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About the book
  • Published: 3 March 2020
  • ISBN: 9781787331297
  • Imprint: Jonathan Cape
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $40.00

Difficult Women

A History of Feminism in 11 Fights




The first book by the acclaimed journalist Helen Lewis - the imperfect and unfinished story of the battles for women's rights

Well-behaved women don’t make history: difficult women do.

Helen Lewis argues that feminism’s success is down to complicated, contradictory, imperfect women, who fought each other as well as fighting for equal rights. Too many of these pioneers have been whitewashed or forgotten in our modern search for feel-good, inspirational heroines. It’s time to reclaim the history of feminism as a history of difficult women.

In this book, you’ll meet the working-class suffragettes who advocated bombings and arson; the princess who discovered why so many women were having bad sex; the pioneer of the refuge movement who became a men’s rights activist; the ‘striker in a sari’ who terrified Margaret Thatcher; the wronged Victorian wife who definitely wasn’t sleeping with the prime minister; and the lesbian politician who outraged the country. Taking the story up to the present with the twenty-first-century campaign for abortion services, Helen Lewis reveals the unvarnished – and unfinished – history of women’s rights.

Drawing on archival research and interviews, Difficult Women is a funny, fearless and sometimes shocking narrative history, which shows why the feminist movement has succeeded – and what it should do next. The battle is difficult, and we must be difficult too.

  • Pub date: 3 March 2020
  • ISBN: 9781787331297
  • Imprint: Jonathan Cape
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $40.00

Praise for Difficult Women

“I always love her writing – an enviable mix of effortlessly erudite and funny – and this book addresses one of the great unacknowledged blocks to female liberation: the tyranny of niceness. No one ever changed the world by being nice.”

Caroline Criado Perez, Guardian

“A great manifesto for all those women who have never been very good at being well-behaved.”

Mary Beard

“All the history you need to understand why you're so furious, angry and still hopeful about being a woman now. A book that is part intellectual weapon in your handbag, part cocktail with a friend.”

Caitlin Moran

“Whoever said feminists lack a sense of humour has not read enough Lewis... A funny, sparky, wide-ranging account... Her book isn’t at all a conventional history. It’s a collection of powerful personal essays on the gnarly issues that women continue to face — in sex, sport, love, education, motherhood, abortion, time poverty and more. Woven through it are Lewis’s intimate experiences of the same problems... I read Difficult Women with gratitude. It’s an authoritative benchmark of modern feminism, written by someone on top of her game... Hooray for a great book by a clever, clear-sighted, straight-talking, difficult young woman.”

Melanie Reid, The Times

“Difficult Women was a joy to read... I learned so many delicious facts about women whom I thought I knew. In fact, reading Difficult Women felt like sitting down with a friend and gossiping about other women in our circle... It has some howl-out-loud funny moments... Helen Lewis does more than just tell their stories – she allows them to be complicated, something that women are so rarely permitted to be.”

Jess Phillips, New Statesman

“An extremely important and timely book for that shows why sometimes it pays to be a "difficult woman".”

Konnie Huq

“Well-behaved women may not make history but brilliant women certainly write it. Helen Lewis’s glorious history of feminists, feminism, and female causes is a rallying cry for women to take up intelligent action and fight – fight for those rights!”

Amanda Foreman

“Difficult Women is smart, thoughtful and rich in detail... Lewis proves an excellent storyteller who seamlessly blends scholarly inquiry and journalistic investigation with autobiographical titbits and flashes of caustic wit (her footnotes are a hoot).”

Fiona Sturges, Guardian

“Brilliant, from one of the brightest journalists in Britain today. Compulsive, rigorous, unforgettable, hilarious and devastating. Everything but difficult, ironically enough.”

Hadley Freeman

“Some names you will recognise, others will be new. All deserve your respect. In a world where equality still feels like an uphill struggle, it is wonderful to celebrate eleven epic and ultimately victorious battles.”

Anita Anand

“A witty and wise corrective to the whitewashed heroines of the “rebel girls” and “awesome women” industry.”

Tom Gatti, New Statesman

“Through her telling of the fascinating histories of Difficult Women, Lewis gifts us with a fresh, whip-smart and compassionate perspective on contemporary feminism. A brilliant and inspiring book.”

Cordelia Fine

“I loved Difficult Women. Helen Lewis writes with a devilish wit and a clear eye about the harder edges of meaningful progress. Engaging, moving, witty and sobering - Difficult women is a book for all humans who value all humans, as difficult as they may be.”

Stephen McGann

“Helen Lewis is one of the very few journalists whose every word I will read. Her debut book…makes the very solid point that the acquisition of rights for women has not always come from those who one would necessarily like.”

Adam Rutherford, The Week

“This sensible, forthright personal history of the women who fought for the vote, for equal pay, for women to have control over their bodies, is a breath of fresh air in a feminist climate too often bogged down in petty spats over ideas of privilege and virtue signalling... Lewis’s trenchant, witty voice steers the reader to focus on the details that matter.”

Claire Allfree, Metro

“Difficult Women is fully of vivid detail, jam-packed with research and fizzing its provocation.”

Christina Patterson, Sunday Times

“Difficult Women is…inspiring and energetic… it speaks of open-mindedness and warmth.”

Rachel Cooke, Observer

“[Difficult Women is] written in a feistily accessible style…so it’s easy to engage with the actual substance.”

Melanie McDonagh, Evening Standard

“Difficult Women has real bite and is brimming with the kind of sharp wit that renders it unsuitable reading on public transport let you start cackling.”

Gillian Furmage, The Times

“Difficult Women is a well-researched, lively overview of the history of modern feminism... An important resource on the ongoing fight for equal rights.”

Mia Levitin, Spectator

“Intellectually rigorous, satisfying, eloquent and witty.”

India Knight, Sunday Times

“Ultimately it chimes with a resounding clarion call: we are difficult women. Don’t sand our edges away. Celebrate us in all our uneven glory. After all, well-behaved women don’t make history.”

Jemma Crew, UK Press Syndication

“Blending rigorous research with passages that make you bark with laughter, this is an effortlessly smart study of feminism’s power to make society better for everyone.”

Gwendolyn Smith, Mail on Sunday

“Helen Lewis has produced a real gem in Difficult Women... With wit and understanding...it is effective and often very moving.”

Julia Langdon, Tablet


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