Feminism 101
March 10, 2008 3:23 AM   Subscribe

Book recommendations for introductions to feminist thinking.

Having read through the recent metatalk threads about mefi being a boyzone I found myself coming across ideas that were new not only new to me but also explained a lot of things I hadn't even thought required explanation before.

For example, the concept of "the male gaze" (as mentioned in the grey and blue a fair amount lately) gave me, as I thought about it, that rare sense of going from a new idea to genuinely changing the way I looked at the world.

I like it when that happens, and as a middled aged guy I suspect I've missed out on a lot of similar stuff that could equally change the way I think.

Where should I start?
posted by thatwhichfalls to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I suggest that you pick up an introductory text book like those read in university "Gender and Sexuality" classes. Specifically, I would suggest Women's Lives, a very comprehensive anthology that will serve as a good jumping-off point (and which offers a fantastic bibliography) for later reading. It may appear to be a little spendy for a book, but it is entirely worth the cost.

I also suggest The Gender Knot: Untying Our Patriarchal Legacy, by Allen G. Johnson, an incredible contemporary feminist.

Additionally, I have a multitude of .pdf articles addressing feminist issues that I'd be happy to share with you, if you're interested.

Once you've familiarized yourself with the significant points of feminist theory, I suggest you explore intersectional feminism (and particularly critical studies within a feminist framework). Make sure to check out bell hook's video series entitled "Cultural Criticism and Transformation" (available online: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and eight). She is absolutely brilliant.
posted by numinous at 3:55 AM on March 10, 2008 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Finally, a feminism 101 blog.
posted by Sijeka at 5:31 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Susan Faludi's Backlash is completely engrossing and goes into incredible journalistic detail (it's shorter than it looks due to the massive amount of footnotes); it will really make you think about portrayals of women in the media that you may not have even questioned before, because a lot of the exact same stuff is still going on. I think it's a lot more fun to read than some of the more academically oriented books. Even though it doesn't exactly show the decade in the best light, it has the additional bonus of bringing back lots of 80's nostalgia if you grew up then or are just a little too young to remember it.
posted by transona5 at 5:47 AM on March 10, 2008

Sorry, missed that you are "middle aged." Well, who doesn't have nostalgia for the 80's?
posted by transona5 at 5:50 AM on March 10, 2008

My first thought is, of course, The Feminine Mystique. This was, in a way, the first piece of feminist lit to hit the mainstream. It's a bit outdated in its relevance (lots has happened since then!) but interesting anyway.

If you wouldn't mind, could you like to the "male gaze" comments? I've missed them and would like to see them.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:15 AM on March 10, 2008

I'll second The Gender Knot as a really good, readable primer to feminist ideas that I think is particularly accessible to men.
posted by iminurmefi at 6:46 AM on March 10, 2008

Two of my favorites:

Refusing to be a Man

The Daughters of Egalia

A word of caution. Feminism began as a dream of a society without conformist gender roles and sexual bias. It has become a pulpit for a variety of minorities with separate agendas including those which advocate changes to the gender conformities rather than abandoning them. Same game, different King. Don't believe everything you read. Feminism hasn't been around long enough to have a solid foundation. In the wake of it's co-opting and misuse, it might not last.
posted by ewkpates at 8:07 AM on March 10, 2008

There are great recommendations in the thread stefnet linked to; I'll add The Feminist Papers (edited by Alice S. Rossi) and anything by Dale Spender (especially Women of Ideas and Man Made Language) and Ellen Willis (my MeFi post). Have fun; feminism is to my mind the most exciting and fruitful intellectual current of the last half-century, as long as you don't get trapped in the crazy backwaters!
posted by languagehat at 8:09 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Feminism hasn't been around long enough to have a solid foundation.

That's not true; it's been around for centuries in one form or another. The fact that it has nutty offshoots doesn't mean it doesn't have a solid foundation.
posted by languagehat at 8:11 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

A list of some of my favorites and their work. Not comprehensive, but the best I could do without pulling apart the bookshelves. Bear in mind there are loads of essays and critical analyses out there I do not mention here:

Betty Friedan
The Feminine Mystique
The Second Stage

Erica Jong
Fear of Flying
Any Woman's Blues
Four Visions of America
, many others

Gloria Steinem
Moving Beyond Words
Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions
and others

Marilyn French
Beyond Power; On Women, Men and Morals
The War Against Women
, and others

Kate Millett - lots

Robin Morgan - lots

Phyllis Chesler
About Men, Patriarchy; Notes of an Expert Witness
Women's Inhumanity to Women
, many, many others

bell hooks
All About Love
The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love
, many others
*my personal favorite

Susan Faludi

Naomi Wolf
The Beauty Myth
Fire with Fire
, and others

Andrea Dworkin - many, many, MANY people take issue with her work; approach with an open mind

Alice Walker

Elizabeth Wuertzel
Bitch; In Praise of Difficult Women, and more
not my favorite, but again, different strokes

Camille Paglia
Sexual Personae
a brilliant woman, but really challenging notions, again, approach with an open mind

As I said, there's so much out there. Good luck and enjoy your reading.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 9:18 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're the sort of person who can handle dry academic work without wanting to pull and Oedipus and stab yourself in the eye, just about my favorite text book from my college Women's Studies courses was a very slim (119 pages) but super dense one called Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology and Oppression by Sandra Lee Bartky. Amazon says it's currently unavailable, but if you're in the mood to really have your mind blown in a way that requires some mental sweat and tears, it's super.
posted by mostlymartha at 9:53 AM on March 10, 2008

Bell Hooks is a great place to start (Feminism is for everybody and Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center are both good). Angela Davis is also pretty rad. I also like Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self by Linda Martin Alcoff, if you're curious about the philosphical feminism stuff. It's just great.
posted by history is a weapon at 10:10 AM on March 10, 2008

I'll add one more book I don't see mentioned yet--if you tend to enjoy reading about the legal and policy side of things, you might find Catherine MacKinnon's Towards A Feminist Theory of State pretty thought-provoking. MacKinnon is probably most well-known for her work around trying to outlaw violent or degrading pornography, but her impact on the law stretches much, much further. (She was, as I recall, the first one to lay out what sexual harassment was and how it might violate women's civil rights--and her framework for sexual harassment is the one that is generally accepted by the courts today.) I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that she's one of the people that has had the biggest influence on the law and how it impacts women over the past few decades.

I wouldn't recommend jumping straight to it as a feminism 101 book--it assumes some level of familiarity with feminist thought--but for me, it was one of those books that really changed the way that I looked at the world. I started to notice a lot of things that I hadn't noticed before, particularly around how we frame what is "equal" for men and women and what yardstick we use to measure it.

It's dense, but totally awesome and highly recommended.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:39 AM on March 10, 2008

My mother, in her 80's, credits The Feminine Mystique for helping her break out of the 50's housewife mold. However, on going back and rereading it she found it somewhat laughable form a more recent perspective.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:59 AM on March 10, 2008

Following mostlymartha, for academic stuff:

Luce Irigaray Reader
Judith Butler Reader
Simone de Beauvoir "The Second Sex"

Might not cover all the 70/80/90s tropes like "phallogocentric," but it's good stuff on current gender theory.
posted by rhizome at 11:01 AM on March 10, 2008

nth vote for Backlash. I read it when I was pretty young and it definitely shaped by feminist consciousness.
posted by krudiger at 11:40 AM on March 10, 2008

Susan Griffin's Woman and Nature is a deep, poetic, and utterly transforming examination of the roots of patriarchy. Highly recommended alternative to polemic.
posted by pammo at 3:18 PM on March 10, 2008

listen up: voices from the next feminist generation edited by barbara findlen is a good intro because it's not theory-laden.
posted by ifjuly at 7:54 PM on March 10, 2008

This book was the text for a literary theory class I took. I learned a lot from it.
posted by roll truck roll at 3:31 AM on March 11, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the great answers everyone. Look like I have a bunch of reading to do!
posted by thatwhichfalls at 7:37 PM on March 15, 2008

Response by poster: The thread is dead, but I'm going to place a quote from the languagehat obit thread for Ellen Willis. It's my thread though, so I'll put in some breaks.
It's unseasonably cold, and on the bus from Oakland to Los Angeles the heat isn't working. ... I huddle in my jeans jacket, which until this morning belonged to my friend Lou. I love the jacket, but what warms me is my friend's gesture. I hardly ever give my clothes away. I'm not an impulsive giver.

A Marxist might say I've been infected with the what's-in-it-for-me commodity exchange ethic of capitalism.

A feminist might say I've been preoccupied with the unequal struggle to take care of my own needs.

Anyway I'm grateful to Lou for doing what I find hard to do. It's as if I've received not only a jacket but a vote of confidence that what I've received I will someday in some way pass on.
I did the Marxist thing, to the point that I got embarrassed about how I kept hearing people saying that we should use capitalism to argue in favour of other people being poor. I hung around until I got sick of hearing gay rights being dismissed as a "bourgeois deviation."
A feminist might say I've been preoccupied with the unequal struggle to take care of my own needs.
That's a simple sentence that actually rather scares me. I may have missed the implications of that unequal struggle. I may not have noticed happening it at all.
It's as if I've received not only a jacket but a vote of confidence that what I've received I will someday in some way pass on.
I hope I deserve that vote of confidence.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 1:51 AM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

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