Growing up, I thought feminism was a loaded word that had nothing to do with me. I grew up in a home where I saw my female elders as wise and smart. I was raised to know the dignity and worth of my uniquely female body, and was told I could dream of soaring as high as I wanted as I grew up.
However, the word feminism felt very aggressive and intense to me. I imagined angry women burning their bras during protests in the 1960s. I thought it meant women being treated differently in the workplace or not having the support to both raise children and have a meaningful career. While I always believed the voices and contributions of women deeply mattered, I did not know the history of the women’s movement.
As I have gotten older, my understanding of the word feminism has greatly changed and expanded for the better. I can see the contributions of the women’s movement, and at the same time, see the need for healing the identity crisis caused by the women’s movement.
Enter the book Wholistic Feminism by Leah Jacobson, MA, IBCLC, founder of The Guiding Star Project, a nationwide family of care centers that empower women to understand, embrace, and love their natural bodies.
Jacobson has a passion for the physical care of women’s bodies, as well as the deeper meaning behind our bodies, that comes through beautifully in her writing. She writes, “Our physical bodies can teach us deep spiritual truths. The meaning of our life, our purpose, what will bring us joy can all be found with careful observation of and care for our bodies.”
Early on in the book, Jacobson lays down the foundation by fully explaining the history of the women’s movement from where it came from to where we are today. She explains, “The women’s movement has been at work in the United States for about two hundred years. The first wave began in the second half of the 1800s and centered on the main issues of suffrage, slavery, and abolitionism. It ended with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which allowed women the right to vote.”
It was the second wave, beginning in 1950, that shifted its gaze to upsetting social expectations for women as homemakers. This in turn led to and helped launch the sexual revolution of the 1960s, in which women were “liberated” by access to things like contraception and abortion. All of a sudden, women like Betty Friedan and Helen Gurley Brown (author of Sex and the Single Girl) began making the argument that female fertility and marriage were trade-offs for the casual sexual experience women actually wanted.
In many ways, these and other views made women enemies against their very own bodies. Jacobson does not shy away from sharing what she’d describe as the pitfalls of the women’s movement for women today: loneliness, lies, and distorted views about our physical selves.
In each subsequent chapter, Jacobson looks at a different part of the feminine design, with the intention of helping women take back the word feminism for a more healing, holistic approach to how we view ourselves and our bodies.
Women have a right to understand the inner workings of their physical bodies, especially as these pertain to the intricacies of fertility, childbearing, breastfeeding, and monthly cycles. We need to be reminded that our physical bodies are always good—very good, in fact! Women have to learn what it looks like to engage with a male-normed world in ways that honor our female dignity, worth, and value. Our physical bodies are not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be appreciated and understood. Women deserve true empowerment regarding what it means to live rich, meaningful lives, where they can pursue their passions and dreams while also being a wife or mom.
Jacobson encourages contemporary women to embrace a new feminist movement—one of “wholism.” She explains, “Wholism emphasizes the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts.” Human beings are put together by different parts to create a whole. Jacobson continues, “But in order to truly understand a human person, our parts cannot be dealt with in isolation. We must see the whole person as interconnected at all times, especially if we want to bring health and wellness to a person. This includes the mind, body, spirit being treated with consideration for one another.”
What does wholism mean for women and the women’s movement? It means looking at the different parts of women and the issues affecting us, while honoring the dignity and worth of women as a whole. This includes emotional health, healthcare, the need for community, mental health, fertility awareness, the mind/body/spirit connection, and more. A wholistic feminism honors all women, at all stages of life.
Jacobson’s book ends with a powerful rallying cry, a new declaration on behalf of all women that proclaims beautiful truths of what it means to be a woman.
In calling our culture to rise to the occasion and truly do better for women, Jacobson writes, “What is at stake by continuing to ignore the sacred bond of our feminine essence, and the connectivity that should exist between all human beings, is a world that continues to grow more divided by the day. Without women understanding and knowing our vital contribution to culture, there will be no peace. We are meant to be whole, connected and dependent upon one another for our health and wellbeing. We are the mothers, bestowers of dignity, and the peacekeepers.”
This is a book that celebrates women with love and acceptance, while looking back at where we have come from and forward to where best we can go from here.