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3 Ways I Researched Four Faces of Femininity
Written by
She Writes
March 2020
Written by
She Writes
March 2020

Today's guest post comes from the author of Four Faces of Femininity: Heroic Women Throughout History (available April 7, 2020), Barbara McNally. Writing a book about other women throughout history, she had to do her research and make sure she got their stories right. In this post, she shares her best research methods.

A little bit of OCD and manic focus is a writer’s strength  

For 10 years I read every biography, watched every documentary, googled, interviewed and blogged on women throughout history. I wrote this book to celebrate the stories of trailblazing women who, in shaping our past and present, have pushed the boundaries of what women can be in the world. Some belong to history, some to Hollywood and some to myth. Some of these women relied on their intelligence and ingenuity to succeed, while others leveraged their creativity, curiosity or talent. They tapped the gifts they were born with and worked hard to cultivate skills. They listened to their hearts and demolished obstacles. They harnessed their inner fire to step up as leaders and stand out as individuals.

Their milestone accomplishments and contributions have forever etched these women’s names into history books and halls of fame. Yet I also find their life stories remarkable for their ordinariness—for what they share in common with the lives of women everywhere. My life has taken many unexpected turns, but I’m always astonished to discover that while no two women are the same, the paths we walk so often feel deeply familiar.

That’s why I’ve chosen to render the stories of the heroic women in these pages as expressions of four ancient archetypes all women carry within ourselves—qualities that in different measure make all our lives heroic: Mother, Lover, Warrior, Sage. I see these figures everywhere: in art and culture, in entertainment and politics, and in my own life and the lives of those around me. Like all archetypes in what Jung called our collective unconscious, they are present in our psyches and lurk in our imaginations.


Facilitating a support group for women, I have the opportunity to survey women on who they admire and respect.

If you see it, you can accomplish it!

We’ve all heard the saying “Be yourself,” but how can we be our self if we don’t know ourselves?

One way to know ourselves is to reflect in the mirror of other women. Who we love and who we hate tells us about ourselves.

When I ask most men who they admire and respect, they can easily list famous men from Abraham Lincoln to Kobe Bryant. But many women I ask during our support sessions, from 20 to 60 years old, can’t think of anyone. Maybe because many of our moms and grandmothers don’t work outside the home, maybe history books don’t highlight many women or maybe we feel it’s not humble to admit we can accomplish great things like those throughout history, let alone see ourselves in heroines.

My research also included psychologists on how to help women see their strengths. The #MeToo movement influenced the warrior chapter on setting boundaries, the mother and lover chapters were influenced by happiness studies, both hedonic and eudemonic.

Fact check, fact check, fact check

There is so much on the information on the internet, in films and in books today, that finding the true facts was time-consuming. I’m so grateful to my editorial team who went through and fact-checked each story numerous times.

What’s important is that as you read their stories, I hope you’ll see a little of yourself in each of them. Perhaps meeting them in a new framework will inspire you to dig deeper within yourself and unearth unexpected aspects of the Mother, Lover, Warrior and Sage in you.

I hope you will connect with 43 inspiring women from across the globe, across time and across our imaginations. May they push us to chase our dreams with abandon and encourage us to be nurturing, loving, daring, wise—and wonderfully complex.

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