Review: Notes on Feminism – Being a Woman in a Church Led by Men

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Confession: I’m picky. And for good or ill I only review books which are of personal interest to me. Those which have actually caught my eye and caused me to ask myself: “What’s that all about?”. One of my motives for reading Journalist, Lauren Windle’s latest book, Notes on FeminismBeing a Woman in a Church Led by Men from SPCK Publishing, was to gain a better understanding of this old fashioned word “feminism”. How has it evolved? How is it currently understood? And that burning question, which I’m often asked, and have asked myself, but have thus far hesitated to answer: “Am I a feminist?” Would Windle’s book help me to figure this out?

Notes on Feminism is, in some respects, a fresh evaluation of the current state of play. A sort of stock-take of where we’re up to now, particularly in relation to church matters. It’s a smooth read, moves along at a pleasant pace, is clearly written and thoroughly researched. Windle explores differing view points regarding feminism within the church. Much of the book is a balanced piece of journalism, offering different points of view, at other times it is much more informal, like a conversation you might have on social media. I found myself nodding, laughing and occasionally rolling my eyes in agreement/disagreement/solidarity/outrage. Notes on Feminism is seasoned with shocking facts, mind-opening quotes and searing honesty. At times I really did gasp.

Windle includes a succinct run down on the history of feminism. This served as a very helpful reminder. Just like author Lauren, I’m a female journalist, who’s five foot three inches tall, with a fondness for tea and Eccles cake. But the similarities end there. She’s middle class and I’m working class. She’s a southerner and I’m a northerner. She’s young and I’m not quite so young. I can well remember the days before feminism had achieved all that it currently has. This makes me exceptionally grateful for just how far women’s rights have come. Possibly I’m too grateful, too resigned, too accepting, and maybe just a little bit tired. Windle clearly has plenty of fight left in her! In the flow of her considerable enthusiasm, at times her journalistic impartiality veers off into opinion, beliefs and personal preferences. For example it would seem that she doesn’t want men to dictate what women can and can’t say, only to bleat about the detail of what men can and can’t say.

To the author’s credit she makes the case both for and against feminism. She has gathered and included the voices of women with completely opposing views on feminism. For example a fascinating chapter by Delphine Chui has been included. Journalist, Chui, shares with considerable honesty and openness exactly why she isn’t a feminist. There are notes from writer and model Katie Piper on true beauty, Olympian Abigail Irozuruon women’s bodies, comedian Cassandra Maria on why people think women aren’t funny and author Tiffany Bluhm on why people don’t believe women.

At times the author appears to be working out her own issues in real time on the page. She explores how she herself feels about certain issues such as weddings and marriage. In this respect the first word in the book’s title “notes” is an accurate reflection of its content. Lauren Windle is a curious, chatty and likeable author with a friendly contemporary writing style. Her “likeability” makes for a pleasant, undemanding reading pace. The occasional “meatier” section is open minded, rather than authoritarian. She takes the reader by the hand and essentially asks them: “Have you ever thought about this?” She nails her colours to the mast on several issues. That said her approach is refreshing in that she is clear that these views aren’t fixed forever. That she is open to discussion. She is accepting and respectful of others views and willing to change her mind in the light of new information.

Overall Notes on Feminism is rigorously analytical and strives towards fairness and accuracy. Yes, sometimes there is an angry undertone, and the author openly admits she is angry about some things. For me, this book was at times a challenging read, but also educational. It has helped me to answer some of my own questions about where I stand on feminism and it’s definitely worth persevering to the end. I particularly enjoyed this statement from author Lauren Windle: “And finally, don’t blindly make my opinions, or the opinions of anyone referenced in this book, your opinions. Take each of these topics and pray about them, read Scripture and a range of commentaries, and consult your church leaders. This isn’t a reference book for your new position on contentious topics; it’s the start of the conversation.”

Notes on FeminismBeing a Woman in a Church Led by Men is available from SPCK Publishing

Main Photo Credit: Siora Photography via Unsplash

Val Fraser

Val Fraser is a trained journalist with over 12 years’ experience working on staff in various demanding media environments. She has authored/edited thousands of articles including news, travel and features. Val has authored/contributed to nine non-fiction books. A regular columnist, she stepped up to the role of Digital Editor in September 2022 and is responsible for the Sorted Magazine website.
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