The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
Betty Friedan worked as a labor union activist and then freelance writer while raising her children in a somewhat conventional life. Friedan, who was active in far-left communities, wrote later that she felt some sort of gender-based injustice frequently as an adult until she began to poll her college classmates, most of whom were housewives. Their responses formed the basis of The Feminine Mystique. The book, later criticized for its focus on affluent white women, discussed the unhappiness these women felt with the inhibitions of their lives, problems Friedan attributed to gender-based discrimination.
Ain’t I a Woman? by bell hooks
Bell hooks, the noted feminist scholar, reportedly wrote Ain’t I a Woman? as a 19-year-old college student, though didn’t publish it until 1980, when she was 28. The book’s central purpose is to examine how African American women hurt from both sexism and racism and how neither white women (and certainly not white men) nor African American women concern themselves with African American women’s lives. Hooks challenges these women to stand up for themselves and overthrow oppression.
Today’s readers likely will find hooks’ work full of undeserved rage, but given the political climate of the time, hooks’ work represents the feelings of many women who find themselves caught between various forms of discrimination.
The Women’s Room by Marilyn French
This 1977 novel still inspires debate, primarily for the comments from Val, a militant feminist who is one of the central characters. French is a novelist who didn’t begin writing until she was in her 40s. The Women’s Room is one of the best-known works of feminist fiction, still available in various editions and an international bestseller.
The novel follows Mira, a conventional housewife helping support her husband’s medical career and raise her two sons. Mira experiences the feminist revolution mainly vicariously until her divorce rips her life apart. Thrown back into school as an adult and struggling to find an identity, Mira embraces feminist ideology slowly over the course of the book. French weaves together feminists of every stripe into Mira’s consciousness-raising group and tell the story of a decade now only in our imaginations.