Five books to broaden your understanding of feminism

Eleni Theodoropoulos

The term “feminism” is often misunderstood, bringing to mind images of bra-burning women or Beyoncé. But the following books offer a refreshing look at feminism, while also revealing its status today.


“Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay


“Bad Feminist” reflects on the ways society has guilted women into thinking they’re "doing feminism wrong." Gay covers feminism in politics by discussing issues like abortion, but also analyzes how women are portrayed in the media through movies like “The Help” and shows like “Girls.” She even dedicates a portion of the book to Chris Brown and Rihanna's relationship. She shares her own guilty pleasures, like watching reality TV, and discusses how they clash with society’s expectations of feminists. “Bad Feminist” follows the personal evolution of Gay as she learns to accept her flaws and tries to understand modern feminism, as well as her place in society.


“Men Explain Things to Me” by Rebecca Solnit


In a witty and scathing compilation of essays, Solnit explores what goes wrong in conversations between men and women. While examining the power imbalances at play, Solnit uses anecdotes from her personal life to show how she was often silenced by men in conversation. Although it mostly makes for an entertaining read, the last two essays take on a more serious tone, urging an end to misogyny and violence against women once and for all.


“We Were Feminists Once” by Andi Zeisler


According to Zeisler, capitalism and neoliberalism have watered down the concept of feminism, detaching it from political aspirations such as equal pay and health care. Zeisler refers to advertising and product development such as Virginia Slims cigarettes and Spanx to illustrate how society uses feminism as a marketing campaign. She mentions celebrities who are self-proclaimed feminists and discusses the false empowerment of women which she says is but a superficial endorsement of the feminist movement. Throughout the book, Zeisler clarifies that market feminism is not in line with the politics of feminism.


“Where the Girls Are” by Susan J. Douglas


Douglas looks back on the past 50 years of messages found in the media and pop culture and finds that the women of the Baby Boomer generation were particularly conflicted over their “proper” role in society. According to Douglas, the media has conditioned modern American women to not know what they want or how to ask for it, since they’re always plagued by what society thinks of them. Douglas follows the progression of feminism through bands like The Supremes, as well as through television shows like “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie” to illustrate how and where women found a voice of their own and simultaneously enhanced the female presence within American culture.


“Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estés


Estés weaves the power of storytelling with her training in archetypal psychology to unveil the “Wild Woman” that lies in each woman.  Estés’ “Wild Woman” concept details the powerful forces of instinctual knowledge, creativity and compassion that women possess. Estés uses fairy tales and multicultural myths that she came to know through research and speaking with natives of different cultures to examine this female figure and teach both women and men how to understand, embrace and love her.