Difficult Women

Well-behaved women don’t make history: difficult women do. Lewis argues that feminism’s success is down to complicated, contradictory, imperfect women, who fought each other as well as fighting for equal rights. Too many of these pioneers have been whitewashed or forgotten in our modern search for feel-good, inspirational heroines. It’s time to reclaim the history of feminism as a history of difficult women.

In this book, you’ll meet the working-class suffragettes who advocated bombings and arson; the princess who discovered why so many women were having bad sex; the pioneer of the refuge movement who became a men’s rights activist; the ‘striker in a sari’ who terrified Margaret Thatcher; the wronged Victorian wife who definitely wasn’t sleeping with the prime minister; and the lesbian politician who outraged the country. Taking the story up to the present, Helen Lewis reveals the unvarnished – and unfinished – history of women’s rights.

Agent: Andrew Gordon at David Higham                 

Publicity: Alison Davies at Vintage

A Guardian, Telegraph, Times and Financial Times Book of The Year 2020.

Buy the book:

Whoever said feminists lack a sense of humour has not read enough Lewis… Her book isn’t at all a conventional history. It’s a collection of powerful personal essays on the gnarly issues that women continue to face… I read Difficult Women with gratitude. It’s an authoritative benchmark of modern feminism, written by someone on top of her game… Hooray for a great book by a clever, clear-sighted, straight-talking, difficult young woman.
– Melanie Reid, The Times
Reading Difficult Women felt like sitting down with a friend and gossiping about other women in our circle… It has some howl-out-loud funny moments… Helen Lewis does more than just tell their stories – she allows them to be complicated, something that women are so rarely permitted to be.
– Jess Phillips, New Statesman
Difficult Women is smart, thoughtful and rich in detail… Lewis proves an excellent storyteller who seamlessly blends scholarly inquiry and journalistic investigation with autobiographical titbits and flashes of caustic wit (her footnotes are a hoot).
– Fiona Sturges, Guardian
Difficult Women is fully of vivid detail, jam-packed with research and fizzing with provocation.
– Christina Patterson, Sunday Times
Inspiriting and energetic…clever and compelling… But what I loved most of all is her clear respect for those who went before us.
– Rachel Cooke, Observer
This sensible, forthright personal history of the women who fought for the vote, for equal pay, for women to have control over their bodies, is a breath of fresh air in a feminist climate too often bogged down in petty spats over ideas of privilege and virtue signalling… Lewis’s trenchant, witty voice steers the reader to focus on the details that matter.
– Claire Allfree, Metro
“As climate change, pandemics and the fracturing of politics drive us into ever-tightening circles of despair, there has never been a more important time to hear Helen Lewis’s message.
– Nell Frizzell, Telegraph

“This is the antidote to saccharine you-go-girl fluff. Effortlessly erudite and funny, Helen Lewis tackles the great unacknowledged truth of feminist history: no one ever changed the world by being nice. A landmark in modern feminist scholarship, it manages to be important, irreverent and a joy to read.”
– Caroline Criado Perez

“Brilliant, from one of the brightest journalists in Britain today. Compulsive, rigorous, unforgettable, hilarious and devastating. Everything but difficult, ironically enough.
– Hadley Freeman

“All the history you need to understand why you’re so furious, angry and still hopeful about being a woman now. A book that is part intellectual weapon in your handbag, part cocktail with a friend.”
– Caitlin Moran

I loved Difficult Women. Helen Lewis writes with a devilish wit and a clear eye about the harder edges of meaningful progress. Engaging, moving, witty and sobering – Difficult Women is a book for all humans who value all humans, as difficult as they may be.”
– Stephen McGann

“Some names you will recognise, others will be new. All deserve your respect. In a world where equality still feels like an uphill struggle, it is wonderful to celebrate eleven epic and ultimately victorious battles.”
– Anita Anand