5 Great Books on Feminism - Selected by Choice Reviewer Lisa D. Brush

Feminist activists and ideas have shaped the theories and methods of every discipline throughout the sciences and humanities. Feminists and feminisms have changed history, policy, and everyday life around the world. Feminisms are among the world-shaping social movements and viewpoints with which every educated person should engage. These books are wonderful ports of entry into the vast array of great books on feminism.

Black Women in White America: A Documentary History, ed. by Gerda Lerner. Vintage, 1992.
This indispensable intersectional feminist history collects an invaluable set of primary documents from 19th and 20th century US life and thought. Lerner was a founder of academic women’s history, and her choices and commentary are both chilling and inspiring. These pieces are stunningly relevant almost 50 years later, which is fitting, given Lerner’s very long view of the movements for gender and racial justice.

Finding the Movement: Sexuality, Contested Space, and Feminist Activism, by A. Finn Enke. Duke, 2007.
Enke takes readers to church basements, bookstores, softball fields, and dance floors where people came together to live freer, richer lives – sometimes identifying as feminists and sometimes not. That variety turns out to be central to the sumptuous productivity of new forms of women’s autonomy in sexuality, gender, and ways of being in public spaces that came out of “second-wave” feminism in the US.

Living a Feminist Life, by Sara Ahmed. Duke, 2017.
This is down-to-earth theory from one of the guiding lights of feminist philosophy. Ahmed’s concepts (feminist killjoy!), her sharp interrogations of institutional policy and practice, and her pragmatic offerings for tools for everyday and long-term feminist and anti-racist activists help readers understand and survive in a world of complex inequalities – and even thrive. Brilliant, accessible, astringent, and stirring.

Up Against a Wall: Rape Reform and the Failure of Success, by Rose Corrigan. New York, 2013.
Corrigan describes and explains the limits and possibilities of feminist reform efforts. Her comparative, institutional approach is a model of feminist theory, policy analysis, political critique, and creative strategizing about feminist social movements for justice. The evidence in the book may make readers grind their teeth in frustration with the struggle, but the hard-won lessons for feminist organizing are worth it.

Varieties of Feminism: German Gender Politics in Global Perspective, by Myra Marx Ferree. Stanford, 2012.
Many insights about feminist social movements and transformative ideas show up best in comparative perspective. Ferree sets the quite different feminist movements and ideas in politically and socially divided East and West Germany in historical and international perspective. She also takes gender seriously as a principle of the social organization of movements and political regimes, and her deep familiarity with her cases makes for rich and lively reading.

About the author:

Lisa D. Brush is Professor of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh, and the author of Gender and Governance (Rowman and Littlefield) and Poverty, Battered Women, and Work in U.S. Public Policy (Oxford University Press).