From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on the philosophy of gender, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best book on the philosophy of gender. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on the philosophy of gender in no particular order.
Gender: The Key Concepts – Mary Evans
Publisher description: This invaluable volume provides an overview of 37 terms, theories and concepts frequently used in gender studies which those studying the subject can find difficult to grasp. Each entry provides a critical definition of the concept, examining the background to the idea, its usage and the major figures associated with the term. …
Debating Sex and Gender – Georgia Warnke
Publisher description: The fifth volume in the Fundamentals of Philosophy Series, Debating Sex and Gender by Georgia Warnke is a concise yet in-depth introduction to contemporary feminist thought on sex and gender. Featuring a lucid and accessible writing style, the book focuses on four historical debates: the relation and possible distinction between sex (biologically based) and gender (culturally based); questioning the binary (male-female) character of sex and gender; the idea of gender as a performance and as a performative; and the intersection of gender with race, class, and other features of identity. These discussions serve as guides for the first four chapters of the book. The fifth chapter strives to resolve the four issues by situating sex and gender within a broader theory of identity, arguing that sex and gender are ways of understanding who people are and do not define us any more than other characteristics do. Unique in its exploration of several different debates–and their relationship to each other–Debating Sex and Gender is ideal for use in a variety of feminist philosophy, women’s studies, and gender studies courses.
The Gender Knot – Allan G. Johnson
Publisher description: The Gender Knot, Allan Johnson’s response to the pain and confusion that men and women experience by living with gender inequality, explains what patriarchy is and isn’t, how it works, and what gets in the way of understanding and doing something about it. Johnson’s simple yet powerful approach avoids the paralyzing trap of guilt, blame, anger, and defensive denial that often results from conversations about gender. …
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman – Mary Wollstonecraft
Publisher description: This volume brings together extracts of the major political writings of Mary Wollstonecraft in the order in which they appeared in the revolutionary 1790s. It traces her passionate and indignant response to the excitement of the early days of the French Revolution and then her uneasiness at its later bloody phase. It reveals her developing understanding of women’s involvement in the political and social life of the nation and her growing awareness of the relationship between politics and economics and between political institutions and the individual. In personal terms, the works show her struggling with a belief in the perfectibility of human nature through rational education, a doctrine that became weaker under the onslaught of her own miserable experience and the revolutionary massacres.
The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir
Publisher 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.
Justice, Gender, and the Family – Susan Moller Okin
Publisher description: In the first feminist critique of modern political theory, Okin shows how the failure to apply theories of justice to the family not only undermines our most cherished democratic values but has led to a major crisis over gender-related issues.
Undoing Gender – Judith Butler
Publisher description: Undoing Gender constitutes Judith Butler’s recent reflections on gender and sexuality, focusing on new kinship, psychoanalysis and the incest taboo, transgender, intersex, diagnostic categories, social violence, and the tasks of social transformation. In terms that draw from feminist and queer theory, Butler considers the norms that govern–and fail to govern–gender and sexuality as they relate to the constraints on recognizable personhood. The book constitutes a reconsideration of her earlier view on gender performativity from Gender Trouble. In this work, the critique of gender norms is clearly situated within the framework of human persistence and survival. And to “do” one’s gender in certain ways sometimes implies “undoing” dominant notions of personhood. She writes about the “New Gender Politics” that has emerged in recent years, a combination of movements concerned with transgender, transsexuality, intersex, and their complex relations to feminist and queer theory.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Philosophy, Sex and Gender – George Mason University
- Gender and Philosophy – King’s College London
- see also the Philosophy of Gender Syllabi on the APA Diversity and Inclusiveness Syllabus Collection
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender
- As a complete ignorant in philosophy, what books/works should I read to understand current gender theories?
- Could you recommend any readings on gender equality?
- Any philosophers talk about sexuality and genders?
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Books on Feminist Philosophy
- The Best Philosophy Books on Race
Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy readings lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.
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