Are you new to historical women, gender history and feminism? And do you want to learn more about it in an easy and accesible way? Then feast your eyes on this selection of books and movies. They are ideal to get you started.
These recommendations have been ranked in order of easiest to more advanced. Of course you are more than welcome to follow the beat of your own drum. Feel free to try out whatever appeals to you!
Note: this is not a definitive list. Changes or additions may take place in the future.
We Should All Be Feminists (2013) - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
One of the very few talks TEDx has to offer that actually had a palpable impact, We Should All Be Feminists ignited a new passion for gender equality in many 21st century women (and men) all around the world. With tongue in cheek humour, Ngozi Adichie told us what it is like to be a feminist today. The speech that she gave to us in 2012 was turned into a little booklet a year later and is an incredibly accessible way to understand feminism in the new millennium. It covers identity, intersectionality and the female experience, with which the author explains to us that we have created a culture together in which women are not treated as full human beings. If you have never read about feminism before, this booklet is an excellent start!
Buy a copy here or watch the original TEDx speech here.
Also, check out some of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's other works here.
Je Ne Suis Pas Un Homme Facile (2018) - Eléonore Pourriat
with Vincent Elbaz, Marie-Sophie Ferdane, Pierre Bénézit, e.a.
In 2010, French director Eléonore Pourriat released a short film called Majorité Opprimée, about a man living in a female dominated world, who is not taken seriously when he is assaulted by a group of women. In her first major feature film, Pourriat takes this premise even further and shows her audience what she thinks would happen if the power relations were switched around. What would the world look like if the men were treated as the weaker sex and women were in charge? The playful movie is an easy watch, yet enlightening at the same time, as our society’s numerous gender rules are ridiculed by being displayed on the opposite sex. The movie even succeeds in showing how much more beautifully confident women could be if we just gave them the power to do so.
Watch Je Ne Suis Pas Un Homme Facile on Netflix.
Watch Majorité Opprimée on Youtube.
Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls (2016) - Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo
Sure, Favilli and Cavallo's books are meant to be read to little girls and boys before bedtime. But even when you’re not a kid anymore, or you don’t have children to read them to, these wonderful books will serve as a great source of inspiration. Every page contains a short tale about either a famous or lesser-known woman from the past, or a trailblazer from the present. These little bedtime stories will teach you what these girls and women are known for (or should be known for) and what great contributions they have made to our world. The size of these books, as well as the numerous editions that have been published since 2016, just go to show how many there are.
Buy the books and other merchandise here.
Promising Young Woman (2020) - Emerald Fennell
with Carey Muligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, e.a.
Emerald Fennell's directorial debut, about a woman seeking justice for the crime committed against her best friend during med school, is not your average female revenge movie. Promising Young Woman is a perfect masterpiece, the likes of which we see but rarely. Every single detail of the movie, from the aesthetics to the symbolism, from the dialogue to the casting choices, and from the costumes to the soundtrack, literally everything about the movie is a concise choice of the director to clarify the purpose of her film. To let the audience reflect on society's problematic stances on sexual violence and the judicial system's tendency to penalise the victim - a.k.a. the promising young woman.
Buy the DVD here or watch The Take's video essay on the movie here .
Portrait De La Jeune Fille En Feu (2019) - Cécile Sciamma
with Adèle Haenel, Noémie Merlant and Valeria Golino.
Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), who is not happy with the prospects of her arranged marriage, refuses to sit for the portrait meant for her husband to be. Her family calls in painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant), who is instructed to try and finish the painting in secret. This premise not only gives way to intimately explore the relationship between these two women, but it also enables director Cécile Sciamma to centralize the female gaze in every way. Marianne's focus on Héloïse's features and her intent to capture her likeness, is complimented by the all-female cast, and the subjects the story touches on, namely the restrictions 18th century women experienced by marriage, motherhood and profession. We get a portrait, for a change, not of how women were perceived by men, but how they were perceived by themselves.
Buy the DVD here.
Women and Power (2017) - Mary Beard
So where does the origin of the disparity in power between men and women lie? After the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the world's most famous classicist Mary Beard took it upon herself to trace its roots. In this little manifesto, she states that women were already kept away from centers of power in ancient times. Those who did try to get a word in, were compared to animals and mythical monsters. In other words, their sounds reminded men of barking dogs, their audacity similar to that of outrageous mythological women. And what do we find when we look to the present day? The speeches of modern female politicians are still described as animal sounds in newspapers, the same place where illustrators publish cartoons about beheading women in power, as if they were Medusa. Beard's argument is a phenomenally interesting read where women's history and feminism come together!
Buy a copy here.
A Room of One's Own (1929) - Virginia Woolf
This renowned essay is based on two lectures read by Virginia Woolf at Newnham College and Girton College, women's colleges in Cambridge, in 1928. Using her famous stream of consciousness style as a narrative device, Woolf uses metaphors to explore social injustices and comments on women's lack of free expression, as well as to argue her most important opinion: that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. Our general knowledge of historical women or the situation of women in the past, is not because of the inferiority of their sex, Woolf states, but because of a lack of opportunity. Woolf's writing style might make it difficult for some readers to fathom what she is trying to say, and it definitely requires a careful read, but the effort is so worth it!
Buy a copy here.
Antonia's Line (1995) - Marleen van Gorris
with Willeke van Amelrooy, Els Dottermans, Jan Decleir, e.a.
This winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Film 1996, tells a timeless story that can best be described as a feminist fairy tale. It starts with the widowed Antonia (Willeke van Amelrooy) returning to her home town with her daughter Danielle (Els Dottermans) after the Second World War. The audience quickly realises why she left it in the first place: the small farmer's village is deeply religious, strongly conservative and highly patriarchal. Antonia's arrival does not bring about a swift revolution, but over the years, it does give some women the strength to leave oppression behind and to establish a close-knit matriarchal community around Antonia.
Watch the full movie with English subtitles on YouTube (low quality).
Buy the DVD here.
The Handmaid's Tale (1985) - Margaret Atwood
It is no wonder that the Canadian grand dame of literature, Margaret Atwood, published her greatest work just after 1984. Inspired by George Orwell's masterpiece, she penned her own piece of speculative fiction, in which she satirized the social, political, and religious trends of the United States in the 1980s, and questioned what would happen if the attitudes about women held by the religious right were taken to their logical end. Her story takes place in the theocratic state of Gilead and is told by a woman called Offred, who serves as a handmaid and as such is forcibly assigned to produce children for the Commanders, the ruling class of men. The women in Gilead have no freedoms or rights, which Atwood based on examples from the present and the past.
Buy a copy here.
Watch the series based on the book on Amazon Prime Video.
The Second Sex (La Deuxième Sexe) (1945) - Simone De Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir, both a feminist activist and existentialist philosopher, changed the course of political discourse and philosophy when she published The Second Sex. Adopted and revised as the Bible of feminism, this work is one of the most integral works in feminist and queer studies as it distinguishes biological sex from gender. On top of that, De Beauvoir provides us with an intricite investigation of women's history, in search for the reasons for the oppression of women, argueing that she can find none. This masterpiece is a big one, so I have saved it for last.
Buy a copy here.