The stories we share —Five book recommendations featuring inspirational female characters

We believe women need to see more strong, interesting, female protagonists in the stories we share, because that helps us create our own narratives and see ourselves as the strong, interesting protagonists of our own lives.

“You can’t be what you can’t see” is a series of articles through which we turn the lights on the stories of women that inspire us.

According to The Atlantic, the best female characters come from books. This is why we asked the Lean In Circle Cluj team to recommend their favorite books that feature inspirational female characters.

The Broken Woman — Simone de Beauvoir

Recommended by Oana Hategan

Simone de Beauvoir is a French writer, academic, philosopher and women’s rights activist. Unexpectedly, it was the fictional prose of Simone de Beauvoir, and not The Second Sex — also known as the counter stone of contemporary feminist philosophy — that dramatically changed my view on women's role in politics, philosophy and literature.

I have a very vivid memory of me and my friends taking a walk during lunch break in high school, and I’ve been recalling this memory a lot lately — four 18 year olds discussing reasons why women can’t write (it’s ok, younger Oana, you’ll know better). If women could actually write, then they would have a place in our study books, together with Tolstoi, and Kafka and Hemingway and Bulgakov, right?

Reading Simone de Beauvoir’s fictional prose, was game-changing for me because:

  1. I realized women can definitely write

2. I discovered complex female fictional characters, fully aware and in charge of their destiny— not portrayed as victims, objects of desire or romantic accessories for the main character.

We Should All Be Feminists — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Recommended by Melania Galea

I first heard about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from one of Beyonce’s feminist songs, Flawless, and her monologue impressed me with its toughness and directness. I looked forward into the author and discovered a ted talk she had given that I think we should all listen to. Her eloquent views on women status in society address all audiences.

Her ted talk was adapted into a book that is even more powerful. It helped me understand what feminism means and how important it is for us, who can, to raise awareness on the discrimination and marginalization women suffer from, across the globe, everyday.

In a witty and humorous tone, she addresses crucial subjects, recounting experiences from her home in Nigeria to her work in the US, drawing an accurate image of what it means to be a woman today.

One of the many quotes I took with me after reading the book is

If we do something over and over, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over, it becomes normal.

Thrive — Arianna Huffington

Recommended by Melania Galea

I received Thrive as a gift from a dear friend more than a year ago. I was entering the entrepreneurial ecosystem back then and I was struggling to find a balance between working on my idea and doing it for a sustainable period of time. When working on your startup, you have drive, passion, a lot of aspects to handle and it’s easy to fall into a little to no-sleep situation, very quickly. I remember going on social media and reading and hearing all the time “work hard”, “pull long hours”, seeing entrepreneurs glamorising the culture of busy. After starting reading Thrive I realised how unsustainable that lifestyle was and I started working smart, pulling decent, consistent schedules, not answering the “how are you?” social questions with “tired or busy” anymore.

Thrive is very light written, it has a lot of real life examples from companies like Google and Huffington Post which realised that the key to have long term driven employees is to have rested employees, who allow themselves to recreate, get creative and mindful, along with their work.

It introduced me to the importance of mindfulness, of staying in the present, alert, of prioritizing, of not being afraid of missing out (that much).

Lean In — Sheryl Sandberg

Recommended by Tako Kereselidze

First of all, I have to admit, that I did not finish reading this book yet. But the reason why I want to write about Lean In is that it is inspirational and motivational for any type of woman, with any kind of problems. I am reading it and I realize, that it is about one woman and about all of us at the same time.

In this book you can find a lot of real life examples, cases where women are pushed back by men, or by women, or even by themselves. Also, here you can see how nicely risen is the problem of “being liked” or “being successful”. Women with lots of achievements are not accepted and liked by the society, which is one of the huge problems that we have to fight for and solve.

I would like to cite from the book, one occasion that Sheryl experienced herself:

A few years ago, I gave a talk on gender issues to a few hundred employees at Facebook. After my speech, I took questions for as long as time permitted. Later that afternoon, I came back to my desk, where a young woman was waiting to talk to me. “I learned something today,” she said. “What?” I asked, feeling good as I figured she was about to tell me how my words had touched her. Instead, she said, “I learned to keep my hands up.” She explained that toward the end of my talk, I had said that I would take only two more questions. I did so, and then she put her hand down, along with all of the other women. But several men kept their hands up. And since hands were still waving in the air, I took more questions — only from the men. Instead of my words touching her, her words hit me like a ton of bricks. Even though I was giving a speech on gender issues, I had been blind to one myself.

I think this story says it all!

In conclusion, I would like to encourage you to stand for each other, to stand for yourself! As women, we have to acknowledge the power we have, especially if we are together! There is this african proverb — “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We want to go far so we have to go together!

Elizabeth I CEO: Strategic Lessons from the Leader Who Built an Empire — Alex Axelrod

Recommended by Daniela Fantaziu

Being passionate about history have always dragged me out of the school books and into finding the raw, real and funny side of the history — so when I found a book named “Elizabeth I CEO”, I knew this was the book to read.

Elizabeth was the last of the Tudors to rule over the British Empire, but her reign is considered the Golden Age of the British history. How did she managed to transform a failed business into the most powerful empire — this in only 45 years?

Her business mindset, calculated personality and sophisticated manner of dealing with her duties portray a woman way ahead her time. She is the one that set a different path for women who rule. And I would like the reader to keep in mind that Elizabeth was a ‘bastard’ woman that ruled 450 years ago — ruling in a patriarchal society.

Forget the leadership books — take a look back in history to learn the most valuable lessons. This books gives you 34 lessons of how Elizabeth changed the course of history — lessons and experiences that are still actual.

Inspiration for girls, for women? Powerful example that you should follow your heart, mind and intellect and if there’s no empire — YOU should create it!

Need more inspiration?

Ana Beleiu recommends you to check out the Mighty Girl list — a collection of books for smart, confident and courageous girls.

Let us know who inspires you! “You can’t be what you can’t see” is all about turning the lights on the great women around us. If you have a friend, a colleague, a neighbor, a boss, a mentor or someone else that has a story worth sharing, drop us a message on Facebook or write us here.