Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life

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Overview


When Stephanie Staal first read The Feminine Mystique in college, she found it “a mildly interesting relic from another era.” But more than a decade later, as a married stay-at-home mom in the suburbs, Staal rediscovered Betty Friedan’s classic work—and was surprised how much she identified with the laments and misgivings of 1950s housewives. She set out on a quest: to reenroll at Barnard and re-read the great books she had first encountered as an undergrad.

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Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life

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Overview


When Stephanie Staal first read The Feminine Mystique in college, she found it “a mildly interesting relic from another era.” But more than a decade later, as a married stay-at-home mom in the suburbs, Staal rediscovered Betty Friedan’s classic work—and was surprised how much she identified with the laments and misgivings of 1950s housewives. She set out on a quest: to reenroll at Barnard and re-read the great books she had first encountered as an undergrad.

From the banishment of Eve to Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, Staal explores the significance of each of these classic tales by and of women, highlighting the relevance these ideas still have today. This process leads Staal to find the self she thought she had lost—curious and ambitious, zany and critical—and inspires new understandings of her relationships with her husband, her mother, and her daughter.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
More than a decade after her graduation from Barnard College, journalist Staal (The Love They Lost) revisits feminist literature to conduct "a highly personal investigation" into the "balance between selfhood and womanhood." Her marriage is limping along, and motherhood and housework have intruded on her professional life. Contrasting her new responses to such feminist classics as Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and de Beauvoir's The Second Sex with those of her 19-year-old self and to those of today's students, Staal despairs over the "objectifying" of self she observes in young women today, but discovers that "absolutes that once dominated my thinking had been rubbed down by experience." Staal offers an interesting overview of feminist history and writings; however, her exploration of transformations in her life is superficial (her marriage was healed by "coming closer together through the thousands of tiny moments that make up a day"), and she learns the fairly trite lesson that "life is unpredictable, relationships are complex, and the mind cannot always rule the heart." (Feb.)
From the Publisher

J. Courtney Sullivan
“If you could enroll in your favorite Women’s Studies class again ten years after graduation, armed with everything you know about the complexities and compromises of adult life, what would you make of the feminist ideals you once held dear? That’s exactly what Staal endeavors to find out in this brave and compelling book, which is one part memoir, one part astute literary analysis. As she struggles to make sense of love, life, marriage, and motherhood on her own terms, the author traces the history of women’s words over centuries—from Mary Wollstonecraft and Virginia Woolf to Erica Jong and Katie Roiphe. I cherished every page.”

Debora Spar, president of Barnard College
“A swift, enchanting, and informative sweep through the feminist canon.” 
 
Katie Crouch
Reading Women is terrific. Stephanie Staal’s exploration of the great texts of the women who have walked before us is fresh, funny, and a wise reminder that now, more than ever, we need to feed the feminist within.”
 

Booklist, February 15, 2011
“Intimate in its reflections and keenly perceptive on a larger scale, Staal’s erudite literary memoir refreshingly embraces women’s eternal quest for self-knowledge.”
 
MarieClaire.com, February 28, 2011
“Staal's metaphorical prose not only enforces the importance of reading but also sheds light on the relevance of re-reading. Her pages reach the feminist in everyone and show how retaking the course connected the dots on the woman she was and the woman she became.”

Feministing blog, March 9, 2011 “Reading Women felt like having an intimate conversation with a good friend…. I found myself frequently stunned at Staal’s beautiful, rhythmic language, her capacity to use totally original words to describe something I have read about a thousand times.”

Bitch, Spring 2011
“[Staal’s] a good storyteller, and her competently narrated journey will appeal to book lovers and former women’s studies majors who believe in the power of the written word to transform.”
 
Bust, April/May 2011 “The beauty of Reading Women is not in its easy answers, for there are none. Instead, it is in the way it will undoubtedly send readers scurrying to unearth their own college notebooks.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586488727
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 2/22/2011
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,418,277
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Stephanie Staal is a former features reporter for the Newark Star-Ledger, and has written for Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Self, and the Washington Post. She is the author of The Love They Lost, a journalistic memoir about the long-term effects of parental divorce. A graduate of Barnard College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she now lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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