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Brave Dames and Wimpettes: What Women Are Really Doing on Page and Screen (Library of Contemporary Thought) Paperback – January 19, 1999

2.2 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Susan Isaacs's witty imagination has peopled the world with brave dames in films like Compromising Positions and full-bodied novels such as 1998's Red, White, and Blue. The slender and interestingly ornery essay Brave Dames and Wimpettes is part of the monthly Library of Contemporary Thought series, whose most fun title so far is Carl Hiaasen's Disney-bashing diatribe Team Rodent (now available on audiocassette).

So, what's a "brave dame"? "They're passionate about something besides passion," Isaacs writes. Take Jo March, Elizabeth Bennet, Katharine Hepburn, and Roz Russell, who prove "women are as competent and brave as the next guy." Her fave dame, Jane Eyre, "had high moral standards, stood up to injustice, and was willing to leave civilization and face the wild, even death, rather than do wrong."

Wimpettes, who outnumber dames in pop culture, believe in masochism, subterfuge, betrayal of women, and deriving identity from their man. "The world stops at the white picket of their fences.... larger causes--racial equality, justice--are left to the guys."

The book is a romp through books, movies, and TV, as Isaacs puts dozens of women in their place on the dame/wimpette spectrum. Anita Hill? Feh! "This über-wimpette testified before Congress how she endured vile sex talk from a superior rather than (1) report him for harassment ... or (2) tell him to shut the hell up." Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Frances McDormand in Fargo are dames; Ally McBeal and Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction are wimpettes. (Note, however, that Ethan Coen told Amazon.com McDormand is the bad guy in Fargo and Steve Buscemi the good guy.) Julia Roberts is a wimpette in My Best Friend's Wedding but a dame in Mystic Pizza and The Pelican Brief.

Ideally, Isaacs's book should start a lot of excellent arguments. Don't wimp out! --Tim Appelo

From Publishers Weekly

After beginning with the reasonable claim that the media too often present women as one-dimensional victims, Isaacs's foray into cultural criticism quickly turns into an object lesson on oversimplification. Novelist Isaacs (Red, White and Blue, etc.) gives her analysis of female characters in books, movies and TV a facile framework by lumping all women characters into two categories. A wimpette (Madame Bovary is the archetype) is a passive-aggressive masochist whose identity depends on a man. Her opposite, the brave dame, is common in real life but elusive in pop culture. She is "passionate about something besides passion," resilient, competent, moral, a true friend (think Jane Eyre). The book is a series of litmus tests. Kathleen Turner's cheerful soccer mom/psychopath in Serial Mom comes out well (after all, she's a multidimensional character), while the wife played by Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction, who kills Glenn Close for sleeping with her husband and boiling the pet rabbit, is a mere wimpette, because she acts only to protect her home (the basis of her weak identity). Although Isaacs repeatedly describes herself as a feminist, her particular brand of feminism asks women to handle every aspect of their lives?relationships, motherhood, career?without any complaint or sign of weakness. Unsurprisingly, few brave dames are found, and many of them belong to the realm of fantasy (Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Occasionally thought-provoking, the many character studies here are fatally weakened by the absolute judgment at the end of each one, and, as every analysis can have only one of two endings, the book quickly becomes repetitive. (Jan.) FYI: Brave Dames and Wimpettes is part of Ballantine's Library of Contemporary Thought series.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Library of Contemporary Thought
  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1 edition (January 19, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345422813
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345422811
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,750,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
After hearing the author talk on public radio, I was looking forward to new information and insights on how women are portrayed in tv, motion pictures, and literature. What Issacs states would be hard to argue, women ARE put into categories - strong vs. weak - or as she puts it, strong dames or wimpettes. However, I would argue that men are put in these categories, as well. It is a very quick read & does provide recommendations at the end concerning books, movies, and television programs that show strong women, not 'wimpettes'. I would suggest any parent or concerned other who feels women and girls are portrayed offensively read Issacs essay for a primer but actually write to the 'powers that be' that are in charge of network decisions,the movie makers, and, finally, the writers that put the 'pictures' in our minds of what a strong women really means.
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Format: Paperback
I work in publishing and so have the nasty habit of reading the acknowledgement section first. I was initially put off by the fact that Ms. Isaacs thanks another person for doing the research. Then I read that this book came out of an article that was written in 1990. That it does, shows. While there are some references to current shows like lamo Ally McBeel, there are also a lot of tired references to shows like Hope & Gloria (anyone remember that one or it's impact?)And please, aren't we all a little tired of Thelma & Louise references?
Anyway, being a woman, and a woman who loves film, any kind of film and literature, I was very disappointed with this book. I thought it was on about the same level as a college essay, not something that belongs in the Library of Contemporary Thought. It's too "listy" and doesn't give enough arguement or meat--breaking everyone down into wimpettes and near wimpettes or whatever. While I do agree that there aren't many good roles for women these days, I also disagree with many of Isaacs assertions and feel that she missed a lot of good movies. For instance, Joy Luck Club, a facinating movie about women, mothers and daughters, overcoming societies rules and roles, and self-worth is dismissed in one sentence because showing women cooking is supposed to be bad in movies beause it shows us in traditional roles. Huh?
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By A Customer on April 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book hoping to gain some insight into the role of women and the characters that they play in books,television, and movies. I consider myself a feminist and I find most books in the Women's Studies sections of bookstores fairly interesting. I did not expect an optimistic viewpoint and Isaacs did not fail in this respect. What I found so annoying and disappointing in this book was Isaacs' insistence in defining what makes a woman a positive role model and what makes her a negative role model. By the end of the book, one begins to feel, (or at least I did as a woman) that any hint of weakness in a woman spells her downfall. For Isaacs, the ingredients that make up a brave dame are no easy feat and I beg to differ with her on several counts. By creating all of these rules for becoming a brave dame, Isaacs undermines what I would argue was her intent - to show that brave dames do exist.
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Format: Paperback
I have to admitt that it was the title of the book that caught my attention. I was excited to finally find a critique of modern women and the wimpy, unaccountable, excuse-making attitudes many television personalities inflict upon the viewers. My first disappointment was that the book focuses mainly on fictional TV characters, not real people. What is the point of criticising a fictional personality if it is the actress' job to portray her that way? The author missed out on the major wimpette of our time - Oprah Winfrey. While I don't mean to pick on Oprah, I want to point out that there are plently of true cases the author could have used in her book.
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Format: Paperback
I really disliked this book. While it is an essay based on someone's opinion,the argument was not substantiated with any sort of academic knowledge as to the psychology of the female mind or to world of filmmaking past the writing process. The author's definition of what makes a "Great Dame" in contrast to a "Wimpette" is so narrowly construed that rather than feeling empowered by the "Great Dames" the reader is left outraged by who is considered a wimpette. Susan Isaacs argues that Anita Hill is a wimpette because she should either "(1) report him [Clarence Thomas] for sexual harassment through established procedures or (2) tell him to shut the hell up." Isaacs does not consider that sexual harassment, especially repeated sexual harassment is psychologically damaging to a person. Sexual harassment often preys on a person's inferior position and makes him or her afraid to come forward for fear of ridicule. Also, the author fails to point out that filmmaking remains a male-dominated field. No woman has ever won an Academy Award for Directing or Cinematography. Until women gain an equal voice in the media, the majority of films will continue to have characters that Isaacs deems "wimpettes."
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