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12 of the most important books for women in philosophy

To celebrate women’s enormous contributions to philosophy, here is a reading list of books that explore recent feminist philosophy and women philosophers. Despite their apparent invisibility in the field in the past, women have been practising philosophers for centuries. Some of the great social and cultural movements have also been enriched by the female minds and their indefatigable efforts. Explore books on feminist philosophy, gender oppression, and women’s empowerment by female authors who approach pressing issues with analytical clarity and insight. Learn more about the classic female philosophers and their legacies.

Categories We Live By: The Construction of Sex, Gender, Race, and Other Social Categories, by Ásta

Asta examines the concept of social categories, which frame our identity, action, and opportunities. The main idea she draws on in her book is that social categories are conferred upon people. She illuminates what these categories are, and how they are created and sustained, demonstrating how these can be oppressive through examples from current event.

Unmuted: Conversations on Prejudice, Oppression, and Social Justice, by Myisha Cherry

This book collects lively, diverse and engaging interviews of philosophers working on contemporary social and political issues from Myisha Cherry’s podcast Unmute. The interviews address some of the pressing issues of our day, including social protests, Black Lives Matter, climate change, education, integration, LGBTQ issues, and the #MeToo movement. Cherry asks the philosophers to talks about their ideas in accessible ways that non-philosophers can understand.

Sophie de Grouchy’s Letters on Sympathy: A Critical Engagement with Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments, by Sophie de Grouchy, Edited and translated by Sandrine Bergès, and Eric Schliesser

This is a new translation of a text by a largely forgotten female philosopher, Sophie de Grouchy (1764-1822),whose profound contributions anticipated the work of later political philosophers. Grouchy published her Letters on Sympathy in 1798 together with her French translation of Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Although the former is a response to Smith’s analysis of sympathy, it is an important philosophical work in its own right and offers an insight into Enlightenment and feminist thought, and the early Republican theory.

Equal Citizenship: A Feminist Political Liberalism, by Christie Hartley and Lori Watson

This book is a defense of political liberalism as a feminist liberalism. It argues that political liberalism’s core commitments restrict all reasonable conceptions of justice to those that secure genuine, substantive equality for women and other marginalized groups. It also looks at how the philosophic idea of public reason can be used to support law and policy needed to address historical sites of women’s subordination in order to advance equality.

Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique, by Sally Haslanger

Sally Haslanger is an acclaimed feminist philosopher in the field of feminist theory and epistemology. This book collects Haslanger’s essays on the concept of social constructions and offers a critical realist account of gender and race. It develops the idea that gender and race are positions within a structure of social relations. It argues that by theorising how gender and race fit within different structures of social relations, we are better able to identify and fight against oppression and forms of systematic injustice.

Learning from My Daughter: The Value and Care of Disabled Minds, by Eva Feder Kittay

Eva Feder Kittay is an award-winning philosopher and a mother who has raised a multiply-disabled daughter. Through personal narrative and philosophical argumentation, she relates how parenting a disabled child altered her views on what truly matters and gives meaning in life. She addresses difficult questions such as the desire for normality, reproductive technology’s promise that we can choose our children, the importance of care, and the need for an ethic of care.

Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, by Kate Manne

In this ground-breaking work, the feminist philosopher Kate Manne analyses what misogyny is, how it works in contemporary culture and politics, and how to fight it. She argues that misogyny should not be understood primarily in terms of the hatred or hostility some men feel towards women. Instead, it is about controlling and punishing women who challenge male dominance while rewarding those women who reinforce the status quo. The book refers to iconic and modern-day events such as the Isla Vista killings in May 2014 and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech in October 2012, showing how these events, among others, set the stage for the 2016 US presidential election.

Pornography: A Philosophical Introduction, by Mari Mikkola

Debates concerning pornography tend to be heated and problematic. What is pornography? Is there a fundamental right to access and consume pornography? Does pornography undermine women’s civil rights and equal status as citizens? Can there be a genuinely feminist pro-pornography stance? Mari Mikkola provides an accessible introduction to the philosophical examination of the hotly debated questions related to pornography conducted from a feminist perspective. She approaches pornography from numerous debates and philosophical perspectives including ethics, aesthetics, feminist philosophy, political philosophy, epistemology, and social ontology.

Simone de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual Woman, by Toril Moi

This landmark study focuses on the life of Simone de Beauvoir, one of the most iconic female philosophers of the twentieth century. Through her analysis, Toril Moi showed how Simone de Beauvoir became the leading feminist thinker of the twentieth century, uncovering also the conflicts and difficulties that she faced as an intellectual woman in the middle of the twentieth century. It incorporates biography with literary criticism, feminist theory, and historical and social analysis, to fully explore her life in philosophy.

The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis, by Martha Nuusbaum

Martha Nussbaum is a renowned moral philosopher. In The Monarchy of Fear she turns her attention to the current political crisis that has polarized America since the 2016 election. She focuses on the emotions of fear, anger, disgust, and envy. Drawing on a mix of historical and contemporary examples, from classical Athens to the musical HamiltonThe Monarchy of Fear untangles this web of feelings and provides a roadmap of where to go next.

The Confucian Four Books for Women: A New Translation of the Nü Shishu and the Commentary of Wang Xiang, translated with introductions and notes by Ann A. Pang-White

This is the first complete English translation of the Confucian Four Books for Women, which written by female scholars for women’s education and spanned the 1st to the 16th centuries. It incorporates Ban Zhao’s Lessons for Women, Song Ruoxin’s and Song Ruozhao’s Analects for Women, Empress Renxiaowen’s Teachings for the Inner Court, and Madame Liu’s (Chaste Widow Wang’s) Short Records of Models for Women. These works reveal the history and development of Chinese Women’s writing, education, and philosophical discourse over the period of 1,600 years.

Differences: Rereading Beauvoir and Irigaray, Edited by Emily Anne Parker and Anne van Leeuwen

Simone de Beauvoir and Luce Irigaray have a lot in common; both were French philosophers and theorists, whose works took off around the middle of the century. However, both women insisted on their ideological differences, which have largely guided the reception of their works. This edited volume, with works from scholars in French philosophy and existentialism, delves into the commonalities of Beauvoir and Irigaray’s works from a historic and contemporary feminist perspective.

The above reading list is by no mean an exhaustive one. These works give insight into women’s philosophical discourse and the evolution of feminist thought. Women produce ground-breaking works across all the fields of philosophy and it is important to recognize the value and the original and fresh perspectives they bring at such a divisive time.

Featured Image: “Great treasure books” by Aliis Sinisalu. Public domain via Unsplash 

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