Interview with Stephanie Staal, author of "Reading Women"
Feminist texts that had seemed energizing when Stephanie Staal read them as a college student held a completely different message when she approached them as a mother.
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Certainly there was a connection between my [rereading the feminist] texts and our decision [to move back to New York]. I don’t want to come down like, “People should all live in the city. The suburbs are stultifying.” Because I know a lot of people are happy in the suburbs But for me it was difficult.Skip to next paragraph
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Going back to the feminist texts really helped me because it made me realize, this [suburban model of motherhood] isn’t me and that’s OK. It helped me gain confidence. Even for people who are raised with feminism, and I certainly was, there’s something about that first time of becoming a mother that can make you really vulnerable if you don’t have the right support.
Do you have a favorite among the feminist writers?
Mary Wollstonecraft didn’t do much for me when I read her as an undergrad, but this time around I really loved reading her. On the flip side, in college I really loved Simone de Beauvoir, but then I had some problems rereading her. And I loved her so much when I was an undergrad!
I didn’t have a favorite because every author spoke to a different aspect of my experience. But I think I learned the most from rereading “The Feminine Mystique.” When I read it as an undergrad I was like “I’m never going to be this person! This is such an artifact.”
A lot of students in the class, that was the way that we approached it. And then it was such a shock [later] to find myself kind of identifying with [the struggling wives and mothers in “The Feminine Mystique”]. That was really interesting. It wasn’t my favorite book, but I think that I learned the most from it.
Your daughter is 9 now. Do you suppose that someday she will pick up these books and these feminist writers will speak to her?
I hope so! Even if one isn’t identifying personally with some of these books, it’s really interesting just to see the history of feminism and how it has progressed, how it’s evolved. Certainly there’s been a lot of tension within feminism itself and a lot of debate. It’s not one monolithic thing.
It’s a difficult culture for women to live in. There are a lot of mixed messages. There certainly were when I was growing up, too, and there are even more now.
I think there’s an incredible pressure on young women today to be perfect at everything. They have to excel in school, and they have to excel at looking “hot,” and they have to excel at their careers and at family life – it must be exhausting! What I think is so good about going back to these books is that, you know, I had sort of lost my feminist lens a bit, somewhere between college and becoming a parent. It had sort of slipped. So it was really great to go back and sort of look at the world again through this lens. That’s what I’d like to give to my daughter.