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Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection Hardcover – September 17, 2013

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Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection + Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead + The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance---What Women Should Know
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books; 1st edition (September 17, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374298750
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374298753
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,955 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Spar, the president of Barnard College, delves into the eternal topic of women “having it all” by blending her own personal story within an overview of the past four decades. Some anecdotes will seem a bit over-the-top (tales of pumping breast milk in airport bathrooms while dashing off to a corporate meeting have become almost a cliché), but Spar’s artful juxtaposition of society’s conflicting promises and assertions rings through loud and clear. As she shifts from the reasoned research of academics to the grocery checkout lines with their masses of impossible celebrity weight-loss triumphs while providing the facts and figures of gender politics from the workplace to the dreaded department-store changing room, Spar’s acerbic wit would do Dorothy Parker proud. Her own struggles with anorexia and fertility bring the topic down to earth, ensuring that Wonder Women is equally valuable as a reference source for college-bound daughters and as a lively read for their mothers to dissect in book clubs. --Colleen Mondor


“Barnard College president Spar (The Baby Business) skillfully addresses the state of feminism and suggests that, despite historic gains in education, the workforce, and equal rights, American women suffer under ‘an excruciating set of mutually exclusive expectations’ resulting, paradoxically, from the proliferation of options that feminism made possible. Drawing on her experiences as well as extensive research, Spar lucidly traces how the movement's ‘expansive and revolutionary’ political goals have evolved into a set of ‘vast and towering expectations’ that trouble women at every stage of their lives. Wisely forgoing hostility or blame, Spar finds women struggling, if anything, with the fantasy of ‘having it all.’ ‘We're doing this to ourselves,’ she writes, addressing, among other topics: the explosion of toddler princesses; eating disorders and hyperachievement among adolescents; the hookup habits of young adults; the ‘adoration of pregnancy’; competitive mothering; and the lucrative wedding, diet, and plastic surgery industries. Her solutions call for sanity and simplicity: to kill ‘the myths of female perfection’ and recommit to the goals of early feminism, abandoning the ‘individualized quest’ in favor of organizational and collective change. Tactfully navigating heated debates and effectively contextualizing historical trends and contemporary problems, Spar's book will be welcomed by readers who envision a world ‘driven by women's skills and interests and passions as much as by men's.’” —Publisher’s Weekly

“Spar uses her experiences of the feminist revolution of the 1960s as a scaffold for evaluating the situation of young women today . . . Spar addresses many issues facing working women—e.g., maintaining a fashionable appearance, sexual identity and aging in a world of shifting mores. For younger women who have accepted their entitlement to full equality with men, the conflicting demands of the roles expected of them, and their own ‘quest for perfection,’ can be devastating. A wise, worthy companion to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.” —Kirkus Reviews


“Debora L. Spar tackles—and dispels—the myth of perfection with intelligence and humor. Wonder Women is a terrific read.” —Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of the bestselling Lean In


“Debora L. Spar has written the right book at the right time. We need to make all women’s lives less stressful and more rewarding. This brave, well-written book points the way. Spar reveals her most intimate history, yet stands back to see her whole generation—and mine—in perspective. Wonder Women will make many women feel deeply understood. And many men. It’s a warm, humorous, and lusty book, and I think many readers will be grateful for it. I certainly am.” —Erica Jong, author of Fear of Flying


“Debora L. Spar has written a wonderful and wise meditation on women that draws on her own life experience and her deep intelligence as a scholar. She is a lively companion on an essential subject.” —Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World


“Debora L. Spar has done the impossible: written a fresh, thoughtful, and engaging book on the role of women in today’s society. In telling her own story she tells us where we’ve come from and where we must go next. A must-read for every woman on the move in life.” —Tina Brown, founder and editor in chief of the Newsweek Daily Beast Company


Wonder Women is the book I’d give my daughter as a guide to navigating the challenges of being a woman in twenty-first-century America. Debora L. Spar’s is a wise, calm, eloquent voice; she offers essential caution against the idea that anybody can live a life without trade-offs and imperfections, but she does this without ever losing hold of the righteous passion of the feminist movement.” —Nicholas Lemann, author of Redemption

Wonder Women is a refreshing and engaging reevaluation of the challenges facing women and feminism in contemporary America. With wit and historical insight, Debora L. Spar takes us through the female life cycle, exploding myths about ‘having it all’ through personal stories, social science studies, and critiques of popular culture. A compelling read, this book should be required for young women, their parents, and their future employers.” —Estelle B. Freedman, author of No Turning Back

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Customer Reviews

I purchased this book after reading its review online.
Reading the book and having my daughter make me face the truth helped me gain a new perspective on my life.
We can still embrace feminism for the positive aspects it has provided.
Jan Budz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Emily M Kline on October 4, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am a feminist of the old school, old enough to be the author's mother, and it has been a while since I read a book on the topic so I was interested to see how the generations were faring ....I was not pleased.
There are some good points but they seem lost in the shuffle. What I mostly heard was a woman trying very hard to convince us, and maybe herself, that her perceptions of the world and her experiences were typical and her choices valid. It really didn't sound much different from "is this all there is," in the seventies, just cast in a different set of scenery. So, she wears white after labor day and doesn't obsess over yellow wax buildup? She still seems to look around her at what others are doing and what the media tell her, and does that. So much for independent choice.
The author lives, first of all, in rather rarified air. Believe it or not most women and men do not make it to the top of their professions (there is not room at the top for everyone to be at the top, for one thing) and most of them don't have professions at all. This is the 1% speaking. Hard to get excited about women lawyers making a few hundred thousand less than their male counterparts when you know a huge percent of women...and men...are living on minimum wage or not much more and have no hope of rising to the top of anything. Moreover, believe it or not, some people don't equate a fulfilling life with money and fame.
The author seems to have a very morbid fear of aging, a conviction that all women want to...no, MUST bear children to prove their value, and hanging out in a profession that puts her mostly in the company of twenty year olds may be what has her obsessing over shoes and fashion and waxing her legs, like the bimbos we former-day feminists were so driven not to emulate.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Allegra Jordan on September 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is invaluable in helping smart women think through the question, "What am I committed to becoming?" Dr. Spar provides incredible research, warm insight, and non-judgmental compassion for women who need a better compass to move forward - at least better than the one we absorb from society (often without questioning why we're doing what we're doing). The book shares humorous, poignant moments from Dr. Spar's own experiences and struggles, moving from research to reality. It's a breath of fresh air for people suffocating under the stress of taking on too much by default. Her voice is a much needed one in the discussion about "what does it mean to flourish?" A group of women and I have decided to read it and use it to start a dialogue on the topics Dr. Spar raises over the next year in our own city.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By books and corn on January 7, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I was very excited about this book, read the pre-reviews, heard the interview on npr, placed a hold before it was officially available at the library so I could borrow it first. I am more new to the idea of being a feminist, so I decided to do some reading up on current books with feminist undertones. In general, the book was worth the read - it was very well-articulated and I think Spar takes a lot of nuanced behaviors and patterns and lays it out in a very coherent manner. That being said, I don't really think any of her information is new or innovative - it's just presented better with footnotes.

The main problem and reason I gave this book a 3-star rating, though, was because I read it with Lean In that, together, really emphasizes a very linear message to women: "become powerful and successful like me." It's a bit elitist. I tend to read multiple books at a time, and so I read Wonder Women along with Lean in (Sheryl Sandberg) and Bossypants (Tina Fey). While I was perusing these books, there were many parts where I honestly could not tell the difference between Lean In and Wonder Women, and both authors would reference one another in their book. The juxtaposition just made it so obvious that these women have a similar type of upbringing, education, opportunity, and perspective...even the same type of politically correct, disclaimer-giving academic essay style of writing. All very careful with little neutral jokes that don't offend but show they can be funny and relatable, advising the rest of the girls like them in the world how to succeed and become the CEOs of the company, partners in the firms, or surgeons of the medical field. Overall, it kind of felt like they were part of a private girl's club, telling other girls how to be like them.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Anna Grassini on October 11, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A couple of years back, I met two young college students so that I could mentor them about a new women's group forming at their university. I described myself as a "feminist"--mind you, I am afraid that I am a feminist of the Debora Spar's generation. The young women looked at me as if I had just used a four letter word.
I believe this book is a good starting point for a dialogue with the younger generation who is uncomfortable using the word "feminist." It also explains the experience of a certain set of women. I found myself wanting more ideas about what we can do--if you are looking for the next "feminist manifesto" I am afraid you will be disappointed. On the other hand, the prose was clear, engaging, easy to read...and I found the information well organized. We all are our "story" and for me this one resonated more than Leaning In. If nothing else, the book articulates the perils of going from a movement to individualism and perfectionism. Maybe it's not academic, but sometimes anecdotes and common sense are just as helpful. Overall, a good read and one that I would recommend.
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