Womanhood: Studies in Conflict

Article excerpt

In a world of volatile and complex issues, the battle of the sexes ranges unabated. Divisiveness over abortion, sexual harassment, and equal pay for equal work trigger emotional debate and function as catalysts for acts of integrity and hypocrisy, valor and vandalism. While many women live satisfying lives free of any overt sexism, others suffer the consequences of sex discrimination and the horror of sexual violence.

Six recent books examine the tenets of feminism and diverse aspects of womanhood, from the extreme of female genital mutilation to the insidious misogyny of our attitudes toward older women and standards of beauty. These are controversial, high-profile works of scholarship, passion, anger, and revelation.

Banner, Lois W. In Full Flower: Aging Women, Power, and Sexuality. Knopf, 1992, $25 (0-394-57943-7).

Banner opens her vibrantly creative study of the various roles aging women have played in Western civilization with a shrewd analysis of Billy Wilder's masterful movie Sunset Boulevard. By the time she wraps up her investigation, she has pondered the attitudes toward mature women in Athens when male same-sex love was all the rage, medieval Europe's tradition of courtly love, and the intriguing link between seventeenth-century witch-hunts and postmenopausal women through analysis of a wealth of literary and historical sources.

Davis, Flora. Moving the Mountain: The Women's Movement in America since 1960. Simon & Schuster, 1991, $23 (0-671-60271).

It is unlikely that any of the other books on this list would have been written without the second wave of twentieth-century feminist consciousness. Davis chronicles the tremendous energy, excitement, conviction, and achievements of the women's movement over the last 30 years. She relates the inside story of President Kennedy's Commission on the Status of Women and examines landmark court decisions, the relationship between the movement and the media, the rapid rise of grass roots organizations, the founding of NOW, and the reasons for the paltry number of women in Congress.

Faludi, Susan. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. Crown, 1991, $24 (0-517-57698-8).

Faludi, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and scrupulous researcher, exposes the increase in anti-feminist, indeed anti-woman, attitudes in the media, popular culture, and politics of the past decade. …