“Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female — whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male.”
― Simone De Beauvoir
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines feminism as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”
The word feminism is as easy to understand as its definition. Contrary to what most of the people believe in, feminism does not mean man-hating. Feminist theory aims to understand gender inequality, power relations and sexuality. It not only provides a critique of these social and political power relations, but it also focuses on the promotion of women’s interests and rights. Themes such as Patriarchy, Oppression, Discrimination and Sexual Objectification are explored while studying Feminism.
Feminism has been a crucial topic of debate and discussion since time immemorial. Be it the women’s suffrage movement to get voting rights, or the candle marches to demand stricter punishment for rape, feminism has been the root of it all.
The following list of books help you to achieve a better understanding of the topic of feminism-
Written by Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis is an autobiographical graphic novel. The background of the novel being Islamic Revolution, it depicts Satrapi’s childhood and early adult years in Iran. The novel throws light on what it means to be an Iranian girl for Satrapi, juxtaposed with the cultural and tensed political background. What comes out as striking about this novel is the fact that the women characters are depicted as meticulously as the male characters. They’re shown to have their own tensions and conflicts and in no way does Satrapi out rightly glorify or unites women. The novel raises certain important questions like; will the women in Iran ever regain their rights? How do women treat each other in Iran? How does Satrapi liberate herself?
“I wanted to be an educated, liberated woman. And if the pursuit of knowledge meant getting cancer, so be it.”
9. The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter explores the complexities of the mind of a woman, through the protagonist Hester Prynne in a Puritanical 19th century setup. The novel explores the themes of love, sexuality and sin. Hester has a child outside marriage and is condemned as an adulteress by the Puritanical society. She refuses to divulge the name of her child’s father and maintains her strength and dignity throughout the novel. Seen as one of the early feminist heroines, Hester sees the ‘A’ on her chest as ‘able’ while it actually stands for ‘adulteress’. Hester would go to any length to protect her daughter Pearl. Even when faced with endless taunts and ridicule, she never retaliates. Hester’s nature was passionate and her silence was her way of rebellion. In her silence, lay her strength.
“The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her, —so much power to do, and power to sympathize, —that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength.”
Jean Sasson, the writer of the feminist series The Princess Trilogy is known to be the voice for the Middle Eastern Women. The novel ‘Princess’ is a true story of the Princess of Saudi Arabia. The book tells the tale of Princess Sultana from childhood to her marriage to motherhood. Sultana tells of a society where men dominate the supposedly ‘weaker sex’, woman, where a life of luxury provides an incentive to them to do as they please. Sultana talks of Quran and the indispensible role of Saudi women in the functioning of their society. Sultana talks about the veil, about the different customs and traditions for men and women, and how she still managed to educate herself. The novel is followed by two sequels- ‘Daughters of Arabia’ and ‘Desert Royal’.
“For the first time since giving birth so many years before, I grew weary of motherhood, and wondered how many more generations of women could be enticed to burden themselves with the solitary and thankless procreation, nourishing, and guidance of the human race.”
7. Mrs. Dalloway
Written by Virginia Woolf in 1925, Mrs. Dalloway remains a personal favorite novel. Virginia Woolf popularized the ‘Stream of Consciousness’ style. Mrs. Dalloway is the story of Clarissa Dalloway, an upper class house wife in London who is trying to exert her identity in a patriarchal society. The novel provides the readers an insight into Clarissa’s mind and thoughts as she constantly goes into her past and thinks about life before marriage. Clarissa feels that she has lost her identity in marriage and has been reduced to a mere housewife. The novel clearly signifies the fact that money, fame and a rich husband do not guarantee happiness.
“She had the oddest sense of being her self invisible, unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa anymore; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.”
Pinjar was written by the doyenne of Punjabi literature, Amrita Pritam in 1950. The backdrop of the novel is Indian Partition and it is a story of a Hindu woman, Puro, who is abducted by a Muslim man, Rashid. When Puro somehow manages to flee from Rashid’s captivity, her parents refuse to accept her because she might have been defiled. The novel depicts how Puro manages to remain strong throughout the struggle and helplessness. It vividly captures the sacrifices that a woman must make and still bear them with a smile. The novel also brings forth the situation of rural women in India.
“When a man denies the power of women, he is denying his own subconscious.”
5. The Bluest Eye
The Bluest Eye is a 1970 novel by American author Toni Morrison. It is the story of Pecola, a little child who is molested at the hands of a man. She eventually turns mad. In a world where women are locked into submission and exclusion, only the man seems to have a voice. The novel also questions the standards of beauty established by the world, that the women are expected to adhere to. Beauty is shown to be an unattainable ideal in the novel. The world of women in this novel is shown to have a life of unfulfilled desires. The novel exposes women’s struggle to survive and thrive.
“She missed — without knowing what she missed– paints and crayons”
4. A Thousand Splendid Suns
Written by Afghan-American writer Khaled Hosseini, this novel was published in 2007. It is about the struggles of two Afghan women Mariam and Laila and how their lives intersect, how they support each other during difficult times. What lends this novel a feminist perspective is that male domination was extremely prevalent in Afghanistan. The novel talks about how the basic rights- right to education, freedom of choice and liberation were denied to women in a male dominated world. The novel explains how women are considered a property of men in Afghanistan. Marital rape is a common scenario in the novel. It also explores the positive aspect of female friendship and its importance. Mariam, although, could not attain a happy ending in the novel and eventually dies.
“Learn this now and learn this well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman.”
Medea is a Greek tragedy written by Euripides in 431 BC. Medea is the protagonist of the play and a sorceress. Medea takes a revenge on her husband when he cheats on her to be with the Princess of Corinth. Euripides presents a strong, independent and intelligent character in Medea who takes a revenge on her husband for he has wronged her. Medea did not become a victim to the society she inhabits or does not depress herself for being wronged by her husband. Instead she plots revenge and escapes unharmed in the end. For this play to be written in 431 BC, creating a fierce character like Medea was a very revolutionary thought. Medea is the perfect example what feminism is actually not about- man hating.
“Of all creatures that can feel and think, we women are the worst treated things alive.”
2. The Awakening
Kate Chopin wrote this novel in 1899 and it was originally titled ‘A Solitary Soul’. One of the most poignant novels that explain feminism, The Awakening was a bold piece of fiction of its time. The protagonist, Edna Pontellier feels caught up and defined by the titles of being a wife and a mother rather than being her own self, a self-defined individual. Edna seeks a life of freedom and individuality. Freedom from the societal constructs of the responsibilities of being a wife and a mother. The only way she sees to liberate herself is suicide.
“A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been given her to control the working of her body and her soul. She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before.”
1. The Color Purple
Published in 1982, The Color Purple was written by Alice Walker. The novel is set in Georgia, and deals with the lives of African American women in the South during 1930s. The book deals with issues like poverty, sexual abuse, domestic violence, racism and black womanhood. The main character Celie is subject to domestic violence, marital rape and male domination. She does not fight back realizing that this might keep her alive. There are also strong, independent female characters in the novel who challenge traditional gender roles. Sofia does not let her husband hit her and instead hits him back. She is free minded and owns her sexuality. Towards the end, the novel gradually moves away from patriarchy and places women on an equal pedestal as men. Women are seen standing up for each other.
“Sofia the kind of woman no matter what she have in her hand she make it look like a weapon.”
An important part of understanding feminism is the need to understand the need for feminism, the need to understand that women and men are not on equal pedestals but that they need to be. The aforementioned novels provide a deeper understanding of this fact and also provide an insight into how women have strived to achieve equality since time immemorial.