Ugh, I can’t believe I just used the word millennial in the title of this. Am I a millennial? I’m pretty sure I am but I also think if I have to ask, I’m probably not. I grew up with floppy disks, Pokemon and bubble bags but I am also much better equipped to deal with the internet and social media than any generation before me…I don’t know. I also became a teenager during the elongated gap between the 3rd wave feminism of the early 90s and the digital feminism of today, in a world which didn’t seem to want to use the ‘F’ word very much.
It’s got better recently, I think. There’s good and bad in Twitter-feminism, keyboard activism and the insane amount think pieces about whether we have achieved equality. Either way, at least feminism is in the mainstream now.
I am not going to pretend to have all or indeed any of the answers. Apparently we are now on 5th wave feminism, according to the Women’s Equality Party email I received the other day. This scared me a lot, because I thought we were still on 4… What I do know, however, is that reading has helped me a lot in shaping my ideas about feminism, equality and how we go about changing it.
The issue for millennial feminism (which I am sure is an actual phrase, not one I just made up), is that we are utterly saturated with new information all the time. Everywhere we look there are alternative and opposing opinions telling us how to be a ‘good feminist’. Is it feminist to shave your vagina? Is it feminist to wear heels? Can I be a feminist if I hate other women?
Forget it. Below are three non-fiction books which I consider to be essential reading for all twenty somethings growing up today. You can thank me later. (Check back for Part 2, where I’ll be listing my top 3 fiction books for millennial feminists!)
Animal – Sara Pascoe
Anyone who has been within a 3ft radius of me in the last month has probably been subjected to a lecture on just how bloody wonderful Sara Pascoe’s Animals is. The tagline, ‘the autobiography of the female anatomy’ is a pretty good summary of it, and yet it is so much more.
Taking us a through a succinct yet detailed history of our ancestors, Sara Pascoe explores how humans have evolved to be the way we are – sexually, relationship-wise, biologically and culturally . She challenges traditional ideas about monogamy by breaking down the biological theories that have never truly been tested. For instance, are men really pre-dispositioned to cheat? Male scientists may believe so (no shit), but there’s a lot of compelling evidence to the contrary. She also introduces us to some utterly wild and exciting theories about why certain women can achieve penetrative orgasm, why women moan more during sex and what a sperm war is.
Whilst combining science, history and cultural traditions, Pascoe also talks frankly about her own relationship with her body. There’s a level of honesty that is kind of surprising – especially since she talks about her editor asking her to dial it back. I, for one, am glad she refused to listen as the open and explicit dialogue is what sets Animal so far apart from many non-fiction feminist books. There is no such thing as an overshare, which is important as women have been so often vilified about bodily functions, body autonomy and sexuality.
In addition to being incredibly informative and full of ‘oh-my-god-I-did-not-know-that’ moments, Sara Pascoe is an incredibly charming and funny writer. Little quips, social commentary and trumpet fanfares made me chortle out loud several times on public transport whilst reading Animal. If that’s not the sign of a good book, then I don’t know what is. The best news is that Pascoe is writing a sequel – a biography of the male body! Get in!
Fat Is a Feminist Issue – Susie Orbach
Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue was originally published in 1978 but remains completely and utterly relevant today. Though a fantastic resource, it’s sad to think that almost 40 years on, we are still trying to work through the heinous crap that society tells us to think about our bodies.
Part experiment and analysis, part self-help book, Fat is a Feminist Issue details Orbach’s investigations into femininity, womanhood and fatness. Though she touches on eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, her main focus is compulsive eating disorder within women and how gender inequality causes women to become fat. The second half of the book is more of a manual on how to set up your own compulsive eating group with other women, and suggestions of agendas. This advice stems from Orbach’s own journey with food addiction.
Her ideas are radical, even today, and completely at odds with our fatphobic culture. For starters, Orbach illustrates how fatness is not an addition to our body – but part of it. We must accept and choose to love our fat as part of us instead of seeing it as an external outer layer that can be removed if we choose to. She also talks at length about fatness as a ‘screw you’ to patriarchal society – a way of removing oneself from being sexualised.
Frequently described as the original ‘anti-diet book’, Fat is a Feminist issue is an absolute must for your feminist bookshelf. And if anyone wants to start a self help group, please can I tag along?
Feminism is for Everybody: passionate politics – bell hooks
I found the opening of bell hooks Feminism is for Everybody so profoundly moving and true, that I gathered my sister, her girlfriend and my mother into our tiny kitchen and proceeded to read the whole thing out loud to them. I wouldn’t let them leave until I had finished. I’d had an epiphany about what it meant to be a feminist, and I wanted them to share in my new-found knowledge.
A short yet perfectly written and brilliantly executed mini-book, Feminism is for Everybody is a wonderful resource and one that deserves to be shown to absolutely everyone. Hooks outlines her ideas in chapters about abortion rights, oppression, how the patriarchy affects men, women at work, gender and relationships amongst other topics and engages the reader to truly think about what we need to do collectively in order to get rid of gender-based oppression. Hooks also, in my humble opinion, provides the categorical definition of what it means to be a feminist. ‘Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression’.
Hooks has written an abundance of important and influential texts about feminism and has bought intersectionality into the spotlight. Throughout works such as Ain’t I a Woman and Feminist Theory, Hooks explores the intersection between black women, femininity, oppression and feminism. Of course, I’d encourage you to read every single one of her books, but if you have only time for one- Feminism is for Everybody gives a small, yet significant insight into Hooks’ ideas and theories.
Feminism is for Everybody is full of hope for the future of gender equality and feminism. Which is what makes it so powerful. Hooks’ writing is convincing and confident of a better future people everywhere.