By Vaila Bhaumick 

The astonishingly soulful, goosebump-inducing cover of Dreams by Irish Women in Harmony has been reverberating in my head for the last few days. Women collaborating for a common cause makes my soul happy, because too often we criticise each other, rather than lift each other up.

The song got me thinking about the word ‘dream’ in a feminist context. There’s a famous quote by Carl Jung: “Who looks outside, dreams; Who looks inside, awakens.” I am a fan of self-reflection; however, I often feel that our connection or collaboration with others is what helps us transform our awakened selves into a real dream come true. 

Literature helps us self reflect, but also connect with other women. Change is firmly rooted in the collective, as well as in the individual. Here are five feminist books that I think will help you reflect, connect, awaken, and dream.

Invisible Women: Data Bias In A World Designed For Men By Caroline Criado Perez

Perez’s examination of the data bias in a world built for men really resonated with me. Invisible Women was published in 2019, and by then, I had been clumsily trying to type text messages on a phone that was too big for my hands for over a year. I had also just been told by a male doctor that I was “just experiencing anxiety”—yet another misdiagnosis in a long line on my way to discovering I have the woefully misunderstood and under-researched endometriosis. Since then, I’ve been pushed towards birth control that messes with my mind and body and told the only option now is induced menopause. I’m angry, and this book tells me why. Data matters. Correction: unbiased data really matters.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine By Gail Honeyman

You might be wondering why I’ve included this one on my list. It’s not really considered a feminist novel, but more a candid account of a woman, Eleanor Oliphant, who is seriously struggling with mental health issues.

The whole story is laced with truths about what is wrong with our society. Of course, these societal ills are many, but I can’t ignore the fact that much of her suffering comes from the pressure to ‘be normal’, find the dream man, and please her ‘mummy’. Her mum is the epitome of internalised misogyny in my view, and Eleanor’s criticism of other women’s appearances speaks to that. The novel also speaks to unachievable beauty standards for women, and her commentary on her bikini wax is epic!

Bad Feminist By Roxane Gay

This collection of essays caught my attention, not only because Gay is witty, but she also gives us permission to have conflict within ourselves, ask questions, and admit that feminism can be confusing! As a woman of colour, in Bad Feminist, she is openly critical of feminism for having excluded certain demographics. Still, we agree that we shouldn’t distance ourselves from being women or feminists like they are something dirty. As she says “I’d rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all”.

Lotus By Lijia Zhang

A fictional story inspired by the author’s grandmother’s secret life of being sold to a brothel in her youth, Lotus felt like a very genuine, no-frills biography to me. Prostitution is illegal in China, and through Lotus’s tale, we see women who are typically invisible, and the impossible choices they have to make.

This book taught me that it’s important, especially as a woman, to reflect and acknowledge our mothers’ and grandmothers’ journeys through life, even if they reveal uncomfortable truths. It provides you with insights on yourself and builds compassion towards other women by knowing their struggles. 

Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths And Stories Of The Wild Woman Archetype By Clarissa Pinkola Estés

I have always looked to the horizon and chased this feeling of ‘freedom’. This is the wild woman archetype speaking to me, telling me to go with my intuition, to create, and to live unashamedly. Estés’ Women Who Run With The Wolves uncovers this version of ourselves, encouraging us to be led by our right brain.

Myths are invaluable for delving deeper into our psyche. I love that this book highlights the strength and life-giving power of women, rather than pitching them against one another and making them look weak. Unlike many popular fairy tales!

As I get older, the more I hear other women’s stories, the more I want to know. Sharing stories is so central to the human experience, and we may surprise ourselves by acknowledging that inside us lie many of the archetypes we find in books. And we shouldn’t be pinned down to one. We’re not aiming for that ‘perfect feminist’, it’s ok to be a bad one, and to unabashedly show the world your uncensored, messy, conflicted self. For me, that is the dream.