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The fourth wave of feminism has arrived with a bang and a hashtag. The #MeToo movement has every woman engaged in the feminist debate, but not all are familiar with the roots of the women’s movement. Without historical knowledge we are doomed to repeat it, so here are the finest feminist reads to get (re)acquainted with.
Well before the suffragettes brought the first wave of feminism with them, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) wrote what is considered the first great manifesto of women’s rights, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Living an independent life as a governor, teacher and writer, Wollstonecraft argued passionately for women’s education which in 1792 created quite the scandal.
French author and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir combined critical theory with personal observation to argue for female liberty. Prompting outrage in 1949, The Second Sex raised the consciousness of a generation of women, and now many more, as it sits as a formative work on the feminist shelf.
A phenomenon becoming fuel to the fire that was the second wave of feminism, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique gave America’s housewives an answer to “the problem that has no name”. In 1963 when the average woman married in her teens, Friedan argued systemic sexism held women hostage in the home and refused to allow them to use their intellect. As she gave women permission to be unhappy, Friedan sold three million copies in the first three years.
Bursting into a burgeoning yet relatively low-profile feminist movement in Australia, Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch argued sexual liberation was the key to women’s liberation in 1970. While challenging the country’s patriarchy, Greer’s provocative language transcended the Pacific to become a global phenomenon and find its foothold in the feminist history archives.
Author, scholar, and legendary political activist Angela Davis has penned several books but Women, Race & Class is one of her most revered reads. This powerful study of the women’s liberation movement across the US – from abolitionist days to its publication in 1983 – demonstrates how the racist and sexist biases of political leaders have always hindered progression.
In 1990, at a time when women had more power, liberty and professional success than ever before, journalist and author Naomi Wolf forced women to rethink their relationship with beauty. Wolf argues modern women are trapped by The Beauty Myth – an obsession with unattainable beauty – which is as detrimental to the women’s movement as the traditional housewife image.
Susan Faludi’s skillful examination of the attack on women’s rights revealed women’s movements always face an anti-feminist backlash – manifesting themselves in media coverage, political agendas or advertising campaigns. In 1990, Faludi proved fictitious narratives – such as the “infertility epidemic” and “man shortage” – often arise when women make leaps and bounds forward – and in Trump’s America, her words feel especially relevant.
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