As part of the #WECAN book club, this month we read Glennon Doyle’s powerful book ‘Untamed: Stop pleasing, start living’. The title of the book initially reads like some book about grown-up women’s empowerment, which is not what I normally read. Therefore, I was not thrilled when this was proposed by one of the book club participants, but because it is the book club’s point to read different books, get out of your comfort zone and read stuff you would never read, I did not say anything.
I was surprised to find out this is an honest and reflective memoir of a great woman who has suffered from mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and an eating disorder. She writes powerfully about her daily struggle with mental health, times when depression kicks in, even being on meds, how she acted and felt when she went off her meds, etc. We’ve all seen people in the popular culture who go off their meds and do various stuff, but this is a story from the other side, that the popular culture does not portray. What is more, the book is also a woman’s story about patriarchal expectations that lead to an eating disorder Doyle had for a long time because she was trying to be what society expected her to be, slim and youthful because good girls need to try to look pretty.
The allegory with Tabitha, the cheetah who is caged in a zoo whilst actually, when away from zoo visitors, shows in her body posture that she wants to be free, wild and untamed, which is also very powerful and nicely portrays what many girls face growing up. The fact the author focuses on girls is something that particularly appeals to me because, by the time many girls grow up, it is too late to change things, particularly because most women in the world are not from a privileged background where they can afford to kick off at work or take time for themselves so they can decide what to do and build a new life. This is also why I study early socialisation and its impact on careers, not to say this early socialisation is deterministic and applies forever but that these are formative years which have a massive impact on us later in life. It is indeed possible to get out of the habitus, as Doyle did, but it requires awareness and very hard work. For example, it took me decades to soften up my communication and embrace a middle-class way of communicating, which ultimately took me ahead in my career because people relate to me and like me more so I fit in better. However, despite changing my communication, I still slip and sometimes snap and directly say what I exactly think. The latter is never pretty but anyway… Doyle managed to a large extent to leave prejudices, and social expectations and accepted her for whom she is, which is fab. She also took time to write this book and it can indeed help because it has a ‘feel good’ element despite all the dark stuff she writes.
There is an empowerment part of this book, which is also very powerful. This is not the usual women’s story, it is a story of a lesbian love, which was suppressed by the patriarchal childhood and social expectations and how an eating disorder happened in the first place. The way the author describes her wife and how they first met is also very powerful, ‘there she is’, the author thinks when she first met her now-wife. Her life changed after that and once love happened, everything started to fall into its place. I particularly liked how the author admits she focused on the feminist upbringing of her two daughters she had from her first marriage but initially neglected to give a feminist upbringing to her son and did the same mistake many mothers do when they spare boys chores in the house. This fits into a larger reflective character of this book because the author also reflects on her previous writing (including calling some of her previous writing horseshit), religious upbringing and her relationship with God, with particularly poignant spirituality that comes from the book when the author talks about the Knowing (looking deep down in yourself and knowing the answers).
The only question I have is whether the author is going too far, e.g., from being dominated and controlled by society to someone who now wants what is right for herself (and rightfully so) but seems to see everything done for others as an attack on her freedom. Maybe this is not what she meant when writing the book, but this is how I read it and I got concerned that the author will now get dominated by the desire to be free to the point she might alienate others.
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