Growing up can be a difficult time for girls. We’re constantly told we have to be a certain way and, no matter what, we never seem to fit. It’s only when I got older that I realised that it was because of society’s ever-changing and contradictory standards that I wasn’t designed to fit. None of us are really.
In the last few years we’ve seen female and feminist writers gain prominence for sharing their stories. Reading these books in my mid-to-late twenties has been a joy, but it’s tinged with sadness that I didn’t have these incredible works when I was younger to give me the strength I needed.
Here are 5 that I think all young women should read.
I strongly believe that all genders should be taught about equality from a young age, but it’s especially important to instill feminist values in young women. Girl Up is a guide–an almost-manual–for teenage girls manoeuvring life, love, their bodies, and everything else, all whilst under enormous scrutiny. It tells young girls that there is no wrong way to grow up, that it’s ok to be them. I wish someone had told me that.
The book also features incredibly funny and poignant artwork by artist Jo Harrison, including dancing top hat vaginas! What more do you need in life?!
This year I have discovered my love of poetry, and that’s largely thanks to this incredible book. It’s a poetry collection telling the story of a woman struggling through life after a parent’s death, bad relationships, and self hate that blossoms into self love. It resonated so much with me; the way she talks about harmful relationships and standing up to society’s expectations of her in particular (Amanda is openly asexual).
One poem that gave me a lot of strength personally talks about how women don’t have to give birth and includes the wonderful line “you give birth to oceans every single day.”
Doing It by Hannah Witton
This incredible sex and relationships YouTuber has, this summer, brought out her own sex positive guide for young women and teens and I for one am completely in love. More often than not, school’s sex education focuses on abstinence and avoidance, but Hannah’s book is a no-bullsh*t handbook covering everything from sexuality and gender to orgasms, masturbation and porn. I honestly have never seen a book aimed at 14+ year-olds that discusses such “taboo” (read: not at all taboo) subjects.
More than that, it’s so fully inclusive that, in the subjects Hannah doesn’t have experience in, she got her friends who do to contribute in order to not talk over people.
The fat activist tells her story of accepting her own body alongside the brutal trolling she received for being a fat woman who wasn’t ashamed of herself. Being a fellow woman on the internet, I have had my fair share of hatred and abuse but size and fat shaming is a target that I have always been spared because I’m a rather thin woman. In the past, I admit to not understanding fat shaming; I didn’t think it was as bad as people said and was quite dismissive. But women like Lindy have opened my eyes. I found this quite an uncomfortable read in parts because I saw my past self in some of the people who belittled her. It’s why I think all women, regardless of their size, should read this. Especially if they are afforded the privileges that fat women aren’t.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
This is the only fiction book I’ve included here but for a good reason. The character of Cath speaks to any girl who tucked herself up in the safety of fandoms because the real world was too crap, whilst struggling to navigate her late teens/early twenties.
Unlike a lot of YA, it felt real. The characters weren’t too dissimilar to what I knew in my late teens and early twenties and Cath’s journey is one all young girls can learn from. Instead of telling us that we can’t be nerds and find love, Rainbow Rowell tells us we can have both but the real world is better if you let it be.