Unofficial Required Texts of Feminist Reading
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Unofficial Required Texts of Feminist Reading

"Who painted the leon tell me who?" and other feminist rallying cries from classic literature.

Unofficial Required Texts of Feminist Reading

In this day and age feminism means a lot of different things to everyone; personally and objectively. One could argue with a stubborn non-identifying feminist for hours but instead of talking to a brick wall why not simply refer to Meriam-Webster?

Through pieces of literature that have messages of equality and a feminist voice all readers (boys and girls alike) we receive a narrative that is important for everyone now but also for the sake of the next generation. The recognition of texts and voices that bolster this message of equality and tell the story of those who would otherwise remain nameless. These messages of empowerment and personal narratives can help change the world and teach the importance of feminism, equality, giving agency and sentience to not only young women but also boys. Especially boys some would benefit in some cases. That is the importance of making these texts widespread and known for the next generation and the current to foster a sense of understanding and equality to affect those who do not full comprehend or know the degree to which women should be celebrated, how they've lived, and what it means to be a feminist and to seek/advocate equality between genders.

1) "I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot By The Taliban"

This is an award winning novel that deserves all the praise that it gets. This is so important for young adult readers and those of any ages and it shows in the way that people have reacted after reading it. The way that Malala fights for her agency and makes her voice known in the face of deadly adversity inspires a sense of rebellion in the young adults who take in her story regardless of gender. The importance is the take way they get from it and that they see the background behind why she stood up in defiance and did the impossible and why she had to. Malala's story shows a poignant defying of gender norms under an oppressive government by not only Malala but also her father who goes against what he's told to believe based on the society's legal and social rules on gender that go against the society's ideals of placing sons above daughters like other brave parents.
Malala has inspired others for change for the better in the world past sharing her voice through her book to sharing her voice as a global presence. She's the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Malala's story of survival is constantly described as a miracle. Marie Arana of The Washington Post compares the description of war in "I Am Malala" to the diary of Anne Frank and all accounts praise how moving the piece is and what it says about the power that's behind girls and women finding and using their voices. This is also an incredibly beneficial read to anyone who only receives a single story-that is a stereotype of life in Pakistan and other Middle Eastern Countries.

2) "The Bell Jar" -Sylvia Plath

I was so happy to be able to gift myself with this novel for my 16th birthday. This is a must read for anyone but it's especially important as an unofficial required text for feminists. Remember that feminism simply means equality and I feel that's best achieved by fostering understanding between genders. In "The Bell Jar" Esther struggles with existential crises and her place in society as a woman. The novel is known especially for its poignant portrayal of mental illness, but the gender struggles that Esther faces are very remarkable. Themes that affected girls of Esther's age in the 60s time frame such as double standards in gender mores and societal conventions affect girls similarly today. Esther combats the culture of abstinence only for girls in the public's eye of what's acceptable with breaking down the false narrative of virginity's importance by taking charge of her body and losing her virginity. This is important for those struggling with thoughts of depression, of times when they feel that they can never be everything that they envision for themselves, struggles with self image and conflicting thoughts and ideals, women who society has caused to feel at any point in time that what they want to do isn't what they should do. Esther may have had depression but in being consumed by mental illness her character also had agency and a voice. She spoke and did for herself which many women of today still can't find the strength or place to do. Feminists of all sexes, races, genders, classes, and creeds take in Esther and Plath's words and "take a deep breath and listen to the old brag of your heart. I am, I am, I am". (The Bell Jar).

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

3) "The Yellow Wallpaper"

"The Yellow Wallapaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is like "The Bell Jar" in that it is a poignant portrayal of mental illness and women's struggles in timeframes where we were not nearly as valued. In The Yellow Wallpaper the titular character doesn't have a stated name and her writing attempts are squashed by her husband John the doctor. What she loves and her imagination are deemed to be silly things and she was diagnosed with nervous hysteria to which the treatment was a famous "rest cure" made popular by Dr. Weir Mitchell. The solution for anything that was deemed inconvenient by men at the time (late 19th century) was combatted by allowing women to do nothing especially things they loved that involved intellectual stimulus so that in the end they would often go insane whether or not they were mentally ill in any way in the first place. The idea was that if they weren't following the society's gendered mores that had to be fixed. This gothic horror short story was based for the most part on Gilman's own life as an artist, a writer, and an advocate for women's rights and the rights of the mentally ill. Charlotte herself was a victim of Dr. Weir's rest cure and her husband who she met in art school wasn't too fond of her painting and writing once they were married-she was the woman after all. But Charlotte did not allow herself to be hemmed in.
The life she saw for herself was not one that merely consisted of cleaning, church, and children. Sadly these are issues that women are still affected with today. The best part about feminist literature that one may not automatically deem feminist or think would be required reading is that it shows the woman's struggle based on gendered mores of history to lead to further understanding of what women go through today and to help us learn from the past. That's the reason that Gilman wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper" is to help women and those with mental illness and to make the world a better place which she has done and which we should all strive to do. Certain scholars offer a viewpoint on Gilman that see her as what we would describe today as a "white feminist" of sorts. I don't find this to be accurate but see their thought process as she fought for women like her and the mentally ill in contrast to Jane Addams of Hull house in the same era who founded the first settlement house that helped immigrants and families but feminism is not about compare and contrast or pitting women against each other.

4) "The Wife of Bath's Prologue/Tale" -Chaucer

I know most everyone was "forced" to read this in high school in a general literature or British literature class and might not have considered it linked with feminist material. "What does it even have to do with feminism? Especially modern feminism! It's just Old English!" You retort not seeming to know the definition of feminism or Old English. The Wife's tale exemplifies similar ideals that I am going to mention but my main focus is on the prologue. The Wife has no name besides simply "The Wife of Bath". She is not even given the agency of a name that acknowledges that she's a separate person all her own who is a sentient member of society and yet she asserts her agency with gusto. She tells the men that are her audience that she realizes she does not have the textual evidence that religion provides that deem marriage a sinful practice (A fact that most don't know what a mindset in The Middle Ages) and then proceeds to prove that wrong by providing why she has the experience to back up being able to speak on the subject (Five marriages she was more or less forced into since she was twelve years old that caused her to view marriage in terms of what she could get out of it instead of being complicit even if it seemed more like putting the institution of marriage in financial terms at times) but also backing up her claims that marriage was a supported practice (the idea at the time was that only one marriage was condoned because Jesus only went to one wedding the Wife refutes this with the same texts used to support it especially citing "be fruitful and multiply" which one could take to easily mean that the Bible supports getting married as much as you need to and thus the Roman Catholic Church should support it too.
This was an especially harmful mindset on marriage because this was a woman's only means of financial gains at this time and for centuries to come. "Who painted the leon tell me who?" the Wife demands following that with the assertion that if it hadn't been men (hypocritical clergy men who only wrote stories portraying women in bad lights because they were unsatisfied with their sexual lives) who wrote the story of history then women would not be painted as simply in line with the dominant power and would not have tropes of "womanly cunning" and being inherently inferior, emotionally, and nonintellectual which was another mindset of the time. Does the Wife's prologue feel relevant now? This is a reminder to girls of any age and guys too that women need not feel remorse for having agency and believing in themselves, for embracing their sexuality, for speaking out, and it is important to acknowledge that this was not written by a woman of the time. This is hypocrisy and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church and the treatment of women at the time done by Chaucer himself. This proves that men can understand nuanced issues of the opposite sex and that everyone can work together to bring about social change for true equality.

5) "The Handmaid's Tale"

I would argue fervently that Margaret Atwood's poems are empowering and remarkable pieces of required feminist reading as well (and include Plath poems in that unofficially). Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" is deemed "more relevant now than ever" by Atwood herself in an age where women's roles are a key issue and our reproductive health is threatened. Women now more than ever are fighting for agency over our bodies and face opposition from male lawmakers who don't see the value in things like true equality. No matter how you slice it Atwood's tale is a chilling dystopian future that has echoes of certain aspects of our time. Far right ideals led to turning the U.S. into Gilead and while that is a very nuanced thing one cannot ignore how the knowledge of Offred's tale (the titular Handmaid) would affect both women and men young and mature in only the best way. Women are not breeding machines and one of the most striking images from the Handmaid's Tale is that of a woman with no control over her own body or station. Zero agency. I also find the Hulu series of "The Handmaid's Tale" that will be coming out to be highly watchable and great company to the novel and your knowledge of feminism.

Keep in mind these are just a few texts that I or anyone would deem required texts of feminist reading (officially or not) and I would go on and on if I had all day. I find these to be very fitting as feminist texts but it's also important to remember that at the end of the day these are my opinions and they are merely suggestions. If you don't care for any of these or don't feel like reading them then you are not a bad feminist. Rest assured, that would not at all be something I would convey. For the future generation's sake the one growing up right now and the children we'll be having we need to make sure important pieces of literature get the recognition they deserve for the right reasons and that the true definition of feminism, that is equality is always emphasized.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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