Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book review: Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection by Debora L. Spar

I have been reading a few books on feminism in the last couple of years and this cover jumped out at me when the book was first released. And I'm really glad I picked it up. The author has an interesting background as she went from being a professor in Harvard's School of Business, where she was one of only a couple of women, to being president of Barnard College, an all-women's college. Her perspective is pretty balanced, having experienced both of these extremes.

Ms. Spar looks at feminism's roots and how good intentions may have led to some less than stellar outcomes today, most notably how telling women they would be anything and do everything has resulted in a culture of perfectionism. Instead of aspiring to be CEOs, we have to aspire to be a CEO, with a perfect body and face, be a tiger in the bedroom, the perfect mother, excellent cook, effortless at scheduling and cleaning, and never being frazzled by any of the above. Naturally this doesn't work and instead we have neurotic overachieving mothers putting all their life dreams into their kids; we have women going under the knife and rampant eating disorders; we have women trying to work their butts off at work, rush out early to arrive at their kids' soccer game late, trying to have it all and feeling like they're failing at everything.

The book is well-organized into sections looking at sex, bodies, love, motherhood, and work. And she pulls it all together nicely at the end in a solid conclusion. She doesn't really have any solutions, except for pointing out (as countless others have) that being able to do anything doesn't mean having to do everything, and why do we want (nay, insist) on having it all when men don't have that (or want it) either? Not to mention there's an undercurrent pointing out that doing things on men's terms isn't exactly equality. Yes, we may be able to compete in the boardroom, but who designed the boardroom to work the way it does and there are feminine traits in leading, communicating, and analyzing that might be advantageous if we saw their strengths instead of dismissing all female-dominant traits as not applicable in the workplace.

This was a thought-provoking and tantalizing book, accessible to laymen (although obviously well-researched), and should have a wide readership among women who aren't satisfied with the status quo.

I checked this book out of the library.

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