Feminism 101: Strong Female Voices in Fiction

The Time’s Up Movement has got us all thinking. Farewell to silence! we say. Goodbye to tolerance! In celebration, I have here devised a list of books. All of these pass the Bechdel test with flying colours. They feature female writers of excellence that will leave you laughing to yourself, or abandon you with teary eyes, grasping a tissue with one hand and embracing the phone with the other — time to dial your mother. These are books that everyone ought to read at some point. They have much to teach us about our place in the world as men and woman— the two sides of humanity that must share it. Looking forward to an egalitarian future for the entertainment industry and beyond, I look to these books in recognition of the dynamic female voices that have already passed across the stage.

Speedboat by Renata Adler

Recently returned to print, Renata Adler’s Speedboat is at the top of my to-read list. In a fragmentary and aphoristic style, Adler charts the life of journalist Jen Fein as she navigates the male-dominated publishing industry of the mid nineteen-seventies. Fein is witty and unabashed. She is at once an observer, a critic, and a member of the scene, and through her, Adler offers up a highly intelligent voice and a wry take on professional life. Sifting through realities of solitude and connection in the big city, she deftly captures and pokes fun at urban America.


Orlando by Virginia Woolf 

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is a satiric masterpiece and a favourite among feminist scholars. The premise: at the age of thirty, Orlando, once a British nobleman, wakes to find that he has transitioned into a woman overnight. From this moment on, Woolf takes a comic trip through time, documenting the next three hundred years of Orlando’s life and exploring the role of women in 18th and 19th century society. Woolf anticipates modern queer and feminist theorists like Judith Butler and Eve Sedgewick as she discovers gender to be one grand performance. “In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male and female likeness.”

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi writes an autobiography in the form of a graphic novel. Part One: The Story of a Childhood recalls her youth in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, and Part Two: The Story of a Return follows her experiences as a high schooler in Vienna, and eventual homecoming. Throughout her life, Satrapi strains to stay true to various modalities of self, to remain both Iranian and female, despite the oppressive nature of Iranian politics. In the beginning Satrapi associates with male heroes and family members, but as the story goes on she finds inspiration in female historical figures like Simone de Beauvoir and Artemisia Gentileschi. Looking both inward and outward, and taking into account a host of unconventional life-experiences, Satrapi grows to find a unique sense of personal freedom.

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore

While pioneering shows like Sex and the City and more recent productions like Girls and Broad City have opened up space on screen for the portrayal of female friendships, these relationships have gone largely unacknowledged in literature. Lorrie Moore enters gracefully into unchartered territory with her novel Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? While travelling through France with her husband, protagonist Berie Carr recalls an intense adolescent friendship with Silsby Chaussee. She meditates on the difficulties and obscurities of marriage and yearns for the close connection she felt with Sils that summer of 1972.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison writes: “Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” In her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Beloved, Morrison follows ex-slave Sethe and her daughter Denver after their escape from the Sweet Home plantation. With characteristic lyricism, Morrison explores the aftereffects of slavery — a lingering trauma, a haunted past. In the Forward she writes: “The heroine would represent the unapologetic acceptance of shame and terror…[and] claim her own freedom.” Sethe is matriarch: strong, maternal, one of the most memorable characters in contemporary American literature and the subject of one of the most important social commentaries to resonate through fiction.