Women are not powerless. That's the most important message from Gillian Anderson's new book We, that she co-wrote with journalist Jennifer Nadel — and it's the one she tells Bustle that she most wanted to convey. The book is described as a "manifesto for women everywhere" — and it's all about empowering women to change their lives for the better through self-love. It's full of a mixture of practical, psychological, and spiritual advice to help women everywhere give their lives more meaning. We isn't about having-it-all; it's about women freeing themselves to actually be happy.
As Gillian Anderson tells Bustle, "We are not powerless. We can make a difference in our own lives, in our communities and across the world." Especially in today's political climate, women need to be activists — but Anderson and Nadel are very keen to emphasize that the first step is compassion. After all, we can't look after the world without looking after ourselves first.
"All of us need to be activists during the current times," Nadel tells Bustle, "and that means guarding against burn out and frustration by taking time to care for ourselves (as well as our causes). As women we're often conditioned to abandon ourselves to care for others but when we do, we leave ourselves in danger of burn out."
So what can we do to look after ourselves, especially when so many of the causes women are fighting for today feel so urgent? Nadel is keen for women "to look for moments of joy. If we feed our souls with joy and beauty we'll develop the crucial quality of resilience." And women certainly need resilience today, when there's so much to be done. After all, as Nadel makes clear, "if we just stay at home feeling victimized and afraid by what is happening, nothing will change." Nadel encourages women to "use [their] anger as fuel," and not to be afraid to start small. Here, she's firm: "a Facebook post can start a march, so don't be cynical."
Here's where We can help. Gillian Anderson and Nadel's book is the perfect kickstart to living a more engaged life — even if you're as busy as these powerful women. "It's first important to get really honest about how we spend our time," says Anderson. "How much time is spent online either surfing the net or shopping or gaming or watching mindless reality shows? In other words, how much time do we end up spending in our own worlds on things that ultimately don't make us feel better? Only when we get really honest about that, can we start to look at what we can drop in order to free up time to spend doing things that actually align with our values, and bring real meaning into our lives." Wise words, but of course we expected nothing less from a woman as badass as Gillian Anderson.
Anderson even has words of encouragement for her readers, praising them for taking the "huge courageous leap" of beginning to change their lives. "It may really shake up their equilibrium," she says of readers who may not have tried other forms of therapy in the past, "until they get a sense of how much better they feel having gotten so honest."
With those readers who struggle being quite as honest with themselves as We recommends, Nadel sympathizes. "Many of us cut ourselves off from our feelings as a defense mechanism," she says. "We’re scared that they will overwhelm us, so we build an invisible emotional wall around us to keep ourselves safe — only it also keeps us quite stuck and often quite lonely. Try to imagine what someone else you love might feel in similar circumstances. Would they feel sad, or angry or abandoned or depressed? Learning how to reconnect our feelings can sometimes take detective work, so trust the first answers that come up, they’re generally right. And chances are that’s what you are feeling albeit deep behind your protective wall."
Gillian Anderson recommends writing in a journal to help you open up to your most deeply hidden feelings. "I sometimes do morning pages where I write for 15 minutes on disposable biodegradable paper and then flush it," she confesses. "I find it very cathartic." As well as being a great way to release some of your worries, the exercise can dig up some surprising emotions. "What consequently comes out on the page is often underlying thoughts and fears that I had no idea lay below the surface and which are always better to have out rather than in. Any time we get honest it's an act of self care because when we see something clearly, we have a choice to take action and taking action gets us out of the places we are stuck."
Both women have high hopes for the incredible impact We can have on women across the world, especially as the wisdom contained within the book, distilled from the best spiritual teachings of the last centuries, is so timeless. "It is a manifesto which will be as relevant to future readers as it is for us today," says Nadel. "Hopefully the problems we all face will have got smaller, but there will always be new challenges for us as individuals and collectively, and we will always need truths and tools to help us navigate them."
While the women were writing We, Gillian Anderson was reading a range of other feminist literature, from Angela Davis's Freedom Is a Constant Struggle to Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists. These are all books that have inspired and empowered generations of women, and We is exactly the book to join their ranks.