Laura Bates picks five books on how to achieve gender equality

From a novel about domestic violence to Nigeria’s queer women in their own words, these are empowering and inspiring works

They say “don’t get mad, get even”. But what if we need to get mad first? What if we can’t begin to imagine equality until we’ve first been allowed to find an outlet for our long-silenced, unacknowledged, righteous fury? Rage Becomes Her, a love letter to women’s anger by Soraya Chemaly, gives women everywhere the permission to get mad as hell … and then to get even.

It’s easy for those of us who have experienced gendered abuse to feel rage, but perhaps more difficult to spur the same passion in those without personal experience of the problem. So Meena Kandasamy’s searing Women’s Prize shortlisted When I Hit You is a timely and vital opportunity to expose readers to the crushing reality of domestic violence and the suffocating horror of a society that would rather see women suffer in silence than speak out.

It’s one thing to agree on the urgent need to achieve equality and another to agree how it should be achieved. In battling the injustice of the gender pay gap, activists are increasingly highlighting the much greater pay gap between white men and women of colour. When we tackle the fact that one in four women in the UK experiences domestic violence, our solution must acknowledge that this number increases to one in two among disabled women. Amid debates about the direction of the modern feminist movement, Can We All Be Feminists?, edited by June Eric-Udorie and published in September, presents new writing from 17 women on finding the right way forward, taking into account the intersections between different forms of prejudice. And if we want to create lasting change, we first need to hear as many voices as possible, including those that have long been silenced. Told in women’s own words, a new anthology She Called Me Woman: Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak provides a window into lives that have often been hidden, stigmatised or ignored. Their voices are poignant, loving, funny and courageous.

Poetry can be more compelling than the most powerful argument in prose, and few readers could fail to be enriched, arrested and altered by The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. This is poetry to thrill and absorb, exploring everything from love to oppression to maternity with a pulsating urgency as compelling as any of the author’s non-fiction writing.

A huge number of lessons for us to draw on … Harriet Harman (left) with the late Tessa Jowell in 1996.
A huge number of lessons for us to draw on … Harriet Harman (left) with the late Tessa Jowell in 1996. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Nobody said equality was only going to be won by grownups. A new generation of young women is rising up to fight for fairness, resulting in a recent boom in school and university feminist societies. If we really want to change hearts and minds, it’s never too young to start talking about equality, particularly when you consider that a quarter of seven-year-olds have dieted to lose weight and girls today are targeted with plastic surgery apps and dolls so emaciated they make Barbie look plus-size. What better way to inspire budding feminists than a book like I Dissent, Debbie Levy’s entertaining and enraging account of the life of supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Complete with gorgeous illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, it is one of a wave of recent books for young readers that present real-life role models.

As the whirlwind of revelations that is the #MeToo movement continues, it is easy to think of our current moment as unique. Reading Harriet Harman’s A Woman’s Work is a sobering and humbling reminder of the battles generations of women before us have already fought, and it provides a huge number of lessons for us to draw on as we continue to fight.

Misogynation by Laura Bates is published by Simon & Schuster.


Laura Bates

The GuardianTramp

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