Feminist Books to Motivate & Empower

Feminist Books to Read Before November

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I am already pretty worn down from the 2020 presidential election. To help counteract this, I’ve gathered some motivating, inspiring, and, at times, uplifting feminist books to read to get you ready for the election.

Presidential Election Dread

If we’re being honest, I’ve been pretty worn down since 2016. It’s hard to care deeply about issues and feel like one’s voice doesn’t matter. As many would agree, it is emotionally taxing to be a feminist feeling like she’s screaming into the void. I felt my voice go hoarse not long into 2017, and it hasn’t quite come back yet. 

Two parts of my brain are at odds in this issue. Part of me wants to give in to the compassion fatigue; being numb and indifferent requires a lot less effort. The other part of me, though, reminds me that this attitude will not fix anything, either.

All that being said…have you made sure you are registered to vote? Have you opted to vote by mail?
Learn more about how to do these super simple tasks here.

A Feminist Literary Solution

When torn between feeling driven or feeling like I’m tilting at windmills (which don’t cause cancer), I try to find solace in books. I suggest you do the same.

There is power in knowledge, particularly – no, especially – in a time that seems to discredit both intelligence and common sense. So, if you need a boost, here are some great feminist books to help build you up again.

Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit

This book is going to be on any list of feminist must-reads, and it’s there for good reason. I’ve had this book as an audiobook for some time and haven’t listened to it in a couple years. It came to mind because of Solnit’s 2019 release, Cinderella Liberator, a feminist retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale. I listened to the audiobook quickly, since the book is both short and engrossing.

In many ways, Solnit’s 2015 book has both aged well and aged poorly. It ages well in the sense that many of the lessons are timeless, inspiring tales of female power and growth. It ages poorly because the book – a largely optimistic account – does not outwardly anticipate the election of the current administration. This is hardly the fault of the author, and, in fact, makes the book even more inspiring in some ways. Read it and remember the good that has been grasped, and let it drive you to seek more equality. 

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, Rebecca Traister

Part-2016 reaction, part-feminist history lesson, Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad will make you just that – good and mad. I say this in the best way possible, because it’ll really light a fire under you, especially if you’re a history lover like myself.

Traister’s analysis of female anger and the political actions or inaction that results from it are fascinating. I know it personally make me feel very much less alone when I read it. Traister compares how female anger is viewed. She delves into how anger is generally beneficial for powerful men (IE: male political candidates, like Trump and Bernie Sanders), and harmful to powerful women (IE: female political candidates, like Hillary Clinton). Many of the notions discussed in the book seem commonplace – of course politicians give verbose, impassioned, angry speeches! – until Traister turns them on their head, giving insight to the marginalized voices who are not allowed to benefit from such anger. 

In all, what Traister’s work did for me was provide a new intellectual framework with which to analyze my own anger. It helped me see why I felt the way that I did. It assisted me in processing that the general lowness I felt was not strictly depression over the state of the political world but, in some ways, the manifestation of my own anger. It’s impossible to fight a nameless enemy, and Traister helped me name that foe. 

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Perhaps not the first option that jumps to mind when one considers feminist books, Little Women was largely ahead of its time. Like the most recent film adaptation, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is an early feminist voice advocating for women to pursue their goals and interests, whatever that interest may be. Read the book and/or watch the movie to feel inspired by the March sisters, who find love, fulfillment, and drive through their various interests.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House, Alyssa Mastromonaco

For a walk on the lighter side of feminist books, check out Alyssa Mastromonaco’s 2018 memoir recounting her time in the Obama Administration. Mastromonaco was Obama’s director of scheduling and advance from 2009 to 2011, and then assistant and deputy chief of staff for White House operations from 2011 to 2014. She has some great stories.

Not everything in Who Thought This Was a Good Idea is light and fluffy. Mastromonaco does discuss the transition from the Obama era to that of the Trump Administration. However, she doesn’t dwell on it — which is admirable because I certainly would if I had been writing this book, particularly ahead of the 2020 presidential election. 

Bonus points for this book because Mastromonaco is a cat lady. Her first kitty comes up from time to time. 

Becoming, Michelle Obama

This list would not possibly be complete without Michelle Obama’s magnificent 2018 memoir, Becoming. Whether you need some inspiration in the political, personal, or professional aspects of your life, Michelle has you covered. And if you’re just here for some interesting insights into Obama’s campaigns and his years in the White House, there’s plenty of that, too.

Michelle Obama’s down-to-earth narrative is a delightful read, desperately needed ahead of the 2020 presidential election. As a young lawyer struggling with taking the Bar Exam, I felt empowered by her encouraging and her resolve after having to retake the exam herself. Similarly, as a young lawyer feeling out of place in the profession, she made me feel less alone. 

Besides these personalized insights, it is just generally fascinating to get a glimpse into the political machine that was the Obama campaigns and White House. The human efforts behind it all, and the ways in which things fell into place, are fascinating. Like with Mastromonaco’s book, Michelle Obama’s Becoming will leave you feeling a little more at ease. It is as if a mentor of yours has just sat you down, talked through issues you’re facing, and patted you on the back as you leave to sort things out. 

We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“We teach girls that they can have ambition, but not too much … to be successful, but not too successful, or they’ll threaten men…”
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2014 essay, adapted from a 2012 TEDx talk, explains exactly what the title promises: why we should all be feminists. This concise read is one of the best feminist books you can get. The piece normalizes the term, showing the inclusive nature of true, sustainable feminism, and spelling out the goals of equality and respect between the genders.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

More of a cautionary tale, The Handmaid’s Tale is quick to come to mind when one considers the current political climate. Not for the faint of heart, this dystopian novel follows an oligarchical society built upon the literal word of the Christian Bible. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t go so well for the women — especially, the poorer women and women of color. Whether you read the book, listen to the audiobook, or check out the show, The Handmaid’s Tale should motivate you to make sure your voice is heard.

Political Action Guide: Find more actionable steps you can take to ensure your voice is heard both at the polls in November and in the time leading up to the general election here.

Looking for more reading suggestions?
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