• Sharon Chau

Must-Reads for Feminists

Below are short descriptions of some feminist books I have really enjoyed, including Invisible Women, Lean In, A Brief History of Misogyny, I Know How She Does It and 100 Pioneering Women. These books provide fascinating insights into the history and manifestation of sexism as well as practical solutions on how women can be empowered to deal with it. I would love any suggestions on what feminist books to read next or any views on the books listed here!

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado-Perez

This is an incredible book recommended to me by a close friend. It discusses how women are systematically ignored and treated as the Other through "Reference Man", the average male body that is used for most research and medication. A chilling example is how "Reference Man" is used to determine acceptable levels of toxic gases in a factory, but the fact that women have thinner skin means their tolerance of these gases are lower and hence the standards set will greatly endanger them. Another example is how mismatched equipment can be life-threatening for women. In 1997, a British female police officer was stabbed and killed while using a ram to enter a flat, as she had removed the body armour because it was too difficult to use the ram at the same time. Through revealing the biased data that excludes women from government policy and medical research to technology, workplaces and the media, Invisible Women will change how you think about the world.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In is an amazing book by Facebook's Chief Operating Officer (COO), Sheryl Sandberg, who provides amusing but sobering anecdotes about her lonely rise to the top. Sandberg busts the myth of “having it all”, the phrase referring to women being successful in both their careers and their families. You can always feel insecure and doubt whether you’re a good enough worker or mother, but the truth is that you don't have to be perfect in both. One of the most striking insights from this book is the "Likeability Trap", referring to the negative correlation between success and likeability for women, which forces us to be "relentlessly pleasant". There are practical suggestions on how women can better promote themselves, negotiate more successfully and find themselves mentors, all of which are relevant and highly useful. Although controversial for its "first-world feminist" perspective and its suggestions being targeted at women, the victims, rather than men, it is an incredibly interesting read.

A Brief History of Misogyny: The World's Oldest Prejudice, Jack Holland

This is a fascinating book for history neeks or feminists in general. It goes all the way back to 8 BC and analyses the history of misogyny including the complicity of the Church, witch hunts, sexual theory, Nazism, to today's pro-life campaigners. Holland argues that misogyny started from Ancient Greece through the myth of Pandora’s box, misogynistic Greek gods, and sexist works of literature including The Illiad. He also illustrates the surprising role Aristotle played in the history of misogyny. Aristotle taught that semen carried the human soul, and that women merely played a nutritive role in the human creation process, while arguing that the full potential of the child is reached only if it is born male. This ungrounded misogynistic belief dominated discussions around sex and gender for much of history, which was an eye-opening insight. The modern historical anecdotes in the book are compelling, but the really interesting bits are discussions of ancient history which is much less studied in feminist literature now. A must-read for anyone wanting to learn about the root causes of sexism.

I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make The Most Of Their Time, Laura Vanderkam

I recently finished this book and found it extremely helpful. As the title suggests, Vanderkam documents how successful and high-earning working mothers balance their work and their children. Her subjects were given a spreadsheet to fill out documenting how they spent their 168 hours in a week, providing data for Vanderkam to quantitatively analyse. Previously, I had been skeptical about taking a demanding job after (hypothetically) having kids, but this book made me realise that even in the most demanding jobs, working mothers have enough time to achieve the best of both worlds if they plan their time wisely and delegate work to their partners (if they are partnered). This is a must-read for any woman wondering how to strike a work-life balance with children.

We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is a very short book that can be finished in twenty minutes - perfect for a short cafe trip. It provides a wonderful overview of the struggles women go through and attempts to define what it means to be a woman. The author was told that labelling herself as a feminist meant she hated men and burnt bras, so she had the tongue-in-cheek nickname of "Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And Heels For Herself And Not For Men". Other than observations and personal experience of prejudice, some unique insights are gleaned from her perspective as a Nigerian. For example, boys are taught not to be vulnerable and to be a hard man in Nigerian-speak, encouraging fragile egos and toxic masculinity. There is also a Nigerian expression, bottom power, that refers to women using their sexuality to gain things from men. This type of language reinforces prejudice against women and the book as a whole offers a refreshing and much-needed perspective from a non-white feminist.

Bonus: 100 Pioneering Women, National Portrait Gallery

This book was a lovely gift from a friend. Accompanied by stunning photos, it celebrates the accomplishments of 100 women, highlighting well-known pioneers as well as those whose stories have been largely forgotten. A beautiful read.


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