There is little doubt that South Africa is experiencing a crisis when it comes to the treatment of women. Debates rage on social media as an increasing number of women are attacked, raped and killed, and men take umbrage over the hashtag #MenAreTrash.
While it’s clear entrenched values or lack thereof, are difficult to change online a really good way to experience the lived experience of the other side is through books. These novels can be considered absolute classics in telling the story of the treatment of women over time and helping readers to identify with the plight of 50% of the world in our modern societies. For anyone who says, “I am not a feminist” these books should be absolutely mandatory reading.
This Bridge Called My Back
A collection of personal essays, interviews, poems, personal stories, and art by women of colour the book takes a varied approach to explain the complex interactions between gender, feminism, and colour in the west. The range of styles, and stories makes the book easily accessible even as it deals with the heavy issues of discrimination, subjugation and sexuality.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Telling the story of Celie, a young woman growing up in segregated Georgia in the United States, the Color Purple has been made into a film by Steven Spielberg with good reason. Celie’s life is one of hardship and deprivation, mostly inflicted on her by the men in her life, and its powerful, no pulled punches, style truly brings home the reality of living with an abuser.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
Published in 2014 by Haymarket Books, this is a collection of seven short and accessible essays, which nonetheless have a lot to say around the themes of gender and power in modern society. You’ll find yourself at turns awed and laughing as Solnit uses articulate argument and her sharp sense-of-humour to deconstruct, and explain the patriarchy and why 66,000 women are killed annually by Femicide.
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
The novel tells the story of Tambudzai, a rural African girl who has little hope for her life and in doing so carefully examines the conflux between African society and white interference. It shines a light on life for African women in post-colonial societies through its beautiful prose and complicated, subtle and richly fleshed-out characters.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Now an Emmy-winning television series, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a gripping, and gruelling example of feminist speculative fiction. It tells the story of Offred, a member of the fertile female servant class that is forced to survive in a dystopian future by serving simply as a womb on legs for the ruling class. Despite being written in the 1980s the novel remains as fresh as the day it was written and lays bare the issues around women’s reproductive rights, and oppression through a harrowing page-turner of a story.
Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies by Scarlett Curtis
A series of essays by artists, activists and celebrities including Emma Watson and Jameela Jamil this is by turns a funny, meaningful and truthful take on what feminism means to modern women, and just why it is so important.
We should all be feminists by Chimamanda Adichie
“We teach girls that they can have ambition, but not too much … to be successful, but not too successful, or they’ll threaten men,” said author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a now-famous Ted X talk, which has been adapted into an essay, and which became this book. Throughout the book, she looks at why feminism is essential, not only for women but also men, if we want to build happier, more fulfilling societies. It’s absolutely galvanising.
You can watch Adichie’s Ted X talk here: