10 Empowering Books Every Woman Should Read
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we’re focusing on female empowerment. We are great believers in the power of the written word at We Are Auburn HQ; books can bridge the gap between our own lives and unknown worlds, educating us about cultures we aren’t exposed to and deepening our understanding of the people around us. Likewise, the power of words from women who have trodden a fragile path before us leaves us with a trail to follow. Here are our top 10 books to change your perspective and empower you.
The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf
Wolf’s razor-sharp exposé is a stark examination of how society’s pressure on women to pursue beauty above all else has held us back for decades – and sheds arresting perspective on the underlying mechanism of an advertising industry which sets us up to fail. First written in 1990, her observations have dated little in the last 28 years. Reading in the age of Instagram, photoshop and 2-for-1 Botox offers only serves to strengthen her arguments.
Our favourite line: “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”
Becoming, Michelle Obama
Perhaps one of the most empowering women of the 21st century, ex-first lady of America Michelle Obama is a formidable force with a voice which shines through the pages of her autobiography. Despite her starry life in politics, her story is relatable and her words are real, authentic and honest, with a focus on how women who find doors opened to them have a responsibility to do the same for others.
Our favourite line: “If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
Often (wrongly) defined as a depressing read (mainly by those who’ve never read it) The Bell Jar by the late poet and author Sylvia Plath is a novel that still feels relevant – over fifty years since its publication. Following talented writer Esther Greenwood as she navigates her early twenties through the challenges of dating, forging a career and the unfamiliarity of transitioning to city life from suburbia, the novel highlights the patriarchal expectations put on women in 1960s America, and the loss of self so many intelligent and talented women endured as a result.
Our favourite line: “"I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was EG, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America… I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet."
Milk and Honey, Rupi Kaur
When Kaur self-published this collection of poetry in 2017, it was received with critical acclaim. Now a best-seller, Kaur’s incisive poetry deals with pain, heartache and what it is to be a non-white woman, told through a journey of bittersweet moments in her own life.
Our favourite line: “what’s the greatest lesson a woman should learn? That since day one. She’s already had everything she needs within herself. It’s the world that convinced her she did not.”
Fear of Flying, Erica Jong
Chronicling the life of author Isadora Wing as she navigates an unsatisfying marriage in her late twenties, this tale of sexual liberation chimed perfectly with the Sexual Revolution and second-wave feminism when it was published in 1973. At the time, sexual liberation and focus on pleasure was rare for women – and her book paved the way for future authors and shows like Sex and the City and Girls.
Our favourite line: “Though my friends envied me because I always seemed so cheerful and confident, I was secretly terrified of practically everything.”
We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This powerful essay from the acclaimed author of Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, will have you devouring it in one sitting. Offering a 21st century definition of feminism, Adichie explores gender and the imbalance in how we raise boys and girls.
Our favourite line: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful.”
I am Malala, Malala Yousafzai
Exploring the events before and after 15-year-old school girl Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban, as she travelled to school in Pakistan, this autobiographical account chronicles her life as an activist for girls’ educational rights. Malala went on to win the Nobel Peace Price, study at Oxford University and continues to be a prominent voice in the movement for education, equality and peace for every child.
Our favourite line: “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”
Wild, Cheryl Strayed
A tale for anyone in need of an adventure. When 26-year-old Cheryl Strayed made the decision to embark on an impulsive solo trip along the west coast of America, covering 1100 miles, she had never hiked before. This will remind you how strong you are, even when you feel at your weakest, and how even the unachievable can be done with a little self-belief.
Our favourite line: “Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.”
How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran
This non-fiction memoir from journalist Caitlin Moran touches on why we need feminism, now more than ever, with wit, wisdom and a rallying call to arms. Covering everything from cystitis to clothing, her account draws on situations which will make you howl with laughter and recognition, and simultaneously empowers us all to “reclaim the word 'feminism'”.
Our favourite line: “When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!’, what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I’m supposed to be today.”
Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susan
One of the best-selling works in publishing history, amassing over 31 million sales to date, this wry and exposing look at the cult of celebrity in the 1960s looks at the damaging expectations placed on women – and the unfairness of entrenched attitudes to beauty and ageing.
Our favourite line: “Yes, there's one thing I do want. I want to be aware of the minutes and the seconds, and to make each one count.”
What are you favourite empowering reads? Tell us in the comments below