Week 20: Reading Women

Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed my Life, by Stephanie Staal

The Feminist Literature Challenge I'm participating in gave away a copy of this book, which seemed nicely thematic. I didn't win, so I went and found a copy for myself.

Stephanie Staal is your average 30-something New York writer--very intelligent, went to a fancy college (Barnard), lived in New York City, high-powered career, got married to a nice guy and then had a baby girl. Motherhood and the usual attending difficulties--dividing time between work and family, less time for husband, too much housework and no time or help--threw her for quite a loop, and she decided to try to take some time to find herself and audit the same Feminist Literature courses she loved as a 19-year-old undergraduate. So this is part personal memoir and part reaction to feminist classics.

At first I was quite annoyed by Staal, who has a very nice life--which, at least, she freely admits--and is kind of unhappy about it. She's got a perfectly good husband, and they're drifting apart--but then at no time in the entire book did I see either of them put any effort into their relationship, at least once they were married. Did they never set aside time to go out together? They both seem to put work and baby ahead of each other, and then Staal is surprised when she feels distant from him. (Happily they seem to get back together by the end, though apparently not because they try very hard. Living in New York City seems to be their solution.) Oh, and she doesn't fit in with the other mommies on her block because they're all Stepford Wives and she's an individual with a brain, and therefore too eccentric to fit in, so that was aggravating.

But aside from that, it was easy for me to identify with her. Staal is only a couple of years older than I am (and her daughter is only a little younger than my older girl), and her reminiscences about her college years and the mood of the times sound very familiar to me. I didn't take Feminist Literature, but we were living with and talking about the same issues. And her surprise or consternation about the reactions of current undergraduates sounds familiar too.

Anyway, she picks out some readings to comment on, and that's quite interesting. She talks a lot about the shift in her perspective from when she was 19 to now; adulthood and motherhood have changed a lot of her opinions, and life isn't as simple to diagram out anymore. I did enjoy the book and felt it discussed some good points. I've read some of the texts--and I was happy in the beginning to see her reading Perpetua's Passion, which I read and enjoyed a few years ago--but several were unfamiliar. Now my reading list is longer, and someday I really do have to get around to reading The Feminine Mystique...


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