8 Feminist Books You Should Read: A List by BabyFist Founder, Yasmeen Mjalli
As editor of this publication, and as a staunch feminist, I am constantly asked by readers and friends to share our list of must-read feminist literature. And while I thought that it was worthwhile to feature feminist writing, I decided that it would be more compelling to ask someone who’s work revolves heavily around feminist writing to share her list of must reads.
Enter Yasmeen Mjalli, founder of BabyFist. If you don’t know BabyFist, I encourage you to check out their instagram immediately (@babyfist_). BabyFist is the apparel brand that coined the viral hashtag #NotYourHabibti. But to simply refer to it as an apparel brand would do it a great injustice. BabyFist isn’t just a brand - it’s a community of women who want to have a larger conversation about gender and feminism. In the words of Yasmeen, “ BabyFist was born as a means to create a space in which women could come together, connect, speak, and uplift one another on our respective journeys.” To simply put it, BabyFist is a social enterprise that is critical of society, gender norms, and the political economy of being a woman in the world today.
What Yasmeen has created is so different from any other social enterprise I know. At first, I was really pulled in by the beautifully illustrated garments and feminist art. But later, just following her work online, I became more invested in the conversation she was having with the women on her platform. I also loved that every couple of weeks, Yasmeen would share a must read book with her customers, almost always a feminist title (including everything from Bell Hooks to Fatima Mernissi). So it only made sense that I reach out to Yasmeen - which I did a few weeks ago - to ask her to share her list of top feminist books. Not only did Yasmeen compile this wonderfully critical list of books, but she also shared some of the philosophy behind her work. Before sharing her recommended books, I thought this quote from Yasmeen about why feminist writing matters to her was worth adding:
“The choice to commit yourself to the liberation and subjectivity in women is a simple one. Yet, the journey of understanding and achieving this is, in reality, an incredibly complex and nuanced one. I believe that to be as effective as possible as an activist and thinker, then one needs to react to such a complex reality with an equally complex critique and solution. So, to challenge my misconceptions, to shape my opinions, to form my resolutions, I turned to books. Anything out there on the subject of women in the Arab world has been written by allies whom I have everything to learn from and by adversaries whom I have everything to be weary of. Both have been instrumental in my understanding of the ongoing conversation regarding women’s rights in the Muslim Arab world. It can be dangerous to speak in generalities and misconceptions and books are the best way to make sure that we approach the conversation as knowledgeable as possible. This is why I’m always reading.”
Without further ado, here are the 8 feminist works you should be reading, according to Yasmeen Mjalli:
1. Bad Girls of the Arab World by Nadia Yaqui and Rula Quwas
This book changed everything for me. I remember reading it in the family library and for some reason I would hide it every time someone came into the room. It felt like I was reading a delicious collection of secrets being passed down from the women keeping the flame alive for those of us still coming up in the world. Thirteen chapters written by or about Arab women daring to transcend the rules, Bad Girls of the Arab World weaves together a chorus of voices which rings with the beauty of resilience in the face of oppression.
2. Woman at Point Zero by Nawal el Saadawi
Through Firdaus’ story the patriarchal systems of oppression are exposed and unapologetically so. Told from the perspective of a woman who has suffered inescapable darkness, Firdaus remains the hero of her own story. In the final hours of her life, she pulls the reader into a reality of struggle against oppression which transcends any one culture or people.
3. Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik
This book was one I put down for three days just so that I wouldn't end it. Written about the Iranian poet, Forugh Farrokhzad, this novel brilliantly transcended Iranian culture and was immediately relatable to me as a Muslim Palestinian woman. Her story is the one of courage, resilience, and creativity in the face of oppression and gave me the inspiration of the powerful matriarchs who led the fight before me.
4. A Mountainous Journey by Fadwa Tuqan
A memoir of her life as a woman and poet in Palestine, Tuqan writes in a prose echoing the beauty of her poems. Each line is a delicious combination of words and spirit, encompassing her journey into poetry in a Palestine warped under Israeli occupation. The book is beautiful for the way it pulls the reader into the feminine spirit and struggle of Palestinian women.
5. Blue Aubergine by Miral al-Tahawy
This story starts in 1967, the year of Egypt’s defeat to Israel marking the beginning of an era of upheaval. The protagonist, an bedouin Egyptian woman, navigates the complexity of life for a woman struggling against patriarchal structures, the rise of fundamentalist Islam, and political turmoil. al-Tahawy writes in a dream-like prose mirroring the confusion of femininity in a world which often attempts to suppress it.
6. Not That Bad Edited by Roxanne Gay
Edited by writer and professor Roxanne Gay, this collection of essays speak with unflinching and searing honesty about a range of topics including the “rape epidemic of the refugee crisis to first-hand accounts of child-molestation.” It explores what it means for women to live in a world in which calling attention to oppression and demanding justice is met with mock, shame, aggression, and bullying.
7. Dreams of Trespass by Fatima Mernissi
A collection weaving together Mernissi’s own memories with the memories of other women, this book illuminates a childhood from within the confines of the harem. A mosaic of memories and voices come together to grapple with the complexity of gender and time within 20th century Morocco.
8. Classical Poems by Arab Women Edited by Abdullah al-Udhari
It goes without saying that women’s voices are often eliminated from history and literature (in every culture). This book is my way to access a mosaic of women who fearlessly and beautifully use the written word to express their desires and truth. Pulled from pre-Islamic and Andalusian periods, this is a collection of short poems celebrating the feminine voice’s refusal to be silenced.