Book Recommendation: Cassandra Speaks

Book Recommendation: Cassandra Speaks

book cover of cassandra speaks by elizabeth lesser

I found out about Elizabeth Lesser’s book Cassandra Speaks through Brene’ Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast. The book intrigued me because it promised to speak to the parts of the human story – history – that have been silenced, suppressed or unasked for. The subtitle is ‘When women are the storytellers, the human story changes’. I still remember the shock of realizing the history we were taught in school (and continue to be taught) is not the whole story. I know, seems obvious now, but I didn’t question ‘history’ nearly enough until I was well into my adulthood. Even though I knew and sometimes repeated the line ‘history is written by the victorious’, it didn’t occur to me that I should question the history I was (in retrospect I’d like to hit myself upside the head for my ignorance). I think that also corresponds with the time before I questioned the myth of the ‘America’ that I absorbed from birth.

Lesser starts by taking a deep, honest look at some of the female archetypes in our culture: Eve, Pandora, Cassandra and others. What might their stories be if told by them, rather than from a male perspective? Next, she takes us a journey to examine power. What is it, what does it look like when defined and wielded by men, and how might it look different if defined and utilized by women? She wraps the book up by sharing some tools and techniques for rewriting the stories we’ve been told about our value and capabilities. I say ‘we’ not just because I was assigned female at birth and raised to be a female in this society; I also think that people who identify as male – cis and other – can benefit from an evaluation of what they’ve been led to believe about their value and capabilities and those of other people. How much is everyone missing out on because they have limited themselves to what is expected and approved by the patriarchy?

I recommend this book to all the people in my life, regardless the gender you identify with – women, nonbinary, trans, and cis men. Though Lesser is primarily speaking to women, educating the reader in the ways women’s voices have been silenced and devalued within recorded history, the lesson is easily applied to all groups oppressed by white male heteropatriarchy. The stories that have been valued in history, literature, science, education, politics – everything to do with western culture – have been the ones created and approved by white men.

Lesser urges women to find a balance between the values traditionally assigned to the masculine and those assigned to the feminine. Doing so is part of the process of making ourselves whole, so we can bring our whole selves to our lives and to the work of making life on this planet better for everyone. Our culture and society is skewed masculine, centered on male ideas of power and success. How amazing would it be to find a balance point by including female power and feminine markers of success? I for one am all for flipping the script and throwing out the patriarchal power structure for a female led one, and I know that’s wishful thinking. So let’s work toward more inclusion of not just female voices and stories but those from all the groups who have been devalued by white male power.

I found this book at my local library, the Timberland Regional Library. I encourage you to find a way to read it, whether that is by borrowing or buying. If you choose to buy a copy, I encourage you to purchase from a local bookseller.

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