When Women Are the Storytellers, The Human Story Changes
By Elizabeth Lesser
Throughout history, most of humankind’s origin stories, hero’s tales, novels, and films have been told by men. Embedded in those stories are morals about men and women, power and war, sex and love, and what it takes to be courageous, gallant, and strong. These stories stick to us, inform our values, and validate or invalidate whole swaths of people.
But what if women had been the storytellers too? What kind of world would women have longed for and led us toward? What story would Eve have told about picking the apple and leaving the garden? What would Pandora have said about opening the box? And what if the populous had listened to Cassandra… and to all the Cassandras throughout the ages who have been cast as fickle, sinful, and untrustworthy? What if women had been given the same moral authority as men? How would that have changed our culture? How will that change our world today? These are the questions that best-selling author Elizabeth Lesser explores in her highly anticipated new book CASSANDRA SPEAKS: When Women Are the Storytellers, The Human Story Changes (Harper Wave; September 15, 2020; ISBN: 9780062887184; 304 pages; $27.99).
Using her great gifts of humor and insight, feminist research, and spiritual introspection, Lesser follows the breadcrumbs from the old stories to newer films and literature, leadership classics, and business books, and adds her own stories of being a mother, wife, cultural observer and organizational leader. She empowers women to trust their instincts, speak their truths, and reclaim their authentic voices from under the weight of thousands of years’ worth of fake news from history. She encourages women and men to reimagine a world together where the stories we tell, the monuments we build, and the language we use value caretaking and communication over vengeance and violence.
The book is brilliantly structured into three distinct parts. In Part One, Lesser gives us a fresh way to consider our deeply embedded Origin tales and examines ancient stories and texts, including:
• The story of Eve: Our guiding origin story is based in misogyny and blame, and womankind bears the scars of her sin instead of the honor of her courage.
• Cassandra’s curse: Our most ancient example of gaslighting. Like Cassandra, women today know the truth of our own experiences, but it’s still “common knowledge” that women’s emotions cloud their vision, that we tend toward hysteria, and therefore are not to be trusted.
• The myth of Pygmalion and Galatea has been painted by artists and interpreted by authors throughout the ages. Modern versions of the myth abound—in plays and films, and on TV and social media. From Eliza Doolittle to Pretty Woman to reality-TV makeover shows—all perpetuate the theme that men, or the culture at large, are the arbiters and molders of acceptable female beauty and behavior. Lesser asks, “Why are we still preoccupied by an arbitrary notion of what makes a woman beautiful, sexually desirable, or worthy of love? Why do we sacrifice our comfort, time, money, authenticity, and even our health to live up to unattainable body images? Why do we curb our emotions, repress our sexuality, quiet our voices, restrict our ambition? Why are we still under the spell of Galatea?”
Part Two looks at the story of power, and encourages women to “do power differently.” Lesser asks, “What would it be like for humanity today if women had contributed to the theories and stories about what it meant to be a powerful person? What if the relational skills women had developed over the centuries had been as revered as the skills of men? It’s time for women to tell their versions of what it means to be fully human.” Delving into texts both ancient and current, from Sun Tzu and Machiavelli to the unquestioned words of business gurus, she encourages women to ask, “What is power anyway? Who gets to have it, use it, define it? Can it be shared? Does it always corrupt? Can a person wield power without violence and domination?”
And Part Three offers “A Toolbox for Inner Strength.” Lesser provides inner tools to help us be both strong-willed and kind-hearted and to look within and take responsibility for our own shadows. She encourages us to examine: how both women and men are wounded by patriarchy; how we use language—we describe almost everything we do from the major to the mundane, using words of combat (front lines, battle, etc.), which seeps into our consciousness and affects the way we go about our daily lives; how women suffer from the “imposter syndrome,” and ways of overcoming it; how we are going through “a collective rite of passage” and need to support and uplift each other; the importance of a “do no harm and take no shit” philosophy; and how we all can rewrite the hero myth by honoring and telling the stories of women who have inspired us.
Women, men, and all people will find themselves in the pages of this book and will come away strengthened, opened, and ready to work together to create a better world for all. “When I dream of a better world,” Lesser writes, “I dream of men fearlessly reclaiming traits that have been coded feminine: feelings, empathy, communication. I dream of women reclaiming traits that have been coded masculine: ambition, confidence, authority. But what I dream of most is women and men mixing it up, blending it all together, tempering power with wisdom, giving muscle and prestige to love and nurture. That’s my dream. I hope this book gives voice to yours and helps you weave the new stories the world is waiting for.”
Elizabeth Lesser’s bestselling books include Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow and Marrow: Love, Loss & What Matters Most. She is the co-founder of Omega Institute, has given two popular TED talks, and is a member of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul 100.
When did we as women start trying so desperately to tame our feelings, our bodies, our ambition? In this powerful and beautiful book, Elizabeth Lesser brings us back to the earliest stories that convinced us to silence our voices, and then forward to a place where we trust ourselves to lead our lives — and the world.
—Glennon Doyle, #1 New York Times Bestselling author of UNTAMED, and founder of Together Rising
Cassandra Speaks is about the power of love instead of the love of power. Elizabeth Lesser speaks to the value of finding your voice in the wilderness of these times, of taking a new kind of hero’s journey—one that replaces violence and domination with deep feeling and courageous communication. What a blessing!
—Iyanla Vanzant, Author, Host, Iyanla Fix My Life (OWN)
Here’s what I learned reading this blazingly wonderful book: All those stories and myths that I unconsciously absorbed? They were wrong. They defined, limited, and contained me.
Now it’s time for women to know the truth and rewrite the tales. Every chapter of this book hit home.
—Sally Field, Academy Award-winning actor and bestselling author of In Pieces
Blessed are the truth tellers, and Elizabeth Lesser is one of them. Cassandra Speaks is astute and witty, tender, and soulful. It’s a tapestry of memoir, cultural commentary, and spiritual fuel that inspires women—and all people left out of history’s storytelling—to reclaim our lineage, to become prophetic alchemists in a world in grave need of healing.
—Jamia Wilson, Executive Director and Publisher of the Feminist Press
Cassandra Speaks is a nod to the power of storytelling in our journey to build a truly equitable society. It lays bare the relationship between gender and power and makes a compelling case for deepening our connections and embracing our collective humanity.
—Tony Porter, CEO of A CALL TO MEN
Elizabeth Lesser is a wise and powerful storyteller. Cassandra Speaks helps us understand the roots of women’s shame and guilt and offers a path forward—by changing our stories, we change our lives.
—Eileen Fisher, founder, EILEEN FISHER, Inc.
An encouraging guide to help women redefine their lives.
Readers will find this lucid and detailed presentation of feminist.
What Does Peace Mean to Elizabeth Lesser go to: http://goodnewsplanet.com/what-does-peace-mean-to-elizabeth-lesser/