23 Feminist Books Every Woman—and Man—Should Read
Whether for education or inspiration, feminist books that celebrate women's rights deserve a spot on your must-read list.
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Top 23 feminist books everyone should read
“A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men,” said Gloria Steinem, an activist, cofounder of Ms. magazine, and author of one of the must-read feminist books below.
It was equality, along with voting, financial, and legal rights, that women of the first feminist movement were trying to achieve back in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention. The event, the first women’s rights convention, launched the women’s suffrage movement and culminated in the ratification of the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote.
The second wave of feminism launched in the 1960s and 1970s alongside the Civil Rights Movement, Chicano Movement, and Vietnam War protests and was highlighted by the passing of Roe v. Wade in 1973, which made abortion a constitutional right. Since then, the third (and some say even fourth) wave of feminism, which is more inclusive and intersectional, has continued to advance the fight for women’s rights.
To help celebrate and understand feminine power, we rounded up a diverse group of feminist books. To create our list, we pulled out our favorite reads, revisited classics, polled experts in the field, and researched for modern faves. After you’ve read these inspiring feminist books, make time to read the best books of all time, books for women, LGBTQ books, autobiographies, and mother-daughter books too.
1. This Bridge Called My Back edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa
Published in 1981, this radical collection of essays, poems, and art by feminist women of color took on intersectionality even before it was a word. The editors, Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa are queer Chicanx icons, and their examination of gender, race, class, and sexuality is as relevant and potent today as it was then.
2. Cassandra Speaks by Elizabeth Lesser
Titled after Cassandra of Greek mythology, who was cursed to tell the future and have no one believe her, this collection of essays (published in 2020) from the founder of the Omega Institute, a center for holistic studies in Rhinebeck, New York, asks the question, “What would happen if history became herstory?” Examing and picking apart the stories that have defined our culture from mythology to the Bible, Elizabeth Lesser offers tools and language to help women write their own stories. It’s one of the best feminist books to add to your library.
3. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
“I openly embrace the label of ‘Bad Feminist’ … because I am flawed and human.” So begins the hilarious and spot-on 2014 collection of essays by New York Times columnist Roxane Gay. She goes on to admit that she is an imperfect feminist who loves pink, dating competition shows, and popular songs with questionable lyrics. Her honesty and willingness to look at and examine herself—and our culture as a whole—is a refreshing and inviting take on feminism that many women will understand. If you enjoy Gay’s writing, you’ll definitely want to check out her memoir, Hunger.
4. The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler
Long before #MeToo, there was the Vagina Monologues. The groundbreaking play, written and conceived by Eve Ensler (who now goes by “V”), was revolutionary when it premiered in 1996 and still wows today. The episodic play covers sexual consent, body image, sex work, genital mutilation, mentsruation, and other topics that revolve around the holy vagina.
5. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In this short read, published in 2015, Nigerian author and speaker Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shares personal stories from her childhood and onward about the inequalities she faces in Nigeria and in the world. She’s funny and honest, and this would be an ideal book to give to teens and men who are interested in understanding feminism and racism.
6. Down Girl by Kate Manne
Philosopher Kate Manne gives words and understanding to misogyny: what it is, how it works, and why. In this 2017 book, which is well researched and filled with case studies, Manne breaks down how women are made to stay in their lane and what they can do about it. Here are some ways women still aren’t equal to men.
7. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
In her 2015 autobiography, the feminist trailblazer, now in her late 80s, shares stories of her childhood, when her dad would pack the family in the car every fall for cross-country adventures and work opportunities. This inspired her love of travel and her career as a journalist. She notably covered the campaign trails of Robert Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, went undercover as a Playboy bunny, and founded Ms. magazine.
8. Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
Growing up in Chicago in the 1980s, Mikki Kendall, now a famous Black author and cultural critic, saw the White faces of feminism and didn’t think it was for her. So when she wrote her manifesto, 2020’s Hood Feminism, she focused on issues that White feminists weren’t typically talking about, such as gun violence, domestic abuse, food insecurity, and more. This book is for women of color who want to see themselves reflected on the pages but also for White women who want (and need) to learn about critical issues.
9. The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
After her self-published debut book of poetry, Milk and Honey, became a New York Times best seller, the South Asian poet returned in 2017 with this Amazon best seller about love, breakups, migration, insecurity, and more. It’s all told through the five stages of flowers: wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. Rupi Kaur—who was 25 when her second book was released—also illustrates this feminist book and writes with a depth beyond her years. While this work is for all ages, Gen Z readers will especially appreciate the poetry collection‘s honest yearning and strength.
10. Whipping Girl by Julia Serano
Written in 2007, this “transfeminist manifesto” from biologist and trans activist Julia Serano rails against the outdated frameworks for gender and identity and makes the powerful case that transphobia is really sexism. Filled with personal stories and poignant insights, Serano’s essay collection maintains that trans rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.
11. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
Her story shocked and inspired the world. A young Pakistani girl was shot point-blank in the head—all because she wanted to get an education. This beautiful 2013 memoir tells of a girl’s bravery, a parent’s love, and the place of feminism in the Muslim world.
12. The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
Published in 1976 and named one of the top nonfiction books of the 1970s by Time magazine, this richly written memoir from a first-generation Chinese American writer weaves Chinese folktales into the storytelling of mother-daughter love and the indomitable spirit of immigrants—and women everywhere. Gloria Steinem has called it one of her favorite feminist books.
13. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Published in 1982, this timeless masterpiece is about a young girl who’s separated from her beloved sister and finds a group of sister-friends who help one another survive and grow in the early 20th century in the segregated South. Despite their lack of choices and while facing widespread discrimination, this female circle defies the odds (like White domination) and the men around them (including abusive fathers and iron-fisted husbands) to find joy, livelihood, and freedom all on their own. The book was made into a movie—and as good as the Oscar-winning flick is, the book is even more powerful.
14. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
Published in 1949 by French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, this essential feminist text tackles the unequal treatment of women as the “other” throughout history. Hailed as revolutionary and rebellious, de Beauvoir’s book asserts that men center themselves in the universe as “subjects,” with women serving as the constant “objects.” She weaves her message of oppression through history, mythology, biology, and more. Broken into two volumes, this tome has inspired legions of women, including Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique.
15. Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Clarissa Pinkola Estés is a cantadora—a keeper of the stories. And in this poetic, allegorical, and unforgettable collection of tales, she urges women to find their way back to their Wild Women selves. Published in 1995 and lauded by Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and other notables, this is one of those timeless self-help books that women, especially those in midlife, will feel in their souls.
16. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
Nonfiction essays and speeches
“Women are powerful and dangerous,” wrote the queer Black force that is Audre Lorde. In this 1984 collection, Lorde waxes poetic about sexism, racism, ageism, poverty, homophobia, and other intersectional topics in 15 speeches and essays, including the phenomenal “Eye to Eye” and “The Uses of Anger.”
17. Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros
Written by one of the best Latina writers alive today, Loose Woman, published in 1994, is a poetry collection that has been called “erotic, lustful, and foul-mouthed” by reviewers. Written in English and Spanish, the work awakens and inspires the untamed woman in all of us.
18. Don’t Call Me Inspirational by Harilyn Rousso
Psychotherapist and disability activist Harilyn Rousso intersects disability rights with feminism in this 2013 memoir about her struggle—not, as one might guess, to overcome living with cerebral palsy but rather to deal with people’s prejudices surrounding the condition and those who have it. Painful, funny, and searingly honest, this memoir is a wide-eyed look at the world we don’t always understand.
19. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
The profound assertion that a woman must have a room of her own (and some consistent income) in order to create rings as true today as it did when it was published in 1929. History has given Virginia Woolf mixed reviews for having first-world problems—wanting to write when so many women were struggling to survive—but the desire to create and the barriers to creation (family life, money, access, and time) are still as relevant, and painful, to women today as they were nearly a century ago.
20. What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon
“I did not come to body positivity for self-esteem. I came to it for social justice,” says author, podcaster, and activist Aubrey Gordon. In this popular and heavily referenced book, published in 2020, Gordon writes about anti-fat bias and the ways it permeates our lives, culture, and medical system. This is an important read for moms of girls and anyone who wants to challenge themselves and their views on body image.
21. It’s Not About the Burqa edited by Mariam Khan
In this timely anthology, 17 Muslim women share honestly about faith, wearing a hijab, sex, divorce, queer identity, family pressure, and more. Released in 2021, it’s an enlightening and refreshing read from women who are standing up and driving their own narrative about being a Muslim—and a feminist.
22. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
This 2015 best-selling book about nature, written by an Indigenous botanist, is really a tale of women: the Skywoman who created the Earth; the Mother Earth, whom we have to care for; and Robin Wall Kimmerer, herself a mother of two girls and now a grandmother. Kimmerer asserts that the Indigenous ways of tending to the earth can be what saves it. Those ways include reciprocity, respect, and connection—the very cornerstones of feminism.
23. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Published in 1985, this feminist dystopian novel is as relevant today as it was when it was written 36 years ago. The story follows Offred, a handmaid who serves as a birthing vessel for the ruling class in charge. The lack of power around body autonomy in this science-fiction book‘s not-too-distant future is all the more timely given the spate of state laws and court cases challenging a woman’s right to choose.