Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist who specialises in treating injuries from rape, and an awe-inspiring advocate of women’s rights. The Power of Women is a harrowing account of his professional and personal journey of witnessing the heinous crimes against women, and their strength and resilience through all their traumatic experiences.
There’s often this narrow-minded belief that men who speak out against the injustices against women, or who are feminists, are ‘thinking and behaving like women’, along with the pressure for these men to justify themselves and their sexuality whenever they stand up for women’s rights. Therefore, this book is so important and a necessary read for men. If one does not see the urgent need to have more men like Dr Mukwege, after all the stories of the suffering inflicted on women, and how rape is used as a social and political tool, then we’re swimming in deep shit.
Dr Mukwege’s stories show the many ways women’s bodies are used as a deliberate power tactic in war, to make a political statement and to abuse power. However, the pages aren’t all dark and heart-breaking stories. He shows women’s power, their inspiring ability to find a reason to continue living and a new meaning to life, even after experiencing violence that destroys them in all ways imaginable. The ability to start over, and rebuild when everything has been taken away from them.
He also suggests many ways we, as society, can make the necessary changes. One of them is the need for a functioning justice system that listens to victims and deals with the tormenters in an effective way. He also suggests a cultural shift, breaking the silence and smashing taboos associated with sexual abuse and women’s bodies. Stripping out sexist language that refers to the honour, chastity, and modesty of women, is also another way.
There is so much to take in, to learn and to take with you when reading this book. It is a powerful stand against the disregard of women’s lives. It is thought-provoking, inspiring, distressing, and highly important.
How Women Rise is an easy-to-read and useful map to finding your way through the maze of self-sabotage or self-defeat. It’s a helpful guide to helping you realise and change some of the habits that hold you back from rising.
The book does not ignore the fact that there are many external factors that can stand in your way, and it also does not fail to acknowledge that many of the habits are also found in men. It also explains and solves the problem of getting stuck, identifying where you are and what can help you move forward, as well as resisting change.
It identifies 12 habits that keep women from reaching their goals and comes up with ways to change them. Some are related but have different roots and have different consequences.
Habit 1:“Reluctance to Claim Your Achievements.”
The focus here is on keeping your head down and shrinking into yourself in order to avoid coming off as ‘obnoxious’. Among the solutions offered there’s the ‘art of self-promotion’, which entails being bold enough to sell yourself effectively.
Habit 2: “Expecting Others to Spontaneously Notice and Reward Your Contributions.”
This shows how this behaviour can be self-sabotaging and how your hard work can end up being overlooked. It’s better to take a proactive approach and take the responsibility of saying what it is you’re doing, accomplishing and where you’d like to be.
Habit 3: “Overvaluing Expertise.”
If you invest all your energies on mastering every detail of the job you have then you are really working hard to keep that job. This will not help you if you’re trying to position yourself for an opportunity for the next level.
Habit 4: “Building Rather Than Leveraging Relationships.”
While building relationships is great, it doesn’t mean leveraging relationships means you’re a self-serving person. This section helps you realise how leveraging works, how forming healthy win-win relationships will contribute to your professional success.
Habit 5: “Failing to Enlist Allies from Day One.”
When starting a new position, keeping your head down until you’ve mastered the details so that you’re fully prepared will not help you. It can help to reach out and connect with people – create allies. You’ll learn about the importance of allies, mentors, sponsors, and more.
Habit 6: “Putting Your Job before Your Career.”
If you’ve worked so hard to get to a certain position, only to find yourself stuck there for ages then you may be busy putting so many efforts in the position you have that you may have neglected to work on the position you want. Be aware of the loyalties you have that keep you from moving up and learn how to have a healthy self-interest.
Habit 7: “The Perfection Trap.”
This is about wanting to get every detail right and being hard on yourself because you don’t want to mess up. This section highlights the cost of perfectionism and how to rather, healthily, deliver excellent results by learning to do things such as delegating and taking measured risks.
Habit 8: “The Disease to Please.”
Here you’ll check your habit of wanting to be a nice and wonderful person in all circumstances and always make everyone around you feel good, which is impossible. You’ll learn about curing your chronic ‘pleasing disease’ and how to focus on your priorities.
Habit 9: “Minimizing.”
This habit is about making yourself smaller or taking a seat at the back just so that you can always acknowledge the existence of others. This will help break the habit of physically and metaphorically shrinking yourself, undermining your abilities, and believing that others are more deserving than you.
Habit 10: “Too Much.”
You may be called “too much”- too emotional, too intense, or too enthusiastic, and may end up getting into the habit of repressing your feelings. This section will guide you to finding value in your emotions, harnessing them, and making them work for you.
Habit 11: “Ruminating.”
The focus here is on clinging to the past and focusing on dissecting past mistakes. This leads to a lot of self-blame, agonizing over things that may have set you back have already passed. You’ll learn how to break free from this negative position and how to move on.
Habit 12: “Letting Your Radar Distract You.”
Your ability to notice a lot of things at once may be a strength but it has its downsides. Your focus may also be going to unhelpful distractions and have negative effects such as being hyper-aware of other people’s reactions that you may end up ruminating, shrinking, or being hard on yourself.
The above habits come with helpful tools to mitigate them. It’s a smooth read, nothing complicated or hard to follow. I’m pretty sure there will definitely be at least one habit that you associate with and this book will help you make a difference.
Goldsmith, M, Helgesen S. How Women Rise. 2018. Penguin Random House UK.
I recently visited one of my favourite bookstores (where they’re a quarter-to giving me a mattress and a blanket), looking for non-fiction books by women. Bookstores are usually therapeutic for me, but this time I left frustrated and disappointed. In 2020, a lot of books I find by women are mostly fiction books. I don’t know how the stats stand but I later went to a bigger store, that has way more titles and I had the same experience.
I was looking for female non-fiction because I wanted to hear the voice of someone whose experiences I can relate to. We know that historically women have been kept out of everything and have had to fight to break down walls and burn gates. We’ve been misled to believe that men are the ones who created and shaped the arts, and well, everything in this world. It’s not that women never had anything to contribute, they were just not allowed to do it, they were not allowed to even dream of doing anything but stand and watch.
I spent a little time in the Classics section and was surrounded by Plato, Aurelius, Homer, Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, Twain, Salinger, Orwell, Achebe, Mphahlele and many others. Yes, there was Shelley, Woolf, the Brontës, Rand, Dickinson, and a few more, but the gap was still big. Male authors still dominate bookshelves. Even when I moved to business and self-help, the highly praised books are from names like Kiyosaki, Carnegie, Hill, Gladwell, and a million others. This is also frustrating because as great as these books are, when we women read them we often have to find ways to alter the message to make it apply to us, and sometimes, given the challenges we have, it is close to impossible.
So all this frustration led me to think about what it is I want to read, what kind of messages I want to collect, what kind of solutions I’m looking for, and who I should get them from. I do not disregard men’s work, not at all. I have read many books by men that have helped me improve my life in tremendous ways.
However, I love the voice of women. I want to hear women and I want to hear about them. I want to read women. Give me women, please! I have read so many books by men with families whose success stories show that they were able to do things, have the time and energy to do them because their partners were taking care of everything else. I want to read about that woman, with kids and a home to run, and how she did or does it.
It’s not just in self-development books or classics. Across genres, the same problem exists. And so, on my quest to find these intelligent, brave, successful women, I’m going on a quest to read more women’s books.
“Women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned, unsolved problems.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
I want to read their biographies, their poetry, their tragedies and achievements, their struggles, and their successes. But I will not limit myself to only those stories, I do believe that there are male writers who have supported the voice of women in literature and there are men who have portrayed powerful and positive images of women. I am for that.
I don’t want any of that damsel-in-distress bullshit. I want to see women characters who show real women who don’t need to be saved. I want to dissect this vexatious yet interesting area of literature. The world should be seen through the eyes of the very people who live in it. Women, as members of society, should be able to express their existence in the same way as men do. In this open and inclusive manner, we can fully understand the world and understand each other.
When I made this decision, I went through my own shelf and saw how male-dominated it is. I’m ashamed. Honestly.
So I don’t think I’ll be able to read or write about women in literature following historical timeline. It will be challenging to find relevant books if I do it that way and it will be boring. Instead, I’m starting where I am, and from the unread books I have, what better way to start with women from cultures, traditions, and religions that are known or said to be oppressive? We’ll figure it out through the readings. So my first part will be on Muslim Women in Literature.
I have, on my shelf:
It’s Not About the Burqa edited by Mariam Khan
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
The Chibok Girls by Helon Habila (I said I’ll include a few men who do justice to women’s voices
Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy
I’m starting with Muslim women because, I already have these books so it was an obvious choice, and also, because it’s so easy for the rest of us to look at Muslim women and conclude that they’re oppressed and miserable. I’d rather find out first, preferably, from them.
So, here we go.
I’ll repost the review of Infidel. I had already started The Chibok Girls and stopped because it was depressing, but it’s short and I’m almost done. And I don’t think there’s time to be depressed, if you go into something that talks about injustice, oppression, prejudice, discrimination, abuse…it will be depressing. It’s inevitable.
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