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The books that changed my life

From Pussy Riot and Hannah Diamond to Grace Dunham and the Art Hoes: we asked our favourite Dazed creatives to select their best books on womanhood

Chances are you weren’t born with all that feminist knowledge. Let’s face it – you probably weren’t even exposed to it at school, and are now still struggling to get your head around most of the theories that get fired at you. Intersectionality? The non-binary experience? Queer desire? Fortunately, though, this is exactly what books are made for. Offering readers the opportunity to transcend class, gender and race restrictions, these splashes of words are food for both the soul and the mind. Even in the digital age, they’re still going steady: shifting perspectives, ballooning brains and changing lives. So it only seemed right that today (International Women’s Day) we go back to celebrate them. Here – via some of our favourite Dazed creatives – are the ones you should be getting familiar with.


“The transformation of silence into language and action” by Audre Lorde

“I have underlined more sentences from an Audre Lorde feminist piece, then actual notes in class. ‘What is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood’ – that line alone has defined my politics as a queer non-binary black femme. It's too often that my words have been misconstrued, tampered with, and minimised. The questioning of my ability to speak up has become more profound. I would wait for another's voice to act as a substitute for mine. This essay has helped me realise the impact my voice has. It is not weak but a wielding tool for knowledge. As the essay would put it, ‘I am not a casualty, I am also a warrior.’”

Assata: An Autobiography

“For those of you who may not know, Assata Shakur is an ex-Black Panther and former member of the Black Liberation Party (BLA). Her autobiography is an immensely political tale of her activism and revolutionary work. It tells the story of the intense racial climate during her time, and the eventual demise of black liberation groups. This book portrays the narrative of Assata, up until her escape from prison, and her eventual flee to Cuba where she now resides in a political asylum. Definitely an eye-opening book that pertains to the racial climate today.”


Cam Girls: Celebrity and community in the Age of Social Networks by Theresa M. Senft 

“Cam girls is such an important book and highly relevant to any girl interested in feminism, or who engages in sharing aspects of her life on social media, because it provides a historical context to self-documentation and life-broadcasting. It covers different perspectives and experiences of self-branding, ideas of “the internet celebrity”, living publicly, and online performance – all of which have become very normal in online spaces today. Through sharing our lives for others to consume on sites like Facebook and Instagram, I feel like we have all sort of become modern day cam girls so it is important for us to learn from their experiences, gain a better understanding of how to engage with our audiences positively and responsibly, and value community higher than we value popularity.”

Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl by Tiqqun

“Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl is sort of a page-by-page evolution of the definition of ‘the young girl’ in short snippets. It doesn’t limit the term ‘young girl’ to an age group but instead uses personality traits, ways of thinking, social attitudes and metaphors in order to paint a picture of ‘The Young-Girl’ and how she feels, thinks and exists in society. At times I saw myself in the theories and found humour in them, but at others was deeply frustrated by this and finished the book feeling determined to challenge the negative archetypes that have been created by the media and society’s view on women.”

“When I'm feeling weepy and emotional because I'm in love or heartbroken, there's nothing that hits the spot like a bourbon and reading Rumi” – Ana Lily Amirpour


Gender Trouble by Judith Butler

“Judith sees gender as a masquerade, as a play, as a parody. She stands against polarising the female and male genders. She shows how boundaries between different genders and sexualities are building, and how they are dissolving, transforming, and changing.”

History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault

“How control of sexuality became one of the most important instruments of power.”

A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari 

“‘The face or body of the despot or god has something like a counter body: the body of the tortured or, better, the body of the excluded’. This quote alone makes it worth to read this book.” 


No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

“Based on the good stories we know from television, internet tell-alls, and the dutifully rehearsed recitals of acquaintances at parties – all of which I honour and am grateful for – a person can’t be faulted for thinking that something has to Happen To Her in order for her life to be compelling. That plot details matter above all else; that your good story had better have the corkscrew celerity of, like, The Hangover IV: The Hangovary (a ‘female-driven’ drinking comedy I just made up), if it’s worth the price of others’ paid attention. Miranda July’s protagonists seem to have never absorbed this even one time, let alone 16 (the number of stories in this book).

In it, you become acquainted with characters like the first-person narrator of ‘Roy Spivey,’ a compact rendering of the time she met the eponymous movie star on a plane. We hear about all that did and – more importantly – didn’t happen after the encounter. The character’s world is mostly condensed to the inside diameter of her head. The information we are given about Roy, the A-list spy movie heartthrob, serves July’s examination of the main character’s thoughts, not the other way around. Instead, we learn about her habits, her logic, and what is most true about her. It probably wouldn’t be much good at a party, but it dominates in this collection.”

Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

“This ‘biography’ of Virginia Woolf’s real-life great love, the poet, and novelist Vita Sackville-West, is actually a work of fiction. When I first read it at 19, though, it felt like a biography of me. In the literal sense, this would be impossible – Orlando is a centuries-old poet whose sex, but possibly not their gender, naturally changed without warning at 30 years old. They fall in love with a princess as a baby nobleman and with a fellow gender non-conforming mariner as a mature and beautiful female-bodied person. Orlando carries themselves as man, woman, and a gender all their own at their whim, and prioritises their personhood and artistic vision – Orlando’s lifelong work, a poem called The Oak Tree, is the only constant in this besides them themselves – above it all.”


Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood by Leah Vincent

“Lately, I've been reading memoirs by ex-Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and women who have left their communities. The thing we humans go through when we’re feeling lonely and isolated, or when we don't belong or fit in – takes us to the extreme.  Everyone at some point has hidden aspects of themselves to survive relationships, family, and society. Leah Vincent went through this in the Yeshivish community, one of the most strict and isolated religious sects of Orthodox Judaism. Reading her story was revelatory.  Picture this Orthodox teenage girl abandoned by her community and family, then spat out into modern-day New York into this jungle of life and work and men and sex and social order, trying to figure it all out and survive with no guidance or support. Read this book.  It's a demonstration of next-level bravery.”

A Year With Rumi edited by Coleman Barks

“When I'm feeling weepy and emotional because I'm in love or heartbroken, there's nothing that hits the spot like a bourbon and reading Rumi. Rumi was a Persian poet from the 13th century, and one of the most revered mystical poets of all time. There's lots of books of his poetry, but this is my favorite. One poem for every day of the year, and Barks curated the best of them. Rumi nourishes my psychedelic side. My soul. One line of his that's been chiming in my head lately ‘Longing itself is the answer.’ Shit like that. It just makes you feel better.”


The Story of Anna O: The Woman Who Led Freud to Psychoanalysis by Lucy Freeman

“A girl who decided to end her hypnosis sessions, and merely talk to her doctor, saying anything that came into her mind. She called it, ‘chimney sweeping’, and basically invented the free association treatment. Freud described Anna O in Cases of Hysteria as the actual founder of psychoanalysis based on her assertion that ‘those with hysteria suffer mostly from their reminiscences’ – in other words, from traumatic memories. For me, Freud was the first male feminist, as he was the first one who let the hysterical woman talk her troubles out.”

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

“This is the first place where you can see the smallest girl ask the deepest questions about life. My favourite quotes: ‘Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality’, and ‘it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then!’”

“(Foxfire is) about girl gangs in 1950s Canada, in which death comes to men who fuck with maidens. Is it advice? No, but neither is it a confession.” – Sarah Nicole Prickett


Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

“I first came across Brené Brown by watching her TEDx talk from 2010 about The Power of Vulnerability, and felt incredibly moved and compelled by everything she had to say. Her books Daring Greatly and Rising Strong have deeply resonated with me and shifted my views on what it means to be a strong woman. We all create a protective exterior of emotional armour, and vulnerability is often perceived as weakness – but I now realise it is the highest form of courage.”

Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet by Susan Cain has taught me about the power of being an introvert and the importance of how to tune into our inner world. I’ve gained an understanding of the psychology behind the terms introvert and extrovert, which has been not only helpful to better understand myself but also the female music artists I work with since more often than not – although they perform live shows in front of large audiences – they are beautifully introverted.”


Just Kids by Patti Smith 

“I love this book, and Patti Smith so much – she’s a huge inspiration. I’ve read Just Kids three times, and no doubt I’ll dip back into it many more times. I love the way she writes, she’s so poetic and honest. I saw her vulnerability and honesty as such a strength. The book is an amazingly inspiring story of friendship, love and endurance.”

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

“This book has had a big effect on me as a woman. It has played an essential part in my awareness of the deep-rooted voices that often come to the fore; striving to fit the myth of beauty that society has sold to us. It’s helped me stop myself from glimpsing at my reflection in the shop window, and it reminds me to be compassionate to myself, and to women around me when so much emphasis is on how we look. The pressure on women to conform physically is constant and all-pervading, and the fact that this book was written 26 years ago (1990) and is still – mostly but not always – accurate shows we still have a lot further to go.”


Death Comes to the Maiden by Camille Naish

“This is a study of femme fatalities in the French Revolution, the era that consumed me in senior year of high school and freshman year of college to no end.”

Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates

“A novel about girl gangs in 1950s Canada, in which death comes to men who fuck with maidens. Is it advice? No, but neither is it a confession.”

Hags by Jenny Zhang

“A brief and unfriendly inquiry into how maidens get unfuckable (and much more). Jenny is a woman I think is great.”


Poems and Fragments of Sappho 

“Sappho was one of the first poets I read who described sensations that felt like my own desire. At first, this was simply because she depicted the intensity of love and sex between women – how desire, care, friendship, sisterhood, and motherhood can all be folded into one dynamic. Now, when I revisit her work, I'm less interested in this type of love as something that only takes place between ‘women’ and more interested in the multiplicity of loves that happen between bodies who aren't supposed to love one another. One of the reasons I think queer sex is amazing is because we counter the idea that certain bodies are supposed to compete with each other... hate each other... undermine each other. Instead, we crave and desire one another. Sappho lived 2,500 years ago but she wrote about queer desire with a light and color that still feels so vivid.”  

The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt

“Isabelle Eberhardt was a trans philosopher and explorer of drugs, sex, and mysticism at the end of the 19th century. Born in Switzerland, she was assigned female at birth but she ran away from home and spent her 20's living as a ‘man,’ riding on horseback through the Sahara Desert. She died in a flash-flood at the age of 27. It's a sensual and fairly disturbing autobiographical collection that – to me – illustrates why gender-nonconformity is also a spiritual and philosophical practice.”

The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter 

This book is historian Nell Irvin Painter's seminal history of the construction of whiteness – primarily, as a system for deeming some people's lives more valuable than others. The book makes it very clear that white hetero-patriarchal systems have always pitted different ‘women’ against each other. Like whiteness, womanhood is a system for evaluating worth, personhood, and beauty. I think this moment from the book demonstrates that idea: ‘caucasian’ was first used as a term to describe the prized skull of a light-skinned woman from the Caucus Mountains, purchases by scientists in Prussia (#scientificracism). They saw this ‘caucasian’ skull as emblematic of an ideal womanhood and an ideal beauty; thus, it was worth a lot of money. And that's why I'm not into biological womanhood as an idea: it is intertwined with the violence of racial capitalism in foundational ways.”

Captive Genders, edited by Eric A. Stanley and Nat Smith 

“This is an anthology about the impact of the prison industrial complex on trans and gender non-conforming people, as well as the central role of prisons in the policing of gender. This book was essential to my coming into the belief that prisons must be abolished. There is no such thing as gender liberation so long as prisons continue to incarcerate people. There is no such thing as gender liberation so long as we continue to uphold binary gender (man and woman) both institutionally and interpersonally. Also, many of my greatest activist and intellectual role models have work in this collection. There is so much more I can't fit here, so read this article I wrote about the importance of this anthology.”

“Tina Turner is undoubtedly one of my favourite women in the world. Her music now sounds completely different because I’m now aware of her beautiful soul” – Reba Maybury


The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“I read this back at university and I remember being genuinely terrified by the imagery. It's a short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and was first published back in the 19th Century. It essentially follows a woman's descent into madness, in an attempt to illustrate attitudes to women's mental health. It definitely made me think differently about what it might have meant to be a woman – I don't think I'd ever thought about ‘hysteria’ before – how the word itself comes from the greek word ‘hystera’ meaning ‘uterus’, which essentially makes it a woman's illness. It's just not something that occurred to me growing up so being introduced to it fascinated me. I think the fear of being or going mad is something that a lot of people can relate to – no one wants it to happen so the story definitely stuck with me. It's essentially a feminist gothic horror – how awesome does that sound? Very.”

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

“This is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf, and the most famous line from it is something that I guess I've held close to me whilst making the record: ‘a woman must a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. The essay deals with women not being afforded the same freedom as men when it comes to writing – be it that they lack the same financial freedom that enable them to write, or having the physical space in which to do it. That's something that's definitely been true of my life. The essay itself is incredibly fun to read – something that is true of all Virginia Woolf's writing, which is something I wasn't expecting. She is incredibly funny and sharp and it's definitely a book that I would implore any creative woman to dip into.”


I, Tina by Tina Turner

“When I read Tina Turner’s memoir I, Tina I realised my adoration of her up until that point had been totally incomplete. A lot of people have a superficial understanding of the troubles that Tina faced throughout her life, but she is a woman who has faced real extremities of gender inequality, racism, motherhood, the music industry and domestic abuse. Tina Turner is undoubtedly one of my favourite women in the world. Her music now sounds completely different because I’m now aware of her beautiful soul. Tina inspired me to think about the insane strength that women possess but are rarely praised for. I had a friend once who said that the strongest man she had ever met still didn’t match the strength of the least experienced woman she knew. Tina’s story encapsulates this idea and more.”

The work of Melinda Gebbie

“During the 1970s, Melinda Gebbie began to create radical comic books depicting brazen visions of female sexuality in San Fransisco, and continues to do so in England. Margaret Thatcher banned her work from being exported into Britain under obscenity laws, so some are still ‘illegal’ to buy. She was a regulator contributor to Wimmen's Comix, Anarchy Comics and other mid-70s underground publications. Her graphics are gorgeously subversive and their message even more important – an honest account of female pleasure which provoked a reaction insanely strong for something so normal.”

Love Lies Bleeding: Memoirs of a Sexual Revolutionary by Janis Hetherington

“One of the most attractive qualities in women for me has to be a the ruthlessness over existing as an authentic version of themselves – regardless of their social or cultural stereotypes or conventions working against them. In this memoir, Hetherington shares with us her adolescent sexual awakening as a lesbian with a penchant for BDSM in rural England during the 50s, an affair with a dominant dominatrix in a high class brothel in Paris when she was 16, then on to the ‘swinging sixties’ where she developed herself into one of London’s most controversial and successful madams. Later in life, she became one of the first lesbians to receive artificial insemination and receive custody of her lover’s child. Now she is an active activist for Palestine and raising awareness over Blair’s war crimes. Janis knows what she cares about and how she wants to live and is still not letting anyone get in her way.”