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Book Review – Women of Ideas (And What Men Have Done to Them)

May 22, 2013

Susan W. is the organizer of our monthly Feminist Discussion Group and the curator of our Lending Library. She’s read Women of Ideas (And What Men Have Done to Them) by Dale Spender, a book which is available to borrow from the In Other Words Lending Library.

women of ideas

Reading the history book Women of Ideas is like hanging out with a witty friend who is a font of information about intellectual and activist women in American and British history since the seventeenth century. Spender’s style is conversational rather than academic, and at the same time it’s obvious that she’s an authority on the topic. I never previously heard or read of many of the women described in this book.

It is important to keep in mind that this is a Second Wave book, from the 1980s. The author has rather more vitriol toward men in general than a Third Waver would have, and she’s extremely skeptical about the existence of males who are genuinely feminist. However, this is first and foremost a history book, and she shows how men—whether relatives, husbands, politicians, or critics—have attempted to keep down brilliant women who are a threat to patriarchy. I wish the book covered women of color more, though she does include black American women such as Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells. Also as a Second Waver, Spender writes from an assumption of gender binary, but the up side to this is that she emphasizes the difference between female experience and values and male experience and values in the context of patriarchal society.

Women of Ideas describes, in addition to specific women in history, movements and organizations (that’s why I call it a history book rather than a collective biography). She writes about women who were openly feminist authors, women who were feminist activists, and women who were both. The reader will want to read more by and about the women Spender describes. Overall, the book is a delightful and informative read.

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