“But can you make this female character more likeable? Nobody has ever asked us to make a man more likeable…we never modify our descriptions of men by appending adjectives like strong or smart.”
~ Pride, p. 89
Do you ever branch out of your comfort zone by picking up a book you’d never gravitate towards and find yourself utterly hooked with the need to discuss it with everyone you ever met? That is how I felt while reading Elise Loehnen’s book On Our Best Behaviour: The Price Women Pay to Be Good. It is an eye opening read, and my wonderful partner patiently listened as I passionately discussed the topics explored alongside my own thoughts as I read each chapter. It even made me to something I never thought I would…willingly highlight and sticker pages as I read!
Maddness (but the good kind, it was actually a lot of fun).
Why do women equate self-denial with being ‘good’?
We congratulate ourselves when we resist the donut in the office breakroom. We celebrate our restraint when we hold back from sending an email in anger. We put others’ needs ahead of our own and believe this makes us exemplary. Journalist and podcast host Elise Loehnen explains that these impulses – often lauded as distinctly feminine instincts – are actually ingrained in us by a culture that reaps the benefits, via an extraordinarily effective collection of social mores:
Lust. Gluttony. Greed. Sloth. Wrath. Envy. Pride.
These so-called ‘deadly sins’ have been used by the patriarchy to control women throughout our history. For instance, a fear of gluttony drives us to ignore our appetites and an aversion to greed prevents us from negotiating a better salary at work.
So, what would happen if we stopped trying to be ‘good’?
Provocative and bold, On Our Best Behaviour is a probing analysis of history and contemporary culture that explains how women have internalised the patriarchy, and how they unwittingly reinforce it. By sharing her own story and the spiritual wisdom of other traditions, Elise Loehnen shows how we can break free and discover a path toward a more balanced, fulfilled way to live.
On Our Best Behaviour is an enlightening and engaging read. It puts into words experiences I, and many other women, have known but may not have had the words to articulate until now. The unwritten rules of behaviour in our society are impacting us in ways you may not have considered before. Here it’s made easily digestible and accessible. It will make you angry. It will make you sad. It will also make you hopeful. The stories she shares of her own experiences and that of other women resonates strongly. By the end I felt like I understood my own life better, along with the changes I want/need to make for my own happiness and wellbeing.
I also, for the first time ever, broke out my highlighters and coloured tabs because there are so many nuggets of wisdom and shocking truths as Elise holds up a mirror to society, urging us to take a proper look. I looked. And I had to mark them down. So many times as I was reading this book I’d flick back to a previous chapter and look at those quotes I’d highlighted.
When Elise came out to Australia recently I attended her book launch with Roaring Stories in Balmain. With a practically full house it was an incredible evening of conversation around what it means to be a good woman in our society. Elise was open and honest about her own experiences and really brought the issues presented in her book to life. If I hadn’t already been thoroughly enjoying the book before this event (I was about half way through at the time) I would have immediately purchased a copy to add to my TBR.
It really is a fantastic work of non-fiction, weaving in the narrative of Elise’s life experiences with her research and interviews.
Here are some of my favourite quotes that stuck with me as I read this book:
“What we’ve missed in the equation that time is money is that time is a nonrenewable resource. It’s insane to put a price on something so valuable.” ~ Sloth, p. 33
“She endures what she calls ‘thinterrogations’, otherwise known as ‘concern trolling’, where people remove food from her shopping cart with gentle admonishments…and diets she should try.” ~ Gluttony, p. 116
“Women out perform men when we invest, both professionally and within our own brokerage accounts.” ~ Greed, p. 148
“I was also angry with myself for spending all my energy building something that felt personal but at the end of the day was not mine.” ~ Anger, p.239
“This is the crux of it: it seems to me that sadness is the ‘sin’ that’s most destructive to men precisely because it’s perceived as womanly, as weak.” ~ Sadness, p. 245
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Genre: Non Fiction
Published 30th May, 2023.
You can purchase here.
Disclaimer: Whilst On Our Best Behaviour is published by Bloomsbury Publishing, my thoughts are my own and not influenced by my employer.