Top Ten Most Influential Feminist Books

Updated March 7, 2022 | Jennie Wood

Some books that have been influential on feminism and the women's movement.

The Second Sex

The Second Sex original French edition by Simone de Beauvoir

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Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, a book that helped reignite the Women's Movement in the United States, is celebrating its 55th year of publication in February 2018. Here's a list of books that have had a lasting impact on feminism and the Women's Movement.

The Feminine Mystique
Betty Friedan
A nonfiction book published in 1963, The Feminine Mystique sparked the second-wave of the Women's Movement in the United States, a movement that lasted until the early 1980s and, unlike the first-wave's focus on the one issue of suffrage, expanded its agenda to a wide variety of issues such as sexuality, reproductive rights, the workplace, and more. Friedan's book came about by accident. For her 15th class reunion, Friedan was asked to conduct a survey of her Smith College classmates. In talking with them, she realized how unsatisfied they were as housewives. Afterwards, she expanded her research to include other women and the media's use of advertising. She pitched her work to a variety of magazines, but when none of them wanted to publish her work as an article, she extended it into a book.
The Second Sex
Simone de Beauvoir
The Second Sex was another work credited with igniting the second-wave of the Women's Movement. Published in 1949, it covered how women had been treated throughout history. French author and existentialist Simone de Beauvoir wrote it in 14 months and published it in two volumes. The book made the Vatican's List of Prohibited Books.
A Room of One's Own
Virginia Woolf
A Room of One's Own, a long form essay by Virginia Woolf, was first published in book form on October 24, 1929. The material came from a series of lectures Woolf gave at two women's colleges, Newnham and Girton, at Cambridge University in 1928. In the essay, Woolf made the case that women writers should have a space of their own. She meant literally and figuratively. She also pointed out that the literary world was dominated by men. Woolf brilliantly used a fictional narrator to make her case.
The Vagina Monologues
Eve Ensler
The Vagina Monologues, a play made up of a series of monologues, premiered in New York City in 1996. Written by Eve Ensler, the monologues covered a variety of topics from a feminist perspective. The topics ranged from sex to menstruation, birth, rape, female genital mutilation, and more. When the play first premiered, Ensler performed all the monologues herself. Once she left the production, three actresses divided up the monologues.
Sexual Politics
Kate Millett
Published in 1970, Sexual Politics was the first academic take on feminist literary criticism. The book was based on Millett's PhD dissertation, in which she dissected the work of D. H. Lawrence, Norman Mailer, and Henry Miller, among others. Millett pointed out how the three authors wrote about women in a sexist way. The book added fuel to the second wave of feminism, which had started in the early 60s. The book was controversial, receiving national attention and a strong backlash from men.
The Female Eunuch
Germaine Greer
The Female Eunuch became an international bestseller after it was published in 1970. Greer divided the nonfiction book into four sections: Body, Soul, Love, and Hate. She explored the self-perception of women throughout history. Translated into 11 languages, it was a key book in the feminist movement during 1970s.
The Beauty Myth
Naomi Wolf
A nonfiction book published in 1991, The Beauty Myth was an instant best-seller and won the praise of many feminists. Of the book, Gloria Steinem wrote, "The Beauty Myth is a smart, angry, insightful book, and a clarion call to freedom. Every woman should read it." In the book, Wolf made a case for a reevaluation of society's current standards of beauty. She explained how women were constantly under scrutiny in these five areas: hunger, religion, sex, violence, and work.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston
Since its publication in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God has become an important work in women's literature. Time magazine included the book in its list of the 100 best novels that have been published since 1923.
The Color Purple
Alice Walker
Published in 1982, The Color Purple won a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The novel, set in Georgia, dealt with the lives of African American women in the South during the 1930s. The novel won the praise of feminists because many of the characters breakaway from traditional gender roles.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Mary Wollstonecraft
One of the earliest feminist works, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was first published in 1792. Wollstonecraft began work on it after reading Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord's French National Assembly report. In the report, he advised that women should only be educated in domestic matters. Wollstonecraft used the report as an example of double standards. The book was well received when it was published. Wollstonecraft was working on a second volume when she died.
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