As a young woman growing up in small-town Iowa, Regan Penaluna daydreamed about the big questions: Who are we and what is this strange world we find ourselves in? In college she fell in love with philosophy and chose to pursue it as an academician, the first step, she believed, to becoming a self-determined person 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 slowly grind her down through its misogyny, its harassment, 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. The daughter of philosopher Ralph Cudworth and a contemporary of John Locke, Masham wrote about knowledge and 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 age 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, Regan Penaluna blends memoir, biography, and criticism to tell the stories of these four women, 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.
Praise for How to Think Like a Woman:
A New York Times Editors’ Choice
A Most Anticipated Book of 2023 from The Millions and Literary Hub
Inc. Non-Obvious Book Awards Best Book of 2023 Winner
“Provocative . . . An indictment of sexism in the field.”—New York Times
“Penaluna tacks between rage and humor, biography and theory. Her writing is sharp and rousing. Her message is consoling and motivating. If this is what it means to think like a woman, sign me up.”—Wall Street Journal
“Through her studies, Penaluna confirms not only that women have always engaged in philosophy, but that they have made unique and substantial contributions to the field… By giving us their names, she not only counteracts their omission from the canon, but fashions the beginnings of a new one entirely.”—The Atlantic
“Penaluna deftly tells the stories of four 17th and 18th century female philosophers, skillfully weaving their narratives into a rich exploration of her own experiences of patriarchy and sexism in academia.”—Observer
“How to Think Like a Woman is a much-needed revelation.”—Literary Hub, Most Anticipated Books of 2023
“An alternate philosophical canon, where women and their intellect are deeply and rigorously examined.”—The Millions, Most Anticipated Books of 2023
“Incisive… Penaluna skillfully captures the thinking of these four women in impassioned prose as she challenges sexism in the canon… Lucid and frank, this blend of memoir, biography, and criticism makes a solid case for why representation matters.”—Publishers Weekly
“Thought-provoking… Engaging… A considerable achievement.”—Booklist, starred review
“[Penaluna’s] story of rebuilding and reimagining personally and professionally demonstrates defiant independence from patriarchal prescriptions and their shame and an embrace of feminist anger, ambiguity, and diversity of thought… [A] redemptive reclamation of the female voice in the study of philosophy.”—Kirkus
“A feminist rallying cry informed by centuries of thought on the ‘woman question,’ this elegantly written and intellectually rigorous memoir is a gift to women in male-dominated fields—and to everyone living a life of the mind while also trying to be a decent human being.”—Ada Calhoun, Author of Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis
“A sharp-eyed reappraisal of four brilliant women in history — and a provocative challenge to the philosophy bros.”—Helen Lewis, author of Difficult Women
“How to Think Like a Woman is a fascinating and illuminating work of non-fiction by a writer of real style and critical intelligence. Regan Penaluna has created an elegant synthesis of intellectual history, memoir and feminist polemic that deserves to be widely read as a corrective to centuries of misogyny and erasure in philosophy.”—Mark O’Connell, author of Notes from an Apocalypse
“In a world in which philosophy is not only sexist in underestimating women’s actual and potential contributions, but actively misogynistic in pushing women out of the field, we need this book. Regan Penaluna’s How To Think Like a Woman is at once a deeply personal and philosophically riveting meditation on four brilliant and inspiring female philosophers—Mary Astell, Damaris Masham, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Catharine Cockburn—that I learned so much from. A must-read for anyone who cares about what happens to women, young and old, in this needlessly and harmfully male-dominated profession.”—Kate Manne, author of Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women
“Regan Penaluna’s courageous book is a walk along the bluffs, amid the drowned gardens, telling of the sun and flood of her life. Along those bluffs four women from the past keep her company, awaiting the words she will speak of them and herself.”—Alexander Nemerov, author of Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York