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Essential feminist authors

Essential feminist authors

Feminism demands equal political, social, and economic status for women compared to men. But there are many social conventions that pull women down and put men on a pedestal. Feminist authors attempt to draw attention to women’s issues and their unfair treatment by addressing them in their writings. But who can be considered a feminist writer? It can mean different things and the definition has changed over time but for this list, we mean writers whose works have highlighted the plight of women or the social issues they have struggled with. Here are some notable writers whose works have a strong feminist viewpoint.

Maya Angelou

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Maya Angelou was a 20th-century poet, screenwriter, and activist. She spoke out about women’s oppression, especially of African American women, through her work. ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, published in 1969, describes the author’s young and early years, including her sexual abuse, and addresses racial discrimination and sexism. Angelou was the first African-American female director in Hollywood who wrote award-winning screenplays that addressed the oppression of women, particularly women of color. In 2010, four years before her death, she won the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her indomitable stance against racism, injustice, and rape has resonated with people from all walks of life. 

Margaret Atwood

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Margaret Atwood has long been hailed as a feminist icon. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (published in 1985) and the sequel, ‘The Testaments’, shed light on the patriarchal and discriminatory practices of today’s world. It also reflects the state of women’s rights. The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of a near-future dystopia in which the main character and narrator, a woman called Offred, is enslaved as a handmaid and forced to bear children. But Atwood’s relationship with feminism, at least publicly, is a tricky one. Throughout her career, she has been unwilling to use the term to refer to her own work, although it’s often used by others. Atwood has made it clear that she aligns herself with feminism founded on equality between men and women. She has stated explicitly that she doesn’t believe that “women are always right”. 

Virginia Woolf

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Virginia Woolf was an English novelist and modernist who explored the stream of consciousness as a narrative device and pioneered the idea of women as liberated individuals. In ‘Orlando,’ she explored the idea of gender fluidity whereas in ‘A Room of One’s Own’ she argued that female writers need to have equal opportunities to express themselves artistically, including private physical space. Creative thought, she said, comes from that freedom and privacy. Virginia Woolf theorizes that the voice of female writers has been silenced throughout history and that women writers must fight for the right to be heard. Woolf was a victim of sexual abuse and suffered from mental illness but she produced work that continues to inspire people years after they came out. 

Simone de Beauvoir

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French writer Simone de Beauvoir had a significant influence on the modern feminist movement. She is known for her groundbreaking ideas on feminism. Her 1949 treatise ‘The Second Sex’ outlined the ways in which women had been oppressed throughout history. It was also where the ideas of sex and gender were separated for the first time in literary history. In the book, Beauvoir argues that women, throughout history, have always been subordinated and treated as the ‘other.’ She says their existence has no individuality and they were made to play a secondary role to that of a man. In her work, she highlights the problems inherent within patriarchy and capitalism. 

Sylvia Plath

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Sylvia Plath is known for her confessional poetry writing and her autobiographical novel ‘The Bell Jar’. In the book, she draws attention to her own struggle with mental illness. Her poetry highlights the oppressive and dogmatic nature of patriarchal society in post-Second World War America, where women experienced limited personal freedom, and were deemed ‘cute but essentially helpless’. Plath’s normalization of female anger and expression and her demand that women and men have the same rights made her a feminist. She won the Pulitzer Prize after her death.

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