Women's Ways of Knowing/Surviving Sexual Contradictions

Mort, Jo-Ann

WADING INTO TIDES OF TRANSITION WOMEN'S WAYS OF KNOWING THE DEVELOPMENT OF SELF, VOICE, AND MIND Mary Field Belenky, Blythe McVicker Glinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger, and Jill Mattuck Tarule Basic...

...This makes sense in a time of tremendous transition...
...WADING INTO TIDES OF TRANSITION WOMEN'S WAYS OF KNOWING THE DEVELOPMENT OF SELF, VOICE, AND MIND Mary Field Belenky, Blythe McVicker Glinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger, and Jill Mattuck Tarule Basic Books, $19.95, 256 pp...
...Dimen asserts that "cultural feminism therefore returns sexuality to the fold of gender, leaving the field of women's desire where it has always been, in patriarchal hands...
...One assumption is that women have more problems with authority than do men...
...The prototype seems fairly similar to the actual author who is an anthropologist...
...Are women inherently "selfless," more willing to devote themselves almost unthinkingly to others, as Carol Gilligan and other social scientists have asserted...
...The authors believe women are oriented by subjective knowing, or what is more familiarly known as "women's intuition...
...Jo-Ann Mori It is by now an open secret that women's entry into the work world has not been an easy one...
...The authors also found that women struggling for strong identities often rejected family, spouses, and heterosexual relationships...
...She seeks "to restore the balance between the extremes" in this book, equalizing the influence of the personal over the political and vice versa...
...Are women inherently anti-hierarchical...
...It's okay to be attractive, though that acceptance leads to inevitable clashes between the sexes...
...Are women inherently consensus-oriented...
...For instance, historically, women have maintained a silent, passive role...
...The author is committed, as are many feminists, to the intertwining of the personal and the political...
...The other real choice, the correct one I think, in agreement with Dimen, is a more "fluid" vision, one that, after this incredible tide of transition subsides a bit, will have taken the best that has been male and the test that has been female to create a new being...
...Or have men simply been tarnished by their years in the trenches...
...Not surprisingly, the authors find that women who come from middle- to upper-middle-class backgrounds enter more easily into what is known in Perry's construct as "multiplism" or acceptance of a diversity of opinions...
...Surviving Sexual Contradictions is an explication of a mythical day in the life of a professional woman, in this case a university professor and therapist...
...Whether one lines up on the side of biology or socialization, as these two books show, the question of a female or male way of being cannot be avoided in this time of flux...
...423 The authors interviewed thirty-five women who were either students in college (progressive, elite, and community colleges) or clients of social service agencies...
...In addition to current tactical and real-politik issues is the overriding and more elusive issue, now hotly debated among the scholars, of whether there is, in fact, a female way of being...
...Another side of the biology-is-destiny argument is that women can (and perhaps ought to) neutralize their femininity through a feminist vision of androgyny...
...Whether this once hoped for result is desirable at all, as many once thought and some perhaps still do is highly questionable...
...Do women care more for the connection between home and workplace...
...In other words, biology is not necessarily destiny...
...The authors touch ever-so-briefly on a distinction Simone de Beauvoir made in the 1950s which seems apt still today, namely, the traits women hold under oppression and under liberation...
...These books put forth several shared assumptions, though their conclusions are radically different...
...Dimen agrees with the authors of Women's Ways of Knowing that women the traditional nurturers have informed the way in which we live today through their maternal role...
...These serve to assess where women or at least this woman have arrived after the rebellious feats of the last few decades...
...We see this in the increased attention paid to men's dress and in their increased role in non-traditional settings...
...But this paradigm cautions us to wait until the situation stabilizes (and it is beginning to stabilize) before we assign permanent status to female or male traits...
...Still, the book, while unwieldy in form and execution, is a clever exercise in helping to clarify where women are in this ambiguous time...
...The mythical subject is culturally bound by her life on Manhattan's Upper West Side, vaguely leftist, counter-cultural, well educated, cosmopolitan, and in her late thirties...
...These are the pressing questions as feminists enter the next phase of feminism called "post-feminism" by critics of the women's movement...
...Sexual harassment, though, is a problem in the professional workplace, and for women it is still difficult to be taken seriously separate from being seen as a sex object...
...In blue-collar jobs, where women don't have the luxury of dressing for success, but where they are now entering traditionally male bastions as firefighters and sanitation workers, sexual harassment is a serious problem...
...This includes both taking charge and taking orders...
...Viewed in this way, it is no surprise that many of the manifestations of womanhood coincide with the more passive victim than with the hierarchical aggressor...
...Are men inherently hierarchical...
...Second, women's lack of self-esteem is more pronounced than is men's, which makes for a lot of second-guessing in the workplace...
...However, women are still more overwhelmed by their choices than are men, who are more used to validating their own opinions...
...Third, women's sexuality is still confusing for women as it certainly is for men when dealing in a professional situation...
...One must admit as a feminist that all things considered, woman's lot in 1986 is not significantly better than it was in 1956 or 1966...
...Women's Ways of Knowing attempts to discover how a woman's self-perception evolves through time...
...While the authors, all psychologists, make use of several psychological works on moral development, their primary model is William Perry, who developed a model for using a sequence of epistemological perspectives called "positions," where subjects learn about diversity and relations with authority by seeing the world, ultimately, as in-relation to t'.e see-er...
...Interspliced with the fictional occurrences of the day are the author's semidetached observations...
...Until nurturers are given equal status in society, women 424 who remain solely in that role will not be equal...
...And as Dimen points out, what has in fact happened is that women's altered view of femininity and sexuality has informed men and allowed men a freer image too...
...SURVIVING SEXUAL CONTRADICTIONS A STARTLING AND DIFFERENT LOOK AT A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A CONTEMPORARY WOMAN Muriel Dimen Macmillan, $19.95, 257 pp...
...It contains a useful and detailed bibliography, which not only lists books and articles, but briefly outlines many of the major arguments in the women's movement since the 1960s...
...Fourth, the murkier and in many ways critical issue, is whether women are inherently gentler, kinder, or in an abstract manner, more moral, than are men...
...Dimen writes...
...The authors' acceptance of a "cultural feminism" that is, a feminism based on the uniqueness of femaleness or on unchanging, gender specific characteristics of women would seem to guarantee that women's disadvantages will remain permanent...
...As they point out, women who are stuck in this subjectivist mode are at a disadvantage in a world that is more dependent on rational thought...
...Where corporate women began their entry into the workplace dressed like men, they have now adapted their attire a bit...
...The book raises many of the questions relevant to the debate over changing sex roles...
...Is this a pattern that can be broken...
...If you go deeply enough into one, you come upon the other...
...There is a profound relationship between the personal and the political, between private and public life, between individual experience and culture," Ms...
...The question is whether or not this is endemic to the gender...
...She is particularly concerned with how our society makes objects out of women, and spends time discussing the influence of sexual attraction on women's role in the workplace...
...Are they less interested or willing to break down the home/work barriers than are men...
...Today's "second wave" of feminism, says Dimen, includes an acceptance of woman's sexuality...
...They paid particular attention to women's maternal practice, since mothering has been the traditional female role...
...While the author claims that this particular prototype has universal application, I'm not so sure...
...Moreover, it hasn't been the grand dance toward equality that many feminists either thought or preached it would be...
...It also seemed true that women have, in the past, been more clued in to "small truths," that is, gossip or particular personal concerns, which again makes sense considering their socialization...
...Still, now that we have arrived, to what have we arrived and how will we both transform the workplace, while transforming the world of family and home...
...But in contrast to primates, Dimen asserts that in humans "sexuality becomes essentially free of biological determinants...
...Can women, who traditionally have looked for authority beyond themselves, trust their own decisions to be valid...

Vol. 114 • July 1987 • No. 13


 
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