The Feminist Novel

by Rachel Baker on October 30, 2014

My reading lately has evolved to include some feminist books. Thus far, they have been non-fiction; and at this point, that’s probably a good thing; because I’m trying to figure out where I fit in and what I think and believe (not just about being a woman, but about all the things that make up our lives – philosophies, theologies, etc., etc., etc.

As I finish books, I begin to think about the fiction I’ve read over the years and who my heroines have been. I recently received a galley of How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading too Much (Vintage Original) by Samantha Ellis (which comes out February 2015). Having read most of it, it made me start wondering about the women I grew up with from the novels I’ve read up to now; and how their stories maybe shaped my thoughts.

I don’t know a whole lot about Feminism, other than a lot of people hate the word, but seem to not really know what it is they hate about it. I don’t know what really makes a Feminist novel, but I knew that there are some novels that “feminists love” and some they hate…whatever that actually means.

I found the article below in my quest to figure this out. As someone who is just now tip-toeing through the tulips of understanding the female identity and feminism, I found it interesting and insightful. I particularly like that Roxane Gay says, Feminism can’t be just about gender (I’ve quoted this part below); because gender seems like the place people get stuck when they ignorantly spew “I hate feminism.”

In this theses below, you will find what a feminist novel must do, the explorations, the contemplations, and the stories it tells. If you are like me, in a specific place in your life (and maybe I’m really late to the party), this might help you evolve your reading to include some novels you might not have normally picked up or define others in a way you might not have considered previously.

Read more: Theses on the Feminist Novel

Feminism concerns the equality of women. When I say equality, I mean that women should be able to move through the world with the same ease as men. Women should be able to live in a society where their bodies are not legislated. They should be able to live their lives free from the threat of sexual violence. And when we consider the needs of women, it is imperative to also consider the other identities a woman inhabits. Feminism cannot merely be about gender; it must also be about equality in the fields of race and ethnicity, ability, sexuality, spirituality, class, and the many other markers of who we are.

A feminist novel, however, is not only about who we are; it must also be about how we live. It is a novel where the concerns of women and womanhood are the alpha and the omega of the narrative but it also deals explicitly with stories, with the lives of women. It is unlikely that there could ever be a consensus on what makes a novel a feminist novel because, let’s be honest, there’s little consensus about what makes a novel a novel. But many books do come to mind, including Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, and Tayari Jones’s Silver Sparrow.

The challenge of the feminist novel is that a novel has to tell a compelling story. The feminist ambition cannot override the narrative ambition, or one has not written a novel.

This article was written by: Rachel Baker – Click to Become a Patron or to follow on Twitter.

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