Reading Women

on my couch
Title: Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life
Author: Stephanie Staal
Pub: February 2011
Pages: 270
Genre: Non fiction, Feminine Studies, Memoir-ish
Etc: Received via LT's Early Review Program

(If the amount of flags in a book is any indication to the enjoyment, it is obvious that Reading Women has its place in my home.)

Stephanie Staal, graduate from Barnard, anticipated a progressive career driven life.  And was on her way, until she meets a man, falls in love, gets married, has a baby and leaves The City.  (And speaking of The City, didn't we see that episode on SatC?)  It is about this time that we meet her, as our narrator and guide.  Her marriage is a wee bit rockier than expected, and even though both her and hubs work from home, she ends up with the role of "mommy" and not the equal partnership that she anticipated.

"Our shared parenting time appeared astonishingly equal to outsiders - maybe too equal. It didn't take long to discover that they viewed my time as a duty, whereas John's was a gift - he was a saint to my sinner." (46)

 Not knowing what else to do, she decides to audit a year long study of Feminine Texts at her alma matter.  Reading Women is her journey.

I received this book from LT in December and squealed knowing that it would align perfectly with The Year of Feminist Classics challenge that I signed up for.  Not surprisingly, the first text that Staal is assigned in her Fem Text course is our January read - A Vindication of Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft.

Staal excels in literary analysis.  I truly felt as though she combed the texts and spent the time to truly understand them as period pieces and contemporary sources of wisdom.  For example, while reading "The Yellow Wallpaper", she states: If men, too, are products of the culture, how culpable are they really? And how complicit might women be in their own imprisonment. (94)

She's obviously a very bright woman and I do understand her desire to go back to the text.  I imagine that it is difficult for a woman to manage both motherhood and a career.  She constantly goes back and forth trying to find the most accurate definition of  "woman" for herself as a feminist and all of her other selves. Her thoughts are candid both after running into other SaHMs who ask when she plans on having another baby, and while being in a college class thinking about her daughter at home.  I get that duality.  I get the stress on finding a defining foundation of womanhood.  Especially when I don't know if men think of themselves against women in the same way that women do.

There were moments when I found myself to be pretty frustrated though.  Not at her, really.  Because I get that this is her journey. But frustrated because she felt the pressure of being a mom and still wanting a career and how that looked to outsiders and I constantly have to deal with both the fact that I don't ever want to have children nor ever get married.  Both offenses clearly not "womanly" by general stereotypical culture.  Of course, amongst my friends I never feel the slightest bit of "are you kidding me?" pressure, but general population?  And then working with middle schoolers increases the frequency of "are you married miss?"  I'm hardly going to go into a long spell to twelve year olds about why I choose not to marry; and thankfully, I tease them and claim I don't have any children because I have 120 of them between 9-4.  My choice to not have children and not marry are not political ones.  I am not, for example, one of those individuals who believe our population is too large to bring in more.  Nope, it's much simpler, I like me.  I like doing what I want when I want.  I knew this about myself at sixteen when I told my Algebra II Honors teacher I'd never have children.  As for marriage?  I have too many issues not dealt with that correlates with matrimony.  Monogamy yes; matrimony no.  But here's the thing.  It wouldn't be interesting to anyone if I was a man.  At least not so interesting to my twelve year olds.  And I look through their eyes to see what roles society (us, we) have created.

I don't know where feminism stands now in this current decade.  It's been forever and then some since I've thought in terms of any sort of feminist movement.  I think that our gender roles are slowly blending with the nearing acceptance* of same sex coupling. How we define Man and Woman must change with that acceptance, yes?  

* I say nearing acceptance because we see more GLBTQ in film, television shows, and literature than in the past, but it's only nearly acceptable because there's still the fight for equal rights.


  1. Great post,I will be adding this to my reading list! I've been struggling against signing up for the year of feminist classics challenge as I've already signed up for soooooo many!but I may have to give in I think....

  2. This is a post that will keep me busy with internal conversations for a while. I won't be signing up for the challenge, but as I read reviews of what others are reading, I'll be adding new titles to my list.

  3. This sounds like an interesting, thought-provoking book (as was your post in itself!)

    I think being a woman is very complex because we do grapple with all of that whether it's having mixed feelings or just having to justify things to outsiders. I used to be pretty stereotypical in terms of how I acted as a female but dealing with infertility has definitely changed my outlook on lots of things as it pertains to that.

    Great review!


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