I thought this month, I’d share some of my favourite feminist classics that helped spark the revolution for modern women.
Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women by Susan Faludi. This book is one of the most thoroughly researched exposes on how ever-malleable statistics and the media have been used against women. After university it was an eye-opener for me on how the Moral Right twists dubious research to their political agenda to limit the potential of women. While several years old, it is still a wake-up call that uses humor, logic, and moral clarity to elucidate the backlash against women’s progress of the last four decades. Faludi followed Backlash a few years later which tackled the crisis of modern masculinity, with the aptly named ‘Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man’ – a book that first engaged me with the flip side to the rise of female breadwinners. Published in 1999, a full decade before most were even discussing the supposed growing obsolescence of men, Faludi is often light years ahead of her contemporaries when it comes to looking at relevant social issues.
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. This first book by Naomi Wolf was the reason I decided to specialise and major in both psychology and women’s studies. She detailed how the beauty industry creates and then benefits from a preoccupation with women’s appearance. This hard-hitting expose explains how modern western culture alienates women from their own bodies and sexuality. She uses examples ranging from eating disorders, cosmetic surgery and pornography to illustrate how constraining, devaluing and insidious the beauty myth actually is to women worldwide.
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. I was lucky enough to have dinner with Betty Friedan while an undergraduate at St. Mary’s College of Maryland when I was completing my women’s studies degree – and one I’ll not be fortunate enough to repeat as she passed away in 2006. It was inspiring sitting with a woman whose book, arguably, helped ignite a feminist revolution in 1963 when it was first published. She detailed “the problem with no name”– the sense of malaise, the sense of disappointment and unfilled potential of educated women who were largely expected to leave work upon marriage. Historically middle class women were encouraged to be educated not for their professional potential, but so they could become entertaining wives and good mothers. There was no further productive value to her education, thus leading to a lack of fulfillment, boredom, and generations of wasted female talent. This is a classic for any feminist worth her salt.
The Second Sex by Simone de Beavoir. Beavoir, a feminist philosopher, galvanized millions of readers with this tome. I even saw a hardback copy in a male senior banker’s office a few years ago – you could have knocked me over with a feather. Kudos to him! Detailing research on women’s bodies and their historic and economic roles, this book is a well-argued treatise on inequality and the enforced sense of ‘otherness’ of all women. She demonstrates, by comparing early humans with the life of modern women today, that we are only marginally better off, or even have regressed when considering the hyper-sexualization and rigid expectations around appearance. A philosophers take on what it means to be an ‘evolved’ woman.