Books

Five Under-the-Radar Feminist Books You Need to Read

From consent culture to sisterly advice, a short list of 2017 releases you won't want to miss.

Sarah Burke

Sarah Burke

The Merriam-Webster dictionary has decided that the word of 2017 is “Feminism.” The choice feels a bit awkwardly belated, but it is undeniable that the reality of women’s ongoing struggles really reared its underpaid head this year. Appropriately, we also saw a great number of books released this year that grappled with that reality, either by tackling Feminism-with-a-capital-F or just reflecting honestly on what it’s like to be a woman. The titles ranged from Mary Beard’s manifesto-like Women & Power to Vanessa Grigoriadis's more anthropological Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus. Here are just five that we wanted to make sure you didn't miss.

There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is not explicitly about Feminism, but it is about what it’s like to live as a woman—specifically, a black woman in a world where Beyoncé reigns and yet cops who kill innocent black children don’t get indicted. In the collection of poems, Brooklyn writer Morgan Parker masterfully reflects on both the loneliness and moments of triumph symptomatic of living amidst such contradiction. And rather than attempting to make sense of the inconsistencies that pervade modern, black womanhood, she revels in their messy complexity, bringing together a book that is able to be and do so many things at once. The poems included are both tender and jaded, unabashedly contemporary in their references yet timeless in their emotional honesty, and —perhaps most impressively— both accessible and challenging.

As Parker told i-D in an interview about the book in March: “I mean, strong black women, that's the biggest line [throughout it]. Obviously, the book kind of toes the line between glamour and tragedy. Those women that are strong, that are very vulnerable, beautiful, but in pain. Grappling with that is what part of what the book's journey is.”

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

The Combahee River Collective, a group of Boston-based black, lesbian feminists active in the mid 70s, are famous for putting intersectionality into action and building the theoretical foundation for Black Feminism. In 1977, they published the seminal Combahee River Collective Statement, which began: “We are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking.”

In How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, which was released at the beginning of December, writer and scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor supplements a reprinting of the statement with interviews with its three coauthors (Barbara Smith, Beverly Smith, and Demita Frazier), Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza, and feminist historian Barbara Ransby. In a deft introduction, Taylor notes that the book is meant to draw out the continued relevance of the statement for contemporary struggles. “In the last several years,” Taylor writes, “Black Feminism has reemerged as the analytical framework for the activist response to the oppression of trans women of color, the fight for reproductive rights, and, of course, the movement against police abuse and violence.”

The interviews that follow are presented with zero frills, but they do, indeed, highlight how the collective’s principles still inform black women’s fights today — proving more of a manual than anything else.

Ask: Building Consent Culture, edited by Kitty Stryker

As Kitty Stryker, an anti-fascist activist, queer sex educator, and frequent writer on the topic of consent notes in the introduction to Ask, “Most books I found about rape culture and consent were written by and for middle-class, white, cisgender women.” She was determined to bring together one that centered trans and non-binary writers of color. But the book is not only inclusive in its authorship, it's also expansive in it's coverage of the multiplicity of contexts in which consent is important—most of which are typically overlooked.

The anthology, which was published by Thorntree Press in late October, includes “Fatphobia and Consent: How Social Stigma Mitigates Fat Women’s Autonomy” by Virgie Tovar, “Giving Birth When Black” by Takeallah Rivera, “The Kids Aren’t All Right: Consent and Our Miranda Rights” by Navarre Overton, and 27 other essays that range in setting from sex parties to the service industry. At a time when every conversation seems to be about consent (or lack thereof, rather), it’s a collection that actually adds to the discussion in crucial ways, and would prove enriching even to those who consider themselves pros at discussing sex, consent, and feminism.

To My Trans Sisters, edited by Charlie Craggs
Trans activist and writer Charlie Craggs is best known for her Nail Transphobia campaign, for which she travels throughout the UK giving free manicures to people who have never met a trans person before and engages them in educational conversation. This year, she published her first book, To My Trans Sisters, which is basically a literary big sister figure for trans girls who might not have close role models to teach them about life and guide them through their transition.

“In those early days of transition I spent a lot of time, and I mean a lot of time, Googling trans stuff,” Craggs wrote in a personal essay for Broadly in October. “I read the Wikipedia page of every famous trans woman ever, watched every trans-related film ever made, and read every biography of a trans woman ever written.”

To save other trans girls that effort, Craggs designed To My Trans Sisters as a collection of letters from many of the very women whose biographies she read and films she watched.

The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit

Bay Area author Rebecca Solnit is perhaps best known as the writer to first popularly articulate the phenomenon of “mansplaining.” Although she did not coin the term (a common misconception), she did write about the act eloquently in her 2008 essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” which was later republished as the centerpiece of an eponymous collection of feminist essays. This year, we received Solnit’s follow up, another collection of essays on feminism titled The Mother of All Questions. The anthology’s titular essay, which was first published as one of Solnit’s regular columns in Harpers Bazaar, is a takedown of the assumption that all women should have children.

As Lauren Oyler summarized the book in an essay for Broadly back in March: “Introduced as ‘a tour through carnage, a celebration of liberation and solidarity, insight and empathy, and an investigation of the terms and tools with which we might explore all these things,’ The Mother of All Questions covers a wide range of topics, all of which will be familiar to anyone who has partaken in the feminist internet over the last few years: not having children; race and intersectionality; male feminists (good); sexist male writers (bad); Lolita; Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi; violence against women; rape; rape jokes; the hashtag campaigns #notallmen and #yesallwomen; the artist Emma Sulkowicz's year-long Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight).”

Oyler goes on to point out Solnit’s shortcomings when writing about the lengths that “breaking the silence” can go for the feminist movement, which she considers overstated in the book. But The Mother of All Questions remains a worthwhile read, one that has only gained relevance and utility as 2017 has progressed.