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The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability Hardcover – October 17, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Three years after her controversial proadultery polemic, Against Love, Kipnis, a professor of media studies at Northwestern University, offers a wide-ranging and equally unorthodox investigation of "the female condition." She examines why women want both power and push-up bras, have fewer orgasms than men, why spouses have a harder time staying connected to each other after the wife quits work to stay home with the kids and why feminists keep focusing on rape, even though rates of female rapes are down while the rape of imprisoned men has escalated. Underlying the failure of feminism to achieve full equality for women, Kipnis says, is women's own ambivalence: they want feminism as well as femininity. Some of Kipnis's avenues of inquiry are well trod—Katha Pollitt, for example, has deconstructed the "opt-out revolution," whose foot soldiers are Ivy League–credentialed moms who trade high-powered careers for full-time motherhood, and Naomi Wolf long ago tackled the cosmetics industry. Countless critics have wondered why feminism was so easily co-opted by a market economy in which everyone works longer hours than they used to. Though not totally fresh, this fluid, sassy volume is guaranteed to electrify media and cocktail party circuits. (Oct. 17)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
At its core, the female psyche vis-a-vis its male counterpart fixates on four things: dirt, sex, envy, and vulnerability. No matter what else goes on in the time-honored battle of the sexes, the essential conflict can eventually find its way back to one of these areas. Distilling such gender issues into a tight discourse on the paradoxical stalemate of tradition versus progress in male-female relations, Kipnis offers a measured declamation on where the women's movement is headed--and where it has veered off course. Equal pay, equal pleasure, equal cleanliness, equal confidence: where gender parity is concerned, incongruities arise "like ingrown hairs after a bad bikini wax," claims Kipnis. Ambivalence abounds while activism idles, and who's to blame? Droll one minute, deadly serious the next, Kipnis is just as apt to point a well-manicured finger at women for social inertia as she is at men. Incisive, engrossing, controversial, and circumspect, Kipnis offers a trenchant examination of the political and personal state of contemporary feminism. Carol Haggas
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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She speaks of a "desperate quality to female femininity these days" with diets, makeovers and baby-doll drag and that it might have something to do with the failure of the institution of marriage, as social glue. She writes that while men fetishize women through pornography to the tune of nine billion dollars a year, women will spend $1.2 billion on romance novels. The endless hours of Soap Operas women watch suddenly made sense to me.
One of the biggest mysteries of feminism for me has been eco-feminism. It never made any sense to me at all. I was so happy the author finds it just as inexplicable. She also speaks about how women's cleaning fetish compared to men has something to do with their body image.
It appears this book hasn't gotten as much attention as other books for or against feminism. If that's true, I believe it is because more popular books deal with feminism politically. This book delves into the true source of all the craziness and conflict concerning gender and gender roles over the past three or four decades; specifically, it delves into the female psyche.
I reserve five stars for just the best of the best. But this is a wonderful book. Just what I was looking for.
Sometimes she criticises in a new, vivid way. Her particular take on how "working women" may have not really helped matters all that much, despite the proclamations of equality and independence, I found especially interesting reading. The woman's husband's income has been depressed by employers as a result of more women working, so less family income in fact at the end. And she is now doing the "double shift" at home.
Sometimes, though, the delightful, wry humour and insight did seem to occasionally lack a bit of a heart: but maybe that's necessary sometimes. A couple of things I thought weren't quite true. For example, she may well be right that the 'maternal instinct' in general may not exist and in fact be socially constructed - but I suspect the biological act of procreation, giving birth and lacation and looking after a baby, that instinct does mostly kick-in. And the final paragraph /sentence of the book was a bit of a let-down, especially after the erudite wit and insight before.
As for the subject matter, ironically, a mystery remains at the end of it all.
At least for heterosexual women, men do have something that women want - the possibilities of love, etc. Apparently those needs have driven a tremendous consumption of advice and self-enhancing products and procedures, even among the most ardent feminists. Self-acceptance seems to be in short supply.
Attaining financial independence by entering the workforce also has its problems: the loss of time and being subject to the rules of workplace regimes. Now in the name of empowerment, some younger women are opting for child-rearing - eschewing careers. The drive for equality and independence is indeed taking strange directions.
Women are also conflicted over the nature of sex. According to the author the location of orgasmatic centers and the assignment of technical responsibility for achieving such is engendering debate among frustrated women. And then there's dirt. Women have been in charge of dirt ever since the rise of domesticity and men are generally oblivious. But the female anatomy itself has, through the centuries, been considered "dirty" by some elements creating no small amount of consternation even today.
The author also considers the hysteria that can surround even the potential for rape, while acknowledging female vulnerabilities. She strongly questions a couple of well known feminists who have either forgotten their complicity in unwelcome advances or fabricated the same.
Kipnis' appraisal of the female psyche, actually female sexuality, is intended to be provocative. Her writing is difficult, at times, to follow - just as in her other recent book, Against Love. But it's worth the effort. She forces a re-examination of issues that many may have thought to be settled.
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Where else can you get a sense of the history and current situation for the opposite sex in less than 200 pages without a lot of...Read more