feminist book reviews

Revisiting The Feminine Mystique

mystiqueby Chanel Dubofsky

My copy of The Feminine Mystique has a smell that I associate with trashy romance novels. I haven’t opened it in years, probably since I read it for a giant paper I wrote in college, about Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, confessional poetry and the domestic trap of the 1960’s. If you haven’t read it, here’s the deal (but you should read it): Friedan interrogates “the problem that has no name”, which is the misery of women living in material comfort who have husbands and children.

In short, women are told their entire lives that they will and must find fulfillment exclusively in their roles as a homemaker, wife, and mother. At the end of the book, Friedan discusses the importance of shifting our thinking around femininity, fulfillment, education and activism.

The book scared the hell out of me. I read it in my dorm lounge, and at the risk of being dramatic, my reaction was probably proportional to that of people when they saw “The Exorcist” during its original run in theatres. Whatever hallmates happened to be around were pulled into the lounge and asked, “Can you believe this shit??”

The idea of not having a choice in whether or not you got married and had children was terrifying. (I was not yet necessarily critical of marriage as an institution, but I was heading there). What was perhaps the most distressing about the book was how women were made to think of themselves as martyrs to the causes of wifedom and motherhood, suppressing other desires and needs that made them full humans.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication, and there’s been various and assorted conversation around it. How far has feminism come? Have we accomplished anything? Are things better? (You know, not vague questions at all.) Read more

Posted on by Chanel Dubofsky in Feminism Leave a comment

GF Reads: Airbrushed Nation: The Lure and Loathing of Women’s Magazines

Airbrushed Nation Cover

by Ashli Scale

Like many girls, I grew up reading Seventeen Magazine, Cosmo and Vogue. Also like many girls, I had horribly low self-esteem and I hated by body. I spent hours agonizing over the models’ faces and bodies, wondering how I could achieve the perfection found in the glossy pages of my magazines.

No matter how much information I gleaned from the magazines about improving my body, dressing in style and enhancing my looks with make-up, nothing seemed to work. I even spent most of my allowance on cosmetics, clothes and diet products recommended by these magazines. No matter how much money I threw at the “problem” of my appearance I could not achieve what these magazines promised.

Many years later I read a book called The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. This book was a game-changer for me because it completely opened my eyes to the manipulation of the beauty, diet and fitness industries. I had always considered myself intelligent, savvy and a bit of a conspiracy theorist so how did I get duped for so many years? This insight kick-started my interest in the body acceptance movement so when I was given the opportunity to review Jennifer Nelson’s book Airbrushed Nation: The Lure and Loathing of Women’s Magazines, I was thrilled. Read more

Posted on by Ashli Scale in Feminism, Pop Culture 3 Comments

Feminist Book Club: Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Mary Wollstonecraft

This post is part of A Year of Feminist Classics book club. Visit their site to join the book club!

Confession: I’d already read most of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, starting in Grade 12 for an English project, and continuing in first year Women’s Studies at University. I found it really boring at the time so I didn’t re-read the whole thing. I did read the introductions to my edition, which I’d skipped a few years ago. Then I listened to the first six chapters in audio-book form. I have to admit that the more time passes since college the less I want to read books that feel like a bit of a chore, which this one does to me, purely because of Wollestonecraft’s overly descriptive style. So take my contributions to the discussion with a grain of salt.

I’m going to go through the discussion questions laid out by Amy on the book club website:

Were you as surprised as I was that the reaction was initially favorable to this work? And surprised at how devastating the repercussions of the memoir were? This question refers to the post-mortem publication of Wollstonecraft’s memoirs by her husband, which revealed intimate details of her life, including illegitimate children and suicide attempts. Apparently the initial response to her book was quite favourable until after her death.

The only reason finding out about the positive initial reaction surprised me was because she spent so much of the book nitpicking various writers, doctors, and philosophers. I have to say I skimmed a lot of this, as I was more interested in the overarching themes like the importance of women’s education, how women’s education fits into their role as mothers, the importance of education and free debate for a responsible society and government, and God’s intentions for women.

One part I found interesting because it evaded my notice on the first read was Wollstonecraft’s insistence that lack of education makes women flirty and coquettish, obsessed with beauty and thus not the ideal wives for smart husbands, or responsible mothers for future leaders of the nation. Today we see some of the same arguments, but without the concept of woman’s role being as a wife and mother. I’m thinking about books like Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs and other feminist treatises that look at how women dumbing themselves down and sexing themselves up makes them complicit in their own oppression. I have some issues with this argument, but it was interesting for me to see how it maybe had some roots dating back to Wollstonecraft. 

Do you think reputation and life still matters as much for women in terms of their intellectual achievements? Would women’s works today be dismissed after details of their personal lives came out?

Amy’s reply to this question was a yes, and I’d probably agree. The first case that came to mind was the run for Congress of the awesome but unfortunately-named Krystal Ball, who was trashed after racy pictures of her at a Christmas party were posted on Facebook. Now, she probably wouldn’t have won the election, but a lot of feminist bloggers made pretty convincing arguments for why her indiscretions were given so much more attention than male candidates’. Another great example of the scrutiny on women’s personal lives affecting how their intellectual achievements are perceived would be the whole “is Elena Kagan a lesbian?” kerfuffle. The controversy around Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife Virginia’s political dealings barely compared to the media furor that surrounded the picture of Elena Kagan (gasp!) playing baseball.

But these are both political examples. I’d be interested to know if anyone has any examples of academics, writers, or other intellectuals that may have been unfairly subjected to scrutiny about their personal lives because of their gender.

-Jarrah

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism 1 Comment