Female Empowerment: The Books to Read

It’s never too late to become the person you admire; whether you are 15, 33, or 72. Who do you admire though? Why?

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I really, really admire Buffy Summers. Unfortunately she is fictional; there are no such things as vampires or super-strength women who kill them while being witty. Fortunately I learned while I was young what I did not want to become in life: helpless. Don’t get me wrong, everyone is helpless at some time or other, but, I would rather not have to rely on others to solve my problems. Plus, I’m a woman which makes me sometimes appear helpless in society. While I appreciate the good intentions of others, trust me, I can get myself off of my own landmines. I hope that most women are thinking similarly; but, like I said, it isn’t easy. Knowing your own self-worth is worth more than you will ever realize. Tough women have peppered my fictional life since I was young. Who wants to be the girl Dean Winchester saves, when she can be the girl that saved his ass? I want to look at Sherlock and tell him to shut up because I have my own mind palace. I would love for Giles to sit and have a deep conversation about the latest book we’ve read. I want all of these and more! Women empowerment works from the inside out. You must work on your secret-self first – you know, that quiet place inside you that tells you that you are worthless and cannot ever be anything more than what and who you are right now. That place is a liar. We don’t have time for that place. Instead, let’s start building you up. Who do you want to be? What do you want to do? The easiest way to find out is to open a book and start reading. Seriously, how do you know that you want to be married to a sparkly vampire if you have never read about a time when women had no choice in the man they were to marry? Today, right now, start reading! Don’t worry; I have a list for you. No, I can never kill vampires with super-strength, but I can be strong-willed, strong of mind, strong of body, and strong of soul. This will have to do until I figure out a way to become inhuman..

  1. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen – Elizabeth Bennet should definitely be a woman you idolize; the second of 5 sisters, Lizzie is constantly fighting to find her own way in a world where she is expected to marry a man of good breeding and wealth quickly in order to keep her family name in good standing. Why this book matters? Lizzie doesn’t want to do what is expected of her when her cousin asks her to marry him, which would save the Bennet family home. When Mr. Darcy initially meets her, he is a complete jerk. Possibly he was having a bad night, but more likely, he saw that Lizzie’s family does not behave properly in public. This book first taught me that it was okay to be a bit of a fireball. I don’t back down with anyone – man, woman, or child. I like to dish it out and I can take it, but, I know how to behave like a lady when it matters. I also know I am not just a piece of property to be married off. Elizabeth Bennet taught me that.
  2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – Oh, come on! How in the world can you possibly have not read this book? If you want to become a woman of your word, a woman who does not lose her faith, a woman who does not feel sorry for herself, a woman who is happy with being content, and a woman who is happy even when there is not much to be happy about, then this book is amazing. Jane loses everything at a very young age, she then continues to lose what she loves dearly as she grows older; I will never be Jane Eyre. You know why? I am too stubborn. This book was like 35 slaps in the face. I admire the hell out of Jane. I love her deeply, and I hope one day I can mellow enough to be more like her.
  3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – Francie Nolan was the first character in a novel who I felt knew me. I didn’t read the book until I was in my twenties, and we meet Francie at 11. From there we grow up with her as an impoverished 2nd generation Irish-American. Francie finds joy in the little things. She loves books and learning. He father is an alcoholic who barely works and uses all the money on liquor. Francie’s mother is working several jobs to try and keep the children in their home. Francie overcomes by hard work and perseverance; she gets herself into a better school and by the end of the book you are heartbroken to leave her. I try to read this book every few years. It keeps me humble and reminds me about the woman I want to be.
  4. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – Yes, this is a controversial book and I know that. This is all about the Civil War and The South thinking they could own slaves. Of course, The South loses, so try to take that into consideration; I love to hate Scarlett O’Hara. Scarlett begins the book as a spoiled, pretty, rich girl. The war tears through her home town in Georgia and she loses everything – including Ashley, the man that annoyingly haunts the ENTIRE book. Scarlett undergoes a transformation, she learns to kill or be killed. She learns to plant and grow food and to find community. She learns that a woman is capable of more than what she was brought up thinking and chooses to take charge of her own life. I think I appreciate this book and Scarlett because of her flaws. She is stubborn to the core. I would like to punch her sometimes, but then she does something profound and I find myself willing to put up with her. Also, thank you God for Rhett Butler – I would have applauded if he had punched her, but he was a gentleman.
  5. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen – This book is so important! Set in the 1960’s, it is a memoir of Susanna Kaysen’s descent into borderline personality disorder. Whether you suffer from mental illness or not, this book can speak to you. Susanna explains in perfect detail the way you fall into the black hole of mental illness. Her book helped me to learn that mental illness is an actual illness. Susanna spent 2 years in McLean hospital getting the help she needed to live her life. The cast of characters are also incredibly important. There are so many different kinds of psychoses. If not for this memoir, I know I would have been hopeless in my own battle with mental illness.
  6. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – I could honestly write a dissertation about this book, but I won’t. I will tell you that it is not an easy book, but do not let that deter you! The book famously opens with the line “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. Set in Russia during the late 19th century, this book revolves around aristocracy. The rich in this book are unhappy, mostly. Anna is not the focal point to the book, believe it or not. The book follows several families in their unhappiness and lets the reader understand that money is not what brings happiness. This is ONE layer of a multi-layered, beautiful book. I learned so much about Russian culture and the way women were treated. They were owned. In this book, serfdoms are taking the place of outright land ownership. The serfs have more rights than the aristocrats. The serfs are also much, much happier. Levin, also part of the aristocracy, is my favorite character in this book. I know it is titled after Anna, but honestly, I think Levin is who the book is actually about. If you’ve read it then let’s talk about it.
  7. Fever Series by Karen Moning – Look, I know Anna Karenina and Jane Eyre are not the most fun reads for some. I happen to be a book nerd and I appreciate literature. Some people just want to read for fun. This is absolutely understandable. Some people love math. (Shudder) Darkfever is the first book. It’s a paranormal romance series, but you have to understand that it is incredibly intelligent. MacKayla Lane is a Southern belle who learns that her sister has unexpectedly died while studying abroad in Ireland. Mac’s entire world falls apart as she travels to the land where her sister died and tries to find out who killed her and why. The cover of the book makes the series seem like it is full of sex. There is sex, but this is no 50 Shades; this book is dark and intelligent. I love the series, and I have a good time with the women of the series. Each woman in this book is tough, smart, and independent. If you want a romance book, check this one out. Good luck stopping after Darkfever.
  8. Yes Please by Amy Poehler – Another memoir. I love it when smart women tell their own tales. Yes Please is Amy Poehler telling us her journey from childhood to her SNL fame and beyond. Amy is a girl’s girl. She believes women should help and support each other. “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I was surprised at how heartfelt this book was. I laughed, I cried, I joined the Smart Girls movement and watch and read everything posted. This book is exactly what women empowerment should be; women helping other women to the top. Yes, please!
  9. Black Widow by Marvel Comics (1999) – Yes! There are so many badass women in comics and they aren’t discussed! Black Widow is just one of the many women from the comic world who I love. Natasha Romanoff (or any other alias she goes by) is a great woman to read about. She was used by the Russian Government from a young age. She’s the only woman (at the time) to become a Black Widow. She fought hard and she lost a lot. She was happily married, only to have to deal with her husband being killed. She has a relationship with Matt Murdoch (AKA Daredevil), but that doesn’t work out either. Nat is tough. She can fight the world and will win. She’s fearless and smart. She’s also vulnerable. There are many things Nat regrets and we learn that with the series. If you like comics, try reading about Natasha. She’s pretty amazing.
  10. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Sometimes you need to read a book that teaches you about who not to be. Gone Girl is that book. Women, when hurt, can become fairly evil. This book is all about the selfishness of one woman who wants to hurt her husband after he disappoints and hurts her with his own selfishness. This book is also a great read for anyone who thinks a marriage happens like the end of Disney movies. We don’t always live happily ever after. We have rough patches, dry spells, arguments, hatefulness, and bad months. A marriage is a constant fight; you must fight for it to keep it. This book does a good job of reminding us that marriage is not easy and reminds you just how easily it is to let anger harden your heart against your spouse.
  11. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding – Look, we’re all a mess. Bridget just happens to be a constant mess. This book is a modern Pride and Prejudice with a ton of humor added. If I could be best friends with Bridget, I would be in a heartbeat. We’ve all been the girl/woman who is trying to figure out who she is in life. We’ve all dated the wrong man. We’ve all been caught in compromising situations once or twice. Being embarrassed is a part of life; get over it and move on. Learn from your mistakes and find your own Mr. Darcy. He may just be the guy you hated upon first meeting.
  12. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – This book has 1 problem – only 1. You must get through a very tedious beginning chapter before you get to the meat of the story. However, that beginning chapter is incredibly important. So many people quit because they cannot get past this. I promise, once you finish that, the book moves at a quick pace and forces you to stay on the ride. Lisbeth Salander is the best modern heroine I have read in years. Stieg Larsson watched a gang-rape when he was 15 years old. The rape was of an acquaintance of his named Lisbeth. This haunted him his whole life. Out of that came the Millennium Trilogy. We follow Lisbeth and others through the corrupt underground behind Sweden’s most influential people. Lisbeth is a hacker and a fighter. She also loves math and is smarter than everyone else in the room. Larsson unexpectedly died before the series was finished, but the 4th book has been written by two other authors. I plan to continue the journey; I just hope they get it right. I believe these books were his apology to the real Lisbeth.
  13. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Katniss Everdeen is 16 when we meet her. She lives on the post-apocalyptic world of Panem, inside District 12. The world has been completely changed and not for the better. Each year Panem requires 1 boy and 1 girl from each of the 12 Districts (ages 12-18) to put their names into a drawing. The names chosen must go to the Capitol, District 1, and fight the other competitors in a live, televised event. The game is not finished until there is one person left standing. It’s bloody and brutal. It’s also mythological. Katniss has a little sister named Prim whom upon her first year entering the required lottery, has her name drawn. Katniss volunteers in the place of Prim. This book is great because a girl goes and fights for what she believes is right. There are 2 subsequent books which are also fantastic. If you want to know about the mythology behind Katniss Everdeen check this out.
  14. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank – The Nazi Regime stole so much from this world. Hitler did more than just kill Jews. He ruined something good inside of us; he turned it black and burned it. This is the diary of real life Anne Frank given to her on her 13th birthday by her parents. This book follows her 2 for years in Nazi Germany as a Jewish child. She and her family go into hiding and live in the dark for most of the diary. Your heart breaks with this book, but, it is crucial to realize that Anne’s last written words are the words that have brought some sort of comfort to people who lost so much. “I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be if… if only there were no other people in the world”. You see, there is no good if there is no bad. And there will always be bad people in the world. Anne knew this at the age of 15. Devastatingly, she and her family were taken prisoner days later and died in a Concentration Camp. It was not all for nothing, though. Anne has been reminding the world for decades now what evil lies in man and what good should be.
  15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Set in the Depression Era in Macomb, Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird is set from the perspective of 6 year-old Scout (Jean Louise Finch). Scout’s father, Atticus, is a lawyer. Scout has an older brother, Jem. This book is about racism. Atticus Finch teaches not only Scout, but everyone who read the book, that all men are equal. Atticus takes on Tom Robinson as his defense attorney when Robinson is accused of raping a white woman. The town turns on the Finch family and tries to lynch Robinson. Atticus tries to teach Scout and Jem not to fight back against the town. Instead he teaches them about equality. Harper Lee said that To Kill a Mockingbird is not an autobiography, but rather an example of how an author “should write about what he knows and write truthfully”. I consider this book one of my favorites, and I consider Atticus a father figure.

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