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“We: a Manifesto for Women Everywhere” is a fusion of feminism and self-help co-written by Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nadel. When I first learned about this book, I had mixed feelings — I find that most self-help books are a little cheesy and make me want to roll my eyes, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to read something with Gillian Anderson’s name attached to it. I’m glad I did. This book’s release on International Women’s Day coincided perfectly with a time in my life when I’ve been feeling depleted in almost every sense of the word. Reading it, I chose to meet it with an open mind — after all, combining self-care with feminist principles of solidarity and community is right up my alley, and I had nothing left to lose.
I wanted so badly to read this book with a feminist lens and find nothing problematic about it. I tried, too. I wanted this to be the manifesto it calls itself, but as with most books directed toward a large audience (i.e. all women everywhere), it falls short. In trying so hard to be inclusive, it unfortunately manages to do the opposite. Its most obvious exclusion is those who are transgender or non-binary. I understand the aim at directing the book toward female audiences as a means of reaching out to half of the human population, but it assumes that the readers are biologically female, at times even discussing the female experience as including menstruation, PMS, and menopause — forgetting (or choosing not to mention) that not all women have periods, not all women are born biologically female, and not all readers fall within the gender binary.
Though the book strives for intersectionality, there is also a failure to look beyond the obvious privilege the two authors have as white women of the upper-middle class. While it isn’t inherently racist, it looks at these experiences through the lens of white privilege, not mentioning how certain factors may differ for those who are of other races. When Jennifer Nadel and Gillian Anderson discuss self-care, they urge readers to exercise and eat healthy foods — again forgetting marginalised groups of the differently abled or lower class. Their privilege has afforded them the opportunities that many of us don’t have, like access to therapy when many people don’t have affordable health insurance. Acknowledging this privilege would have gone a long way.
I found it really surprising and interesting that there wasn’t a broader approach to race and class. Even the marketing events for the book speak to this lack of inclusion. Several of my very good friends attended book events in both New York City and London, and they reported back that the audiences were largely comprised of white women (with a smattering of white men). While this in itself speaks to the privilege of those in attendance who could afford tickets, it mirrors what is most problematic about the book itself. It leaves out people of color and alienates its audience.
While WE doesn’t totally hit the mark in becoming the feminist self-care book for the ages, it does at its core urge women to care for themselves, and that remains a necessary reminder even in 2017. Societal norms tell women to care for their children and partners and families first and are called selfish for then taking care of themselves. Reminding women that it’s okay to love and care for themselves is a repetitive message of the book, and that’s something that I appreciate — I’m always quick to put my own needs aside for the sake of others.
I was most interested in learning how WE would encourage readers to transform the principles in the book into activism in the world. Eight of the book’s nine principles aim to build a foundation of self-care, self-love, and self-acceptance. By beginning the focus inward, we are then more equipped to focus outward. As RuPaul says, “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell can you love somebody else?” By building on this concept, once you have learned to fully love yourself, you can utilize the ninth principle, kindness, to turn that love outward. Kindness, they write, “is what love looks like when we take it out into the world….Through gentle, loving actions kindness transforms us into spiritual activists.” They don’t expect that once you have learned to love and accept yourself for who you are that you will become an activist. They urge readers to “Start small. Start where you are” — this can entail helping an elderly person cross the street or calling your state representative about a cause you believe in. The ultimate goal is that you have the power to make choices that can impact your lives and the lives around you, and once you have learned to love yourself you will feel motivated to share that love with others in a meaningful way: “You won’t be able to stand on the sidelines doing nothing because you now know that when you are spiritually aligned you are more powerful than you could ever have imagined.”
I appreciate that Jennifer Nadel and Gillian Anderson don’t expect that everyone will have the capacity to attend daily marches and rallies or donate lots of money to charities. I appreciate that they encourage readers to go through the world with kindness and love — that in itself will make this community of women and people outside the gender binary stronger.
Yes, WE has flaws. I would have loved to see more commentary about intersectionality and oppression of marginalized groups. I would have loved to know that Anderson and Nadel had donated profits of their book sales to the same charities they mention in these pages. However, this book spoke to me at a time when I needed it. It opened my eyes to ways in which I have yet to heal and made me feel better equipped to do the work that needs to be done in order to feel more at peace with myself. It motivated me to continue this journey of self-acceptance and self-growth in conjunction with giving back to the world around me.
I can do this. You can do this. We can do this — together.