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Isabel Allende’s The Soul Of A Woman: an exclusive extract on what feminism means today

Isabel Allende was a feminist long before she knew the meaning of the word. In her new book, The Soul of a Woman, the bestselling Chilean-American author addresses the ongoing struggle for female equality in an evocative but intimate exploration of what it means to be a woman today

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Isabel Allende

Allende is most eminent for her writings (often containing an element of magical realism) about the lives of women, for which she has won multiple awards and a devoted global readership. In her latest book, The Soul of a Woman, she takes readers from her childhood to her riding of second-wave feminism in the 1960s – highlighting the rigorous work of the Isabel Allende Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving and progressing the fundamental rights of women and children worldwide. Now in her seventies (“a splendid moment of my destiny,” she writes), Allende hopes to “light the torches of our daughters and granddaughters with mine. They will have to live for us, as we lived for our mothers, and carry on with the work still left to be finished”. The following excerpt from Allende’s new book looks at how she has come to define feminism – and why she feels it is important to do so.

“Feminism often sounds scary because it seems too radical or is interpreted as hatred of men. Before continuing I must clarify this for some of my readers. Let’s start with the term patriarchy.

“My definition of patriarchy may differ a bit from Wikipedia or Webster’s Dictionary. Originally it meant the absolute supremacy of men over women, over other species, and over nature, but the feminist movement has undermined that absolute power in some aspects, although in others it persists as it has for thousands of years. Although many discriminatory laws have been changed, the patriarchy continues to be the prevalent system for political, economic, cultural and religious oppression. It grants dominion and privileges to the male gender. Aside from misogyny – contempt for women – this system includes diverse forms of exclusion and aggression: racism, homophobia, classism, xenophobia and intolerance of different ideas and people. Patriarchy is imposed with aggression; it demands obedience and punishes those who defy it.

Feminism is not about replicating the disaster. It’s about mending it. As a result, it confronts powerful reactionary forces like fundamentalism, fascism, tradition, and many others

“And what is my definition of feminism? It is not what we have between our legs but what we have between our ears. It’s a philosophical posture and an uprising against male authority. It’s a way of understanding human relations and a way to see the world. It’s a commitment to justice and a struggle for the emancipation of women, the LGBTQIA+ community, anyone oppressed by the system, including some men, and all others who want to join. Welcome! The greater our number, the better.

“In my youth I fought for equality. I wanted to participate in the men’s game. But in my mature years I’ve come to realize that the game is a folly; it is destroying the planet and the moral fiber of humanity. Feminism is not about replicating the disaster. It’s about mending it. As a result, of course, it confronts powerful reactionary forces like fundamentalism, fascism, tradition, and many others. It’s depressing to see that among the opposition forces are so many women who fear change and cannot imagine a different future.

“The patriarchy is stony. Feminism, like the ocean, is fluid, powerful, deep, and encompasses the infinite complexity of life; it moves in waves, currents, tides, and sometimes in storms. Like the ocean, feminism never stays quiet.”

The Soul of a Woman is available to buy now

Isabel Allende’s new book, The Soul of a Woman, is a meditation on power, feminism and what it means to be a woman

Isabel Allende is not associated with NET-A-PORTER