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The Feminization of American Culture Paperback – September 30, 1998
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This classic of modern feminism is an ambitious attempt to trace certain present-day values back to cultural shifts of the 19th century. Historian Ann Douglas entwines the fate of American women, most notably those of the white middle class, with that of clergy marginalized by the rise in religious denominations and consequent dilution of their power base. No longer invited to wield influence in vital (some might say traditionally masculine) political and economic arenas, clergy were pushed toward more feminine spheres and rules of expression. Likewise, as growing numbers of middle-class white women lost their place as the indispensable center of household production, and many lower-class women became easily replaced industrial cogs, a none-too-subtle shift in perceptions about women's strengths and abilities occurred. Women lost voting rights and other legal privileges; barred from healing and midwifery, they were also less likely to appear in other increasingly male professions. Academies for wealthier girls imparted skills deemed to entice and soothe men without taxing supposedly tiny feminine brains; when Emma Willard offered geometry lessons to girls in the 1820s, one opponent harrumphed: "They'll be educating cows next." Douglas chronicles the rise of an overwhelmingly sentimental "feminization" of mass culture--in which writers of both sexes underscored popular convictions about women's weaknesses, desires, and proper place in the world--with erudite and well-argued scholarship. --Francesca Coltrera
“Indispensable reading for . . . anybody of serious intelligence.” ―The New York Times
“An exciting, readable book.” ―The New Republic
“Admirably documented and ambitious . . . [The] examination of the perils of sentimentalism and the legacy it bequeathed modern culture is excellent.” ―Newsweek
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Top customer reviews
It was also a bit more than I could chew, and though I did finish the book, I wish now that I had held on to it to refer to later. I agree with an earlier comment that the bio of Margaret Fuller is a great perk to this volume.
If you read this book, and then observe the shenanigans of the press and street talk surrounding Hillary and the 2008 election, you'll have a much clearer picture of what is driving the misogynystic views of so many women in this country today. I think the book's premise also helps explain how characters counter to the advancement of women such as Ann Coulter or Phyllis Schlafly come about, and particularly, why they have such a devoted following among other women.
The book is extremely complex and unravels like a mystery novel. It was obvious to me in just a few pages that it would require my full attention. It is not easy reading, but it is important reading.
The book is more notable for what it does not address than for what it does.