Livia Ledbetter: 8 Badass Feminist Works to Read/Watch This Summer

By Livia Ledbetter, 2017 Renaissance Woman Scholar

Compiling a comprehensive list of my favorite feminist readings would not only be difficult, it would be impossible. The realm of literature, and media as a whole, is rich with books by and for feminists. These readings range from light-hearted and satirical comedy by women with sharp tongues, to controversial manifestos by women with radical minds and a vision for change, to women with deeply moving stories that stay with us forever, affecting a fundamental part of us.

The following shows, books, and essays are not only recommendations, but also may be seen as a catalyst to get every Renaissance Woman’s mind engaged and hungry for more feminist work.


The first entry on this list of my favorite feminist “readings” is in fact not a book or essay at all. “Woman” is an eight-part documentary that debuted last year on the network VICELAND.

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem is both host and producer of the informative and heartbreaking new show. Steinem explores international women’s issues, from missing First Nations women in Canada, to Zambian child brides, to incarcerated women in the U.S. The women interviewed in this documentary series tell their stories in their own words. There are no outside attempts to prescribe remedies; instead, viewers see local responses to issues, such as the village run by Mama Masika Katsuva as a resource for rape survivors who have been abandoned by their families in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Woman” shows us the complexity of violence against women and how oppression takes different forms in different cultures. Viewers will come away after watching any one of these episodes with a new passion for feminist ideals.

“for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf” by Ntozake Shange

I was first introduced to this short book of poetry in a women’s studies class my freshman year of college.

Ntozake Shange’s poems tell the story of seven fictional black women, all of whom represent a different color of the rainbow, and their life experiences, ranging from the difficulties of an HIV-positive status, abortion, and domestic violence, to finding love, understanding their racial identities, and celebrating their sisterhood. The poems both stand on their own and function within the larger context of the story.

It was written to be performed as a play, which won several awards, and was adapted into a film in 2010. Shange’s powerful words have been empowering black women since the publication of this work in 1976, giving a voice to their unique experiences. My favorite poem within the collection, “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff” tells the story of a woman who is learning how to reclaim her life after a breakup. While this book may be a short read, its powerful sentences and complex female characters will stay with readers for a long time.

“Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman” by Michele Wallace

“It is impossible for me to look back at this book without the conviction that the significance of black women as a distinct category is routinely erased by the way in which the Women’s Movement and the Black Movement choose to set their goals and recollect their histories.” Michele Wallace published her half-autobiographical, half-academic text in 1978 and was met with much controversy.

In “Black Macho,” Wallace explores the adversity faced by black women, both at the hands of black men at the forefront of the civil rights movement, and white feminists at head of the women’s movement. This book is a testament to the importance of intersectionality. True feminism cannot work for the advancement of all women until it takes into account the work of black feminists.

“Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women” by Susan Faludi

While more on the academic side, “Backlash” by journalist Susan Faludi explores how the American media often push distorted concepts that rival the progress set forth by the feminist movement. Faludi documents the variety of places this antifeminist backlash comes from: the film industry and the rise of films in the 1980s that portrayed violence against women, the concept of the “biological clock”, sexism within popular psychology, and other historical instances of backlash against women’s rights. Many of the chapters stand well on their own. This book will make readers rethink many of the common tropes sensationalized by the media.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

Any collection of feminist readings would be remiss if it were to neglect mentioning Margaret Atwood’s 1985 “The Handmaid’s Tale.” \

With the television adaptation of this classic feminist book currently being released weekly through Hulu, the book is currently gaining popularity for the ties being drawn between its themes of reproductive and bodily autonomy and contemporary politics. Atwood’s frightening novel tells the story of “handmaids,” fertile women who are forced to have sex with and bear children for the privileged members of the dystopian world of Gilead. Bodily autonomy, women’s liberation, and reproductive rights are all explored within the context of this dystopia, whose cliffhanger ending will leave readers exasperated.

“We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“The problem with gender, is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Now imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations. Boys and girls are undeniably different biologically, but socialization exaggerates the differences and then it becomes a self-fulfilling process.” Thus writes Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a prominent Nigerian author whose short essay “We Should All Be Feminists” was adapted from a Ted Talk of the same name she gave in December 2012.

Adichie’s adept skill at illuminating patriarchal systems of oppression, and our part to play in stopping them, makes her one of the most compelling feminist authors and speaker of our generation. This introduction to her work will give readers a taste of Adichie’s eloquence. The rest of her novels, including “Americanah” and “Half of a Yellow Sun” will captivate those of us who are eager to explore the stories of women learning to navigate through their Nigerian culture as feminists.

“A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf

Heralded by many as a cornerstone of early feminist thought, “A Room of One’s Own” was originally delivered as a speech by Virginia Woolf in 1928 to two different women’s only colleges in Cambridge. She expanded upon the content and published it as an essay in 1929.

Woolf’s argument is simple: women need money and a room of their own if they are to succeed as authors. Woolf spends the essay elaborating on the difficulties women face when attempting male-dominated fields, such as writing. Her semi-fictional work explains that there is a lack of female literature because of a lack of resources women were allowed at the time, not that women lack the genius to create good works. Woolf’s essay is a deep and intriguing glimpse into systemic oppression and lays blame where it is due: at the feet of the patriarchy.

“Men Explain Things to Me” by Rebecca Solnit

“Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being.” Journalist Rebecca Solnit’s 2014 collection of essays are of a much more serious tone than what one would imply from the title.

Her 7 essays get to the root of violence against women, exploring issues ranging from sexual harassment to global gender inequality. Solnit argues that women are often silenced, both professionally and personally, and this silence is correlated with other issues of sexism. While a quick read, the heavy concepts that Solnit presents and ties together will frustrate, but ultimately inspire, fellow feminists.