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The Feminization of American Culture Paperback – September 30, 1998

3.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

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“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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (September 30, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374525587
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374525583
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #108,961 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By F. P. Barbieri on April 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
One can only imagine the work that has gone into this staggering piece of intellectual history - whose axis is the unforeseeable and fateful rise of the female public in American intellectual life, and contemporaneously the collapse of the old, muscular style of Protestant religiosity and intellect - from the kind and number of sources the author uses. She has apparently trawled through reams and piles of obscure newspapers and magazines, familiarized herself with writing most of us would be glad to avoid, learned to distinguish the various strands of an intellectual and publishing life which is, to modern America, as alien as imperial China or early Sumer. The result is tremendous: not only a resurrection of a past age that does it honour and justice (if anything, one seems to perceive, in this female scholar, a certain sympathy - even nostalgia - for the utra-male, activist, iron-faced world of the old Puritan thinkers, post-Jonathan Edwards and his likes), but a flood of light on the origins of our (not exclusively American) world and society. This simply cannot be praised too much; future historians will not be able to prescind from it.
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Format: Paperback
This is foremost a history, and has a focus rather more restricted than its title would suggest, surveying the careers and lives of thirty women and thirty (male) ministers involved in the "feminization" of northeastern Victorian America. The author convinced me in arguing for the significance of said feminization, but I felt burdened by all the biographical minutiae. One has to ignore reams of trivia to grasp the larger themes hinted at in the titles of the chapters (e.g., "The Escape From History," "The Domestication of Death). Where the author breaks the tedium with an impassioned commentary, she seems to be writing a different book altogether. But Douglas's treatment of the theme is original and even-handed, and her short biography of Margaret Fuller compensates for the tiresome church histories.
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Format: Paperback
This book was a revelation to me.
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.
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