Reading Today: An Act of Feminist Subversion

• Mar 29, 2018 •

“Words are power. Reading is power. YOU have the power. Don’t forget to use it.”

Have a read of this fantastic piece from guest-writer Alice Revel, founder of Reading in Heels. We dare you to read it and not feel inspired. It’s impossible.


“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” noted Virginia Woolf in her 1929 essay. But almost 90 years on from A Room of One’s Own, where do we find ourselves when it comes to our own money, space – and books, of course?

One of the barriers for women in Woolf’s essay is the lack of financial independence. Today, 70.8% of women in the UK are employed and earning their own money. Gender pay gap aside, more of us have our own money – and can choose to buy books, shoes, flights – whatever we please, with no need to ask our husband or father. That’s a big change – regardless of your background or class. “I strongly feel that right now, we need to focus on making reading feel more accessible and joyful than ever, rather than the preserve of the earnest intellectual middle classes,” explains The Bookseller’s Molly Flatt.

And Woolf might not have believed it, but in our screen-focused times, the conscious decision to pick up a book is a subversive act in itself. In our mobile-obssessed scroll-swipe-like world of 2018, putting the phone away and pausing the Netflix binge to focus on the pages of a book is nothing short of a quiet act of subversion. It’s time to filter out the social media and endless stream of targeted ads; to choose to dedicate our money and our minutes to books by women.

But how can reading be an act of feminist subversion? Positive discrimination is the name of the game. The proof is there sadly – the annual VIDA count (which tracks gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews) shows that male authors and critics overwhelmingly dominate the book world. VIDA’s research proves that male writers not only rule literary criticism – they’re also much less likely to dedicate their pages to the work of female authors. This isn’t conjecture – it’s cold, hard fact.

“That’s just the way the world is – how can I change things?” you’re thinking. But you can. Imagine if for every book written by a man, you bought two written by women. If you read one book a month, in a year that would be four books by men and eight by women. Now extend that to the books you buy as gifts. And now to the books you read your children. And now multiply that by every woman who reads this. The numbers add up fast.

And publishers LOVE trends. Crunching the numbers behind the words. Imagine if every publisher from here to New York noted the definite trend that books by women were outselling the others two to one. Can you even imagine what that would do for the literary world? It’s also the types of books publishers commission too: “As readers, we can demonstrate that there’s a market for female voices – and that these voices don’t have to be marketed as ‘domestic novels’ or ‘chick lit’, or wrapped in a pretty pink cover to appeal,” suggests Alice-Azania Jarvis, the host of The Ned’s literary salon.

It means taking a more active role in our book-buying and reading – seeking out and supporting the new voices, actually reading the nominees for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, rather than simply applauding the initiative. Looking to new ways of publishing such as crowdfunded Unbound or publisher, And Other Stories, which is dedicating itself to women’s writing for the whole of 2018. And it’s sharing these very blog posts – 4th Estate dedicating a whole month to celebrating female authors and women’s writing IS a big deal.

On a smaller scale, it’s getting together with other women and setting up a book club. Actually talking about books. And maybe other things too – things that matter to women – and supporting each other. That’s our strength.

Words are power. Reading is power. YOU have the power. Don’t forget to use it.

Alice Revel is the founder of Reading in Heels: a book subscription box for modern, stylish women. Launched in August 2017, the brand has been widely featured in the media, from Buzzfeed and Marie Claire to Red and The Telegraph. The company donates part of profits to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and pledges that at least 50% of the brands features in its boxes will be female-founded.

Check out some of 4th Estate’s iconic feminist reads here.

Looking to kick-start your feminist reading? We’ve got you covered.

Have a read of some totally inspiring articles from some of our authors: Elizabeth Day, Kyo Maclear, Rachel Edwards, Angela Saini.

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