Review: 100 nasty women of history, by Hannah Jewell

Hatchette Australia, 2017

As many of us know all too well, regular history books are often filled to the brim with the discoveries, achievements and triumphs of men – and all too often those made by women are, well, glossed over. 100 Nasty Women of History is a refreshing look at history with a feminine – and comedically sassy – point of view.

I had heard of less than five of the women covered in the book, which is both an indictment of my own knowledge of women of history, and even more so of the way in which women are overlooked in our storytelling. Jewell ensures that in her coverage of these often forgotten members of our collective history, a sense of diversity and intersectionality is maintained. The stories of women of colour, women from the LGBTQIA+ community and women of different faiths and backgrounds are all metaphorically gathered alongside each other. As Jewell writes in the conclusion, should  they all have been literally in the same place at the same time, it would have made for quite the event!

I intentionally took my time reading this book as I wanted to give myself time to reflect on the achievements and struggles of each woman that the book explored. While the hilarity and ease of  Jewell’s writing allows for a quick read, there’s no avoiding the constant levels of oppression, prejudice and inequality each of these women had to overcome to make a difference in their many and varied fields.

Taking a step back at times was necessary, as despite the light tone of the book, the constant recognition of the injustice faced by these women is infuriating. My hope is that this juxtaposition of humour and injustice inspires women of today to challenge preconceived ideas about their worth or ability, and provide them with the strength to overcome similar hurdles and obstacles to those  faced by the women in the book.

Jewell writes quite informally and relationally, which serves to ensure the complexity of stories covered is accessible to a range of readers. Despite – or perhaps because of – her frequent use of colloquialism, she manages to create a link between these fierce women of history and the women reading about them today.

100 Nasty Women of History provides a hilarious insight into 100 fierce women – whose life stories, struggles and achievements can still influence our work for change today.

Kate Leaney

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