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

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  586 ratings  ·  127 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 275 pages
Published February 22nd 2011 by PublicAffairs (first published January 31st 2011)
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Apr 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Rich Moms; Make-Believe Feminists
Recommended to Rhiannon by: The Feminist Readers Network on Goodreads
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
Feb 23, 2011 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Nov 07, 2010 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Jan 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Dec 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic
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
Feb 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
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 ...more
Joshunda Sanders
Feb 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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 ...more
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
Feb 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: and-a-half, memoir
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
Aug 30, 2012 rated it did not like 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.
Dec 01, 2010 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 ...more
Bea Elwood
Jan 20, 2018 rated it liked it
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.
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
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,
Johanna Loporto
Jan 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Feb 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 100-in-2011
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
May 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012
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 ...more
Diana Renn
Feb 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jan 04, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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 ...more
Apr 10, 2012 rated it liked it
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.


1. This book completely discounts the third wave! THE only mention is Judith But
Mar 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Catherine Brennan
Dec 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jun 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminism
Full review here

As a teenage undergrad, Stephanie Staal took Feminist Texts and was inspired by the ideas and stories of the women she read. Now, Staal is in her 30s, a wife and a mother. Feeling a bit lost, she re-enrolls in Fem Texts at her alma mater and chronicles her experiences the second time around, and how her perspective has changed.

Overall, I enjoyed it, and I think even those who aren’t Official Feminists (my friends’ term for former Women’s Studies students) but have an interest in
Feb 04, 2011 rated it liked it
I really liked the first half of this book. The middle seemed to drag and was difficult for me to get through, but the end seemed to regain my interest. While I am still a little unclear how reading feminist literature changed the author's life, I did find it very interesting to follow the history of feminist writing. I have been curious about how feminism and the definition of feminist have changed over time, and the author chronicled this evolution. While I would definitely not consider this t ...more
May 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Years after taking "Fem Texts," Staal re-enrolls in college to revisit feminist works she read in her past and to see how her perspective has changed. At a decade in the making, this book is thoroughly researched and written flawlessly. The material and the undertaking really resonate with me. Staal also does a great job of weaving in her personal story with the reading material she reviews. As a side note, I thought it seemed like a bittersweet irony that Staal remains silent in her feminist cl ...more
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MOTHERS Book Bag: Book Review: Reading Women 1 7 Jul 22, 2011 05:19AM  

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