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

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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 ree 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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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 ree 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.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rhiannon

    Before I critique this book, I want to share a couple of things that I enjoyed about it, first. 1. Women's Colleges and Women's Studies Classrooms: I spent my first college-year at an all-women's school in New York State. Not since elementary school (and never after) had I felt so confident in my ability and authority as a student, my agency, my voice. Something about a room full of women really made me comfortable in terms of my education. I can't really describe it better than that. I don't prop Before I critique this book, I want to share a couple of things that I enjoyed about it, first. 1. Women's Colleges and Women's Studies Classrooms: I spent my first college-year at an all-women's school in New York State. Not since elementary school (and never after) had I felt so confident in my ability and authority as a student, my agency, my voice. Something about a room full of women really made me comfortable in terms of my education. I can't really describe it better than that. I don't propose that this is for everyone, that schools or classrooms should be single-sex, I don't propose ANYTHING of the sort. In fact, the majority of my education was completed co-ed. But, when I had it, I didn't realize how much it affected me until I returned to school years later and found myself terrified of my own voice and doubtful of my abilities as a student. I was shaky, out-of-practice, felt stupid, removed from academia, unable to compete. And then I took a Women's Studies course, and it came back to me. My confidence. The open conversation, the positive environment (sounds so lame, but its true), an openly-respectful classroom that acknowledges that its not the average classroom from day-one. And suddenly, going back to school was no big thang. 2. Going Back To School: I love Staal's proposal and goal to go back to school and re-take a well-loved course, Fem Texts, from her alma mater, Barnard. What a good idea! 3. Reading: I love reading. Hence, I usually love books that feature people reading and talking about what they've read (Reading Lolita in Tehran, The Perks Of Being a Wallflower, Fahrenheit 451). Nerd. OK, all done. Now, on to the bullshit: Stephanie Staal relates her studies of feminism directly into her personal and domestic life. On some level, that is honorable. Honorable in the sense that here is a woman taking time out of her hectic and harried life to pursue an intellectual goal. However, to simply say (as an example) "Here's how Judith Butler relates to me being a mom," and leave ANYTHING ELSE Judith Butler might have contributed to feminism, queer studies, social paradigms... completely out of the dialogue? That's really lame. "Who cares?", Stephanie Staal blurts about Judith Butler, gender theory, and postmodernism, in general. Well, a lot of people, actually. And since you've chosen (yes, chosen... Staal picksy-choozy'd the books out of the curriculum that mattered most to her, leaving most works on the syllabus unanalyzed in her final memoir - most of which by women of color) to discuss Judith Butler, why not give her contribution better treatment? You afforded it to Wollstonecraft and Pagels. Instead, the reader can really FEEL that as Third-Wave Feminism and Postmodern Thought enter the curriculum, Stephanie Staal gets in over her head. I do not believe that this is because Staal is not intelligent enough to handle the rigor of deconstruction. She's a Barnard grad! Hell, I'll be the first to say "Whaaaaafuck?" to these readings myself, being a First-Gen-State-U-Girl-From-The-Lower-Uneducated-Class. But, you wouldn't see me, with my meager understanding, attempt to simplify complex ideas, and tailor them to fit around my personal or domestic narrative - at least, not in a published work, you wouldn't! I believe Staal's lack of understanding comes from her lack of wanting to understand. Postmodernism scares the pants off her, it seems, because she fails to make her (sorry for the overused fem motto, but) personal, political. She fails to see her privilege. She negotiates the life's work of theorists with only the lens of motherhood or wifehood or thirty-something-womanhood; her domesticity; never grasping a bigger picture, never using the works to translate over to social movements, to women of other cultures, to women of different classes, and especially not to women of different sexual orientations or identifications. Her mind never wanders out of the sphere of "Stephanie Staal." She's closed off. She's narrow. Hell, in a book about reconciling career and motherhood, Stephanie Staal all but dismisses the "glass Ceiling," hardly details the difficulty of re-entering the workforce for moms raising kids, and never references injustices on the job. Fail. Two things really bothered me about this book. 1. The discussion of rape, and of Roiphe's The Morning After: Fear, Sex and Feminism. Now, full disclosure: I haven't read Roiphe's The Morning After, but my problem lies with the discussion of the text in Staal's Fem Texts class, and not the work itself. I'm going to just come right out and say this, even though I know very little about the Barnard Demographic and will be working almost entirely on assumption. Feel free to school me, if you feel the need. But, let's compare Barnard and my school, for a moment. Staal: Private Ivy-Affiliated [Seven Sisters] College Urban (Morningside Heights/Upper West Side of Manhattan) White As Shit Rich As Shit Upper Middle to Executive/Professional Class Probably Many Alumni Daughters Probably A Lot of Old Money Retention Rate: 94% Motto: "Following The Way of Reason" Me: Publically-Funded State University System Urban (Dorchester, MA on the Southie Line) Racially Diverse ("most diverse student population in New England" - tho, never forget we're in whitey-white New England, here) Largely Middle and Lower-Middle Class Students Many First Generation College Attendees Many First Generation U.S. Citizens/20% non-U.S. Citizens Retention Rate: 26% Motto: "Affordable!" Now, don't get me wrong, I love my school. And don't get me wrong, Barnard sounds amazeballs (did you know that they have a Zine library? "In an effort to document the third-wave feminism and Riot Grrrl culture, the Zine Collection complements Barnard's women's studies research holdings..." Fuckin Neat-o!) But, these race and class distinctions are tantamount to my argument against Staal's "rape chapter" (it goes without saying, since all the other Goodreads Reviewers have done so more articulately than I, that class privilege is present throughout the work). On the topic of rape, the disparity really came into focus for me. In my experience in the Women's Studies classroom, discussions of "post-feminism" are usually met with an open attitude. The "-post" of post-feminism is a word indicating that feminism has achieved its primary goals (equality), so any further bitching on the part of the "feminist" constitutes "wallowing in victimhood," as one Barnard student put it. In many areas, modern-minded women can see the argument, here. At least they can parry a good argument against it. But, in regards to rape and sexual abuse? The numbers don't match that philosophy. Plain and simple: 1 out of every 6 women is sexually abused, assaulted or raped [Raain]. What a staggering statistic. Roiphe would have us believe that we live in a "rape-sensitive community," where "consent" is too gray a term to define, and in which women find themselves more confined by fear of sexuality, than liberated by sex. The women at Barnard, according to Staal, seem to relish in this prospect. They confirm that they, themselves, feel safe in their environments, and the anti-violence campaign that raises awareness for rape and assault victims is overwrought and obnoxious, in so many words. "I know guys are pretty turned off by it." What a nice pedestal of safety to look down from, Barnard girls. But, in my experience, this is not the case on the "lower-class" campus. Almost every woman I have encountered in my Women's Studies classes has had an experience of their own, or can cite the experience of a friend or family member, who has been affected by rape and sexual assault. If they're not personally affected by assault, many of the women combat misogyny on a daily basis. Based on the culture from which they were raised, be it a lower-class urban environment, or a religious or ethnic cultural divide, these women face real-life-experience with women-hating, women-disrespecting, women-using, women-hitting, women-raping. I would never imply that rich girls have no problems or issues with violence, but I will imply that poor girls likely see a lot more of it. And the attitude of women suggesting the campaign against sexual assault is so '90s need to wake the fuck up. Incidentally, Stephanie Staal is taken aback by the attitude of her classmates about the reality of sexual assault, and talks about her experience growing up in the "rape-crazed 1990s" - but does she verbalize this in a class discussion? Does she pick this issue apart as much as the scene where she had a hard time making eggs for her daughter's breakfast? Nope. She waxes poetic about how she felt Roiphe was "lonely" and searching for meaning, before translating that experience back to her own issues. I mean, come on! What I hope is this: Staal, not finding rape a topic relatable enough to her own current experience, downplayed the course discussion of sexual violence against women. She had more pressing navel-gazing to do, and let the topic slide-off, unexamined. Because if the state of "elite education" is that students in Women's Studies classrooms are no longer discussing violence against women, even if those women belong to another social class or even another national or religious identity, and are instead rolling their eyes at activism, we are in a sorry fuckin state. 2. The discussion of Baghdad Burning, a blog by Iraqi war survivor, Riverbend. I'll try and keep this brief. I'm betting that the inclusion of this text into the curriculum is to provide the Fem Texts students with a contemporary post-colonial feminist viewpoint. Full disclosire: I haven't read Baghdad Burning, so my problem here lies only in the lack of insight about this text, as provided by Stephanie Staal. For all the discussion that one could have about an Iraqi woman's experience of the United States "War On Terror," about a nation occupied and under siege, about violence and liberty and feminist gains lost in a short matter of years, you know what Staal takes from the text and ends her book with? "Professor H. was obviously excited by the possibilities of the internet.... Riverbend was...becoming part of a new generation of women successfully using the internet to amplify their voices." O-kay. That might be true, but what a confined, off-topic, strange little bit to take away from a text. The tone of the book by the time that summary hits - happy, exclamatory, wrappin'it'up - is surely ironic, no? The experiences of war, of oppression, wrapped up into a sentence about how the internet is good for feminists? I just don't know, Stephanie Staal. Honestly. Anyway - The discussions of the chapters above point to one conclusion, in my opinion: For Staal, feminism is not about social justice. It never has been. It seems to be about a way to make herself feel better about culminating an identity. Just so you know, I DO NOT disagree with this notion, per se. Be existential. Define your own narrative over and over. What ever gets you through the night, babygirl. But, is it sufficient? My opinion? Nah - it makes for a useless book. A quick, not-bad, kind-of-interesting, useless book. If you like books about the daily drudge and frustration of marriage and mommyhood, with some oversimplified cultural theory thrown in like a stack of mail on a cluttered coffee table, I guess this book is for you (?)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Stephanie Staal sets out to reread the great feminist classics 10 years after college to get a grip on a life seemingly spinning out of control with demands of marriage and motherhood. There were a lot of things about this book that appealed to me: feminist classics, women's colleges, retrospective examination of the college experience from a standpoint of a life-crisis. And in many ways this book was quite good. I got more excited about authors I knew I ought to read but hadn't yet, and I found Stephanie Staal sets out to reread the great feminist classics 10 years after college to get a grip on a life seemingly spinning out of control with demands of marriage and motherhood. There were a lot of things about this book that appealed to me: feminist classics, women's colleges, retrospective examination of the college experience from a standpoint of a life-crisis. And in many ways this book was quite good. I got more excited about authors I knew I ought to read but hadn't yet, and I found out about a few women that I'm putting on my to-read list. It would serve as a decent introduction to feminist texts for women who have little knowledge of them and who have an interest in being married and having children. Unfortunately, the book fights between being a survey of feminist classics and being a memoir of Staal's marital problems. Interesting discussions of books such as The Dialectic of Sex and A Room of One's Own are interrupted by lengthy, and sometimes only tenuously related, passages about Staal's difficulties with her husband and her child. The point is presumably to illustrate the continued relevancy of the work-family balance in women's lives (certainly an important topic), but the personal passages don't seem to come together as a political problem faced by many modern women, instead of the the problems of one isolated family. Perhaps the book has more resonance for women in situations similar to Staal's, but it fails to become relevant for feminists of diverse identities. Similarly, the book also does not reflect the feminisms of diverse women. Out of 26 books Staal chose to read, only one is written by a woman of color, and she does not address womanism or the massive contributions of feminists of color at all. Staal is multiracial herself, and part of the lack of diversity in her reading list can be put down to the canon's focus on white women, however there are many more women of color (and queer women) on the reading lists for the class she took than there are in her book. Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Cherrie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, Alice Walker, Angela Davis are all passed over, even in the third chapter which details the divisions among 70's feminists. Staal discusses the feminist sex wars in this chapter, but nothing about pushback from second-wave women-of-color against the overwhelming focus on the needs of white women. Sadly this is not the only instance of Staal's limited focus. Unfortunately, Staal doesn't seem to have a framework for intersectional feminism and seems to have trouble understanding the needs of women who don't share her privileges. Lesbian feminism is described as indulgent, abstract and impractical. "Too many women had beloved men in their lives, whether fathers, husbands, or sons, and portraying them as disposable would only ward these women from feminism's ranks" (241). Staal assumes that there is only one feminism and that it's purpose is to draw as many women to its cause as possible. But lesbian feminism does not exist for the needs of heterosexual women. Just as some women sometimes need a feminism that includes and embraces men, some women at some times need a feminism that is centered around queer/women-only spaces. These feminisms can coexist. Just because one woman wants men in her feminism, doesn't mean that another woman can't have have radical lesbianism as her feminism. Or that one woman can't subscribe to both philosophies. These things are fluid, and ought to be, to mirror our needs at different times in our lives. What Staal fails to recognize, again and again, is the multiplicity of feminism, that feminism has become about more than "women's issues" -- that it has become about social justice -- that it is now feminisms, and that these feminisms concern themselves with the oppression of many different groups and many different kinds of oppression. Describing a class discussion about Judith Butler's ideas about gender identity, Staal says "while contemplating [queer theory and the idea of gender as a spectrum] had the appeal of a brainteaser, I was similarly exasperated. So what? I thought" (246). So what? Only that the oppression of queer, transgendered, and intersex folks is inextricably linked to the oppression of women. Only that many queer, trans and intersex folks are feminists and/or women. Only that their needs should be just as central to feminisms as the needs of straight upper-class white cis women. I found myself wincing through the latter part of this book as it became increasingly clear that Staal had very little grasp of not only queer theory, but also of what things are unacceptable to say about queer folks. A student's comment that trans women are "men paying... two hundred dollars to dress up as a women, and then we teach them how to act like stereotypical women" is left uninterrogated or analyzed as if it were a completely unproblematic statement. Perhaps I'm idealizing women's studies classrooms, but I have a hard time imagining that comment not being addressed as offensive and transphobic. That Staal doesn't even address it is problematic and indicates that her "keen[ness] to bolt the classroom and leave behind postmodernism" comes not only from discomfort with jargon and dense theory, but also from discomfort with the mixing queerness in with feminism. I've been increasingly harsh in my status updates while reading this book, and for good reason. Staal seems to have little patience with feminist topics that are outside her comfort zone. The entirety of the sex-positive movement is written off as "trading on lewdness," while queer theory and lesbian feminism are alternatively portrayed as being indulgent, impractical, too theoretical, and generally beyond the pale. However, for all that, Staal seems aware of the limitations of her survey and her criticism. "As someone who, at the root of things, identifies herself as a feminist, I turned to these books as a way of grasping the difficulties that I was facing at a specific time and place in my life, when as a woman, I felt drawn and quartered by love and guilt, confusion and frustration. The slant of my circumstances therefore determined the titles I selected to write about," she says. "My thoughts and opinions are just that, and I'll wager that many a professor or doctoral student would gleefully tear my interpretations apart -- and probably rightfully so." I enjoyed most of Staal's interpretations and don't intend to tear the others apart for the sake of academic pique. In fact I considered giving this book as a gift to my younger cousin because I very much enjoyed the earlier parts about Virginia Woolf et al; however, for me, the constrained focus of the book on topics primarily of interest to privileged women outweighed my enjoyment of her survey of earlier feminists.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Well I am sorry to say this book was quite disappointing to me. I was really looking forward to reading it, having taken a class very similar to the "Feminist Texts" the author recalls at a similar age (albeit at State U, not Barnard), and also being a mother of small children. But while the hype for the book sounds very interesting, an exploration of classical philosophical and political texts through a new lense, the reality of this book is quite different. It turned out to be yet another "mem Well I am sorry to say this book was quite disappointing to me. I was really looking forward to reading it, having taken a class very similar to the "Feminist Texts" the author recalls at a similar age (albeit at State U, not Barnard), and also being a mother of small children. But while the hype for the book sounds very interesting, an exploration of classical philosophical and political texts through a new lense, the reality of this book is quite different. It turned out to be yet another "memoir out of privilege," the self-centered, myopic railing of a woman with lots of money, lots of class privilege, an expensive education, and no insight whatsoever into either her own foibles or the workings of the world. The first frustrating thing about this book is how relatively few pages are devoted to the texts she is re-examining, and how shallow her discussion of those books tends to remain. There is nothing more than a "Cliff's Notes" summary of what each work is about, with a little bit of noodling about the author's personal feelings on them. But then we're plunged back into the hum-drum details of the author's mommy blog, er, I mean life at home. The next frustrating thing is that for all the lip service she gives to being a feminist, liberated, independent woman, she can't even talk to her husband and work out what she feels are inequalities in their home without throwing a complete hissy fit. I grant and fully understand that it's not always easy to get your spouse to hear what you are saying, but she doesn't even try. She just keeps on shouldering the burden, silently bemoaning her fate like some kind of martyr. He sounds like the worst kind of urban man-child, sleeping in past the alarm while she gets everything done in the morning, then coming home in the evening and plopping down before some cartoons while she makes dinner and cares for the child (even though she works too). But who knows? Maybe if she actually talked to him, he might find a way to do better. And then there's the typical upper class blogger trick where everything that happens to her has never happened to anyone else before and she is gobsmacked by it. Childbirth is difficult! Newborns are overwhelming! Not sleeping is no fun! Kids are a lot of work! Wow! She remarks, on becoming pregnant at 28, that she felt she could not be a mother because "mothers are supposed to have everything figured out, have a huge house, savings, bla bla bla." How odd that people in the third world keep having children, I suppose. And my mom doesn't have everything figured out. Does yours? What an odd expectation. Anyhow, I have already read a zillion memoirs that are like someone's personal blogging discovery of the hardships of parenthood and this was just boring. Finally, her writing is EXCRUCIATINGLY bad and cliched. There are all kinds of metaphorical statements that are simply tautologies, for one, the editor really should have mopped those up. By that I mean things of the nature "the rabbit hopped across the green like a rabbit." She observes at some point that "nothing is more wrenching than seeing your child ill." With a minor stomach flu. Really? I suppose there are some people in Japan and Rwanda who might beg to differ. Lazy, crappy writing, that. I wish this book could have been what it is billed as being. That would have been fantastic.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    In Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life, Stephanie Staal confronts the all-too-familiar reality of finding yourself disconnected from your beloved college courses and their content. What prompts Staal to become disconnected is not so much leaving college and entering adulthood, but her journey into marriage and motherhood. In order to reconnect, Staal audits a series of courses she took at Barnard as an undergrad. So there's that privilege to content with here. This memo In Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life, Stephanie Staal confronts the all-too-familiar reality of finding yourself disconnected from your beloved college courses and their content. What prompts Staal to become disconnected is not so much leaving college and entering adulthood, but her journey into marriage and motherhood. In order to reconnect, Staal audits a series of courses she took at Barnard as an undergrad. So there's that privilege to content with here. This memoir/analysis of the women's studies canon is not an indictment of marriage or motherhood. Rather it is an honest examination of what happens when feminism smashes into domestic life. On top of that, her husband and Staal flee NYC after the birth of their daughter and the 2001 terrorist attacks for suburbia. So yeah, this is a bit of an indictment on suburbia and how Stepford some moms can become with their obsession over themes for children's rooms. Staal uses the revisiting of classics like "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "Fear of Flying" to not add to the feminist critique of motherhood and marriage, but to critique the critique. Staal often makes mention of having years of life experience added to her view of classic texts. She talks about being a part of a generation who were raised by feminist mothers or with feminist messages who have now found themselves in a weird situation that is reminiscent to a 1950s housewife. She also uses this opportunity to do some intergenerational thinking (it's unclear how much Staal added to any of the conversations in class) between GenX and Millennials. While most intergenerational issues seem to be pegged on Second Wavers versus Millennials, it was great to see a Gen Xer take it on like this. There is a lot in this book for just about everyone who has ever read a women's studies book. You won't agree with all her conclusions. I certainly didn't appreciate her criticism of working-outside-the-home moms and her recollection of being a latch-key kid. But you will appreciate how she makes you want to go dig out your copy of that favorite book from undergrad.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Laurel-Rain

    When author Stephanie Staal first read books by feminists Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, Simone De Beauvoir and Betty Friedan, she was a nineteen-year-old student taking Feminism 101 at Barnard College in NYC. At that time, she was poised on the threshold of what appeared to be a limitless future. A decade later, as a wife and mother who had traded in stability for the flexibility of free-lance and moved from Manhattan to Annapolis, Maryland, the life she had envisioned had seemingly shrunk When author Stephanie Staal first read books by feminists Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, Simone De Beauvoir and Betty Friedan, she was a nineteen-year-old student taking Feminism 101 at Barnard College in NYC. At that time, she was poised on the threshold of what appeared to be a limitless future. A decade later, as a wife and mother who had traded in stability for the flexibility of free-lance and moved from Manhattan to Annapolis, Maryland, the life she had envisioned had seemingly shrunk, while she felt like a shadow of that former self. Deciding to pursue the feminist classics seemed like a way to rediscover herself, so she signed on to sit in on Fem Lit classes at the university; and thus began her journey into understanding her relationships and herself, while revisiting the tomes she had once studied. From the perspective of her life in the moment that she began this journey, she viewed the literature and the theories from a different vantage point. She discovered that she could identify with the first-wave feminists, like Mary Wollstonecraft and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, while coming to odds with former heroines, like Beauvoir; she also learned to make peace with post-feminists like Katie Roiphe. She stated near the end: “Sometimes I grappled with the divisiveness of second-wave feminism and the ambiguity of third-wave feminism, while the postmodern theory I would have analyzed with delight as a college coed was cause for vexation when viewed in the framework of my daily life. Yet even these theoretically dense texts provided important opportunities to question and challenge my own beliefs, my own reactions.” As I read this intriguing memoir/journey, I couldn’t help but compare this author’s experiences to some of mine. Despite the fact that my own niche could most closely be categorized as “second-wave feminism,” I could see that we had some similar experiences. When awash in the enthusiasm of intellectual pursuits and the passions of political activism, we are often unable to imagine how our theories will stand up to the lives we live. When we are faced with the day-in-and-day-out living, especially as parents, we have to reexamine our former beliefs. Studying Staal’s journey and reading her thoughts took me back to the thesis I wrote for my master’s degree in counseling, in which I examined, researched, and theorized about useful therapeutic interventions for relationships in flux: relationships undergoing radical changes in terms of divisions of labor; attitudes about roles; and what a “rewritten marriage contract” in the face of change might look like. I theorized that, as an aftermath to these changes, stress might develop and require therapeutic interventions. As I wended my way through my thesis, and then tried to apply some of what I discovered to my own life, I reached a stalemate. I was unable to recreate the family I envisioned, so I struck out on my own. Redefining my life in a new incarnation led to another kind of journey. Staal’s "Reading Women" opened my eyes to one woman’s quest and how feminism had altered her life and the lives of the women who embarked on their own voyages of discovery. From this book, I also concluded that, despite apparent progress, we still have a long way to go to achieve our goals.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Leila Cohan-Miccio

    Although the subject of negotiating feminism with marriage and family is obviously one of some interest to me these days, this whole book read like that non-traditionally aged student in your Women's Studies class telling you about her feelings for several hours. By the time she got to Judith Butler's Gender Trouble (spoiler: it confused her), I was checked out. It did, however, make me want to reread The Feminine Mystique. Although the subject of negotiating feminism with marriage and family is obviously one of some interest to me these days, this whole book read like that non-traditionally aged student in your Women's Studies class telling you about her feelings for several hours. By the time she got to Judith Butler's Gender Trouble (spoiler: it confused her), I was checked out. It did, however, make me want to reread The Feminine Mystique.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Miranda

    Stephanie Staal's memoir reverses an oft-quoted feminist slogan; in her case, the political is personal. She provides a whistle-stop tour of some of the central texts of the feminist canon, read through the eyes of both her undergraduate younger self and her older, wiser, and more conflicted present incarnation as wife and mother. Staal's wider experience informs her later reading in myriad ways. Having directly experienced some of the realities of motherhood and the compromises of marriage, she Stephanie Staal's memoir reverses an oft-quoted feminist slogan; in her case, the political is personal. She provides a whistle-stop tour of some of the central texts of the feminist canon, read through the eyes of both her undergraduate younger self and her older, wiser, and more conflicted present incarnation as wife and mother. Staal's wider experience informs her later reading in myriad ways. Having directly experienced some of the realities of motherhood and the compromises of marriage, she finds herself more sympathetic to the seeming contradictions in the lives of women like Mary Wollstonecraft whose practice did not always follow what they preached. Likewise, she has a greater depth of understanding of what de Beauvoir sacrificed in her desire to retain independence by not marrying or having children, and hence both what the philosopher lost and what she succeeded in keeping. Staal finds that her experiencing both the life of a footloose professional and a mother struggling to write while her daughter naps gives her an insight lacking when she only saw the life of a conventional wife from the outside. More problematic for Staal is the complacency of some of the other students in the class. She is horrified when one woman suggests that no sometimes doesn’t mean no and not one of her classmates protests, and she feels sad that most of the other students view radical feminism as too angry and unrealistic. However, her delight in revisiting her own experience of the texts through that of others is palpable. My enjoyment of this book was very likely influenced by the similarity of my own situation with that of Staal; I too am at home with young children, questioning the validity of my choices and wondering if I am betraying my younger, idealistic self. Many of the issues and explorations were therefore directly relevant to my own experience. I am also very excited by the book list in the back! However, the underlying message of the book is one that is relevant to all idealists, feminist or otherwise. As life progresses, and we grow older, we cannot help but fail in some of our hopes and aspirations. Life is complicated, and any one path chosen leaves another one unexplored. Accepting this is an essential part of growing up, of understanding that reality is made of shades of grey. But equally important is holding on to those early ideals, not letting ourselves slip into complacency, and keeping a sense of who we really are through adversity as well as joy. ETA - I received my copy as part of Goodreads 'giveaways' program - thank you so much!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    This book was not for me; however, it would be a good book for women and men to debate a lot of ideas and remarks that the author expresses. I was born in 1951 when it was assumed women would get married, have children, and be housewives. This clearly was unfair. However, when I became a mother myself the pendulum had swung to the other extreme where it was assumed no woman would willingly choose to be a homemaker. This was equally unfair. The woman's movement, from my perspective in the 1970s, w This book was not for me; however, it would be a good book for women and men to debate a lot of ideas and remarks that the author expresses. I was born in 1951 when it was assumed women would get married, have children, and be housewives. This clearly was unfair. However, when I became a mother myself the pendulum had swung to the other extreme where it was assumed no woman would willingly choose to be a homemaker. This was equally unfair. The woman's movement, from my perspective in the 1970s, was to make sure that all women had a choice in choosing their future, and weren't forced by society into a one-size-fits-all-mold. I was 100% behind this. However, I didn't realize my "choice" to be a homemaker would label me as being not intelligent enough and/or not motivated enough to pursue a real career. I simply could not identify with this author. Clearly equal pay for equal work is still a goal that women must fight for. Women must still fight for respect when they are in a position of power. But women should respect other women that choose traditional female careers. I simply couldn't identify with her need to find out if she could still be a feminist after becoming a mother. Aren't there more important issues in this world as far as women are concerned? The U.S. may not be perfect when it comes to 100% equality between men and women, but we are light years ahead of other countries. Balancing work and personal life is a problem faced by both women and men. I know the author was writing from her perspective. But from my view point allowing both women and men to be free to make whatever choices are best for them, is the only way to really obtain equality. Women will always be seen as the primary caregivers if society continues to believe that men are not as qualified to care for their children.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Angie Never

    The concept behind this book was quite wonderful, but the book itself fell short. The story starts as the author finds herself in the thick of motherhood and begins to miss the strong feminism that guided her early years. (At least theoretically. Later descriptions of her early years hint that she was not quite the feminist she fancied herself to be.) Her solution to this conundrum is to go back to college and retake the feminist classes that she found so inspiring in her 20s. What follows is ba The concept behind this book was quite wonderful, but the book itself fell short. The story starts as the author finds herself in the thick of motherhood and begins to miss the strong feminism that guided her early years. (At least theoretically. Later descriptions of her early years hint that she was not quite the feminist she fancied herself to be.) Her solution to this conundrum is to go back to college and retake the feminist classes that she found so inspiring in her 20s. What follows is basically back-to-back summaries of famous works such as The Feminine Mystique and The Yellow Wallpaper, accompanied by descriptions of each author's life. What's lacking is any real tie-in - I didn't get much sense that rereading the texts changed her actions or even her perspective. Instead, it just seemed to feel meaningful to the author to be reading them and mothering at the same time. Maybe it is. I don't know. What bothered me most is that the whole project felt like a regression to me - I was such a big feminist in college and now I'm just feeling like a mom. I know! I'll go back to college where I can be a big feminist again! The most valuable part of this book is the Bibliography of what she read in the back. I'd suggest skipping the memoir and using her reading list instead.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Joshunda Sanders

    There is so much about this book and concept to love: Staal is a great writer with a sharp mind and the courage to write honestly about her own awkward feelings around motherhood, marriage and feminism. In many ways, the same privilege issues that plague feminism as a whole -- the lack of class, gender & racial diversity when discussing "the Feminist Movement" and its "Great Books" -- are also clear in this book. I can't conceive of a list of great books of feminism as a black woman without a si There is so much about this book and concept to love: Staal is a great writer with a sharp mind and the courage to write honestly about her own awkward feelings around motherhood, marriage and feminism. In many ways, the same privilege issues that plague feminism as a whole -- the lack of class, gender & racial diversity when discussing "the Feminist Movement" and its "Great Books" -- are also clear in this book. I can't conceive of a list of great books of feminism as a black woman without a single mention of Audre Lorde, Pat Parker, Barbara Smith, Alice Walker (who is mentioned at the back of the book in a bibliography) bell hooks (the first feminist writer I read in seventh grade)...and those are just the feminists of color I can think of off the top of my head. The title is also misleading. These books haven't changed her life as much as they have changed the way that she thinks about her life, and shaped the way that she makes peace with the traditional roles she once was more conflicted about. For a feminist who loves reading, it is an engaging read, but it's not comprehensive.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    At the beginning of this book, the author, Stephanie Staahl, described her difficulty as she tried to balance her life as a mother, wife, and working person. It reminded me of my own internal struggles that I faced when I had a child and had to balance the varying roles in my life. I was surprised that the author decided to audit a course of Feminist Literature at her alma mater, Barnard College to see if the literature that she read in college would shed light for her in her current situation. At the beginning of this book, the author, Stephanie Staahl, described her difficulty as she tried to balance her life as a mother, wife, and working person. It reminded me of my own internal struggles that I faced when I had a child and had to balance the varying roles in my life. I was surprised that the author decided to audit a course of Feminist Literature at her alma mater, Barnard College to see if the literature that she read in college would shed light for her in her current situation. I saw that one of the books she was going to discuss was A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf. I just finished that book last week, so I was excited to read this book. I'll just start out saying that my expectations of what I though the book would be and what the book actually was were not the same. I like books about books. There are approximately 70 books listed in the two-semester course materials. To my disappointment, Staal dwelled heavily on a handful of books, rushed through a few others, and ignored the rest. In fairness to her, she probably would have ended up with a 500-page book if she had covered all the texts. (Is that a bad thing?) She did spend a lot of time analyzing her relationship with her husband, her feelings about her parents and her experiences raising a young girl. The highlights for me were the sections where she shared some of the classroom discussions of feminist issues from the first, second and third wave. I think the classroom discussions should have been the focus of her book. Also, I would have liked it if she had interviewed her professors and shared more on their input and perspective. Maybe there was a reason she chose not to do that. In addition, it would have been a more well-rounded book if she had expanded her focus to include more analysis of the works of women of color and a more open view of people who are nonbinary.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Taylor

    There were parts of this book that I thought were good, and parts that I thought were dull and ended up skimming over; mostly the memoir-style parts where Stephanie speaks about her daughter and husband. The message about marriage and children that I gleaned from this book was that it, as a lifestyle choice, eliminates not only any time to focus on yourself as a woman (and not just a ‘mother’) but also as a person in general. Stephanie seemed to be having a crisis of self after birthing her chil There were parts of this book that I thought were good, and parts that I thought were dull and ended up skimming over; mostly the memoir-style parts where Stephanie speaks about her daughter and husband. The message about marriage and children that I gleaned from this book was that it, as a lifestyle choice, eliminates not only any time to focus on yourself as a woman (and not just a ‘mother’) but also as a person in general. Stephanie seemed to be having a crisis of self after birthing her child, and that was what drove her to re-enroll in Fem Texts to study the feminist classics. She set out to determine whether you could be a wife and mother and still be a feminist, but by the end of the book I’m not sure that she really gave the reader an answer. It seems she finished her classes – feeling what, exactly? Pride in taking control and once again becoming a student despite having a small child at home? Reinvigorated as a feminist woman? Lost in a sea of third wave feminists with views she was unfamiliar/didn’t agree with? I’m not sure – and went back to the grind of being a wife and mother. Sigh. I also took issue with her narrow-mindedness of what feminism is/can be. The books she discussed neglected to cover any issues of race, and some great feminist writers were overlooked completely. Did she really not have an opinion on what bell hooks wrote in Ain’t I A Woman? Her focus was very a middle-class heterosexual white woman kind of feminism, which I found disappointing (and also surprising; she mentioned numerous times that her mother is of Chinese origin, so that makes her a woman of colour, does it not? Why ignore this entire aspect of feminism when it affects her directly?) Yes, we get it, she is living the epitome of a heteronormative existence, but she could at least present as open to the concept of radical lesbianism as a lifestyle choice for other women, even if not for herself. Instead she turned up her nose at the idea of lesbianism in general, which ain’t cool. If anything this book reinforced for me that becoming a mother is not something that I want to do. Ever. To me, personally, it sounds awful to have to give up so much and lose yourself in the process of raising another person. It sounded a little to me like Stephanie was regretting her choices in getting married and having a baby, and if she was trying to get the point across specifically that she DIDN’T regret her choices then I think that message got a little lost. Regardless, she introduces the reader to a great list of feminist books as well as a glimpse into the conversations she had while taking her Fem Text classes. Overall I thought it was a bit too ‘memoir’ and not enough talking about what she read (which was why I picked up the book, after all)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    1.5 stars I felt like I should have had a lot in common with Stephanie Staal, or at least appreciated her struggle more. Instead, I just felt annoyed with her. Good heavens, how challenging it must be to move into a three story Victorian mansion and raise your one child. With help. From your husband. First world problems much? Anyway, Staal struggles to find balance between being a Mom and a working woman and so she goes back to school and retakes a college class on Feminism Literature. She then 1.5 stars I felt like I should have had a lot in common with Stephanie Staal, or at least appreciated her struggle more. Instead, I just felt annoyed with her. Good heavens, how challenging it must be to move into a three story Victorian mansion and raise your one child. With help. From your husband. First world problems much? Anyway, Staal struggles to find balance between being a Mom and a working woman and so she goes back to school and retakes a college class on Feminism Literature. She then proceeds to compare her life and marriage problems with the texts. Someone should have warned me this was a memoir. I avoid them for a reason. I though this book would inspire me or make me furious or do something...instead it bored me. It leans towards the higher end of 1.5 stars because I agree with her thoughts on pornography. Otherwise, there wasn't enough here to cause any real reaction in me.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    This book was just not my cup of tea. I couldn't get through a page without thinking "rich-white-people-problems." This woman was so self-absorbed and narcissistic, no wonder her marriage was in trouble! I also didn't find the book synopses helpful since I hadn't read most of the books that she had to read for her class; I feel I may have enjoyed the book more if I was fondly recalling my own college days dissecting these books. I just didn't appreciate it. This book was just not my cup of tea. I couldn't get through a page without thinking "rich-white-people-problems." This woman was so self-absorbed and narcissistic, no wonder her marriage was in trouble! I also didn't find the book synopses helpful since I hadn't read most of the books that she had to read for her class; I feel I may have enjoyed the book more if I was fondly recalling my own college days dissecting these books. I just didn't appreciate it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tara

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I received this pre-release book free through the Goodreads First Reads Program (www.goodreads.com) on December 2, 2010 and immediately proceeded to the first page. The plot of this book interested me when I read about it on the Goodreads First Reads page, so I was looking forward to hearing how a fellow thirty-something's life had been changed by the books of feminism. In her thirties, Stephanie Staal decides to return to her college alma mater, Barnard College, after experiencing what I would ca I received this pre-release book free through the Goodreads First Reads Program (www.goodreads.com) on December 2, 2010 and immediately proceeded to the first page. The plot of this book interested me when I read about it on the Goodreads First Reads page, so I was looking forward to hearing how a fellow thirty-something's life had been changed by the books of feminism. In her thirties, Stephanie Staal decides to return to her college alma mater, Barnard College, after experiencing what I would call a moment of lost identity. This self-proclaimed feminist, who wanted to be a career woman suddenly found herself as a wife and mother working as a freelance writer on occasion. Staal suddenly felt like a traitor to the feminist movement she had studied and read about as an undergraduate, asking the question that thousands of women ask everyday -- "What the hell is happening to me?" So, in an attempt to figure out what happened to her own feminist ideals, she audits the year long Feminist Texts course at Barnard College, reading 42 books/texts and 20 selected essays, by numerous writers including Ida B. Wells, Elaine Pagels, Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, Sigmund Freud, Simone de Beauvoir and others. Rereading these texts gives her the opportunity to examine, and re-examine, how her own reaction to the works has changed since she was an undergraduate as well as remark on an obvious generation gap between her thirty-something self and the 18-22 year old women in the class. While I found the writing very open, honest and personal, I found the story somewhat bland. Staal has an identity crisis because she feels as if she hasn't stuck to the feminist ideals she was raised with and adopted in her college years. She finds herself, at 30, a wife and mother. She changed aspects of her career (from full-time journalist to freelance writer/journalist) to be able to stay home with her daughter. She has also adopted a more domestic lifestyle, taking care of the house on a full-time basis. These changes lead her to wonder if she has stopped being a feminist and if she has stopped upholding the ideals she once had. I did feel sympathetic towards Staal as she began to struggle with changes in her life brought on by turning 30, getting married and having a baby. Staal says "The age of thirty, as nineteenth century French novelist Honore de Balzac once noted, is one of the most dangerous periods for a woman, and indeed, it was at this particular juncture in my own life, the turning from one decade to the next, that I -- somewhat predictably, somewhat ashamedly -- started to unravel." (Page 5) As a thirty-something myself, I have felt that sense of "now what?" as I transitioned from one decade to another. There is something that happens when a person turns 30 and, in my case, I will say Staal was not alone in that sense of lack of accomplishment. That is also where our similarities end. I myself am not a wife nor am I mother. I have not had to make the decision of many working women who become mothers -- do I stay home or do I go back to work? One day, I will face that question and will have to decide if I can afford to stay home or if I will have to return to the workforce after becoming a mother. I know that is a difficult decision thousands of women make everyday, but does it say something about what kind of feminists they are? At this time in my life, I guess I am upholding the ideals of the feminist movement -- I'm an educated, independent career woman. Does that make me a better feminist than Staal, than other women who choose to stay home with their children? I don't think so, but maybe she would disagree with me. I admit that I am unfamiliar with about 90% of the feminist texts Staal read, both in the Feminist Texts course she took, as well as the 25 additional books she read at home, so this book was a bit of an introduction for me to feminist literature. My basic understanding of feminism comes from what little I learned in my history classes in junior and senior high school. I knew about the Suffragettes and their fight for the right to vote. I also know that ever since women were given the right to vote, there has been an ongoing fight for equality in all areas of the workforce and respect in all aspects of life. I know that women have been fighting to be able to work and be mothers without suffering backlash or consequences, and I also know that the corporate world still hasn't quite adjusted itself so that women don't have to choose between being a working mom or a stay at home mom. I hope that one day, a woman will be able to work from both home and office and not have her career negatively impacted because she is a mother and that the same woman will be able to be home as much and as often as she wants with her children without having to step off of the corporate ladder. I hope one day, the demands of the working mom can reconcile with the demands of the stay at home mom, and they both will feel like they are living up to, and fulfilling, the ideals of the feminists who came before them. I get the impression that Staal feels inadequate on many levels. She isn't like the other neighborhood mommies, who discuss their babies’ nursery themes and carry designer diaper bags. She isn't that "perfect" mother who can get her daughter's breakfast made to her liking, dressed in a "pretty outfit", and out to school on time and happy. The thing is, she's not alone. There are a lot of mothers who want to be that "perfect" mom like June Cleaver or Mrs. Brady was, but find that they aren't quite on the same level as those perfect TV moms. Even while working as a freelance journalist, she feels like she's somehow not being a good mom or a good feminist. As her studies progress in the Feminist Texts course, she explains what each text is about and how the class reacts to the message of each. Based on her explanation of each text, I do not think these texts changed Staal's life. I do think they gave her the ability to create and develop her own feminism. I do not think Staal is turning her back on the feminist ideals she was raised with, she isn't a traitor. I do think that being able to take this course as a thirty-something, working-stay-at-home-mom (she is a freelance journalist which seems to be a fitting example of working-stay-at-home-mom) gave her some insight into who she was, who she is, and who she will become as a woman, a wife and a mother. She also got to find out what a younger generation thought of feminism and the feminist movement, which was mainly a feeling of disinterest and lack of enthusiasm. By the end of the book, I felt like I had been given a very quick and interesting introduction to feminist literature and feminist authors but I did not see any type of significant change in Staal based on the ideals presented in the texts. At the end of the book, it was unclear to me how these books actually changed her life. I do think the books showed her how feminism has developed, changed and grown over the century, and how it continues to change with each new generation of women. I think these texts also showed her how to change and grow as a woman. On a 5 star rating scale, I give this book 3 stars. This book will be available in bookstores, from Public Affairs Publishing, on February 22, 2011.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    I'm struck by how dated this book already is though published only a decade ago. To be clear, I am a younger millennial, so the generational divide between me and the author is evident. However, I couldn't ignore the transphobic moments in the text: use of the word "transvestite" during the 9-11 neighborhood flashback; allowing and even celebrating the damaging language and opinions of students who disliked Butler's Gender Trouble (comments to the tune of "isn't a man wearing a dress still man?" I'm struck by how dated this book already is though published only a decade ago. To be clear, I am a younger millennial, so the generational divide between me and the author is evident. However, I couldn't ignore the transphobic moments in the text: use of the word "transvestite" during the 9-11 neighborhood flashback; allowing and even celebrating the damaging language and opinions of students who disliked Butler's Gender Trouble (comments to the tune of "isn't a man wearing a dress still man?"). It all hits differently reading this memoir in 2021, and I am surprised there wasn't an update to at least acknowledge this immense blindspot of Staal's. Instead, she hides behind her age and her motherhood to explain away problematic viewpoints. There's a weak author's note at the end surmising about that much, but it feels unapologetic and thus a bit above political correctness. This and the Roiphe text contending rape isn't real or common really put a damper on my ability to give this anything more than three stars. However, I could have used a good chunk of these texts in my thesis had I known about them, so that knowledge gained of other feminist voices was redeeming enough to warrant more than two stars at least. All in all, it's illuminating but incredibly dated.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mary Bronson

    I thought this was a very interesting book. I found a copy of this book at the Dollar Tree and I have been on the look out for new books about feminism so I picked it up. Took me awhile to read this because this is my first semester of Grad School and plus I work part time. But while I am reading this book I really enjoyed it. Stephanie Staal makes some interesting points about feminism and how they changed after she became a mother and wife. Can you still be a feminist if you are married and ha I thought this was a very interesting book. I found a copy of this book at the Dollar Tree and I have been on the look out for new books about feminism so I picked it up. Took me awhile to read this because this is my first semester of Grad School and plus I work part time. But while I am reading this book I really enjoyed it. Stephanie Staal makes some interesting points about feminism and how they changed after she became a mother and wife. Can you still be a feminist if you are married and have children. I think the texts she had to read for both Fem Lit class seemed interesting and now I want to look them up.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bea Elwood

    I appreciate the reflective quality of this book. How often do people in their 30s and 40s go back and re-experience something from their 20s? And the power of rereading a book (which technically doesn't change) can really highlight those changes in us. I appreciate the reflective quality of this book. How often do people in their 30s and 40s go back and re-experience something from their 20s? And the power of rereading a book (which technically doesn't change) can really highlight those changes in us.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    I liked this book far more than I was expecting too. It was interesting to read about how this wife and mother was trying to fit the ideals of her early feminist thoughts into the life she ended up having. How those tropes she'd believed in so much didn't seem so easy to follow or to fit within the framework of her marriage and motherhood. Usually when I come across a story about a life I don't have, I don't end up being able to understand the angst. But even though I am not a mother or a wife, I liked this book far more than I was expecting too. It was interesting to read about how this wife and mother was trying to fit the ideals of her early feminist thoughts into the life she ended up having. How those tropes she'd believed in so much didn't seem so easy to follow or to fit within the framework of her marriage and motherhood. Usually when I come across a story about a life I don't have, I don't end up being able to understand the angst. But even though I am not a mother or a wife, I completely get her questions and thoughts. Like, how did it end up like this? and how did I end up like this? This wasn't what I thought it would be like and wasn't what I thought I would do.... And for those who really believe that it is necessary to change the social structure to see those changes. And then end up with a life far more traditional than expected. It's hard to reconcile. I got that.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Roku Endo

    I learnt the history of feminism and famous feminist books with this author’s memoir.I got more excited about authors I knew I ought to read but I hadn’t yet.Staal was struggling with her life. She was a woman in her mid 30s, married and had a baby.She thought she could manage her life as a mother and a worker before, but her relationship with her husband didn’t go well and she couldn’t concentrate on her job as a writer.In the end she was faced with a problem which many women were.That’s the rea I learnt the history of feminism and famous feminist books with this author’s memoir.I got more excited about authors I knew I ought to read but I hadn’t yet.Staal was struggling with her life. She was a woman in her mid 30s, married and had a baby.She thought she could manage her life as a mother and a worker before, but her relationship with her husband didn’t go well and she couldn’t concentrate on her job as a writer.In the end she was faced with a problem which many women were.That’s the reason she decided to go back to her university and study feminism again. It is great idea re-reading books because we may have other thoughts if our situation is different.While she was studying lectures she remembered herself when she was young and she organised her situation. Fortunately she managed her life finally. I am not sure if it is because of books or she just needed time being alone as a individual and to focus on self-improvement. However her journey was interesting.I haven’t gotten married but I understand that there is a possibility that lives of women depend on their marriage too much, and may as well after having a baby.Even though the author; Staal was an independent woman and had good career, she couldn’t solve the balance of home and work easily. Especially in Japan, as employment opportunities for men and women are not equal and there is a wage gap.There are so many problems.I recognise again the importance of feminism and that there is so much to learn from past activities.Finally, I really recommend this book for those who want an introduction to the history of feminism.It's easy to learn about it from the author’s tangible life. I was surprised it was published 10 years ago. I am interested in her life now a days because we have passed #me too movement and more people recognise that gender equality is really important.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Johanna Loporto

    Sometimes you come across a book that makes you question everything about yourself and your life. This is the case with "Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed my Life" by Stephanie Staal, in where I won at Goodreads. What is a feminist? Do femenists work or stay at home with their children? Do they have husbands or prefer not to marry? Can women be free to enjoy sex while doing housework, shopping for groceries,caring for children and still call themselves feminists? These are t Sometimes you come across a book that makes you question everything about yourself and your life. This is the case with "Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed my Life" by Stephanie Staal, in where I won at Goodreads. What is a feminist? Do femenists work or stay at home with their children? Do they have husbands or prefer not to marry? Can women be free to enjoy sex while doing housework, shopping for groceries,caring for children and still call themselves feminists? These are the questions Stephanie Staal once again asks as she goes back to school retaking Feminists Texts 101 as now a married and a mother, while juggling the demands of domesticity and a career. Staal does an exceptional job showing how feminism has evolved through time and relating it to the lives of men, women, and children. Much like Staal, I question my position as a woman in society always taken for granted. I come from traditional family, my mother stayed home cooked and cleaned while my father worked. My husband also comes from a traditional home in where his mother also stayed home, cleaned and his father worked. Like Staal, I also demanded change in this generation in where the husband (my husband) is expected to help with the cooking and cleaning, while I also worked. There were many days in where I refused to cook, clean, hop for groceries, or anything expected of the "woman" and then he caught on. I am a self-proclaimed feminist, a title I learned to wear upon taking Women Studies courses in college as well. I try very hard to break that mold of carrying out tasks tied to my sex but, as I try to break that mold, society always finds a way to impose them on me. Feminism is just not political or cultural, it is a daily fight of equality in where I find too many times loosing. While taking Fem Text, Staal related her memoirs to her books in where she first read as single undergraduate student and then again as a mother and a wife. Did her perspective change? Absolutely, Feminism has a different meaning once you are married and have children. The books Staal cites as reference such as "Vindication of the Rights" of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft to Erica's Jong, "Fear of Flying", books I have long forgotten but now craving to read once again, Staal shows the perspective of Feminism through time. I love this book, and through the power of re-reading as Staal also points out, I will one day be re-reading this book as to get a newer perspective. Staal gives a fresh perspective on Feminism to the woman of today, women struggling to keep afloat managing home and work. I think this is a book that every woman (and man) should read, especially if they are entering mommyhood, marriage or simply as a reference to relate to feminist literature. About the Author Stephanie Staal spent several years in the film and publishing industries as a literary scout before turning to writing as a career. After working as a features reporter for the Newark Star-Ledger, she wrote The Love They Lost: Living with the Legacy of Our Parents’ Divorce (Delacorte, 2000), a journalistic memoir about the long-term effects of parental divorce on her generation, and, more recently, Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life (PublicAffairs, 2011). Her articles and essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Marie Claire, among other publications. A graduate of Barnard College, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and Brooklyn Law School, she lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. To continue reading, go here.

  22. 5 out of 5

    cat

    2011 Book 47/100 When my wife handed me this book in the library stacks and said "this looks right up your alley", I balked. It looked dry and vaguely academic, even if it was a memoir of a woman reading the feminist classics by re-taking a course she had taken 20 years earlier in college, Feminist Texts. When I finally put it down a few nights ago, I had finished 1/2 the book in one setting, completely pulled in by the part memoir/part women's studies nature of Stephanie Staal's very personal ac 2011 Book 47/100 When my wife handed me this book in the library stacks and said "this looks right up your alley", I balked. It looked dry and vaguely academic, even if it was a memoir of a woman reading the feminist classics by re-taking a course she had taken 20 years earlier in college, Feminist Texts. When I finally put it down a few nights ago, I had finished 1/2 the book in one setting, completely pulled in by the part memoir/part women's studies nature of Stephanie Staal's very personal account of finding herself adrift, struggling with her roles as mother, wife, and writer 20 years after having first read authors such as Wollstonecraft, Gillligan, Friedan, Millet, Butler, and Beauvoir for her Barnard course lovingly referred to as Fem Texts. Her desire to re-read the books for their ability to give her perspective on her struggles now and to give them a broad cultural context is not new and she says early in the book, "The act of rereading, as I have learned over the years, is an especially revealing one; in its capacity to conjure up our previous selves, rereading contains, I think, a hint of voodoo. I cannot read Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights without remembering myself at fifteen, sprawled on my twin bed, deep in the throes of first love, and therefore secretly enthralled by the tragic of proportions of Heathcliff and Cathy’s passion; but there, too, is my twenty-five-year-old self who had by then been through heartbreak more than once – for her, the primacy of their passion recedes into the background, as instead the damaging repercussions of this passion come into relief. In coming back to the same book like this, again, over time, I not only see how my notions of love have changed but gain insight into why; I have uncovered clues to myself." I agree that re-reading books allows for new ways of seeing them and yourself reflected in them, and I appreciated the gift of her journey, seeing how texts that we had both read (and around the same time as we are of a similiar age) felt more or less relevant with another 20 years of life under our belts. I think we each shared the conclusion that they are as relevant as ever, and had decidedly new insights to share the second time around. Now I am off to re-read my Shulasmith Firestone!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Latoya

    When I initially read the premise of "Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed my Life," I was estatic. I was estatic not only because the thesis for writing a book about feminist writing completely "rocked my socks," but also because my idea of an intellectual orgasm is to re-read the feminist prose I unearthed in my youth; the ones which gave me insight into the world and allowed me to interpret ideas of sex, love, and social, individual, political ideologies for myself. The genr When I initially read the premise of "Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed my Life," I was estatic. I was estatic not only because the thesis for writing a book about feminist writing completely "rocked my socks," but also because my idea of an intellectual orgasm is to re-read the feminist prose I unearthed in my youth; the ones which gave me insight into the world and allowed me to interpret ideas of sex, love, and social, individual, political ideologies for myself. The genre as a whole contributed to my growth as a woman and a critical thinking human being. Although Ms. Staal contributes some real gems in her work (the idea of her returning to Barnard to re-take the same Fem Text class of her undergraduate years just warms my chest cavity), the book didn't leave me with a satisfied afterglow. I still felt hungry after reading the last word. Some things are missing. For instance, an entire section dedicated to desire lacks any deeply penetrating voice regarding female longing. Where is the engaging conversation regarding erotica? Why isn't Andrea Dworkin's "Intercourse" and its premise mentioned? Where is the personal account of the conflict between being seen as and feeling sexually gratifying and being viewed and respected as an intellectual and emotional equal? Where is the mention for want of knowledge, play, food even? And what about Biblical text? No Ruth. No Jezebel. No Esther. No Mary Magdalene. How does it happen that Augustine and Pagels get more face time in a book about reading women than, say, the portrayal of the Virgin Mary in Christianity? I understand the majority of the work is memoir, and I thank Ms. Staal for allowing us the opportunity to peek into her life. However, it would have been more filling for the work to have been a bit more dynamic.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Diana Renn

    I just realized that Stephanie Staal is also the author of THE LOVE THEY LOST: LIVING WITH THE LEGACY OF OUR PARENTS' DIVORCE (Delta, 2000). This means that I have twice found immense wisdom, guidance and comfort in Staal's books. Both LOVE THEY LOST and her latest, READING WOMEN, offer a seamless blend of scholarship and memoir as a way to make sense of major life events, particularly for women. Like Staal, I attended a liberal arts college in the 1990s and gorged myself on feminist texts and w I just realized that Stephanie Staal is also the author of THE LOVE THEY LOST: LIVING WITH THE LEGACY OF OUR PARENTS' DIVORCE (Delta, 2000). This means that I have twice found immense wisdom, guidance and comfort in Staal's books. Both LOVE THEY LOST and her latest, READING WOMEN, offer a seamless blend of scholarship and memoir as a way to make sense of major life events, particularly for women. Like Staal, I attended a liberal arts college in the 1990s and gorged myself on feminist texts and women's studies classes. Like Staal, I then found myself in my 30s, juggling the identities of wife, mother, and professional writer, and struggling to reconcile them with the classic feminist texts I'd read as an impassioned undergrad. I only wish I'd thought of writing about about it! Staal did that and more: she actually returned to her alma mater and took a women's studies class ("Feminist Texts") again, to see if her perspective had changed. It had -- but rereading these feminist texts also further changed her perspective. Staal's insights and personal life make for a compelling read. While some of the feminist texts she rereads are on the dry side (even she admits this) she has a knack for bringing them to life and making you sit up and pay attention to what's important about them. I actually yearned for even more texts to be discussed, but she does hit all the "classics" and she provides an extensive reading list in the back of the book, culled from course syllabi and her own reading preferences. This is a great guidebook, not only to feminist texts and feminism through the ages, but also to the array of dilemmas and choices women face today.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Hope

    Stephanie Staal was facing an identity crisis. Relocated from NYC to Annapolis after giving birth to her daughter, she was confused, isolated and definitely did not fit in with the local mommy klatch. One day she randomly takes another look at the old Feminine Mystique. Cue epiphany: Shocked at how much more relatable Friedan’s 60s tome is to her now, she returns to her alma mater to re-take Feminist Texts. Billed as “part memoir, part literary adventure, part social observation,” Reading Women Stephanie Staal was facing an identity crisis. Relocated from NYC to Annapolis after giving birth to her daughter, she was confused, isolated and definitely did not fit in with the local mommy klatch. One day she randomly takes another look at the old Feminine Mystique. Cue epiphany: Shocked at how much more relatable Friedan’s 60s tome is to her now, she returns to her alma mater to re-take Feminist Texts. Billed as “part memoir, part literary adventure, part social observation,” Reading Women integrates Staal’s reflections on her journey from independent Gen-Xer to “wife-and-mother” with brief analyses of works from the feminist canon. Along the way, perceptions shift—both the author’s feelings about her life and how she views the iconic books a decade later. Despite a short foray into Third Wave plurality, Staal’s point of view remains rooted in her own life. Essays about Barnard, doulas and work-at-home options for both spouses show an upper-middle-class, hetero privilege that may not resonate across the board. Staal is a talented memoirist and reporter, but does little to challenge the idea that feminism is a luxury of privilege. This specificity aside, the prose is earnest and fun to read, without the solemnity or snark that pervades the mommy-sphere of media. She takes feminism and feminists seriously, from Mary Wollstonecraft to Iraqi blogger Riverbend. While never claiming to be comprehensive, to similar women looking to integrate the theory of their college years into their grown-up lives, Reading Women could be revelatory.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    This is a very personal account of Staal's relationship with feminist texts and how these changed her opinions during her college years and how she relates to them now, particularly given her own marital and parental challenges. This wasn't quite the comprehensive look at the classic feminist texts I thought it was going to be, although Stall does provide the reading lists from her course as well as her own recommended texts which is handy. It does however given a more personal account of the fe This is a very personal account of Staal's relationship with feminist texts and how these changed her opinions during her college years and how she relates to them now, particularly given her own marital and parental challenges. This wasn't quite the comprehensive look at the classic feminist texts I thought it was going to be, although Stall does provide the reading lists from her course as well as her own recommended texts which is handy. It does however given a more personal account of the feminist movement and the different waves than I've read to date which was interesting just to try and understand the individual reality of feminism and the pressures it can put on the women trying to have it all (always hated that concept myself, why put that pressure on women and leave the men to carry on as always, not really going to work is it). There are plenty of questions, theories, problems etc. that Staal doesn't address but then I don't believe that is her aim, I believe her aim is to get everyone to think about what feminism means to them, how it can make a positive difference to their lives and the lives of their loved ones rather than the usual bigger picture which can be overwhelming, especially when you're just trying to get through the day. An interesting read and food for thought but not a complete picture by any means (in all honesty what single book can be and still be pick-up-able, literally and metaphorically).

  27. 4 out of 5

    Abbey

    I have many feelings about this book! 1. I appreciated how accessible it was. I read this thing in under 48 hours. 2. I felt like I was visiting some old friends! Simone de Beauvoir! Mary Wollstonecraft! It was great re-reading selections from texts that truly shaped my own feminist identity. 3. Using a memoir/biography style writing to connect the feminist texts was fantastic because...the personal is political. HOWEVER 1. This book completely discounts the third wave! THE only mention is Judith But I have many feelings about this book! 1. I appreciated how accessible it was. I read this thing in under 48 hours. 2. I felt like I was visiting some old friends! Simone de Beauvoir! Mary Wollstonecraft! It was great re-reading selections from texts that truly shaped my own feminist identity. 3. Using a memoir/biography style writing to connect the feminist texts was fantastic because...the personal is political. HOWEVER 1. This book completely discounts the third wave! THE only mention is Judith Butler which is almost completely discredited as a "thought experiment." 2. She read NOTHING by women of color! Where was Gloria Anzaldua? bell hooks? Linda Alcoff? That's literally insane. 3. At times it feels like older feminist versus younger feminist which I hate. Condescension feels very present. Much like feminism, I have complicated feelings about this book. Over all, I would recommend it - but not for college students or fresh out of college. I think it's good for women that are discerning motherhood & marriage from within a feminist context. It's weird.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    I have to admit that, early on in "Reading Women," I was concerned that Stephanie Staal would start writing that "the only true feminists are mommies," given her lengthy discussions about the birth of her daughter. It was that event which inspired Staal to return to her alma mater, New York's Barnard College, to audit the Feminist Text courses she had taken as an undergraduate ten years before. Instead, what I got was a well-constructed look at the texts, both from the perspective of a naive unde I have to admit that, early on in "Reading Women," I was concerned that Stephanie Staal would start writing that "the only true feminists are mommies," given her lengthy discussions about the birth of her daughter. It was that event which inspired Staal to return to her alma mater, New York's Barnard College, to audit the Feminist Text courses she had taken as an undergraduate ten years before. Instead, what I got was a well-constructed look at the texts, both from the perspective of a naive undergrad and a woman with some more life experience under her belt. The texts are examined and deconstructed, agreed and disagreed with, all in the context of Staal's life experiences during the two years she attended the classes. Staal also includes the reading list from her syllabi, so that readers may examine the original works -- a very helpful addition. I enjoyed the book, and got a fresh look at works ranging from Mary Wollstonecraft to Riverbend (an Iraqi woman blogger). Well worth reading.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    Stephanie Staal was poised to have it all as she graduated from Barnard College in the 1990's. For the next several years she focused on work and career. Then, she married and became a mother, moving from NYC to Annapolis, trading full-time work outside the home for freelance work from a home office. Her frustrations mount as the difficulties of balancing the demands of motherhood, her relationship, and her own needs become more strident. In an effort to find her footing once again she turns to th Stephanie Staal was poised to have it all as she graduated from Barnard College in the 1990's. For the next several years she focused on work and career. Then, she married and became a mother, moving from NYC to Annapolis, trading full-time work outside the home for freelance work from a home office. Her frustrations mount as the difficulties of balancing the demands of motherhood, her relationship, and her own needs become more strident. In an effort to find her footing once again she turns to the books that she read in her fem. texts classes at Barnard. I loved this book so much! It has me thinking about women's issues, it introduced me to new books I'd like to read, it makes me want to re-read others, and it was a good, strong memoir of someone I could relate to on some levels. As Stephanie Staal set out on her voyage of self-discovery, I felt that I was on the journey with her.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Brennan

    I won Reading Women through Giveaways and thoroughly enjoyed it. I wasn't sure whether I would be able to relate to Stephanie as a working mother and wife at nineteen, but found I could identify with her. Reading Women gave me an insight to what my own mother went through, as well. Putting aside a career to stay at home with the kids, similar to the author. My mom is next in line to dig into Reading Women. Stephanie Staal's writing style makes even mundane tasks, like caring for her daughter or I won Reading Women through Giveaways and thoroughly enjoyed it. I wasn't sure whether I would be able to relate to Stephanie as a working mother and wife at nineteen, but found I could identify with her. Reading Women gave me an insight to what my own mother went through, as well. Putting aside a career to stay at home with the kids, similar to the author. My mom is next in line to dig into Reading Women. Stephanie Staal's writing style makes even mundane tasks, like caring for her daughter or moving, interesting for readers. This is the first feminist based book I have read, and is a great starting point as I delve further into feminist works. I have a ton of books on feminism added to my reading list that were mentioned in Reading Women. I would definitely recommend Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life to women (and men) of all ages. I couldn't put it down.

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