Review: What Would Boudicca Do?

Do I really need yet another book on women’s history?  I’ve got a whole shelf sagging full of them at home; from Hypatia to Mary Queen of Scots, you name it, I’ve probably got it.  So do I really need yet another one?  Yes.  Yes I do.  Always.  Because just when I think I’ve read about every Warrior Queen and babein brainbox from the annals, I pick up another book and discover ten, twenty, thirty more inspiring women that I’ve never heard about.  Where the hell were these women when I was growing up?  How come school history lessons are still centered around great men and their great deeds?  How the hecky-pecky did I go thirty two years without knowing about Hedy Lamarr?

Thank God Women’s History is having a moment, and long may it reign – because as it turns out, no matter how clued up you think you are about it, there are still so many great women and their great deeds (and misdeeds 😉 ) to read about.  Which is why books like What Would Boudicca Do? are a great way of clueing yourself in on a whole handful of history’s most remarkable women rather than digesting one big brick of a biography at a time (which I’d totally recommend doing once you’ve found your historical soul sister 😉 ).

What’s unique about Foley and Coats‘ book is that you can flick through and pair up your modern day problems with a historical woman and be inspired by the way they overcame something similar.  Read how Mae West stayed body positive, how Akiko Yosano learned to love her boobs, how Catherine the Great dealt with the whole of Europe gossiping about her, and how Emily Dickinson defied FOMO.  Short and snappy chapters with beautiful illustrations, it’d make a great gift for someone who’s just got the Women’s History bug and wants to find out more.

Five other feminist books on my wishlist this Christmas…

1. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman

“You know the type: the woman who won’t shut up, who flaunts it, who’s too brazen, too opinionated – too much. Sometimes, she’s the life of the party; others, she’s the focus of gossip. She’s the unruly woman, and she’s one of the most provocative, powerful forms of womanhood today.”

I really fancy this one!  Buzzfeed writer Anne Helen Petersen analyses eleven modern pop culture powerhouses like Serena Williams, Kim Kardashian and Hillary Clinton and looks at why we love to love them – or hate them for being too something.

2. What Would the Spice Girls Do?: How The Girl Power Generation Grew Up

“The Spice Girls gave a generation their first glimpse of the power of friendship, of staying true to yourself, of sheer bloody-mindedness. And the girl power generation went on to kick-start a new conversation around gender equality.”

If you grew up dancing to Wannabe on the playground like I did and still know the words to 2 become 1 (my husband shocked me the other night by repeating them word for word – proof positive that The Spice Girls really did rock a whole generation), then you’ll be just as eager to read this one as I am – especially ahead of their tour!  One of the reviewers over on Amazon calls it “a love story to the girls we were and the women we are” and I love that.

3. Bloody Brilliant Women: The Pioneers, Revolutionaries and Geniuses your History Teacher Forgot to Mention

“For hundreds of years we have heard about the great men of history, but what about herstory?  In this freewheeling history of modern Britain, Cathy Newman writes about the pioneering women who defied the odds to make careers for themselves and alter the course of modern history.”

Another collection of inspiring tales about badass babes from history, but this time a whole book of badass British babes like Marie Stopes, Beatrice Shilling and Anne McLaren.  Yes please!

4. Life Honestly: Strong Opinions from Smart Women

“Life Honestly is a complete guide to modern life from some of today’s most talented and insightful writers including Bryony Gordon, Dolly Alderton, Natasha Devon, Lauren Laverne and Yomi Adegoke.”

If trawling The Pool is part of your every day online routine then this is right up your street.  A book full of inspiring, smart articles with fresh points of view on every day issues from motherhood to relationships.

5. Becoming: Michelle Obama

“In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her – from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address.”

Yes!  Love her!  I was flicking through a magazine the other day and found an interview with Oprah that Michelle did to promote her book and after reading a little anecdote about her first night alone post-White House and how she made herself some cheese on toast and just enjoyed sitting on the porch with her dogs I knew I wanted to read it.

Happy weekend!  (…and happy Christmas shopping!)

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Why we need to stop turning 30 into an Expiration Date

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Today’s my birthday.  I’m 32 years old, which is crazy to me because the truth is that most days – in my head – I still feel like I’m 17.  And I suppose I still am in some ways; I still listen to the same kind of music, I still love doughnuts just as much (and more to the point still eat them for breakfast sometimes like I did when I was 17), still have a crush on Robert Downey Jr, still have the occasional volcanic eruption on my chin, and I still (and always will) think that mayonnaise is rank – get it the hell away from me.

How do I feel about hitting 32?  I feel good.  Better than good.  Which is strange because for a long time I was absolutely terrified of hitting my thirties.

I feel like during our twenties we’re made to feel like our thirtieth birthday is an expiration date of some kind.  You know, that by thirty we’re supposed to have travelled the world, ticked a few things off of our bucket list, met “the one”, know our personal style, have our own place, feel ready to create little humans (if we haven’t already), have reached a certain point in our chosen careers and just generally have life figured out.  We spend our twenties making Before 30 Lists of things we want to do or accomplish – and that’s not even taking into account society’s ideas about what we should have achieved before reaching the big 3-0.  And because of that we turn our thirtieth birthday into an expiration date.  The real life version of what midnight was to Cinderella… minus the pumpkin and glass slipper.

As I take another step into my thirties I can safely say that I’m happier and more comfortable in myself now than I ever was in my twenties.  And that’s not because I ticked everything off my 30 Before 30 List, or because I have life figured out – I really, really don’t.  Who does?  But I definitely understand myself a little better; who I am, who I’m not, and who I want to be.

We need to stop turning 30 into something to be feared and instead treat it as something exciting.  There’s something empowering about turning thirty.  It’s a whole new decade.  A whole new you… if that’s what you want.  You might not have x, or done y, or been to z, but hopefully you’ll know yourself a little better, and what and who matters to you the most.  And at the end of the day, those things are more important than whether you’ve backpacked the world or run a marathon or partied until the sun comes up.  You can still do all those things in your thirties, by the way.  No one’s stopping you!  😉

Happy Birthday to meeee! 🎈

International Women’s Day: Four Bold Books

I loved history lessons when I was in school.  Yep, I was that brace-faced nerd in the front row who always had her hand up in the air and could rattle off random facts about people who’d died hundreds of years ago.  Still am.  Minus the braces, obviously!  But I was never completely satisfied by what I heard in class – all these stories about men and what they did.  Where were the women?

Even today, school history lessons have that old bias.  A handful of Tudor Queens, the suffragettes and Florence Nightingale if you’re lucky… and that’s about it.  Women’s voices are whispers in the footnotes, or on a single, patronising, end-of-topic page about ‘Women’s Roles’.  Wives, whores and witches.  If you want more, you have to go looking for it yourself.  The truth is, that women’s achievements and their place in the history books has – for a very long time – been undermined or belittled by the men (and women!) who were afraid of them.  Like Catherine the Great, who – despite all the amazing things she achieved in her lifetime – still can’t seem to shake off that horrible (and completely untrue) rumour about her and the horse!  And it’s sad, because history is bursting with brilliant and bold women whose stories deserve to be heard in the classroom – not just by girls, but by boys too – particularly right now with the rise of retro-sexism.

Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #BeBoldForChange. So, here are four bold books about Women’s History that I love.

The Weaker Vessel by Antonia Fraser.  If you’ve never read an historical biography before or you’re just starting out in Women’s History, then Antonia Fraser’s books are the perfect place to start.  She’s written books about Mary Queen of Scots, Charles II and various others. Her biography of Marie Antoinette (which later inspired the Sofia Coppola movie) was the first book by her I ever read and I loved it so, so much that I went on to read the rest.  She writes in such a sympathetic, chatty, story book sort of way that makes the history so easy to digest.  The Weaker Vessel is all about the lives of different women during the Seventeenth Century, when the roles of women and their rights were beginning to change.

Liberty by Lucy Moore.  I’m really into my French history and my Mum was super chuffed when she picked this book up for my birthday one year.  Liberty follows the lives of several different women leading up to, during and after the French Revolution – flashing between them as they get involved in the changing politics, persecution and violence.  Brave ladies.

Hypatia’s Heritage by Margaret Alic.  These days there’s a huge panic because not enough women are getting involved in STEM subjects; stereotypically labelled as “boy’s subjects”.  NOT TRUE.  Women’s fingerprints are on some of the biggest STEM achievements in history.  I picked up Hypatia’s Heritage on Amazon Marketplace and it’s all about women in science right from the ancient world to the nineteenth century – including two of my favourites: Émilie du Châtelet (who dressed up as a man to talk physics in French cafes of the Enlightenment) and Ada Lovelace (child mathematical genius and the very first computer programmer).  Smart women.

Scandalous Women by Elizabeth Kerri Mahon.  I found this book in Barnes and Noble on holiday one year and refused to leave it behind.  Split into sections like Wayward Wives and Warrior Queens, Scandalous Women is essentially a selection of short biographies written by blogger, Elizabeth Kerri Mahon.  Funny and very easy to read, it’s a good one to dip in and out of, and includes a wide range of women from Zelda Fitzgerald and Josephine Baker to Cleopatra and Joan of Arc.

Who are your favourite historical women?  🙂