It’s no secret that as women, we are hard on each other. We judge each other for just about every choice we make and every characteristic or value we possess. And sometimes we are even harder on ourselves, letting our inner voices tear us down. As a collective group of human beings, women are already up against some pretty intense challenges, so why do we make it even more difficult for ourselves? Actress Gillian Anderson and activist Jennifer Nadel dive into these questions in their recently released book, We: A Manifesto For Women Everywhere. In a perfect world, a sisterhood would exist – you’d know that any woman you came into contact with would support you and your decisions in the same way you would support her. Gillian and Jennifer lay out the “hand book” for womanhood that has helped guide them through life so far and that could possibly help create this reality, from the inside-out!
I’ll be honest, I probably never would have purchased this book if it didn’t have Gillian Anderson’s name on it. As a huge The X-Files fan (and Tumblr lurker) I keep pretty up-to-date on what Gillian and David Duchovny are up to career-wise, so I bought We as soon as it was released in early April. I wasn’t too sure what I was getting myself into. Could I really relate to a book written by two middle-aged, wealthy women living in London? Could a book written by two upper-class white women truly be “for women everywhere”?
After reading through We for the first time, I think Gillian and Jennifer did a fabulous job of calling attention to essential practices and universal values that can be appreciated by just about anyone – no matter your life experience or religious background (or lack there of). The book focuses a lot on self-care and political action, both of which are privileges that are not available, convenient, or even safe for all women. I worry about this same issue as I write about mental health and self-care on Casual Contrast – instead of sitting around writing about it, I should be out doing something to help those who don’t have the same privilege. However, I think We addresses this and acknowledges that we don’t yet live in that perfect world where all women – no matter the color of your skin, or the sex on your birth certificate, or the way you view the world – are safe, supported, and treated with respect. By working through the spiritual path outlined in We, we prepare ourselves as women to help improve our world.
The first thing I did when I started reading We was to remove the dust jacket and grab a pen. This book takes you on a personal journey that requires a lot of emotional work, so I decided to get comfortable. While I already “knew” Gillian Anderson as an actress and activist, I got to know Jennifer Nadel and immediately related to her story of career burnout and mental illness. She is a trained barrister and journalist, and like Gillian, she was born in the US and now lives in London. Reading this book started to feel like I was having a heart-to-heart with a few slightly older, much wiser women. They learned from those who came before them, and now they are passing it on to me.
We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere is broken up into three parts. Part 1 focuses on Essential Practices that will prepare you and help keep you centered during your emotional work. Part 2 explains We‘s 9 Principles, complete with inspiration quotes, exercises, real-world anecdotes, and stories from Gillian and Jennifer themselves. Part 3, the shortest portion, is the Manifesto, laying out how to go about taking what you’ve learned about yourself and how you interact with the world out into society. Without giving too much away, I want to run through the Practices and Principles to give you an idea of We‘s spiritual journey.
Part 1: The Essentials
In order to work through the 9 Principles, you must create a steady foundation. We suggests that you do that by integrating four Essential Practices into your daily life: Gratitude, Gentleness, Responsibility, and Meditation. As I read through this section of the book, I realized that it was in-line with the mission statement I have for Casual Contrast – I want to help women feel better, inside and out. This excited me and is precisely why I chose to write about We here on the site.
Gratitude helps us to see the positive in our daily lives, even when we feel like there is nothing good to celebrate. Gentleness is all about changing the way our self-talk affects our daily lives. Responsibility is about taking care of our physical selves – making self-care a priority. Finally, Meditation helps us find our peaceful center in the midst of a chaotic world.
Personally, I have focused a ton on Gentleness and Responsibility in the last year with my emotional- and mental-health journey. I have experienced the power of Gratitude firsthand, but haven’t done a good job of making physical gratitude lists like Gillian and Jennifer suggest. Moving forward, I want to make gratitude journaling and daily meditation a larger part of my life.
Part 2: The 9 Principles
Part 2 is really the meat and potatoes of We. These nine principles can be found in just about any religious or spiritual teaching; Gillian and Jennifer do a nice job of making the Principles approachable and comfortable no matter what belief system or world view you keep. Each Principle is explained in-depth with exercises that will help you really dig into the emotional work, as well as reflections, actions, and affirmations. The process is time consuming, emotionally draining, and often difficult. It’s not easy to look into your self and your past at situations and feelings that you struggle with, but it’s a necessary task into order to move forward. Honesty, Acceptance, Courage, Trust, Humility, and Peace deal mostly with looking within. Love and Joy focus on how we function in relationships and in life. Finally, Kindness brings it all together, teaching us how to go out into the world and make it a better place through Choosing, Acting, Giving, and Joining.
When you look at these principles, they almost seem too simple. But that’s the point. When you tune in to the quiet, simple side of life, you’ll begin to feel deeper, calmer, and happier. When we dig deep, beyond the money and the glitz and glam, isn’t that what we all want?
Part 3: The Manifesto
When We was first released in April 2017, I watched a lot of the press tour that Gillian and Jennifer did in the US and UK. I loved watching the two friends interact with each other, and it was easy to see how passionate they are about this cause – especially Jennifer. While I may have purchased the book as a Gillian Anderson fan, Jennifer Nadel is my new hero. In one interview, she said something about We not really being a “self-help” book, but more of a political book. After reading The Manifesto, I totally see that. The ninth Principle, Kindness, talks a lot about taking love out into the world to create change. The Manifesto takes it one step further:
It’s a call to apply the tools we’ve now learned to every aspect of our lives: at home, at work, in the polling booth. To let them govern how we live, how we do business, how we raise our families, how we deal with our neighbors.
It’s a call to a values-led existence that puts love at its center. One that refuses to discriminate on the basis of race, class, creed, or gender.
It’s a call for love to become a way of life. To let it dictate our choices, our actions, and our interactions.
Especially in the political environment we find ourselves in currently with all of the issues going on in the world, I think it is important to remember that we can all make a difference. Small can be powerful. If you are feeling like you don’t know where to turn to help or to create change, We will definitely get you motivated. We are not powerless – and just imagine if as women, we came together to change the systems that are currently in place? As I saw Jennifer point out time and time again in the press tour, these systems were created to serve men, and now that women have become a part of the work force, the way we do things serves no one. It’s time to change that. To make the world a more loving, caring place.
As a woman on her own journey, struggling with mental health and my personal definition of success, We was very powerful. If you are reading casually, it is an easy read – a book you can pick up and put down at your leisure (this is how I read it the first time). If really absorbed in the way that the authors intended, this book should be studied. I am looking forward to starting my second reading soon, complete with multiple pens, highlighters, and a journal for notes and exercises. I already marked the affirmations that go along with each Essential Practice and Principle for easy access, but I’m ready to really dig in. The beautiful white cover of my copy is now stained and dirty – and I know it will be even more worn as I continue to work through it.
In the Acknowledgments section, Gillian and Jennifer thank a long list of people, but they finish off by expressing their gratitude to the women who’ve gone before us and those who will come after. This was so moving to me. Not only am I one who came after them, but I will become one who has gone before for others. An obvious statement, perhaps, but a powerful one that puts into perspective how powerful we can be as women in this world.
We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook at major retailers and booksellers.