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Thursday 20 May 2021 2:23pm

Sarah Jane Barnett

The book

Notes on womanhood websiteAfter Sarah Jane Barnett had a hysterectomy in her forties, a comment by her doctor that she wouldn't be “less of a woman” prompted her to investigate what the concept of womanhood meant to her. Part memoir, part feminist manifesto, part coming-of-middle-age story, Notes on Womanhood is the result.

Here, Barnett examines the devastation she inflicted on herself as a young woman, the invisibility she feels as her youth fades, the power of female friendship, the stories women learn about midlife and menopause, and how being the daughter of a transgender woman changed her ideas of womanhood.

'This book is a conversation with myself about my own womanhood,' Barnett says. 'The act of looking showed me the stitches: Western society's beauty standards, the male gaze, a fear of aging, hair and gender, care work, my grandmother, life stage transitions, orca whales and tramping. All the people whose work I explored – Darcey Steinke, Alok Vaid-Menon, Megan Jayne Crabbe, Maggie Nelson, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Judith Butler, Barbara Brookes, Natalie Wynn, Ani Mikaere, Atul Gawande and many more – offered up ideas about gender, aging and society in a way that opened a door to the next idea. I kept on walking through those doors. The result is what I am calling my “coming-of-middle-age” story.'

I loved this book. It's the kind of book you don't know you need until you read it. Then you realise you really, really do – and, also, that many of your friends will too. – Ingrid Horrocks

Notes on Womanhood is the rare type of book that can clarify the vague, conflicting thoughts that rattle around the back of your mind, and may ultimately grant you permission to go easy on yourself, no matter your gender. – Jane Arthur


Sarah Jane Barnett is an Aotearoa writer and editor. Her poetry, essays, interviews and reviews have been published widely in Aotearoa journals and magazines, as well as in Australia and the US. Her debut poetry collection A Man Runs into a Woman was a finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Her second collection WORK was published in October 2015. You can find her at:

Publication details

Notes on Womanhood is the inaugural title in a new series from Otago University Press.
KA HAEA TE ATA: books that cast light on issues of importance in Aotearoa today.

Cover image by Henrietta Harris, Fixed It XV1, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Melanie Roger Gallery.

Paperback, 210x148mm, 180pp approx.
ISBN 9781990048364, $30

Reviews and Interviews

Interview: Sarah Jane Barnett speaks to Good Books Wellington about Notes on WomanhoodRead

Interview: Sarah Jane Barnett speaks to Kim Hill about Notes on Womanhood on RNZ Listen

Interview: Sarah Jane Barnett speaks to André Chumko about Notes on Womanhood on Stuff NZ Read

Interview: Sarah Jane Barnett speaks to Sarah Lang about Notes on Womanhood for Capsule NZ
Read the full interview here: Part One, Part Two

Interview: Sarah Jane Barnett chats to Pip Adam about Notes on Womanhood on Better Off Read Listen

Extract:Notes on Womanhood extracted on ReadingRoom, Newshub Read

Extract:Notes on Womanhood extracted on the Pantograph Punch Read

Review:“In her personal reflection on what it means to be a middle-aged woman in Aotearoa today, Sarah Jane Barnett traverses rich and interesting territory … Barnett writes eloquently, with intelligence and sensitivity ... This is a thoughtful, wise book that rewards patience. Take your time with it." – Eleanor Black reviews Notes on Womanhood for Canvas, NZ Herald. Read the full review

Review:“A sharp and intelligent memoir. Bits of it will make you wince.” – Catherine Woulfe reviews Notes on Womanhood for The Spinoff. Read the full review

Review: Hannah August reviews Notes on Womanhood for Nine to Noon, RNZ Listen

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