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Queen Elizabeth, and the Power and Limitations of Inspiring Women

Changing minds can be powerful, but history shows that changing societies takes more.

Piccadilly Circus in central London on Thursday.Credit...Andrew Testa for The New York Times

LONDON — There is a certain story about women’s progress that goes something like this: For too long, women have been held back by the personal prejudices of misguided individuals, and by society’s failure to imagine their potential for dazzling achievement. But if one extraordinary woman could cut her way through, proving the doubters wrong, others would be able to follow in her footsteps. And if women can lead, equality will follow.

I have young daughters, and I can find that story all over their bookshelves, in volumes such as “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls,” a compendium of anecdotes about impressive women throughout history, carefully edited to remove any obstacles they faced that might horrify a 6-year-old. (Which is to say: pretty much all of them.)

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