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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2014
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. And like another review mentioned, it brushed off anyone else that didn't fit this highly educated audience with a disclaimer in the beginning: "if you're poor, have other problems and I can't speak to that." And out there somewhere, Tina Fey was being hilarious about her life.

I feel like feminism is, at least partly, finding your own personal happiness and success without the prejudices of society deciding for you. The book kind of barely, maybe in a lone phrase, touched on that, but really, the advice was more of a brute force, reach the tippity top so you can change all the rules.

Wonder Women was an interesting read, but I definitely felt a bit ostracized in the end. And as I stated in the title, I think I would've liked it better had I not read it with Lean In. Then it would seem more like Spar's unique view of feminism, not what her and her private school friends think you should do.
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50 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2013
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, 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.
So when she finally writes a few decent pages about making careful choices and being realistic and not setting oneself up to overextend, it seems like too little too late. Does she herself dare to march to a different drummer, or compose her own music to march to? Or would she be looking around anxiously to make sure others still thought she was dressed right and "with it?"
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29 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2013
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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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2013
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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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2013
The most interesting part of this book was the young women's attitude about drinking and sex--something I can only view as a 67-year-old watching drunken girls hooking up as I fear for their safety. So, it really is that wide spread. Sigh. That could have been a rather long article or a report instead of a book. I tried to think of the book I'd read several years ago which I thought truly captured some of the issues women face, and I'm fairly certain it was The Type E Woman: How to Overcome the Stress of Being Everything to Everybody. If I can still remember quoting parts to other stressed women, it must have been helpful and memorable to me. I can't remember anything noteworthy to quote from this book--and I finished it last week. As the mother-in-law of a young woman who has decided (along with my son) that she does not want to have children, I found the book tone deaf in understanding and validating that choice. This book is not the answer that women are looking for to explain their lives.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2014
This is a great read to get women thinking and more importantly, acting. President of Barnard, Spar acknowledges that she is addressing largely caucasian middle to upper middle class heterosexual women as it is the population which whom she is most familiar.

The argument that Spar makes is as follows: "Rather than embracing …political objectives, younger generations of women have largely turned away from feminisms’ external and social goals and instead turned in on their own lives, focusing, say, not on better neighborhood schools, but on their own children’s SAT scores; not on social equity writ large, but on the professional advancement of small and highly specific groups of women. Rather than trying to address the world, we are trying to control our own small part of it” (p. 236). Women do have more freedom, but “…the sheer possibility of [so many] choices can also become oppressive: because they can have it all, they feel that they must.

It is imperative to "revisit and resuscitate the political agenda laid out by our feminist forebears,” i.e. "restructure community forms and human consciousness so that people have power over their own lives, participate fully in community, live in dignity and freedom." Specific examples include more equitable and reasonable child bearing and family care policies and the abolition of the cult of perfection, which requires that women excel at everything in every sphere and remain physically attractive.

Spar references several of the must-reads of feminist literature: Fierstone, Wolf, Greer, Friedan, Dworkin, Hochschild and Pollitt, to name a few as she touches on themes of motherhood (e.g. biology dictates that women will do more for the family than men), work (i.e. men exercise authority over dissent; women regard dissent as negative and seek collaboration), aging (expectations for cosmetic perfection mandate Botox for women but not for men), and sex (once a valuable commodity to be bartered, now the flooded market has greatly diminished women's bargaining power).

This is a refreshing clarion call for those of us for whom feminism has never had a negative connotation and, I hope, a consciousness raiser for all others.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2013
"Wonder Women" (2013), by Barnard College President Debora L. Spar, is about how feminism changed from the call to equality to the quest for unattainable female perfection. The beginning is strong, but the book is repetitious and the last forty pages could have been one. The author's conclusion: Women can and should follow all their dreams--including both high-powered careers and children--while accepting realities (such as, women have wombs and the laundry won't always get done). She briefly acknowledges that the financially disadvantaged have limited options. I was hopeful at the start of the book, but it was a big disappointment.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2013
Provocative blend of the data-driven analysis, Dr. Debora Spar is known for, with insightful personal observations of womens' careers as they unfold over the course of their lives. The value of this book is that it re-focuses our attention to preserving opportunity for women to excel in their lives without the pressure to be perfect at everything. Women of all ages will gain insight from this book and much needed clarity of purpose that good research encourages. Thanks for this book. Keep writing.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2013
Ms. Spar played it very safe and made sure to excuse males for their part in the subjection of women. This book is aimed at wealty women which is fine because their problems are different than the none rich but just as important.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 14, 2014
Author Debora Spar, using herself and intimate others, as well as historical figures, has written an excellent examination of women's quest for equality, mostly, but not entirely, in the western hemisphere. Because of her frank and straightforward attitude, readers will smile, nod in recognition, grind their teeth in frustration and, in the end, recognize the truth of Spar's contention. Much has been gained, over the years, some has been lost and there is still a great deal to be done for women to achieve their rightful roles. And that comes with a recognition that we will never live in a perfect world. The quest will continue.
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