In celebration of Women’s Month 2023, we list out an essential reading list by authors who support the feminist goals of equal rights for all. Through real-life stories in our modern times to thrilling fictional worlds, these books are sure to move your spirit, widening horizons for all genders to inspire an equitable world.
We promise, there are no serious spoilers.
1. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. I am angry. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change. But I am also hopeful, because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to remake themselves for the better.”
When Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie talks, you listen. Transcribed from the TED talk that sparked worldwide conversations about feminism, Adichie introduced new ideas about gender roles that were never really explored before. Coming from the patriarchal society of Nigeria, she argues the gender roles we are brought up with are too inflexible – and that this ultimately backfires. “Masculinity is a hard, small cage,” she says, criticizing pressures on boys to be stoic. Meanwhile girls are brought up to please the opposite sex, and she protests this makes girls compromise their own beliefs.
Full of anecdotes from her own perspective of a Nigerian woman living in the United States, as well as reflections on her family’s stories, Chimamanda Adichie shows us what can be changed.
She reminds us that not just women should be feminists. We should all be.
2. The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
“A mother is always giving. A mother never falls apart. A mother is a buffer between her child and the cruel world. Absorb it, the instructors say. Take it. Take it.”
In Jessamine Chan’s chilling dystopian book, helicopter parenting is the goal. Mothers must always have it together. They are never allowed to fall apart. Children deserve every second of their attention. Don’t even think about giving in to post-natal depression. As she balances the demands of full-time work, the home must be impeccably neat. The mother must be patient, consistently kind, always at her absolute best.
After a parenting blip, exhausted single mother Frida Liu is sent to rehab school to make a good mother out of her, as the title implies. In the imagined world, the government extends an overzealous reach into welfare and social services, exploring what exactly constitutes a good mother, and how are the pressures of society for being a mother today?
3. Everything by Jane Austen
While the heroines of Jane Austen’s novels are not feminist in the way we define independence today, Austen was still ahead of her time.
Since the early 19th century, the heroines in Jane Austen’s novels have served as role models for women all over the world. From the strong-willed and lively Elizabeth Bennett in “Pride and Prejudice”, who rises above society’s judgments, to the classic “Emma” who is determined to evade marriage, until Anne in “Persuasion”, who marries for true love instead of class. Throughout, the women in the Regency period are faced with inequality. But with their strength, grace and confidence, they rise above society’s expectations.
“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” ― Persuasion
4. Myself, Elsewhere by Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil
Amidst memories of pre-war Ermita, conservative society mingles in pretty houses along mammoth boulevards. In this lost world, renowned Filipina journalist Carmen Guerrero Nakpil reminisces,
“I had made up my mind to wear black at my debut, a decision which outraged my mother and confirmed the clan’s opinion of my unstable nature.”
Pleasing no one, she carved her own path at a young age. The autobiographical work later takes a darker turn as she recounts her experience during the bombings and massacres of Manila. With great courage, the author tells her story of how she survived the terrors of World War II.
5. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
If you’ve been on a plane recently, you’ve likely seen this novel devoured by travelers on flight and in waiting rooms. The novel is set at the center of glitzy Old Hollywood. Jenkins Reid imagines the tale of Cuban actress Evelyn Hugo, as readers unravel the mystery of her seven husbands, all married and divorced. In between the pages is a shocking secret – for which you have to read the book.
With its vivid storytelling, this is one of those novels that you can’t put down easily. But beyond the great narratives, the subject deals with feminist themes as women rise above sexist attitudes and deal with objectification of women’s bodies.
“Make them pay you what they would pay a white man.”
There are tons of other books to catch up on before Women’s Month comes to a close. Another dystopian classic to pick up is “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Or you can go back in time to admire the strengths of the characters in Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”. If non-fiction is more your style, “I Am Malala” documents the real-life story of a girl who was shot by the Taliban, but persisted to stand up for her education.
In all these books a common thread runs throughout – Women who are brave. On celebrating the inherent strength of the female, Chimamanda Adichie says it well: “I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femaleness and my femininity. And I want to be respected in all of my femaleness, because I deserve to be.”