Sunday, January 27, 2013


1984, 1985 Ballantine edition
Susan Brownmiller
Original price $7.95, purchase price $3.50
Worn paperback

Almost a decade after Against Our Will, Brownmiller examines the title concept, which is not unrelated, since part of femininity is passivity, and it's harder for women to fight against rape if they've been trained not to fight.  However, she is not entirely against stereotypical femininity.  She admits to dying her hair and in her youth having taken pride in her pale skin.  Her relationship to femininity is ambivalent, as I think most women's are.  She talks about her personal experience, but also that of other women, of different times, countries, classes, and races.  She also incorporates what she knows of the experiences of men, both straight and gay. 

The wry wit of her first book is still present in this her second, but there's also a sense of what might be called middle-aged feminist burnout, not only that Brownmiller was then in her late 40s, but also that the 1970s had turned to the 1980s.  She doesn't blame other women for "giving in," for instance wearing skirts and make-up, and she admits that she doesn't want to seem boring and judgmental.  She acknowledges that femininity can be fun, if it's a woman's choice rather than something imposed by loved ones and/or society.

If I had to pick one detail that was most interesting to me on this reread, it was the mention of how First Ladies were/are expected to be slender, with Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan as extreme examples.  I wonder what Brownmiller later thought of Barbara Bush, but maybe people didn't hold Barbara to that standard because she fit more into the grandmotherly image, white hair and all.

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