeps us from the types of science that might transform our world for the better.

Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance by Moya Bailey is out now.

Dr Jessica Zychowicz is the Head of the U.S. Fulbright Program in Ukraine, based in Kyiv. She brings us a timely set of International Women’s Day books to consider feminism in the region.

Feminist books about Ukraine and Eastern Europe, recommended by Dr Jessica Zychowicz for International Women's Day

Food Was Her Country: The Memoir of a Queer Daughter by Marusya Bociurkiw

The second in a trilogy that comprises a new genre: food memoir. This book conveys a unique perspective on Ukraine today from the eyes of a scholar, informed by her activism within Toronto and Canada’s wider LGBTQ+ communities, but also her family’s experiences interwoven with Ukraine’s history through multiple generations. Ranging from awkward feelings of being an outsider or ‘other’ due to queerness, the experience of growing up a Canadian-Ukrainian with immigrant parents who lived through the Second World WarWWII also shines through this book.

All of Baba’s Children by Myrna Kostash

Epic in scale, this icon of Canadian-Ukrainian history has been added to the Canadian canon. Amazingly, Kostash herself is not a typical male scholar telling the story of the nation’s history or its immigration – she is a figure from the 1970s circles of intellectuals and feminists in Edmonton, Alberta who not only supported women’s rights, but also dissidents and fellow writers from the USSR and Eastern Bloc who were persecuted for their views.

The Romance of Teresa Hennert by Zofia Nałkowska

This recent translation of an ‘anti-romance romance’ novel – written in 1922, interwar Poland by author and radical cultural icon of her time Zofia Nałkowska – is a testament to not only the highly experimental and even subversive prose of that era, but also the way in which a woman author (de)constructed and challenged her social surroundings. Nałkowska reminds all Polish women today, especially those who demonstrated in the nationwide Strajk kobiet protests of 2021 [The All-Poland Women’s Strike], of the women and voices of an earlier century that ventured similar struggles.

The Century of Women: How Women Have Transformed the World since 1900 by Maria Bucur

This is a defining historiography that presents new ways of thinking about the often discussed ‘transition’ from the Soviet to post-Soviet era. Bucur writes as a scholar from former socialist Romania, now based in the U.S., and as a woman and feminist. Her perspective and selection of sources is unique and challenges the too-often male dominance over the historiography of this period in history.

The Routledge Handbook of Gender in Central-Eastern Europe and Eurasia edited by Katalin Fábián, Janet Elise Johnson, Mara Lazda

This is the most recent, comprehensive representation of the state-of-the-field in gender and feminist scholarship on Russia and Eastern Europe. Highly informative and cutting-edge researchers from over 20 countries weigh in on the region and its development since 1991, with most chapters focusing on the past five to 5-110 years.

Superfluous Women: Art, Feminism, and Revolution in Twenty-First Century Ukraine by Jessica Zychowicz

This groundbreaking work is a foundational close study written over a period of ten years, representing my deep relations with Ukraine, its key scholarly interlocutors, and many friendships and interviews with Ukrainian gender and human rights activists, artists, and revolutionaries. The book also includes many previously unpublished artworks by artists of Ukraine’s emerging generation. The book covers the period 2000-present and sheds light on Ukraine’s historical changes in the years that have led to the ongoing war with Russia.

Superfluous Women: Art, Feminism, and Revolution in Twenty-First Century Ukraine is out now (University of Toronto Press)

Philosopher and psychoanalytic theorist Isabel Millar’s new book The Psychoanalysis of Artificial Intelligence examines the crucial role of psychoanalysis in understanding what AI means for us as speaking, sexed subjects.

Books about psychoanalysis and feminist theory, recommended by Isabel Millar

Imagine There’s No Woman: Ethics and Sublimation by Joan Copjec

In this psychoanalytic exploration of the concept of sublimation and feminine sexuality, Copjec masterfully illuminates Lacan’s infamous and provocative claim ‘Woman does not exist’ showing via myth, film, art and politics how this negative proposition contains within it a powerful statement of female invention, subjectivation and ethics.

Powers of Horror by Julia Kristeva

Through the theories of Freud and Lacan, Kristeva articulates how the concept of the ‘abject’ occupies a primordial space escaping signification. At the boundary of self and other, subject and object, life and death, abjection holds the key to understanding misogyny in its most visceral manifestations. A classic feminist text.

Encore: On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge by Jacques Lacan

The keystone text for understanding why psychoanalysis is essential to feminist theory. Seminar 20 represents Lacan’s most sophisticated theorisations on the sexed and structural nature of subjectivity. Drawing on philosophy, literature and set theory it articulates with breath-taking elegance the concept of enjoyment (jouissance) and how it determines sexual positioning.

Can the Monster Speak? A Report to an Academy of Psychoanalysts by Paul B. Preciado

A text which pushes the traditional edifices of the psychoanalytic establishment to examine their politics, prejudices and conceptual shortcomings. Preciado challenges the transphobia of the psychoanalysts at the École de la Cause Freudienne’s annual conference in Paris and presents us with the mutating concept of the ‘somatheque’. An important book.

What IS Sex? by Alenka Zupančič

This book definitively lays out the stakes of sexuality for psychoanalysis, philosophy and politics. Drawing on Freud, Lacan and Hegel, Zupančič explains how talking itself is fundamentally sexual. ‘Sex’ however is shown to be a properly philosophical problem, a concept on the threshold of ontology and epistemology (being and knowledge).

The Psychoanalysis of Artificial Intelligence by Isabel Millar is out now (Palgrave Macmillan)

Artist and writer Lucy Sullivan recommends the best graphic novels to bring colour and texture to your International Women’s Day reading.

Graphic novels for International Women’s Day, recommended by Lucy Sullivan

Biscuits (assorted) by Jenny Robins

Robins explores modern feminism by weaving a thread of women’s lives in London. Sweeping the reader into their homes, workplaces and most intimate moments from finding dates for weddings to whether you should eat more fibre, Biscuits (assorted) skilfully renders womanhood in all its glorious, messy idiosyncrasies.

The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis  

In this increasingly prescient tale set in a near future we follow Hannah as she tends to her elderly clients as a care worker and attempts to build a family and home with Johnny, set against the backdrop of her political activist group and their anti-war protests. Davis is a master of graphic narrative with a beautiful ease of line and characters so real you feel you’ve known them forever.

Femme Magnifique curated and edited by Shelly Bond  

This superb anthology draws together a wealth of comic’s brightest from around the globe to tell the stories of 50 women who changed the world. From Ada Lovelace to Octavia Butler encompassing so many voices and lives between my personal highlight is Gossip front-woman Beth Ditto gorgeously told by Leah Moore & Alison Sampson.

Resistance, Sustenance, Protection by Rachael House

No other creator makes zines with the sheer confidence of Rachael House. This collection created during lockdown captures an abundance of pivotal moments through both personal and communal reactions as the world came to terms with the crisis. Told in mere panels these brilliant short comics will stand as testimony to an extraordinary moment in time.

Boundless by Jillian Tamaki  

In this truly unique exploration of comics storytelling, Tamaki delights the reader with beautiful artwork, switching styles and layouts to hold an inquisitive eye on the virtual/ real life dilemma in the lives of a group of women whilst exploring what it means to exist in any form. At times auto-biographical, at others fictional, it will leave you with a sense of transcending the grip of mortality.

Lucy Sullivan’s graphic novel Barking is available now from herwebsite. Her current project is a Black Hammer story for Jeff Lemire’sSubstack. It will be published online this Spring to subscribers

Amia Srinivasan is one of the most exciting young philosophers at work today. She is the current holder of the Chichele Professorship at All Souls College, Oxford – one of Britain’s most prestigious academic positions, which was previously held by Isaiah Berlin.

Her latest book, The Right to Sex is a work of feminist theory that centres on the politics of sex, in the wake of #MeToo. In it she discusses how sex needs to be rethought as a political phenomenon, elaborating on the ethics of sexual desire, rape, rape culture, sexual harassment, porn, male sexual entitlement, sex work, and state power.

These are her recommendations for books about feminism, focusing on the US Women’s Liberation Movement.

The Dialectic of Sex by Shulamith Firestone (1970)

“A wildly ambitious book that tries to do for the analysis of patriarchy what Marx and Engels did for the analysis of class domination,” says  Srinivasan. “The book includes a number of radical utopian proposals, including the dissolution of the nuclear family, the end of gender, the liberation of children and the use of reproductive technologies – like artificial wombs and IVF – to free women from their bodies. A provocative, rich and challenging book.”

Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich (1976)

“Adrienne Rich was both an extraordinary feminist theorist and a deeply talented poet. In this book she argues that we should distinguish between motherhood as a cultural institution that oppresses women – and the potential of motherhood to be something that sets women, men and children truly free. An extraordinary meditation on mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, bodies, medicine, psychology, history, politics, and Rich’s own experience of being a mother to three boys.”

Women, Race & Class by Angela Davis (1981)

“Angela Davis is one of the most significant political visionaries of our time. As the title suggests, this book offers an analysis of how three structures of oppression – patriarchy, racial domination and class domination – interact to mutually sustain each other and to devastate the lives of the worst-off women and men. In other words, Women, Race & Class is a foundational text of what we now call intersectional feminism.”

The SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas (1967)

“A wild and provocative feminist manifesto, in turns disturbing and exhilarating and deeply funny. It’s a problematic text in all sorts of ways, but a potent reminder of the place of the outrageous and the carnivalesque within feminism – and well worth the read.”

Sisterhood is Global edited by Robin Morgan (1984)

“This anthology offers an encyclopaedic overview of the condition of women, and their ongoing political struggles for equality, in 70 countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. While the essays reveal an incredible diversity of background conditions against which feminist struggle occurs, certain themes echo throughout the book, most notably that women’s emancipation must go hand-in-hand with an end to colonial and racial domination, capitalist exploitation, and environmental degradation. An important reminder that feminism is not something owned by any one group of women.”

The Right to Sex is out now (Bloomsbury)

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Kirsty Logan is a Scottish novelist, poet, performer, literary editor, writing mentor, book reviewer, and writer of short fiction. She calls herself “a professional daydreamer” and has written three novels, The Gloaming, The Gracekeepers, and Things We Say in the Dark. Here she picks the very best feminist horrors.

feminist horror books

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson

“She’s considered the queen of modern gothic, and for good reason: these stories are sinister, gleeful, mysterious, desperately sad, and so tense I forget to breathe while reading them,” says Logan.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“Mexico is perfect for a gothic story. It’s more than just seeing the usual gothic tropes overlaid on a non-European setting; Mexico’s history and culture are vital to the narrative. And the evil at the heart of the story? Patriarchy!”

Beloved by Toni Morrison

“You can never go wrong with Toni Morrison, but this is my favourite of hers. The tale of the ghost baby and the horrors of her world will forever haunt me.”

Point Horror: Dream Date by Sinclair Smith

“Since starting Teenage Scream podcast, I’ve read almost 100 teen horror books from the 1990s – most terrible. But this is a hidden gem: a quick, creepy read that also asks some serious questions about domestic abuse.”

Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kröger & Melanie R. Anderson

“An insightful, interesting overview of women writing horror, from the classics like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein right up to the modern day with Helen Oyeyemi and Sarah Waters.”

International Women’s Day reading for young adults, chosen by YA author Anna Mainwaring

Anna Mainwaring writes for young adults. Her books, Rebel with a Cupcake, Firefly and Tulip Taylor, all aim to make readers laugh but also think. Here are her choices for books for the young feminist in your life.

feminist YA books

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

“Set in the near future where girl babies are no longer born, EVEs are designed in the lab to be either wives or concubines for the elite young men of society. The Eves have to compete on appearance and personality in order to survive with devastating consequences,” says Mainwaring.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

“When Star Carter is a witness to a police shooting, she needs to find her voice and learn how to take a stand in a divided society. Thomas’ central character and her richly drawn family and friends make a compelling read from the opening chapter.”

A Darker Shade of Magic by V E Schwab

“As a girl who loved fantasy in the eighties, I struggled to find female protagonists who had real agency. This book was written for the 13-year-old me who would have loved Lila Bard: brave, duplicitous, complex, dark and resourceful. A superb start to a compelling series.”

Gloves Off by Louisa Reid

“Written in verse, Gloves Off follows Lily, who is bullied for her appearance and learns to fight back in so many ways.”

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

“Would this be YA if it were published today? Plath follows teen Esther Greenwood as she interns in 1950s New York, struggling to navigate the various roles a young woman should play in society. As relevant now as it was when published, The Bell Jar remains a disturbing but compelling read.”

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