Very disappointing and sneering piece on Woman’s Hour today. The self-help tome by Susan Jeffers, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway is 20 years old, and the question posed was “Is Feel the Fear a feminist classic”?
The contributors were pretty damning (Historian Mary Beard criticised it for being too “upbeat” and unrealistic and the editor of Men’s Health said it was only read by neurotics who watch cable TV <ahem, and all the readers of his magazine which sells thanks to the gym-buffed naked torso on the cover are perfectly emotionally adapted>). Even journalist Helen Rumbelow, who was arguing in favour of the case, sounded apologetic as she explained that <whisper> some women had made empowering steps to improve their as a result of reading the book. And that it contributed to changing the way women (and the male readers, who are conveniently forgotten in the debate) viewed themselves, regardless of the way they had been brought up and the influences to which they had or hadn’t been exposed as a child.
Fortunately, a lot of listeners emailed in in support of the book (maybe a reminder to programme makers that media types do not always accurately represent public opinion). The fact is, yes it is very American and can grate a bit if you’re used to more downbeat literature. But why throw the baby out with the bathwater?
The central message (that it is only through meeting our fears head on and getting out of our comfort zone that we can really grow as people) is relevant and useful. Jeffers advocates taking risks and avoiding the trap of being too careful about life. Her book has sold millions because it strikes a chord with many people who are no longer happy to live being ruled by anxiety.
Self-help has become a much-maligned genre, due to the number of bonkers books that have somehow become bestsellers (such as The Rules or He’s Just Not That Into You). But when there is a book that is widely acknowledged to have helped so many people live richer and more fulfilling lives, why ignore it and lump it in with all the bad eggs? It’s easy to sneer, but it’s not big or clever.