This page contains a list of the seven best books on feminist philosophy. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on feminism” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works on feminism. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on feminist philosophy. Here are the best books on feminism in no particular order:
Feminism: A Very Short Introduction – Margaret Walters
Publisher’s Description: This is a historical account of feminism that looks at the roots of feminism, voting rights, and the liberation of the sixties, and analyzes the current situation of women across Europe, in the United States, and elsewhere in the world, particularly the Third World countries. Walters examines the difficulties and inequities that women still face, more than forty years after the “new wave” of 1960s feminism–difficulties, particularly, in combining domesticity, motherhood and work outside the home. How much have women’s lives really changed? In the West, women still come up against the “glass ceiling” at work, with most earning considerably less than their male counterparts. What are we to make of the now commonplace insistence that feminism deprives men of their rights and dignities? And how does one tackle the issue of female emancipation in different cultural and economic environments–in, for example, Islam, Hinduism, the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian sub-continent?
Feminism Is for Everybody – bell hooks
Publisher’s Description: What is feminism? In this short, accessible primer, bell hooks explores the nature of feminism and its positive promise to eliminate sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. With her characteristic clarity and directness, hooks encourages readers to see how feminism can touch and change their lives―to see that feminism is for everybody.
Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction – Rosemarie Tong
Publisher’s Description: In this survey of feminist theory, Rosemarie Tong provides coverage of the psychoanalytic, existential and postmodern schools of feminism. The author guides the reader through the complexities of even the most notoriously difficult thinkers. Students will meet and become familiar with many of the essential figures in the feminist tradition, from Wollstonecraft and Engel, on through de Beauvoir, Dinnerstein, and Daly, and up to Mitchell and Cixous. The text treats all views with respect and encourages students to think critically and sympathetically about a wide range of views that have a direct relevance to their own lives.
Feminist Theory: A Philosophical Anthology – Ann Cudd & Andreasen
Publisher’s Description: Feminist Theory: A Philosophical Anthology addresses seven philosophically significant questions regarding feminism, its central concepts of sex and gender, and the project of centering women’s experience. Topics include the nature of sexist oppression, the sex/gender distinction, how gender-based norms influence conceptions of rationality, knowledge, and scientific objectivity, feminist ethics, feminst perspectives on self and autonomy, whether there exist distinct feminine moral perspectives, and what would comprise true liberation.
Features an introductory overview illustrating the development of feminism as a philosophical movement. Contains both classic and contemporary sources of feminist thought, including selections by Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Simone de Beauvior, Kate Millett, bell hooks, Marilyn Frye, Martha Nussbaum, Louise Antony, Sally Haslanger, Helen Longino, Marilyn Friedman, Catharine MacKinnon, and Drucilla Cornell.
The Subjection of Women – John Stuart Mill
Publisher’s Description: Written in 1861 and published eight years later, this influential essay by the great English philosopher and economist is still relevant and its arguments significant. Believing that the subjugation of women was primarily political and psychological in origin, Mill urged the establishment of “complete equality in all legal, political, social, and domestic relations between men and women.”
Arguing for both legal reforms and a social revolution, he focuses on women’s exclusion from the political process, their lack of any rights in marriage, and the benefits to be obtained by their liberation. Moreover, if they are to share the freedoms enjoyed by men, equal opportunities for employment and education for women are also necessary.
For its time, the work was radical and far-reaching in its demands; but despite its repeated emphasis on forms of oppression and recognition of the difficulties endured by women, it is essentially an optimistic work maintaining a firm belief that increased equality and liberty for women were inevitable. Carefully researched and clearly expressed with great logic and consistency, the book remains a landmark in the struggle for human rights. In this inexpensive edition, it will certainly be welcomed by feminists but will also appeal to anyone interested in the philosophical, human, and social issues underlying the idea of freedom and equality for all people, regardless of gender.
The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir
Publisher’s Description: Simone de Beauvoir’s essential masterwork is a powerful analysis of the Western notion of “woman,” and a revolutionary exploration of inequality and otherness. Unabridged in English for the first time, this long-awaited edition reinstates significant portions of the original French text that were cut in the first English translation. Vital and groundbreaking, Beauvoir’s pioneering and impressive text remains as pertinent today as when it was first published, and will continue to provoke and inspire generations of men and women to come.
The Feminine Mystique – Betty Friedan
Publisher’s Description: Landmark, groundbreaking, classic―these adjectives barely do justice to the pioneering vision and lasting impact of The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963, it gave a pitch-perfect description of “the problem that has no name”: the insidious beliefs and institutions that undermined women’s confidence in their intellectual capabilities and kept them in the home. Writing in a time when the average woman first married in her teens and 60 percent of women students dropped out of college to marry, Betty Friedan captured the frustrations and thwarted ambitions of a generation and showed women how they could reclaim their lives. Part social chronicle, part manifesto, The Feminine Mystique is filled with fascinating anecdotes and interviews as well as insights that continue to inspire. This 50th–anniversary edition features an afterword by best-selling author Anna Quindlen as well as a new introduction by Gail Collins.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
If you’d like to learn more about Feminist Philosophy, check out this collection of beginner friendly resources on Feminist Philosophy.
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