The best books about misogyny

4 authors have picked their favorite books about misogyny and why they recommend each book.

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The Orwell Mystique

By Daphne Patai,

Book cover of The Orwell Mystique: A Study in Male Ideology

The title says it all. I choose Patai’s withering account of Orwell’s irredeemable misogyny not because I think she is right but because I think she onto something in him and in his life and times. After Koestler, another dark corner.


Who am I?

I was first introduced to George Orwell on 30 October 1969 when I bought the Penguin Road to Wigan Pier at Sussex University bookshop. The light blue sticker on the inside verifies time and place. The price shows that I was willing to fork out as much as 4 shillings, (or two days worth of cigarettes) for one of the most enduring friendships of my life.


I wrote...

George Orwell: English Rebel

By Robert Colls,

Book cover of George Orwell: English Rebel

What is my book about?

Well, with all due respect to the great man, I try to see him not as a great man but as a jobbing writer trying to get a hearing. He said as much himself although, of course, that was before he was great. Given his fame, it took a bit of cheek on my part to take him down a peg or two, but the courage came from him, who showed me how. Orwell is that rare bird, an inimitable writer who you can actually learn from.

Down Girl

By Kate Manne,

Book cover of Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny

This is not angry feminism, though philosopher Kate Manne’s compelling prose may move you to anger. With surgical precision, Manne cuts through the layers of patriarchy, showing how vilification, mockery, and shaming of women function as “law enforcement” measures in a sexist system. A woman seeking “masculine-coded perks and privileges” may even deserve to be punished according to the “logic” of misogyny. I was fascinated by Manne’s explanations of why so many women voted against Hilary Clinton in 2016. Her analysis applies to racial and LGBTQ+ discrimination as well. When I was researching my book, Manne’s book helped me understand how a white male Army commander lost his “power” to be believed after other men accused him of being gay, i.e., unmanly and womanly (in the world of 1913).


Who am I?

Based on my experiences as a single parent and worker in traditionally male fields (journalism and law, back when newsrooms and law firms resembled men's clubs), I believe that each person contains both “feminine” and “masculine” behaviors and feelings. Yet socially constructed gender norms discourage people from exhibiting this full range of being. Ben Koehler’s troubling and tragic story presented a way to explore the origins of 20th-century American gender norms while trying to solve the mystery of Ben’s guilt or innocence. A bonus was the opportunity to write about Plum Island, an environmental treasure with a fascinating history that many people, including myself, are seeking to preserve and open to the public.


I wrote...

Scandal on Plum Island: A Commander Becomes the Accused

By Marian E. Lindberg,

Book cover of Scandal on Plum Island: A Commander Becomes the Accused

What is my book about?

Sophia and Ben Koehler expected an adventure when they moved to remote Plum Island, NY, but not the adventure they got. Ben took charge of 700 men at the Army’s Fort Terry, and his sister came along to help her unmarried brother with social duties. All seemed to be going well until a junior officer began portraying Ben as a “homosexualist,” a new worry of the federal government in 1913. Scandal on Plum Island is both a true account of a sensational case that reads like a legal thriller and a thought-provoking examination of gender politics in America.

Echo of Escape

By Jessica Michaels,

Book cover of Echo of Escape: A Novel of Misogyny, Tragedy, and Unconditional Love

This novel is partly fictional, but also based on the author’s life and traumatic first marriage. There’s suspense for sure and a range of feelings. I cried hard in some parts, smiled in others, and felt sorry, relieved, and even joyful in other sections. I had no idea what would happen next. The story played out like a movie in my head, full of my two favorite things: emotional engagement and nervous fear for the main character. This is a thriller that follows a woman on a daunting personal journey that will pluck at your heartstrings.


Who am I?

I’ve lived a life of emotions and suspense; things are either life and death or they’re just an inconvenience. I’ve been writing fiction and non-fiction books (over 50 and counting) for quite a while. I’m an eclectic reader, enjoying all genres and creating my own works in most of them: young adult, adult, suspense, dystopian, time travel, sci-fi, fantasy, coming of age, romance, you name it. Two things I want in everything I read and write are emotional engagement (make me feel something strongly) and suspense (give me a page-turner!).


I wrote...

A Fault of Graves: YA High School Thriller

By Debra Chapoton,

Book cover of A Fault of Graves: YA High School Thriller

What is my book about?

I wanted to write a novel with teen characters that would still appeal to adult readers. In A Fault of Graves, I focused on the kids and their problems but included teachers, a principal, and parents. I layered in emotional things like hope, troubles, falling for someone, losing and finding faith, and growing in the midst of a disaster. As a former high school teacher, I know that all kids have problems, some more than others, but every one of them is struggling in some way and just looking for acceptance.

In this novel I took away their safety, their comfort, their known world and plunged them into the dark with people they didn’t know and didn’t like (emotions) and put a bunch of obstacles (suspense) in their way. Whose character traits, previously ignored or mocked, will help save them all?

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

By Cho Nam Joo, Jamie Chang (translator),

Book cover of Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

It came as no surprise to me, having spent so much time in the country, that Korea has long been and still is a sexist society, and this book illustrates that sexism brutally. When I lived there, my good friend, a woman, was a professor of biochemistry, and she struggled in her career the way men didn’t have to. Also, while people thought nothing of my going out to a pub with my male friends, it was somewhat scandalous when I did the same with this woman. In this novel, set in more recent times, a young woman has similar troubles trying to find her way. For many readers, it has served as a wake-up call for Korean society.


Who am I?

Fresh from college, I arrived in South Korea in 1976 to teach English as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and despite my naivete, or maybe because of it, I fell in love with the country—the people, the food, the culture, the history. I have since lived and worked in many other countries, but Korea will always be my first love and I have returned many times for both work and pleasure. When I became a fiction writer, I was keen to read the work of Korean novelists who, naturally, had an even better understanding of their culture than I did, and I love staying connected to the country in this way.


I wrote...

The Shaman of Turtle Valley

By Clifford Garstang,

Book cover of The Shaman of Turtle Valley

What is my book about?

When Gulf War veteran, Aiken Alexander, brings his young and pregnant South Korean bride home to Virginia, he hopes they can both find acceptance. However, Soon-hee, can’t—or won’t—adjust to life in America. When Soon-hee disappears with their son, Aiken’s life and dreams fall apart—he loses his job and falls prey to his worst impulses. It is at this low point that Aiken’s story becomes interwoven with the Alexander family history going back generations, one that pitted brother against brother and now cousin against cousin, in a perfect storm of violence and dysfunction. Drawing on Korean beliefs in spirits and shamanism, how Aiken solves these problems—both corporeal and spiritual—is at the center of this dynamic and beautifully written debut novel.

The Handmaid's Tale

By Margaret Atwood,

Book cover of The Handmaid's Tale

Like all great dystopian books, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a powerful condemnation of our present reality, and is finding particular resonance in today’s debates on female agency and equality. The story takes place in a United States transformed into a religious-military dictatorship known as the Republic of Gilead, where women are only valued for what they can contribute to men. Beyond denying women property and literacy, Gilead denies them their names and autonomy over their bodies. The story is made more poignant and powerful through the eyes of Offred, a handmaid who still remembers and yearns for the life stolen from her—one where she had a job, a husband, and a child. The perfect dystopian book to feed your rebellion against female oppression.


Who am I?

All my life, I have been drawn to the dark, twisty, unconventional, rebellious stories; I was always a little disappointed with the Disney-fied fairytales, always enthralled by the dark imaginings of the originals. As I grew older, I recognised that these dark fables were not just confined to stories of fantasy, but present as seeds of discontent and destruction in our own reality—in the injustices of the present, and disasters of our potential future. As an author, I use these modern parables and prophecies—in dystopian, weird, and gothic science fiction—as a way to explore and critically reflect on our humanity and its future.  


I wrote...

Resistance

By Mikhaeyla Kopievsky,

Book cover of Resistance

What is my book about?

In a dystopian future, Paris is now the walled city-state of Otpor and revelling in its latest Golden Age: an intoxicating mix of abandon and apathy made possible by the Orthodoxy. The population is engineered into four neuro-social classes, ensuring citizens exist in complete equality, fraternity, and liberty. But, not everyone is satisfied with the status quo. When forbidden murals start appearing in the city, the Government moves quickly: realigning the neural conditioning of one of their Peacekeepers, Anaiya 234, and sending her deep undercover to infiltrate the resistance. As her realigned identity fractures and the city descends into chaos around her, Anaiya is forced to confront a different truth to the one she's been conditioned to obey.

Cassandra Speaks

By Elizabeth Lesser,

Book cover of Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes

We know that the classics - from Adam and Eve, to Greek myths, and fairy tales - were written by men. But I had no idea how much we take them for granted, how much they influence us in how we think and live. So when Lesser tells these stories from a woman’s point of view, it’s a revelation. Now, instead of taking for granted that Eve was weak and immoral when she bit that apple, an assumption of original sin that influences how women have been seen for centuries, I can interpret it as agency, an intelligent sense of curiosity that compelled her to take action. That makes Adam content to just laze around in Paradise, like a dude on a Barcolounger, drinking a beer on game day. Crazy, right? That may be the most controversial example, but all of them make you think. I’d love to sneak this…


Who am I?

From Lehr’s prize-winning fiction to her viral New York Times Modern Love essay, exploring the challenges facing contemporary women has been Lehr’s life-long passion. A Boob’s Life, her first project since breast cancer treatment, continues this mission, taking all who will join her on a wildly informative, deeply personal, and utterly relatable journey.  And that’s exactly the kind of books she likes to read – the ones that make her laugh, nod in recognition, and understand a little more about life. She recommends these five books to everyone who asks.


I wrote...

A Boob's Life: How America's Obsession Shaped Me--And You

By Leslie Lehr,

Book cover of A Boob's Life: How America's Obsession Shaped Me--And You

What is my book about?

A Boob’s Life explores the surprising truth about women’s most popular body part with vulnerable, witty frankness and true nuggets of American culture that will resonate with everyone who has breasts – or loves them.

Author Leslie Lehr has gone from size AA to DDDDD and everything between, from puberty to motherhood, enhancement to cancer, and beyond. And she’s not alone—these are classic life stages for women. At turns funny and heartbreaking, A Boob’s Life explores both the joys and hazards inherent to living in a woman’s body. Lehr deftly blends her personal narrative with national history, starting in the 1960s with the women’s liberation movement and moving to the current feminist dialogue and what it means to be a woman. Her insightful and clever writing analyzes how America’s obsession with the female form has affected her own life’s journey and the psyche of all women today.

Women & Power

By Mary Beard,

Book cover of Women & Power: A Manifesto

This might not be your most obvious pick for an Odyssey list, but Mary Beard’s book is special to me for a couple of reasons. She taught me when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, and I’ll never forget our very first lecture as newly-minted freshmen when she stunned us into silence by parading before us a slideshow of images of winged, bell-bedecked Roman phalluses... Her straight-to-the-point, incisive writing always reminds me of the lessons she taught us, always to question and open things up to rigorous analysis, and her opening feminist discussion in this book (which is a great read in its own right) of Telemachus’ silencing of Penelope in the first book of the Odyssey is a brilliant example of this. 


Who am I?

I’m a writer of historical fiction about the ancient world, and an academic – I’m a Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History and teach and research Classics at the University of Exeter. I’ve loved the ancient world – and historical fiction about antiquity – ever since I read Robert Graves’ I, Claudius at the age of eleven. Now, as both a writer and a classicist, I delve into the ancient world from all kinds of different angles – whether that’s teaching classes about women writers and Classics, clambering over the ruins of Troy, analysing almost-lost texts from the ancient world, or writing novels that give a voice to the women of ancient Greek myths.


I wrote...

For the Most Beautiful

By Emily Hauser,

Book cover of For the Most Beautiful

What is my book about?

Three thousand years ago a war took place that gave birth to legends  to Achilles, the greatest of the Greeks, and Hector, prince of Troy. It was a war that shook the very foundations of the world. But what if there was more to this epic conflict? What if there was another, hidden tale of the Trojan War? Now is the time for the women of Troy to tell their story.

In this novel full of passion and revenge, loyalty and betrayal, bravery and sacrifice, Emily Hauser breathes exhilarating new life into one of the greatest legends of all  in a tale that has waited millennia to be told.

Misogynoir Transformed

By Moya Bailey,

Book cover of Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women's Digital Resistance

Bailey originated the term “misogynoir” in 2008 to describe, she writes, “the anti-Black racist misogyny that Black women experience, particularly in US visual and digital culture.” The controlling image of the “Mammy” has long been a hyper-visible, toxic presence in this milieu. In this book, Bailey examines the digital resistance and social media-based activisms of Black women—particularly queer and trans women—who seize representational power to dismantle the distorting stereotypes, expose their systemic impacts, and make spaces for telling their own diverse, gendered Black stories and enable others to do so as well. Throughout, Bailey makes clear that cultural representations have material, life-and-death effects, but also the capacity to create new and better worlds.


Who am I?

Stories of the past are always about making claims to the present and future. These claims include which stories—whose stories—are persistently silenced, ignored, or made very hard to hear, see, and know in the dominant culture. I am a cultural historian of U.S. political history, broadly imagined. My work is almost always driven by the same question: Why didn’t I already know this? Quickly followed by: What has it meant that I didn’t know this? Invariably, the answers are found in the histories of women, gender, race, sexuality, class, and immigration.


I wrote...

Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America

By Micki McElya,

Book cover of Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America

What is my book about?

When Aunt Jemima beamed from a box of pancake mix, many felt reassured. She was everyone's “Mammy,” the faithful slave who was content to cook and care for whites, no matter how grueling the labor or blatant the exploitation, because she loved them. This image of a nurturing black mother-figure ensconced—or trapped—within idealized white domesticity exercises a tenacious hold on the American imagination. 

The myth of “Mammy” warps popular understandings of slavery and its legacies while sustaining violent white supremacy, all through claims of affection. In 2021, the Aunt Jemima trademark was finally retired, but the myth holds on because so many refuse to let go of it and the cultural, political, and emotional work “Mammy” performs.

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess

By Leonard Shlain,

Book cover of The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image

In this book, Shlain reveals his unusual take on the power of images throughout history. His discussion using contemporary ideas about our creative right-brain side brings interesting connections between the Goddess, images, and feminine values. Shlain's earlier book, Art & Physics was very popular expressing his breakthrough theory, ad revealing an astonishing parallel with these two seemingly different topics. I find that books like this, not dedicated to learning specific painting techniques, end up being more helpful towards how I think as an artist. A good writer, it is easy to read and very inspiring.


Who am I?

When I was nine years old, I saved enough allowance money to buy a big box of oil pastels. I was mesmerized by its amazing display of gorgeous colors. Never could figure out why my girlfriends played with dolls when it was more exciting to paint. It wasn’t until high school, and time to apply to colleges that I made the decision to go to art school. Another key moment for me was after graduating from art school and landing in New York City. It was then that I made a brave decision to never waitress again, and instead do whatever it takes to stay in the arts. 


I wrote...

Create Perfect Paintings: An Artist's Guide to Visual Thinking

By Nancy Reyner,

Book cover of Create Perfect Paintings: An Artist's Guide to Visual Thinking

What is my book about?

Learn Nancy’s comprehensive and systematic critique method to improve and enhance your paintings. These groundbreaking concepts will help you create your fine art paintings quicker, with more ease, and better results. Shape your artistic vision, add inspiration to your work, and find perfect solutions to resolve any painting issue. Discover how to quickly move forward when you get stuck. Enjoy watching your paintings progress from good to great. These painting concepts, rarely taught in art schools, will bring more attention to your paintings and expand your audience. Realistic or abstract – all painting mediums and styles will benefit. 

Women Talking

By Miriam Toews,

Book cover of Women Talking

There is subtle genius in the way Miriam Toews pays such close attention to the humanity of her often heartbreaking characters while also being dryly funny. Set in a closed, conservative Mennonite community, the story unfolds as “minutes” taken by a young man as he listens to a group of women from the community who have discovered they were drugged and assaulted while sleeping, by men they know. (Their fathers, sons, husbands, and friends.) The story is based on a real case, and while the details are chillingly horrific, Toews finds a way for the characters to talk about these things that are warm, humorous, and compassionate, as the women become alive for the first time to their own unexamined power. 


Who am I?

Increasingly, the fiction I’m most drawn to occupies the space between literary and speculative. This space fascinates me both as a reader and a writer. I love stories set in worlds shifted ever-so-slightly from the familiar, where characters are forced to navigate new ways of existing or find ways to escape. Perhaps that’s why so many of my favorite stories—and my first two novels!—tend to feature women in cults or other cloistered communities, caught between their desire for belonging and the potential annihilation of the self. Where do you excavate for happiness in a hostile world? My characters spend their lives trying to answer this question. 


I wrote...

Disaster's Children

By Emma Sloley,

Book cover of Disaster's Children

What is my book about?

Disaster’s Children tells the story of Marlo, raised in a privileged community of wealthy survivalists on an idyllic, self-sustaining Oregon ranch. The outside world, which the ranchers call "the Disaster," is a casualty of ravaging climate change, a troubled landscape on the brink of catastrophe. For as long as Marlo can remember, the unknown that lies beyond the borders of her utopia has been a curious obsession. But just as she plans her escape into the chaos of the real world, a charismatic new resident gives her a compelling reason to stay. And, soon enough, a reason to doubt--and to fear--his intentions. Now, feeling more and more trapped in a paradise that's become a prison, Marlo has a choice: stay in the only home she's ever known—or break away.

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