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Feminist literature : Mary Kenny’s must-read list

Women’s issues aren’t only defending at the Assembly: a sharp tong can play a determining role. Because of it, The Circular asked Mary Kenny, an Irish author, journalist, and famous feminist her favourite list of feminist books with her comments.

The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir, 1949

Mary Kenny: Classic foundation text. She’s not right about everything (chromosome research hadn’t been established in her time, so I can’t agree with her opening statement: “One is not born a woman…” – biologically, most females are born female), but her insights are striking and significant just the same.

Free women Free men, Plagia Camille, 2018

Mary Kenny: Sex, Gender and Feminism. A very combative writer, but again, a brilliant intellectual, with a strong libertarian message. She is also capable of cognitive paradox. She favours absolute free choice on abortion, and yet she also recognises the pro-life position as coherent and having the “high moral ground”.

The Cause, Ray Strachey, 1979

 Mary Kenny: A very fine historical account of the background of the (British) women’s movement – education was the first goal, hard fought for. (Nursing, too, was an important milestone. Florence Nightingale matters.) Cambridge didn’t grant women degree diplomas until 1948. (But Dublin was admitting women to study medicine in the 1870s – first in the [then] the UK to do so. Paris was also very progressive about women doctors.)

Mary Kenny: Many saints in the Christian canon are women and the most stunning of all, in terms of action, is Joan. A 14-year-old illiterate peasant girl leads the King of France to free her country, and lay the foundation stone for a nation’s identity – amazing!
Mary Kenny: A collective biography of Irish activists in the 1900s and leading up to the establishment of the Free State in 1922. Many of the women were remarkable. The Ryan family were small farmers of modest means in Co Wexford, with 12 children: 9 of the children went on to university, including most of the daughters, who were terrifically enterprising though they seldom had much money. A counter-narrative to a common view that Irishwomen were “always oppressed” – many of them were spirited and independent-minded.
Mary Kenny: A stunning account of Soviet women snipers during World War II. How brave they were – and how little they had. And how little they were rewarded subsequently. Amazing lives. An insight into ‘how the other half lives’.
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