Women’s Wisdom: An Overview of Female Self-Help Authors

Hello and welcome back to the blog! In honor of Shauna Niequist releasing her latest book, I wanted to give my take on her and some other authors she frequently associates with. I think these women have common themes. some helpful and some less so. I also think their friendships are a blend of genuine enjoyment and calculated cross-promotion.

There’s a group of female authors that middle-aged rich white women adore. Jen Hatmaker. Shauna Niequist. Glennon Doyle. Elizabeth Gilbert, and Brene Brown are all national best sellers writing about essentially the same thing: the journey of self-discovery and the beauty of everyday life. I’ve seen three of these women speak in person, and read many of their books. What I find funny and curious is the way they reference each other constantly, interacting as a public yet relatable “group of gals”. Are they truly a secret society of feminine wisdom, or just an echo chamber with jangly earrings?

Shauna Niequist is known for her books Bread and Wine, Cold Tangerines, and Present Over Perfect. She also released I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet on April 12, 2022. She writes about the beauty of embracing life at every stage, loving her family and friends, and being loved by God. Her husband and two sons feature heavily in her work, with a tone of reflective seriousness that sometimes can err on the side of depression. Her quiet, conventional Midwestern life is relatable, and her insights can be surprisingly profound even on the fifth reading.

Jen Hatmaker is known for 7 (later re-released as Simple and Free), Of Mess and Moxie, For the Love, and Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire. Her five children provide plenty of literary entertainment, but the Christian blogosphere took cruel pleasure in her public support of LGBT+ Christians, and her recent divorce. Even in hardship, her humor and kindness shine through, and reading her work or viewing her social media is like chatting with a fun aunt.

Glennon Doyle is known for Love Warrior, Carry On Warrior, and Untamed. She writes frankly about her former addictions, mental illness, and her divorce from her husband and marriage to pro soccer player Abby Wambach. In all honesty, she’s my least favorite on this list. She’s thoughtful and kind, but her swinging pendulum of stances and perpetual fragility grow weary after a few years.

Elizabeth Gilbert is known for her smash hit Eat Pray Love, along with modest successes like Big Magic and Committed. Like Doyle, she left a long-standing heterosexual marriage to be with a woman. Also like Doyle, her consistent chaos and upheaval can get weary.

Dr. Brene Brown is the most neutral and educated of the book club cohort. Her professional experience as a shame and vulnerability researcher allows her to combine science and data with her personal experience in bestsellers like Daring Greatly, The Gifts of Imperfection, and Braving the Wilderness. She isn’t as tightly intertwined with the others, but they all look to her for support.

The most common way these five women interact is on each other’s podcasts. Jen Hatmaker was just on Glennon Doyle’s podcast, and referenced Brene Brown. Shauna Niequist was the very first guest on Jen’s For the Love podcast, and Brene and Glennon shortly joined the ranks. So far, Elizabeth Gilbert has not joined the gang. Brene has also been a guest on Glennon’s podcast We Can Do Hard Things. Liz Gilbert briefly had a podcast called Big Magic, featuring both Glennon and Brene. The women also reference each other in their books. In Big Magic, Liz Gilbert commends Brene Brown’s writing style. Glennon Doyle’s Untamed features an essay on Liz Gilbert staying in her house. Shauna has referenced Glennon and Brene in Present Over Perfect.

Overcoming various types of adversity is a common theme in the words of these five women. While I can see how this motif can inspire and uplift struggling readers, constantly overcoming adversity seems to me like a lack of relaxation, an inability to rest and truly be grateful and joyful in life. This is particularly true of Glennon and Elizabeth. Both had left heterosexual marriages for women, which is lovely in itself. The underlying currents of their self-definition are what subtly irritate me. Both seem to need constant care and validation, using other people around them as side characters in their sweeping life dramas. Because they are the loudest voice, they can project themselves in a certain angle, and we rarely know what other family and friends think of their “off-camera/page” selves.

In addition, the “cross-promotion” between these five women is nearly constant. One can almost imagine monthly dinner parties between them, despite living across the country from each other. This is a sweet image, and you can tell they do admire each other when they cross paths. But I can also imagine their managers/publicists encouraging them to pose for photos and cross-promote at events. There’s no malice whatsoever, but could there be more calculation and a bigger picture than simply “gals who like each other who ‘happen’ to be famous”?

These women learn from each other and have plenty to teach the rest of us, but it’s on us to read between the lines and remember that “curated authenticity” is curated for a reason. It’s also important to read these books with discernment. Some of their insights might be genuinely beneficial, but we may learn their lessons the first time while they are on their fifth attempt at reinvention.

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