I happen to find feminist theory extremely interesting. I also happen to find discussions of feminist theory in the rationalist community extremely frustrating, because a disproportionate number of rationalists seem to be under the impression that the feminist movement consists entirely of Arthur Chu, people trying to get techies fired, and whatever clickbaity Jezebel articles they saw on Facebook. So here is a book list to get interested people up to speed.
This list is intended to provide background on third wave feminists/social justice/intersectional feminism/sex-positive feminism. It does not teach you much about radical feminism, feminism that happened before the 1990s, or feminism in the academy (which is its own weird thing). However, it should teach you the strongest arguments behind the beliefs currently perpetuated in watered-down and popularized form by the feminists you are most likely to encounter online.
Excluded, by Julia Serano. The first part is a bunch of inside baseball about feminist and queer movements of dubious interest even to feminists and queers; skip it. (Do you care about whether the word bisexual is binarist? Neither do I.) The second part, however, is one of the best introductions to social justice I’ve read. Her models of marked and unmarked traits and holistic vs. homogenizing models of gender were enlightening to me as someone who has read feminist theory for years. Her cataloguing of different kinds of double binds is a helpful tool for analyzing a variety of situations.
If you like Excluded, you should also check out Whipping Girl, which is one of the foundational works of transfeminism.
Feminism Is For Everybody, by bell hooks. This is the shortest book on the list, and probably the best to read if you just want to find out what feminists actually believe; in my experience most feminists would endorse most of the policy proposals made by this book. (Hence why hooks is considered something of a demigod.) On the other hand, if you’re reading the other three, it’s probably skippable. But why would you? It’s like a hundred pages.
Black Feminist Thought, by Patricia Hill Collins. This is the best introduction I’ve read to a lot of basic aspects of third-wave feminist theory from one of the women who was involved in theorizing them. This book will teach you about intersectionality, which is the idea that you can’t pick out one oppression and analyze it on its own; black women have a qualitatively different experience of sexism and racism compared to black men or white women. It’ll also explain the epistemology behind concepts like “privilege”, “lived experience”, and “listen to women.” (I also like Collins’s concept of a controlling image; it’s a really helpful reframe of the concept of stereotypes, in my opinion.)
Yes Means Yes, edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti. A basic introduction to What Sex-Positive Feminists Actually Believe. The Yes Means Yes laws everyone keeps complaining about are named after this book.
Latoya Petersen’s The Not Rape Epidemic (available online here) is one of the most powerful essays I’ve read about compulsory sexuality. Thomas Millar’s Toward a Performance Model of Sex and Heather Corinna’s An Immodest Proposal present excellent positive visions of sex-positive sex. Of particular interest to my commenters is Julia Serano’s essay, which uses feminist theory to talk about the famous female desire for assholes.