What exactly does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a self?

Andrew Hill
Jul 2 · 3 min read
Author Tara Westover — Photo via Gates Cambridge

Ellen DeGeneres read it because Michelle Obama told her to. Bill Gates said it’s even better than you’ve heard. Barack Obama put it on his best books list. So did Amazon. Time Magazine named its 32-year-old author to its Top 100 list. I read it for all these reasons and because a retired high school headmaster, one of my best friends, encouraged me to.

You might not think a book about going to school would read like a page-turning thriller. But Tara Westover’s Educated does just that. It is without question one of the most extraordinary books I’ve ever read.

Even if you have to wait twenty weeks to get it from your local public library (as I did)-here’s why you should read it. Westover’s story is not just about getting a highfalutin degree. It’s about her multi-leveled struggle to become herself against insufferable odds. This is what Jungians call individuation. It’s what Dr. Wayne Dyer referred to as “leaving the tribe.” You think that’s easy? Try it.

But Westover’s memoir is more than that. Raised by survivalist parents on an Idaho mountain, her obstacles include the people she loves — her family. They involve received ideas about God and religion-the Mormon fundamentalism she was brought up with. She must climb over a wall that includes unquestioned loyalty to male power figures. You’re a woman, ain’t you? Well, this is a kitchen.

This last point is among the most important. What exactly does it mean to be a woman? For that matter, what does it mean to be a self? To have an identity not dictated by someone else’s idea of who you are. Even if that someone else is your own family. The people you love.

Go against them, and you will be called a devil in league with the Illuminati. You will be threatened with eternal damnation. Exiled from the land that’s always been your home.

Ultimately, Westover’s struggle is against ignorance itself — that demon Emma Goldman described as “the most violent element in society.”

Tara Westover was kept out of the classroom till she was seventeen. Was never vaccinated. Did not even have a birth certificate. Could not prove how old she was-or who she was. In this way, she became the victim of an orchestrated effort to keep her ignorant of herself. You’re a woman, ain’t you? Well this is a kitchen!

As an African American, I was particularly struck by Westover’s chapter on the N-word. Although she is a young white woman, that’s how she was referred to and addressed by her eldest brother, who used the term the same way ignorant whites have used it against blacks throughout history. To demean and humiliate. To put her in her place. And keep her there. The one he and others like him wanted her in.

But here’s the thing. Even after you understand that you must follow a different path from the one prescribed by others, doing something about it is no easy task.

Educated is therefore a story of courage, resilience and love. It comes at a crucial historical moment. A moment that goes beyond identity politics, the so-called cultural divide, and #MeToo. It’s a time when the entire nation seems to be asking — individually and collectively — “Who are we really?” And who gets to say? Although published in 2018, Educated’s moment will remain now for a very long time. Everyone’s personal journey is different, but Westover’s book provides helpful clues on how to begin, what questions to ask, how to think.

Put it on your list. Make it the subject of your next book club. It will not become obsolete soon.

Originally published at https://www.andrewhillbooks.com.

Andrew Hill

Written by

Award-winning writer with a background in talk radio, newspapers & TV news. Short Stories, Essays, Novel. On Twitter @jazprose www.andrewhillbooks.com

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