Difficult Women by Helen Lewis
Difficult Women by Helen Lewis – A History of Feminism in 11 Fights. The chapters are: Divorce, the Vote, Sex, Play, Work, Safety, Love, Education, Time, Abortion, and The Right to be difficult. This is not a history book, despite its subtitle. It is a feminist manifesto, in which she talks about her own experience too much. I liked the idea of showing the women who changed the world as they were and not whitewashed. I found the book a missed opportunity, as that idea was so interesting, a balanced view on real women with real lives, an “warts and all” approach.
She is puzzled why people who believe in equal opportunities do not see themselves as feminists. She thinks it is a PR problem instead of a problem with the movement in general. I am all for equal opportunities, but feminism today is, unfortunately, more about equality of outcome (which is just the opposite of opportunity) and random labels. It is also a us vs them attitude, as in women vs men, which I don’t think is particularly helpful. On top of that, in chapter 7, she talks about toxic attitudes on social media and the use of particular terms, which can catch anyone out, unless they spend at least an hour a day reading on the subject. Should this be viewed as toxic femininity or only masculinity can be toxic?
For her, being Mrs. X is just a version of Offred from Handmaid’s Tale. At least she said that changing my surname to my husband’s doesn’t make me a bad person, which is, obviously… reassuring. Instead it makes me half accomplice, whatever that means. It’s an “oh, dear” moment. Not everyone who reads this book was brought up in Britain and so, taking the husband’s name does not mean the same for people who had a different life and were raised in other traditions. She said that she is the first generation of women in her family to go to university. For me it’s completely different, even though I’m a bit older than her. My mother, grandmothers, and aunts, worked and half of them had tertiary education (including a grandmother and two great-aunts), and were not depending on the man of the house. The difference is that I do not consider my experience as indicative of the situation in the whole of the country I was raised in and surely not for the whole world.
I think it is a shame that she decided to make her own views, as a woman who changed her name through marriage before getting a divorce and getting married again, this time kept her surname, archetypal for all women. This is one of the things that bothers me about feminists, that they assume and persist in the idea that what they experienced is, somehow, similar to what all other women lived through, when is not. Especially when they say that labels do not matter and then talks of “starting a family” as in having children. Right, because a man and a woman can’t be a family. I fully disagree with that statement, as we are a family, just happens to be a child-free one.
I learned a few things and I would have loved to learn more, like about the forced-feeding of Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton as Jane Warton. Unfortunately the writing style is not my cup of tea. I found it repetitive, including words like “difficult”, which appears a hundred times or so. It’s such a shame as I liked the idea she presented in the introduction, that feminist women were not perfect and a realistic history should be told, not the whitewashing politicization of today. If only the book would have been about that, a history of real women, without a diatribe about a woman who had an impressive career because she took advantages of what was on offer in her day and had a nanny. Also, why would having a nanny is a bad thing? Should women (also, who says that only women use nannies, when there are two parents to begin with) only use a crèche? What about a cleaner? Or only getting take-away is fine and nannies and cleaners are narratively related to the upper middle-classes, so “bad”.
Do not bother with this book if you want to read a history of feminism.
Difficult Women by Helen Lewis
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My rating: 2/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: not really, it is not was it said on the “tin”
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Year it was published: 2020
Format: Audible Audio
About the author: Helen Lewis studied English Language and Literature at Oxford University, before getting an MA in English Literature from the Open University while working night shifts in her first job. Lewis is now a journalist.
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