How to Think Like a Woman
Four Women Philosophers Who Taught Me How to Love the Life of the Mind
by Regan Penaluna
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Pub Date 14 Mar 2023 | Archive Date 14 Mar 2023
Grove Atlantic, Grove Press
An exhilarating account of the lives and works of influential seventeenth- and eighteenth-century feminist philosophers Mary Astell, Damaris Masham, Catharine Cockburn, and Mary Wollstonecraft, and a searing look at the author’s experience of patriarchy and sexism in academia
Growing up in small-town Iowa, Regan Penaluna daydreamed about the big questions. In college she fell in love with philosophy and chose to pursue it as an academician, the first step, she believed, to living a life of the mind. What Penaluna didn’t realize was that the Western philosophical canon taught in American universities, as well as the culture surrounding it, would grind her down through its misogyny, its harassment, and its devaluation of women and their intellect. Where were the women philosophers?
One day, in an obscure monograph, Penaluna came across Damaris Cudworth Masham’s name. A contemporary of John Locke, Masham wrote about knowledge, God, and the condition of women. Masham’s work led Penaluna to other remarkable women philosophers of the era: Mary Astell, who moved to London at twenty-one and made a living writing philosophy; Catharine Cockburn, a philosopher, novelist, and playwright; and the better-known Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote extensively in defense of women’s minds. Together, these women rekindled Penaluna’s love of philosophy and awakened her feminist consciousness.
In How to Think Like a Woman, Penaluna blends memoir, biography, and criticism to tell these women’s stories, weaving throughout an alternative history of philosophy as well as her own search for love and truth. Funny, honest, and wickedly intelligent, this is a moving meditation on what philosophy could look like if women were treated equally.