Great Books for Every Woman Who Is Shedding Society's Expectations
These gems will resonate with you no matter which part of the journey you're in
Every woman in this world has faced discrimination or disempowerment based on her gender. The patriarchy has created a situation where we have internalized constraints in our own minds. And these constraints are repeatedly reinforced by the people we meet and interact with on a daily basis.
It may have improved to large extent in Scandinavian countries. However, being in India, I still face a ridiculous amount of discrimination and casual sexism.
It became a hundred times worse once I got married. And I happen to be in the most progressive and privileged community of this country.
There's another pattern I've been noticing during all my interactions with the women in my life. With our increased independence from earning and contributing to the workforce, we are no longer content to adjust and step back while our male counterparts continue to dominate the world.
As a result, every woman I know has reached (or is close to reaching) a breaking point. This happens at different points during the journey - when something bad happens at work, or in our marriage, or when we become parents and get the courage to fight for the next generation.
It is heartening to see so many women taking the plunge and deciding to shed the obligations that society has enforced on them. I love it when a woman finally decides to stop playing nice and takes charge of her own values and priorities.
During this phase of the journey, books can be of tremendous help. They provide us with perspective, hope and advice. They help us realize that we're not alone in our journey, and remind us that we're doing something important by breaking free.
Here are a few such books that have uplifted me during my journey
This is a tiny book that can be finished in 30 minutes.
But as George Weasley remarked about his tiny sister Ginny, size is no guarantee of power.
This quick read is an extremely powerful personal essay, where the author has recounted various incidents and interactions from her life that have influenced her and turned her into a feminist.
She is bold, vulnerable and down to earth in her narration, and talks openly about many internalized beliefs that she picked up while growing up in a sexist society. She explains how these beliefs had been holding her back, and chances are, you might have some similar beliefs holding you back too.
It's important to be aware of the mental traps you create for yourself. Awareness is the first step to resolution. This book is a great step towards creating this awareness for yourself.
We teach girls shame. Close your legs. Cover yourself. We make them feel as though by being born female, they are already guilty of something. And so girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. Who silence themselves. Who cannot say what they truly think. Who have turned pretence into an art form.
- We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is another quick read that I was able to complete in a couple of hours. It's a little text-bookish, but still easy to read because it's so short.
This book initially talks about the history of power and how it has been denied to women through the ages. In the second half, the author reflects on the different types of power that exist in our lives - especially power over others and power over oneself.
It poses important questions and helps the reader reflect on what kinds of power are important to them personally. Once you have this clarity, it is easier to pick your battles and fight for what's important.
You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders. It means, above all, thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb ('to power'), not as a possession. What I have in mind is the ability to be effective, to make a difference in the world, and the right to be taken seriously, together as much as individually. It is power in that sense that many women feel they don't have - and that they want.
- Women & Power, Professor Mary Beard
This book has been recommended endlessly, and for good reason. It is a must-read for every working woman.
Sheryl Sandberg talks about the things we do to hold ourselves back in the workplace. She highlights important differences between how men and women are treated in a professional environment. This is another excellent book for creating awareness about your own life and your mental traps. Sexism in the workplace is bad enough from external sources, and we must ensure we don't add more stress on ourselves.
One thing I really love about this book is the positive and hopeful tone in which the author presents her ideas. I expected it to be a set of complaints about men and sexism, but it was quite the opposite. It focused on women and the various things that are in our control. It talks about all the things we can do to define our own stories, which makes it a beautiful read.
Today, despite all of the gains we have made, neither men nor women have real choice. Until women have supportive employers and colleagues as well as partners who share family responsibilities, they don't have real choice. And until men are fully respected for contributing inside the home, they don't have real choice either. Equal opportunity is not equal unless everyone receives the encouragement that makes seizing those opportunities possible. Only then can both men and women achieve their full potential.
- Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg
This isn't really a book about sexism or feminism. In the FLO is a book about our infradian rhythm, i.e., our menstrual cycle. It talks about the different ways in which our hormones affect us throughout the month. While the book can get a bit repetitive in some parts, I still recommend it to every woman who is learning to love themselves.
We have been told all our lives that our bodies and hormones are a source of weakness, but nothing could be further from the truth. This book empowers you by explaining the different strengths we exhibit at each state of our monthly cycle, and how to tap into these strengths to live up to our full potential.
This is an uplifting book because it teaches us that our bodies are amazing the way they are - while most popular culture tries to tell us otherwise. Understanding our bodies and learning to work with them instead of against them is an experience that boosts our confidence, physical and mental health.
And one thing became absolutely clear: once you accept your biochemical nature and how much it influences your life, you're left with a simple choice - are you going to fight your nature, or are you going to work with it? Your day-to-day lifestyle and self-care choices either work against your cyclical nature and lead to symptoms, or they support it and enhance cognitive skills, rev up your energy, and boost your moods. It's a no-brainer.
- In the FLO, Alisa Vitti