Novelist and academic Julienne van Loon does not doubt that the thinking woman is ‘alive and well’, but when she scans the (mostly) male names in bookstore philosophy sections and the (mostly) male staff lists of university philosophy departments, she wonders where they are hiding. Some, van Loon contends, were cast out from ‘capital-p Philosophy’ or were never admitted in the first place. Many, she notes wryly, are simply having a better time elsewhere. The Thinking Woman is van Loon’s attempt to draw attention to the careers and contributions of leading female philosophers, while using their ideas to flesh out what constitutes a good life for women. What are the necessary material and emotional requirements for women to live fulfilling lives? And how are these lives circumscribed by misogyny and gender inequality?
The Thinking Woman is also much more than a thematically organised collection of essays that bring the dense theories of living feminist and female philosophers to a general readership. In many ways the book is also a revelation, as it marks van Loon as an extraordinary memoirist, able to draw convincing parallels between her own life and the academic arguments of her philosopher subjects without descending into cant or mawkishness. Van Loon manages to move confidently and convincingly between discussing her early love of trees and her first job working at a Dagwood Dog truck, to Julia Kristeva’s theory of subjective horror and Rosi Braidotti’s concept of bios/zoe.