Notes on Womanhood

Book Author Sarah Jane Barnett
Rights Available World excl. NZ

After 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.’

About the Author
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:


Otago University Press


210 x 148 mm


Non Fiction

Memoir & Biography

Publication Date
June 2022

Rights Available:
World excl. NZ

Rights Agents:

Sue Wootton


Contact Otago University Press about this book

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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 for Canvas, NZ Herald

A sharp and intelligent memoir. Bits of it will make you wince.

Catherine Woulfe for The Spinoff

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 for The Dominion Post