Difficult Women Review


Well-behaved women don’t make history: difficult women do.

Feminism’s success is down to complicated, contradictory, imperfect women, who fought each other as well as fighting for equal rights. Helen Lewis argues that too many of these pioneers have been whitewashed or forgotten in our modern search for feel-good, inspirational heroines. It’s time to reclaim the history of feminism as a history of difficult women.

In this book, you’ll meet the working-class suffragettes who advocated bombings and arson; the princess who discovered why so many women were having bad sex; the pioneer of the refuge movement who became a men’s rights activist; the ‘striker in a sari’ who terrified Margaret Thatcher; the wronged Victorian wife who definitely wasn’t sleeping with the prime minister; and the lesbian politician who outraged the country. Taking the story up to the present with the twenty-first-century campaign for abortion services, Helen Lewis reveals the unvarnished – and unfinished – history of women’s rights.

Drawing on archival research and interviews, Difficult Women is a funny, fearless and sometimes shocking narrative history, which shows why the feminist movement has succeeded – and what it should do next. The battle is difficult, and we must be difficult too.

I received this book for free in return for an honest review.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I thought that the way each person was treated with respect and nuance made the stories more interesting. The flaws and achievements of each individual were given an equal emphasis, and often broader contexts were brought in to make the situation more understandable. The variety of women selected, throughout different time periods and waves of feminism gave the book a wider scope than books of a similar nature.

My only major criticism of the book is the slightly dismissive tone the author took towards demisexuality. As an asexual person myself (though not demi) I took this badly, but acknowledge that it was only one sentence in the book that seemed to me to be otherwise fine. The author is only human, and to not acknowledge that people are capable of achieving good whilst still making mistakes would be to show that I have learnt nothing from this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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