A Message My Sixteen-year-old Self Needed to Hear: Review of Wolfpack: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game (2019) by Abby Wambach – Review by Mandy Stewart
Bring these three seemingly disparate concepts together and you have Wolfpack, the book I wish 16-year-old me had read, yet my middle-aged self is now reveling. This is a crucial book that all of your high school students (male and female) should read by Olympic Gold Medalist and U.S. Soccer sensation Abby Wambach (who I’ll now call Abby because you can just tell from her writing she’d be cool on a first-name basis.)
Based on the “rewilding” of Yellowstone National Park in 1995, Abby rewrites the Little Red Riding Hood story for women and girls everywhere. She explains that the straying little girl we grew up reading about was never us—we’ve always been the wolf. Just as the introduction of wolves at Yellowstone resulted in numerous positive benefits for the animal population, plant life, and ecosystem, women in leadership roles (and not just token ones) is exactly what our world needs.
Abby, who is the co-founder of a women’s leadership training program, first explained this connection of wolves to women in a commencement speech in 2018. The speech went viral, resonating with many women who, like me, have never been able to adequately verbalize long held feelings/suspicions about gender barriers, stereotypes, and double standards that go unchecked.
This soccer star so clearly communicates what for many of us, and certainly our students, could be a life-changing message, a rally cry to change the game.
In this short, highly accessible book, Abby first lays out the problem, briefly discussing gender inequality as well as the heightened White supremacy and misogyny that is becoming more acceptable. Then, she introduces the wolf metaphor, explaining that like the wolves once were a fear to the ecosystem, so are women to many in our world. She states: “Women—who are feared by many to be a threat to our system—will become our society’s salvation” (p. 10).
That’s certainly a loaded statement, but she supports her assertion very comprehensively throughout the book, while not disparaging men, yet calling attention to existing inequalities and giving examples from her own experiences in women’s soccer. In the subsequent eight chapters, Abby does what is greatly needed in order to address any injustice. She states the old rules, the unspoken ones that have governed our social, political, and familial interactions for our lifetimes. With each old rule, she unpacks how it has surreptitiously crept into our thinking and has affected how we operate in our worlds and how we see ourselves. On the surface, some of these rules do not sound harmful such as “stay on the path.” Yet Abby illustrates how following that rule has held women back for years by keeping us from creating our own paths. If we are not brave enough, (both men and women), to bring the unspoken, undisputed rules of the game of life into our dialogue, then we do nothing but perpetuate the status quo. After all, if the old rules are worth following, they should be open to analysis.
However, Abby doesn’t leave us in our problems. After naming each old rule and explaining its consequences in individual lives and society, she gives us a new rule to replace it. For example, “Play it safe. Pass the ball.” becomes “Believe in yourself. Demand the ball.” As she names each of the old rules, bringing the previously undiscussed into the discussion, and replaces it with a new rule, she begins to rewrite the game, laying the foundation for a more just world. This world she envisions has everyone leveraging their full potential for the betterment of us all.
Below are some of the eight old and new rules.
Old Rule: Be grateful for what you have.
New Rule: Be grateful for what you have AND demand what you deserve.
Old Rule: Wait for permission to lead.
New Rule: Lead now—from wherever you are.
Old Rule: Failure means you’re out of the game.
New Rule: Failure means you’re finally IN the game.
This is not just a book for your female students because male students need to be a part of this conversation as well. I encourage high school teachers to include this book in their classroom library or use it in a unit that examines double standards, hidden rules, and gender stereotypes.
Admittedly, this might not be the most obvious text for your curriculum, and honestly, it could even be a little controversial. Yet, if you really want to be a change agent, just take Abby’s advice: “Believe in yourself. Demand the ball.”
My 16-year-old self is desperately waiting to read these words.
Mandy Stewart is faculty at Texas Woman’s University where she focuses on adolescent (bi)literacy and language development, specifically among emergent bilingual students. She is the author of Understanding Adolescent Immigrants and Keep It R.E.A.L: Relevant, Engaging, and Affirming Literacy for Adolescent English Learners. Connect with her @dramandystewart and MStewart7@twu.edu.