The Rise of Feminism: Top 8 Books from the Early Days

“I raise up my voice-not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”

―  Malala Yousafzai

After eons of subjugation, women had to finally raise their voices to be heard in a predominantly misogynist world. It took a lot for ladies to finally claim their deserved place. 

Men and women are equal. This is the simplest and most logical fact in the world. Yet, only a small portion of the population seems to understand this even in today’s developed world. It is hard to believe that in ancient times, women were valued as much as men. As mankind gradually moved toward civilization, men started to undermine women and their contributions. There came a time when women were regarded as nothing but second-class citizens. This patriarchal notion was so ingrained in the human psyche that even women themselves considered themselves to be inferior. Believe it or not, they were discouraged from reading or other intellectual pursuits for fear of them getting ideas. Nevertheless, the course of nature could not be stopped. Women, being the inherently smart creatures that they are, figured out their own value. They started to fight for their rightful place in society. Thus, began the feminist movement. Many fearless ladies took it upon themselves to fight for the right to vote, get equal pay, and own property, among other things.

Books were and still are one of the most powerful tools to propagate ideas. Hence, it is no wonder that books played a significant role in the upliftment of women.

 Let us have a look at some daring books from the early days of feminism.

The Holy Grail of Feminism

Book: A Vindication of the Rights of Women

Author: Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft is one of the earliest feminists whose contribution to the upliftment of women is undeniable. Wollstonecraft’s 1792 A Vindication of the Rights of Women is a work way ahead of its time. She eschews flowery language and adopts a logical approach to underscore the fact that women are equal to men. During her time, women were considered to be illogical creatures prone to flights of fancy. To subvert this notion, Mary deliberately showcases her rational intellect in her book. She highlights the fact that women were deemed worthless only because they were never given the means to prove their worth. Although she agreed that women might be physically weak, she asserted that they are more than equal intellectually. Wollstonecraft’s most persuasive argument is that education is key to the progression of humankind. However, the development of humanity will be in jeopardy if only half of the population is educated. Women need to be enlightened to enable them to teach their children. As per Mary, women were rendered weak and inferior only because of their lack of education and opportunities. A Vindication of the Rights of Women remains a seminal work of feminism and continues to be celebrated today as well.

French Revolution and Gender Equality

Book: Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen

Author: Olympe de Gouges

Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen is one of the first pieces of writings that talk about the deplorable conditions of women. The Fall of Bastille in 1789 marked the end of the French Revolution. Soon after, the new French National Assembly came up with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Later, this document became the basis of human rights. Despite all its admirable assertions of equality, one could not help but wonder at its negligence of the female population. Olympe de Gouges, a fearless French activist and playwright, took it upon herself to remedy this. In 1791, she daringly published the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen. Here, she rephrased the original Declaration point by point by making it relevant to women. She aimed to highlight how the French Revolution was unsuccessful in its recognition of gender equality. Her witty and ironic commentary was not taken well by the authorities of the Reign of Terror. Her writings soon led to her swift execution at the guillotine. Even in her last moments, Olympe de Gouges held her head high and asserted the rights of women.

Bible from the Female Perspective

Book: The Woman’s Bible

Author: Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was one of the leading personalities of the Feminist Movement. Among many other pioneers, we have her work and dedication to thank for our current voice in society. Yet, her take no prisoners questioning nature led to a rift in the feminist movement. Between 1895 and 1898, Stanton and a group of twenty-six women came up with the two-part treatise, The Woman’s Bible. The book continues to create an uproar even today as it looks at the Bible from a woman’s perspective.  Stanton questions the religious tenets that advocate women’s subservience to men. This is one book that requires you to be really open-minded.

View the book on Amazon

A Book for Women by Women

Book: The Women Suffrage Cookbook

Author: Hattie A. Burr

The Women Suffrage Cookbook gives us a beautiful insight into the historical attitudes, politics, and food of the time. First published in 1886, the book is a compilation of recipes contributed by eminent women. Hattie A. Burr gave these recipes the form of a book, making it the first charity cookbook published to support the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Along with the recipes, the book also includes opinions on woman’s suffrage and household management tips. What makes this book special is that it has very little involvement of men. This conclusively showed that women can do anything they put their minds to doing. 

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A Man’s Take on Feminism

Book: The Subjugation of Women

Author: John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill, a philosopher, political economist, and civil servant, published The Subjugation of Women in 1869. The notions discussed in the book were jointly developed by him and his wife, Harriet Taylor Mill. Mill postulated that we cannot stop women from doing something based on the assumption that they would be incapable of doing it. Instead of making presumptions, it would be just to give someone the opportunity to prove their worth. Mill argues that the only reason the women of his time might be considered less than men is because of a lack of education and chance. His motive is to portray that women can be equal to men only if they are given the same opportunities. Mill backed up his arguments with his actions in real life. He often demanded women’s right to vote in Parliament. He also talked at length about his indebtedness to his wife and daughter for their role in the creation of The Subjugation of Women. Though some might take this book as an instance of paternalistic feminism, the book does shed light on many relevant arguments.

Black Feminism

Book: A Voice from the South

Author: Anna J. Cooper

A Voice of the South by a Black Woman of the South, 1892 - title page

Anna J. Copper’s A Voice from the South is considered to be one of the most important arguments of Black Feminism in the 19th century. Published in 1892, A Voice from the South is a collection of essays that explores myriad topics like racism, gender, socioeconomic standards of Black families, and the influence of the Church. Cooper argues that the upliftment of Black women is an essential aspect for the overall rise of her race. She highlights the fact that there is much more to women than just their role as homemakers. Even though Cooper’s book was published over a century ago, its relevance can still be felt in today’s world.

Feminism and the American Transcendentalist Movement

Book: Woman in the Nineteenth Century

Author: Margaret Fuller

WomanInTheNineteenthCentury1845

Women in the Nineteenth Century is a classic piece of feminist literature that played a major role in bringing about the Seneca Falls Women’s Convention. Margaret Fuller, a notable transcendentalist, first came out with the essay entitled The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men, Woman versus Women in 1843. This was later published as the book Women in the Nineteenth Century in 1845. Fuller starts off her book with the accepted ideals of women. She gives us instances of ladies who dared to live beyond the social constraints of their time. What makes Fuller’s argument unique is the way she highlights how society is deprived as a whole by making women men’s property. She also throws shade on the ideas of feminine qualities and masculine characteristics. Her allusions to Greek and Latin works make Women in the Nineteenth Century a great example of transcendentalist literature.

The Crux of Female Dependency

Book: Women and Economics

Author: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Utopian feminist, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, took the conservative Victorian world by storm when she published her phenomenal treatise, Women and Economics, in 1898. In her book, she highlighted the sexuo-economic relationship between men and women. She showed how women were shackled by the norms of society. Their dependency on men for food, security, friendship, and social status made them nothing short of slaves. Perkins advocated for women to free themselves from stereotypical roles. She pushed for ladies to have equal rights to education, housing, and income. Translated in seven languages, Women and Economics continues to be a prominent work in Feminist theory.

Conclusion

Human beings can holistically progress only when both men and women play equal roles in society. Even after centuries of struggle, we still have a long way to go to accord women their rightful place. Countless ladies and gentlemen have dedicated their very lives to bring about equality. So, here is my list celebrating some of the most prominent works from the early days of feminism. Do comment and share your favorite feminist treatise.

Note: The cover image came from Pexels used with permission from WordPress. Product images and information were provided by Amazon. All other images used belong to the public domain, unless stated otherwise.

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