What story would Eve have told about picking the apple? Why is Pandora blamed for opening the box? And what about the fate of Cassandra who was blessed with knowing the future but cursed so that no one believed her? What if women had been the storytellers?
Elizabeth Lesser believes that if women’s voices had been equally heard and respected throughout history, humankind would have followed different hero myths and guiding stories—stories that value caretaking, champion compassion, and elevate communication over vengeance and violence.
Cassandra Speaks is about the stories we tell and how those stories become the culture. It’s about the stories we still blindly cling to, and the ones that cling to us: the origin tales, the guiding myths, the religious parables, the literature and films and fairy tales passed down through the centuries about women and men, power and war, sex and love, and the values we live by. Stories written mostly by men with lessons and laws for all of humanity. We have outgrown so many of them, and still they endure. This book is about what happens when women are the storytellers too—when we speak from our authentic voices, when we flex our values, when we become protagonists in the tales we tell about what it means to be human.
Lesser has walked two main paths in her life—the spiritual path and the feminist one—paths that sometimes cross but sometimes feel at cross-purposes. Cassandra Speaks is her extraordinary merging of the two. The bestselling author of Broken Open and Marrow, Lesser is a beloved spiritual writer, as well as a leading feminist thinker. In this book she gives equal voice to the cool water of her meditative self and the fire of her feminist self. With her trademark gifts of both humor and insight, she offers a vision that transcends the either/or ideologies on both sides of the gender debate.
Brilliantly structured into three distinct parts, Part One explores how history is carried forward through the stories a culture tells and values, and what we can do to balance the scales. Part Two looks at women and power and expands what it means to be courageous, daring, and strong. And Part Three offers “A Toolbox for Inner Strength.” Lesser argues that change in the culture starts with inner change, and that no one—woman or man—is immune to the corrupting influence of power. She provides inner tools to help us be both strong-willed and kind-hearted.
Cassandra Speaks is a beautifully balanced synthesis of storytelling, memoir, and cultural observation. 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 people.
Omega Institute cofounder Lesser (Marrow) demonstrates how myth, religion, and history minimize women's voices and values in this lucid and ultimately optimistic account. Criticizing traditional, male-dominated lists of great books and histories that glorify war, Lesser suggests alternative stories of women who "meet adversity with love," such as Malala Yousafzai, Antoinette Tuff, and Tammy Duckworth. She advocates "innervism" as a corollary to feminist activism, encouraging women to focus on looking at "our blind spots, our projections, our hypocrisies," and offers detailed meditation exercises to help women learn how to "Do No Harm and Take No Shit" and find the courage to "give clear voice to... healthy anger." Citing her work helping 9/11 first responders to overcome their "strong and silent" conditioning and share their feelings, Lesser ties the cultural devaluing of women with the discrediting of feminine-coded values like empathy, sharing, and care, and argues that leaning into these values would improve the world for men and women alike. Emphasizing individual over community work, Lesser does not address whether it's necessary to build spaces in which women can be heard, and her guidance on how women can tell their own stories is minimal. Still, readers will find this lucid and detailed presentation of feminist ideas motivating.