The New Book Every Woman Needs To Own

It's no understatement to say that here at R29 (where our mission is to be a catalyst for women to feel, see, and claim their power, 365 days a year), we take International Women's Day very seriously. We wear red in solidarity, band with our work wives to write letters to our reps in protest for women's rights, blast our favorite girl-power songs, and, of course, use our platform to celebrate feminist heroes committed to championing gender equality all over the globe — both past and present.
Photographed by Bec Lorrimer
Who, exactly? For starters, the 100 extraordinary women spotlighted in The Little Book Of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont. Hitting bookshops — and your local Madewell store — today, the pint-sized picture book is a collection of spirited, one-page anecdotes on a diverse set of females (think artists, activists, scientists, and entertainers) that have broken down barriers and shattered glass ceilings. "I chose to focus on one thing that leapt out at me — a scene from their backstory that set them on their journey, a moment of exceptional strength," Pierpont says. Accompanied by colorful, captivating illustrations by Manjit Thapp, so good they belong in a gallery, it's the kind of read that will not only teach you a thing or two about history but which will also inspire you to become a changemaker. (As in, it's just what we need right now.)
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That's why we've partnered with Madewell, a brand devoted to promoting inclusivity, empowering creativity, and giving back to future generations, to get all the scoop on the new book — straight from the author herself. Below, Joyce Lee, the retailer's head of design, talks to Pierpont about why she wrote it and how she hopes it will empower women to get involved. Plus, she shares her POV on feminism today, the current political climate, and what it will take to actually change the course of history. Scroll down for their convo — which, tbh, will make you want to pick up a copy for yourself and every member of your girl squad, stat.
Joyce Lee: First things first. Tell me, what inspired you to write The Little Book Of Feminist Saints?
Julia Pierpont: "The book’s release feels especially timely now, in light of the Me Too movement, in light of Time’s Up. But the project began before all of that — we had no idea what a tremendous year it would be. We were simply making a book that would inspire us and celebrate our heroes — a book that we wished we’d had ourselves."
Photographed by Bec Lorrimer
JL: What's the story behind the title?
JP: "The book takes its form from traditional Catholic books of saints, though ours is obviously secular. Saints books are always beautiful objects — precious in the same way that the saints themselves are precious. That’s something we wanted to emulate. The aim wasn’t just to make the writing and the imagery beautiful — the book itself had to be pleasurable to look at."
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JL: In the book, you spotlight 100 extraordinary women. I'm dying to know how you selected this list.
JP: "The process was highly collaborative — I didn’t want to be limited to women I already knew about. My editor and I each made lists of our own, and then we got Manjit [the book's illustrator], as well as our friends and families and peers, to contribute as well. We wound up with about 400 names on a spreadsheet and were forced to whittle it down from there."
JL: What are the main commonalities among these women?
JP: "Perseverance, absolutely, and a refusal to accept injustices. Many of the women had tough hills to climb, and even those who were born to a place of privilege fought to make the world a fairer place."
JL: Illustrator Manjit Thapp did the artwork in the book. What was it like collaborating with her?
JP: "I love collaborating! It’s so rare in writing. That said, Manjit and I didn’t meet in person until after the book was finished, because I’m in New York and she lives in the U.K. I would send an entry I’d written, and then Manjit would create the corresponding portrait, often incorporating something mentioned in the text. When we finally met, it felt like we were old friends."
JL: Who did you ultimately write this book for?
JP: "Young women, obviously, because they’re still in their becoming, and celebrating these women is the surest way I know of to encourage more women like them. But I gave an early copy to my grandmother, too, and she seemed very moved to see the names of women she admired from earlier generations — Bella Abzug, the congresswoman from New York, for instance — and, I think, learn some new names as well. I hope some men pick up a copy, too. They could use it."
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JL: So how would you define a feminist?
JP: "Anyone who opposes the oppression of people based on their gender identity is a feminist. Feminism should be a collective goal for everyone in a society."
Photographed by Bec Lorrimer
JL: What do you feel people get wrong about feminists?
JP: "There are people for whom the word 'feminist' has some ugly connotations. It makes me sad when I hear a very young woman proclaim that she isn’t a feminist. There’s a disconnect happening there — as if she’s afraid that being a feminist will mean boys won’t like her. Of course the truth is that if the boy isn’t a feminist, she shouldn’t like him."
JL: This is such an important time for women. What is your take on the current social climate?
JP: "Social change happens in waves, and it seems we’re in the midst of a new one right now, which is exciting. It’s important to celebrate the progress that’s been made and to use that energy going forward — because there’s always going to be backlash, there are always going to be people who resist change."
JL: Lastly, what is your hope for the future?
JP: "I hope to see more of what’s begun this year — more women banding together, equal pay, more women in office. I hope we minimize and repair what damage the current president and his cabinet manage to cause."
The Little Book Of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont is available now at Madewell, with 25% of the sales from the book being donated to nonprofit organization Girls Inc. Additionally, Madewell will donate 25% of all in-store and online sales on March 8 from 6 to 8 p.m.
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