To mark International Women’s Day, I’m sharing my review of The Soul of a Woman – a wonderfully lyrical part memoir, part feminist musing from legendary Chilean author Isabel Allende. Now 78 years old, this book gives her personal perspective on how women’s rights have changed through the years and highlights how much work on equality still needs to be done.
Opening sentence: When I say that I was a feminist in kindergarten, even before the concept was known in my family, I am not exaggerating.
I will begin by saying that I could have quoted about 3/4 of The Soul of a Woman! Isabel eloquently covers such a vast range of feminist issues in these pages – but it never feels overwhelming.
I was just drinking up her thoughts and learning too – a sprinkling of facts and case studies run through the book, from the shocking statistics about violence against women in some countries to truly inspirational stories about other amazing women, such as Olga Murray and Eve Ensler (who wrote The Vagina Monologues).
And what is my definition of feminism? It is not what we have between our legs but what we have between our ears. It’s a philosophical posture and an uprising against male authority.
Memoir & Manifesto
I didn’t know a lot about Isabel Allende as a person before reading this, so I loved discovering that she’s had a visceral reaction to injustice for as long as she can remember; that she didn’t start writing until just before she turned 40 and that during her time working as a journalist on feminist magazine Paula, she wrote the brilliantly named column ‘Civilize Your Troglodyte‘ that smashed taboos around the perceptions of women.
I never accepted the limited feminine role imposed upon me by my family, society, culture and religion.
The Soul of a Woman covers Isabel’s wonderfully strong opinions on the anti-aging industry, abortion rights, sexuality – how it used against women and her own feelings – and how sensuality and passion relates back to that. Something she also explores in her novels:
Almost all the female protagonists of my books are passionate because they are the people who interest me.
A life changing moment in India and her daughter’s tragic early death led her to create her foundation that: ‘invests in the power of women and girls to secure reproductive rights, economic independence and freedom from violence.’ While her admiration for the younger generation and the stereotypes they reject – in regards to gender and relationships – is clear.
Patriarchy has not always existed. It is not inherent to the human condition, it is imposed by culture.
The Soul of a Woman is a really honest, thought provoking read that truly champions women’s equality and packs so many ideas and things that need to be discussed into less than 200 pages. It is also, obviously, wonderfully written, making it a delight to read, while also leaving you with a slightly heavy heart that – despite how far we have come – women still have a long way to go for true equality.
I would also highly recommend We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie if you’d like some more feminist reading.