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Books for budding feminists: Phyllis Chesler, Letters to a young feminist

If you’re anything like me, you would love to have a feminist role model that you can actually talk to and seek advice from. This person would not be commandeering and prescriptive, but would be an approachable person who could comfortably answer your questions with both knowledge and respect. This person would acknowledge that society is changing but would also have the experience of times past. People like this are few and far between however, so like me you must seek another option.

Letters to a Young Feminist by Phyllis Chesler may not be the embodiment of this person who would be oh so useful to us, but it is the next best thing.

The novel is written in a series of letters to the reader and quite literally reads as advice and stories that one could expect from a role model. The letters are arranged by topic and discuss things like sisterhood, sex, families, motherhood, feminist heroics and work. The ideas passed on are not revolutionary – in fact I have encountered many of them in the other books that I have read, but they are delivered in a way that makes this book essential reading for any feminist.

Chesler describes what feminism was like when she was younger and how change came about in the past. She describes the mistakes that were made by the movement and how her generation has learnt from them. These mistakes are easy ones to make and having seen so many of them occur in recent years, I am all the more inclined to stand on street corners and thrust this book into the hands of every feminist I meet.

As well as being a sort of guidebook, the novel is assuring. Chesler acknowledges that being a feminist is not always easy and that there are so many challenges ahead. In society as we know it, there are so many ways to be a feminist but also to do things that are counter productive to the cause. She retells what she perceives her shortcomings to be and shares how she dealt with them and what she feels about it now. She is reassuring and positive in giving this advice and it is always a good thing to refer back to when you are feeling defeated or frustrated about the cause.

I’m not going to ramble on about this book for too long – all I will do is end up repeating what I gained and that may not necessarily be what you would gain from it. While it is targeted towards ‘young feminists’ I would suggest that she means young not in age, but in your dedication to feminism. If you are new to the idea or have recently decided to step up your involvement then this book will have something to give you.

The letters are short, the words are strong and the author is not demanding. There are lessons to be learnt, yes, but the option to learn them is yours and yours alone. In this book you will literally learn from the mistakes of women past and when you can put that knowledge into action you realise how powerful a gift that is.

Give this book to your friends, your cousins, your mothers and your daughters. Most importantly, give it to yourself.

You can get your hands on your own copy at Book Depository for around twenty dollars, click here.

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