12 October 2015

Suffragette tells the fictional story of a young woman who stumbles upon the suffragette movement and takes up the fight. With an almost all-female cast, it's a celebration of women, but it's also a shocking reminder of just how hard the fight was for women to get the vote.

At the end of the film a roll call of the dates on which women around the world gained the vote shows how long the fight has taken for some and that for others, it still continues. And even then the vote is only the first step. We've picked out five books that have taken up the feminist sword and carried the battle forward, starting with, of course, the inspiration for the film...

My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst grew up all too aware of the prevailing attitude of her day: that men were considered superior to women. When she was just fourteen she attended her first suffrage meeting, and returned home a confirmed suffragist. Throughout the course of her career she endured humiliation, prison, hunger strikes, force-feeding and the repeated frustration of her aims by men in power, but she rose to become a guiding light of the Suffragette movement. This is the story, in Pankhurst’s own words, of her struggle for equality.

Pankhurst died in 1928, just after women got equal voting rights with men in Britain.

A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

Together, these essays form a brilliant attack on sexual inequality. A Room of One's Own, first published in 1929, is a witty, urbane and persuasive argument against the intellectual subjection of women, particularly women writers. The sequel, Three Guineas, is a passionate polemic which draws a startling comparison between the tyrannous hypocrisy of the Victorian patriarchal system and the evils of fascism.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

By 1949, women in France had had the vote for just three years. That year, Simone de Beavoir's The Second Sex, a groundbreaking, risqué book that became a runaway success, was first published in Paris. Selling 20,000 copies in its first week, the book earned its author both notoriety and admiration.

Since then, The Second Sex has been translated into forty languages and has become a landmark in the history of feminism. Required reading for anyone who believes in the equality of the sexes, the central messages of The Second Sex are as important today as they were for the women of the forties.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Published in 1985, this is the story of Jeanette, adopted and brought up by her mother as one of God's elect. Zealous and passionate, she seems destined for life as a missionary, but then she falls for one of her converts. 

At sixteen, Jeanette decides to leave the church, her home and her family, for the young woman she loves. Innovative, punchy and tender, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a few days ride into the bizarre outposts of religious excess and human obsession.

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf

By 1991, women’s rights had significantly improved, but social expectations and behaviour still didn’t – or rather, still don’t – reflect this. The focus of this book is women's compulsive pursuit of beauty, the myth that challenges every woman, every day of her life.

Naomi Wolf exposes the tyranny of the beauty myth through the ages and its oppressive function today, in the home and at work, in literature and the media, in relationships between men and women, and between women and women. With pertinent and intelligent examples, she confronts the beauty industry and its advertising and uncovers the reasons why women are consumed by this destructive obsession.

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