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How to Think Like a Woman summary

Regan Penaluna

Four Women Philosophers Who Taught Me How to Live a Life of the Mind

18 mins
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    How to Think Like a Woman
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    Philosophy’s woman problem

    Imagine being a talented young woman passionate about life’s big questions. You discover philosophy in college and are captivated by its depth and elegance. Determined to pursue it as a career, you embark on a PhD program, only to find yourself gradually worn down by the sexism ingrained in the field.

    This was not only Penaluna’s experience but also that of innumerable women in philosophy throughout history. From ancient Greece to the Age of Enlightenment and beyond, male philosophers have consistently undervalued and disparaged women’s intellectual abilities. Aristotle referred to women as “deformed males,” while Hegel compared them to plants, asserting their inability for rational thought. Even Hume and Kant, known for their skepticism in other areas, accepted women’s inferiority as a given.

    This exclusion extended beyond theory – women were denied access to universities and scholarly discourse. The rare few who managed to educate themselves were met with derision and patronization from their male counterparts.

    Philosophy remains a male-dominated field hostile to women even in modern times. Sexual harassment, lack of mentorship, and casual sexism pose obstacles at every stage. Women’s philosophical contributions and feminist perspectives are dismissed as peripheral or unserious. Penaluna recalls not encountering a single female philosopher in her undergraduate curriculum.

    The consequence is a self-perpetuating cycle – the scarcity of women philosophers is seen as evidence of women’s inability to philosophize. Young women entering the field internalize these stereotypes, losing faith in their own capabilities.

    As Penaluna confronted her own self-doubt throughout her academic journey, she observed how the few women in her program were silenced and marginalized. Desperate for inspiration, she turned to the archives, hoping to uncover a lineage of women philosophers. What she discovered astonished her – women thinkers had been present all along, concealed within the margins of the male-authored canon.

    In the seventeenth century, Mary Astell argued for the equal capacity of women’s minds for virtue and reason. Damaris Masham formed her philosophy in deep intellectual exchanges with John Locke. Mary Wollstonecraft, an eighteenth-century British philosopher, was another proto-feminist advancing women’s rights. Catherine Cockburn wrote about the struggle to reconcile motherhood and intellectual life. Through the works of these female philosophers, Penaluna found a language to comprehend her own experiences and renew her sense of belonging in philosophy. Their legacy proves that women are not merely capable of philosophy – they are vital to the discipline.

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    What is How to Think Like a Woman about?

    How to Think Like a Woman (2023) is an exploration of one woman’s journey to reclaim her love of philosophy in the face of a male-dominated canon. Interweaving memoir with the biographies of four extraordinary seventeenth- and eighteenth-century women philosophers, this inventive meditation challenges the foundations of traditional philosophical thought and envisions a more inclusive future for the discipline.

    How to Think Like a Woman Review

    How to Think Like a Woman (2021) explores the unique ways in which women approach various aspects of life, offering valuable insights for everyone. Here's why this book stands out:

    • It delves into gender-specific thinking patterns and behaviors, shedding light on the differences in decision-making processes between men and women.
    • The book showcases empowering stories of successful women from different fields, inspiring readers to embrace their own strengths and capabilities.
    • By debunking stereotypes and addressing societal expectations, the book challenges readers to rethink traditional notions of gender roles and biases.

    Who should read How to Think Like a Woman?

    • Women in academia who have experienced the challenges of navigating a male-dominated field
    • Fans of thought-provoking memoirs and biographies 
    • Anyone seeking an alternative perspective on the traditional Western philosophical canon

    About the Author

    Regan Penaluna is a writer, editor, and philosopher who holds a master’s degree in journalism and a PhD in philosophy. Her feature writing has been recognized by the Atlantic as one of “100 Exceptional Works of Journalism,” and her debut book, How to Think Like a Woman, was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice.

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    How to Think Like a Woman FAQs 

    What is the main message of How to Think Like a Woman?

    The main message of How to Think Like a Woman is understanding the unique perspective and thought processes of women.

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    Reading time for How to Think Like a Woman varies. The Blinkist summary can be read in just a few minutes.

    Is How to Think Like a Woman a good book? Is it worth reading?

    How to Think Like a Woman offers valuable insights into female thinking. It's worth reading for gaining a deeper understanding.

    Who is the author of How to Think Like a Woman?

    The author of How to Think Like a Woman is Regan Penaluna.

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