Take Back Your Brain: How a Sexist Society Gets in Your Head—and How to Get It Out

Image of Take Back Your Brain: How a Sexist Society Gets in Your Head--and How to Get It Out
Release Date: 
May 21, 2024
Penguin Life
Reviewed by: 

Kara Loewentheil hosts a very successful podcast UNF*CK YOUR BRAIN: Feminist Self-Help for Everyone, and in her new book draws on cognitive psychology, feminist theory, and years of experience as “a neuroplasticity-focused coach” to help women to deprogram and reprogram the self-critical and negative thinking into which they have been socialized by a patriarchal society.

The book contains concrete exercises, which if done systematically she believes will enable the reader to rewire their “neural pathways.” Loewentheil explains her insight of several years back that despite equality gains for women (her reference point is primarily the U.S.) without “feminist coaching” to change women’s thought processes, both individual women and the larger society will remain stuck. One of her strongly held beliefs is that “if you’re not a feminist, you’re a sexist” and that there is no neutral point between the two points.

She distinguishes her own approach to feminist coaching from other self-help or self-development approaches that as she sees it, actually enhance women’s lack of self-worth by focusing on how women can fix themselves in order to make the grade, in a system that is rigged against them. It is stressed repeatedly that the fact that women have internalized sexist messages is not their fault as the discriminatory messaging comes from the context.

Loewentheil acknowledges her debt to Kimberley Crenshawe and “intersectionality,” showing that some women are more equal than others, but pays little or no attention to male “neural pathways” that are presumably the outcome of, and supportive of the patriarchal system. If women who read her book learn “how to be nicer” to themselves, that is considered to be already “a radical shift” and “a win.”

Following the cognitive behavioral therapy approach of thought-emotion-behavior-return, Loewentheil takes the reader through a number of common concerns: I don’t have strong friendships; I hate my thighs; I yelled at my kids, etc. to demonstrate how feelings can be changed by changing thoughts, which in turn changes actions, resulting in different returns.  Women need to close the gap between their inner voice eroding their self-esteem that comes from the patriarchal context, and their true potential. As Loewentheil demonstrates the Brain Gap can be bridged by using the Thought Ladder, to ascend from Current Thought to Goal Thought through progressive Ladder steps, in any social sphere: working life, time management, money management, “Love (&Sex!) Life” and, of course, Body Image which is a major preoccupation.

A closing thought is that “Our unequal and unjust society depends on you staying small. But your liberation—and the world’s progress—depends on you closing your Brain Gap and learning how to take up space. . . when women believe they are enough that’s when they go out and change the world.”

The famous phrase of Artemus Ward (misattributed to Abraham Lincoln) kept surfacing repeatedly during the writing of the review of this book: “For people who like that kind of thing, this is the kind of thing they like.”

The popularity of Loewentheil and her blog demonstrate very forcefully that there is indeed an audience for her message and approach. But while it is not her intention at all to place the burden for change onto women, this is effectively what she does by paying insufficient attention to contextual factors, including the patriarchs themselves.