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Breaking Out: VMI and the Coming of Women Paperback – May 15, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (May 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375705813
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375705816
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #861,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A 1970s feminist poster featured cartoon character Nancy burning down a clubhouse that sported a "No Girls" sign on its front door. Nothing so dramatic happened when, in 1989, the Department of Justice told the Virginia Military Institute that it had to admit women. The school fought the order--at a cost of ten million dollars, making a small dent in its $250 million endowment--but the Supreme Court ruled against the school in 1996. In this engrossing, informed and even-handed analysis of the institution's "assimilation" (the word carefully chosen by VMI's administration) of women, Brodie brings a clear, feminist perspective to her analysis of the school's history, students and bureaucracy. As a part-time teacher at VMI, a member of VMI's Executive Committee for the Assimilation of Women and wife of the band director, Brodie has both an insider's and outsider's perspective. In her nuanced and surprising account of VMI's struggle to change deeply embedded traditions, she charts how specific words and phrases in the cadets' established slang had to be altered, how the school's "Code of Gentleman" was viewed as a rudimentary sexual harassment policy and how seriously many of the male cadets assumed the responsibility for making the new system work. She also critiques VMI's all-male history and atmosphere, which have been, in small and large ways, profoundly misogynist. Brodie's account concludes on a cautiously optimistic note, as VMI's first female cadets graduated in 1999 to little controversy. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In 1996, the Supreme Court ruled that the Virginia Military Institute would have to admit women, ending over a century and a half of state-funded single-sex education and creating great uncertainty about the future of the institution. This account, written by a feminist, part-time English professor and member of the VMI community, attempts to introduce the reader to the culture of VMI and to chronicle the process through which it underwent minimal alterations to include women. Brodie, the wife of the VMI bandleader, actually participated in the transition and was in a particularly good position to observe this period of change. This highly readable book, based primarily upon personal experience and interviews, presents a positive view of VMI's efforts to assimilate women rather than accommodate them and is the only volume published to date to deal with this aspect of VMI's history. Recommended for larger academic and public libraries.
-Theresa McDevitt, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Leroy D Hammond on May 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
From her Melvillian first sentence, "I am the band director's wife", to her final musings about the second and third years and on, Laura Brodie spins a fascinating web of anecdotes and analysis which give the reader a unique insight into the triumphs and traumas of taking a 158-year history of single-sex education and adjusting it through "minimal change" to accomodate the entrance of women into the VMI Corps of Cadets. As a participant in the process, I can vouch for the accuracy of her writing, and the fairness of her analysis. I am also fascinated by her skill as a story-teller. "Breaking Out" does not read like a dry, scholar's research paper, but like a novelist's finest creation. You won't be sorry you read it, and you will learn volumes about how and why VMI took its time with this tortuous process, determined to accomplish their unwanted mission with dignity and grace, while insuring that the immutable values of VMI were left unchanged. But Brodie is no shill for the VMI Administration ... the portrait would please Cromwell, for it shows VMI warts and all.
One egregious error greets the reader when the book is first handled. The cover dust-jacket photo has somehow had the negative reversed (the VMI cap shields read "IMV," and a VMI alumnus will note that everything is backwards from rifle position to orientation of breastplate to location of bayonet scabbard (why in the WORLD did the publisher crop the blades of the bayonets ? ) to academic stripe on wrong sleeve. Please fix this on next printing, Mr. Publisher, so we who have bought copies in this printing will have collector's items !
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Fred McWane on October 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
Ms. Brodie's handing of a very sensitive subject among VMI alumni was done as well as anyone possibly could have done it. It was written by one who was an "insider" at the Institute, which is imperative in being able to tell this story with a historical perspective. The only way it could have been done better would have been by a graduate - one who could write as clearly as Ms. Brodie does, which is one of it's greatest attributes.
I bought this book at VMI right after it was published and have read it twice, and plan to read it again many times. As a grad, I approached it with an eye open for errors and any misrepresentation of VMI tradition, and I found remarkably little of either. She did a fantastic job covering both sides of the assimilation issue. The fact that she had the backing of the Superintendent, Si Bunting, is proof enough of quality of her work. As Si's brother rat, I know him pretty well, and feel he would have balked on this work big time if he had any misgivings concerning the outcome. I have not talked to him about it, but feel certain that he would agree with the superior rating I give it. Every VMI grad should waste no time acquiring a copy and reading it, and expecting a great experience in doing so. I can't wait for Ms. Brodie's followup which I hope will pick up where this one left off. Great Work!!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A reader on October 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I am a VMI alumnus who was a cadet at the time of assimilation (accomodation, as I call it), and someone who was, and still is, against women being at VMI, and I would have to say the Dr. Brodie's book is not bad. She covered almost all the bases and did a very good job of laying everything out on the table and telling it like it is. The book does, however, have somewhat of a sympathetic connotation towards females, and neglects to mention the many instances where double standards were used in punishments (or lack thereof) dished out by the Commandant's Office, among the many other double standards that did and do take place. Overall, though, I would say that the book paints a good picture of what it was like with minimal bias.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Savant11 on October 31, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I give this book three stars for effort but it did not do what I wanted it to do. I was looking for a bit more detail as to life at the "I" and unfortunetly Mrs. Fairchild spent too much time concentrating on the squables between Alumni and faculty. I wanted to know what it was like to be a woman attending this institution for the first time. I also wanted to know what it was like to be a cadet at VMI.
The book is not good as Catherine Minegold's "In Glory's Shadow". Or more to the point Disher's "First Class" a fictional account of the first female class to attend Annapolis -this book covers all four years.
Like someone said this book is really not finished and I am waiting with baited breath for a "brother rat" to re-count her four years at VMI.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Cat on June 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In Breaking Out, Laura Brodie has arranged an unlikely marriage between a can't put-it-down, page-turner of a yarn and an insider's account of a significant cultural battle of late 20th century America. Anyone who watched fascinated as Shannon Faulkner tried and failed at The Citadel will want to read this book. Brodie explains so much that is mysterious to the outsider, starting with the seemingly most intractable question: why would anyone, let alone a woman, want to endure the rigors of a Southern military academy. More importantly, Brodie shows why integration was necessary (culturally, not legally) and with insight that extends far beyond the limited venue of VMI sheds light on evolving gender norms and stereotypes in the post-feminist era. For example, in an amusing chapter discussing VMI's soul-searching over whether to allow women rats to shower in private stalls rather than in the traditional communal shower the male rates endure, Brodie illuminates the ignorance each sex has as to the other's most basic behaviours. This book is significant to anyone interested in gender politics in American, but more importantly it's fun.
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