There are two topics about which I often wish I knew more: feminism and capitalism. I read a lot and I want to start a book club with myself. I’m a feminist and have a grasp of feminist history, lite. I’m familiar with the names de Beauvoir, Lorde, and I know ‘bell hooks’ isn’t capitalized, but I’ve never actually read any of these seminal works! I’ve never even seen a performance of the Vagina Monologues! And I went to Kent State! With realistic expectations in mind, I chose 6 works of core feminist texts to read this year. It’s not exactly a survey: only three white women and three black women are represented, who are all (to my knowledge) cis-gender. Nevertheless, their works are all essential in the feminist cannon and I’m also excited to read them, which is important. I’ll read these in (almost) chronological order in hopes to see how the central tenets and arguments evolve.
Feminist founders, I’m excited to read. Huge tomes on capitalism? Not so much. Yet, I often find myself convinced that I think American Capitalism is broken, systemically oppressive, and corrupt, but can’t articulate exactly why, in my own words. This, frankly, would be fine with me; I know the system works for The 1%, famously. Any time I share a vague opinion or joke that, “money rules everything around me, capitalism has made me a product, it sucks” someone [a white man] asks for a 20 page annotated bibliography on the flaws of American Capitalism. I also am curious, just for myself. I’ve narrowed it down, after a substantial amount of research, to two books on capitalism. My parameters were that I wanted a book that was comprehensive, looking at history and illuminating the pitfalls of the system as it is today, while maintaining as little bias as possible. Capitalism has a lot of obsessive herald bearers and a lot of choleric detractors and it was hard to sort these out from more down the middle historians or economists.
I will read the following books that I have chosen specifically for me, curated to match exactly what I hope to learn, about feminism and about capitalism:
January: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft, 1792
I’m really excited to read this one because I only learned about it last year. Also, This is Mary Shelley’s (author of Frankenstein) mom you guys!
First published in 1792, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman created a scandal in its day, largely, perhaps, because of the unconventional lifestyle of its creator. Today, it is considered the first great manifesto of women’s rights, arguing passionately for the education of women: “Tyrants and sensualists are in the right when they endeavor to keep women in the dark, because the former want only slaves, and the later a plaything.” –Amazon
February: Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, 1984
The shortest month gets the shortest book. Also, I wanted to hit some intersectional feminism early, and keep it in mind as we go along. How do Lorde’s 1984 speeches and essays compare to de Beauvoir’s 1949 treatise? Also, see the Vagina Monologues.
The book is considered a classic volume of Lorde’s most influential works of non-fiction prose and has been groundbreaking and formative in the development of contemporary feminist theories. – Wikipedia
In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope. – Amazon
February & March: The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir, 1949
Oh my gosh this one is so long??? It will definitely take at least two months. Apparently, the original English translation was deeply abridged but…maybe that’s okay? We’ll see how I feel when March comes along.
Simone de Beauvoir’s essential masterwork is a powerful analysis of the Western notion of “woman,” and a revolutionary exploration of inequality and otherness. 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. – Amazon
April thru perpetuity: Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, 2013
Who doesn’t love a 800 some page tome on economics in the spring? Luckily, this book made what economists all over the 2014 internet call, “huge waves” and called it, “inescapable.” (The Economist, Harvard Business Review) This means there are handy summaries everywhere if I feel I can’t quite make the slog.
“It seems safe to say that Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the magnum opus of the French economist Thomas Piketty, will be the most important economics book of the year―and maybe of the decade.”
―Paul Krugman, New York Times
“The book aims to revolutionize the way people think about the economic history of the past two centuries. It may well manage the feat.”
July: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, 1963
The title of this one might be the most well known, which is one of the reasons it made the list. Also, it was written and published right in the thick of the second wave of feminists.
“If you’ve never read it, read it now.”―Arianna Huffington, O, The Oprah Magazine
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. – Amazon
September: Women, Race, & Class by Angela Y Davis, 1981
Thank goodness this one is short! Finally! After learning more about Davis at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem last October at an exhibit on the Black Power Movement, I’m looking forward to reading this. She is deeply cool.
A powerful study of the women’s liberation movement in the U.S., from abolitionist days to the present, that demonstrates how it has always been hampered by the racist and classist biases of its leaders. From the widely revered and legendary political activist and scholar Angela Davis. – Penguin Random House
October & November: The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist, 2016
By this point, I’ll either be done with Capital or have given up so I’ll move on to my second book in the “learning about American capitalism” category. I don’t need a book to tell me that a major reason capitalism was broken from the start is that it was built and continues to profit from the establishment of American slavery. But I’m going to read one anyway. Gotta get that 20 page bibliography prepared for Keith.
Americans tend to cast slavery as a pre-modern institution–the nation’s original sin, perhaps, but isolated in time and divorced from America’s later success. But to do so robs the millions who suffered in bondage of their full legacy. As historian Edward E. Baptist reveals in The Half Has Never Been Told, the expansion of slavery in the first eight decades after American independence drove the evolution and modernization of the United States. – Amazon
December: Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks, 2000
I’m rounding out the year with some thorough third-wave intersectional feminism, which is the best way to end the year. It is also blessedly short.
bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody is the antidote to every ‘when’s international men’s day?!’ tweet. Designed to be read by all genders, this short, accessible introduction to feminist theory, by one of its liveliest and most influential practitioners, seeks to rescue feminism from esoterism and academic jargon; simplifying, arguing and convincing. – Pluto Press
I’m not trying to say anything by it but the longest books on this list, by far, also happen to be the only two books by white men……………………………………………………………. 🙂