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March 9, 2012

For International Women’s Day, whisperinggums wrote about a cluster of books that had shaped her into a feminist. Literati followed suite, and I was inspired to discuss a few of my own life-changing books.

Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation, by Mary Daly.
This book was my first exposure to feminism. I was ready for it because it provided a language and structure for what I knew but could not express. Much more than a book about religion, it proclaimed that God had not created the status quo in which we were supposed to be second-rate, and that we had the right and need to rebel. Daly pushed us to throw out what we had been told we were and to start “naming” our own existence. I suddenly realized that I had always assumed that power, by definition, was male. She convinced me differently. A truly radical book, perhaps too radical for readers today.

Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, by Adrienne Rich
When Rich wrote in 1976, motherhood was an unexamined cliché. Using her talent as a poet, Rich looked at mothers and daughters more deeply and described their pains and joys. Like Daly, she stressed that men’s definitions of the complex experiences of motherhood are inadequate and restrictive. She began an ongoing process in literature and in history to analyze and redefine these most female experiences. As she points out, we may not all give birth, but we are all daughters which shapes our experience and ability to love other women.

Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde.
Lorde hits readers from many directions; her forthright assertion of her own identity as a black, lesbian, warrior, poet, her critique of the racism of the early feminist movement, and her passion for living life at its fullest. Her most important message to me was that “Your silence will not protect you.” The only hope we have is to transform our silences into language and action, bringing them to the surface where others can join us and fight alongside us. Although white and straight, I found courage in her words.

I was also moved by the novels being written by black women in the 1980s that gave me a more useful image of womanhood than the ladylike one I’d been taught growing up. Toni Morrison, Pauli Marshall, Gloria Day, Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker.

And of course there was Woolf’s Room of One’s Own, a balm to my own sense that there was no place for a woman like me in grad school in the 1960s.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2012 4:09 pm

    Oh I adored that Adrienne Rich book. The part where she writes about her experiences as a mother simply blew me away.

  2. March 9, 2012 10:11 pm

    Interesting list mdbrady. I’ve never heard of Mary Daly. I’ve read some essays by Rich but not a book, and I’ve had an Audre Lorde book next to my bed for a few years now which means, technically, that I’m keen to read it! Nice mentions of Woolf, Walker and Morrison too… Beloved is one of my all time favourite books.

  3. March 9, 2012 10:12 pm

    Oh, and thanks for the link!

  4. March 10, 2012 9:30 am

    Very interesting list. I confess, I’m not as well versed in feminist literature as I’d like to be. It’s something I’m slowly working on correcting. I’ll certainly be keeping these titles in mind

  5. March 12, 2012 7:49 pm

    Hi Marilyn, thanks for your reference – this look like a great list. I read some Morrison and Shange at University and loved both. Toni Morrison is wonderful. I will look into some of the others on your list as well.

  6. March 14, 2012 6:36 pm

    Great books listed here, I want to read them all!

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