In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development – Carol Gilligan

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This book started a revolution. Published decades ago, it made women’s voices heard, in their own right, with their own integrity, for virtually the 1st time in social scientific theorizing about women. Its impact was immediate & continues in the academic world & beyond. Translated into 16 languages, with over 750,000 copies sold. In a Different Voice has inspired new research, new educational initiatives & political debate–& helped many women & men to see themselves & each other in a different light. Gilligan believes that psychology has persistently & systematically misunderstood women: their motives, their moral commitments, the course of their psychological growth & their special view of what is important in life. Here she sets out to correct psychology’s misperceptions & refocus its view of female personality. The result is a tour de force, which may reshape much of what psychology now has to say about female experience.

 

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The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution by Shulamith Firestone

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“No one can understand how feminism has evolved without reading this radical, inflammatory second-wave landmark.” Naomi Wolf

Originally published in 1970, when Shulamith Firestone was just twenty-five years old, and going on to become a bestseller, The Dialectic of Sex was the first book of the women’s liberation movement to put forth a feminist theory of politics.

Beginning with a look at the radical and grassroots history of the first wave (with its foundation in the abolition movement of the time), Firestone documents its major victory, the granting of the vote to women in 1920, and the fifty years of ridicule that followed. She goes on to deftly synthesize the work of Freud, Marx, de Beauvoir, and Engels to create a cogent argument for feminist revolution. Identifying women as a caste, she declares that they must seize the means of reproduction for as long as women (and only women) are required to bear and rear children, they will be singled out as inferior. Ultimately she presents feminism as the key radical ideology, the missing link between Marx and Freud, uniting their visions of the political and the personal.

In the wake of recent headlines bemoaning women’s squandered fertility and the ongoing debate over the appropriate role of genetics in the future of humanity, The Dialectic of Sex is revealed as remarkably relevant to today’s society, a testament to Shulamith Firestone’s startlingly prescient vision.

 

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Delusions of Gender – Cordelia Fine

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It’s the twenty-first century, and although we tried to rear unisex children–boys who play with dolls and girls who like trucks–we failed. Even though the glass ceiling is cracked, most women stay comfortably beneath it, and everywhere we hear about vitally important “hardwired” differences between male and female brains. The neuroscience we read about in magazines, newspaper articles, books, and sometimes even scientific journals increasingly tells a tale of two brains, and the result is more often than not a validation of the status quo. Women, it seems, are just too intuitive for math, men too focused for housework.

Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience and psychology, Cordelia Fine debunks the myth of hardwired differences between men’s and women’s brains, unraveling the evidence behind such claims as men’s brains aren’t wired for empathy, and women’s brains aren’t made to fix cars. She then goes one step further, offering a very different explanation of the dissimilarities between men’s and women’s behavior. Instead of a “male brain” and a “female brain,” Fine gives us a glimpse of plastic, mutable minds that are continuously influenced by cultural assumptions about gender.

Delusions of Gender provides us with a much-needed corrective to the belief that men’s and women’s brains are intrinsically different–a belief that, as Fine shows with insight and humor–all too often works to the detriment of ourselves and our society.

 

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The Creation of Patriarchy – Gerda Lerner

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A major new work by a leading historian and pioneer in women’s studies, The Creation of Patriarchy is a radical reconceptualization of Western civilization that makes gender central to its analysis. Gerda Lerner argues that male dominance over women is not “natural” or biological, but the product of an historical development begun in the second millennium B.C. in the Ancient Near East. As patriarchy as a system of organizing society was established historically, she contends, it can also be ended by the historical process.

Focusing on the contradiction between women’s central role in creating society and their marginality in the meaning-giving process of definition and interpretation, Lerner explores such fascinating questions as: What can account for women’s exclusion from the historical process? What could explain the long delay–more than 3,500 years–in women’s coming to consciousness of their own subordinate position? She goes back to the cultures of the earliest known civilizations–those of the ancient Near East–to discover the origins of the major gender metaphors of Western civilization. Using historical, literary, archaeological, and artistic evidence, she then traces the development of these ideas, symbols, and metaphors and their incorporation into Western civilization as the basis of patriarchal gender relations.

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Butterfly Politics – Catharine A. MacKinnon

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The minuscule motion of a butterfly’s wings can trigger a tornado half a world away, according to chaos theory. Under the right conditions, small simple actions can produce large complex effects. In this timely and provocative book, Catharine A. MacKinnon argues that the right seemingly minor interventions in the legal realm can have a butterfly effect that generates major social and cultural transformations.

Butterfly Politics brings this incisive understanding of social causality to a wide-ranging exploration of gender relations. The pieces collected here many published for the first time provide a new perspective on MacKinnon’s career as a pioneer of legal theory and practice and an activist for women s rights. Its central concerns of gender inequality, sexual harassment, rape, pornography, and prostitution have defined MacKinnon’s intellectual, legal, and political pursuits for over forty years. Though differing in style and approach, the selections all share the same motivation: to end inequality, including abuse, in women s lives. Several mark the first time ideas that are now staples of legal and political discourse appeared in public for example, the analysis of substantive equality. Others urge changes that have yet to be realized.

The butterfly effect can animate political activism and advance equality socially and legally. Seemingly insignificant actions, through collective recursion, can intervene in unstable systems to produce systemic change. A powerful critique of the legal and institutional denial of reality that perpetuates practices of gender inequality, Butterfly Politics provides a model of what principled, effective, socially conscious engagement with law looks like.

 

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Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West – Sheila Jeffreys

beautyandmisogynyShould western beauty practices, ranging from lipstick to labiaplasty, be included within the United Nations understandings of harmful traditional/cultural practices? By examining the role of common beauty practices in damaging the health of women, creating sexual difference, and enforcing female deference, this book argues that they should.

In the 1970s feminists criticized pervasive beauty regimes such as dieting and depilation, but some new feminists argue that beauty practices are no longer oppressive now that women can choose them. However, in the last two decades the brutality of western beauty practices seems to have become much more severe, requiring the breaking of skin, spilling of blood and rearrangement or amputation of body parts. Beauty and Misogynyseeks to make sense of why beauty practices are not only just as persistent, but in many ways more extreme. It examines the pervasive use of makeup, the misogyny of fashion and high-heeled shoes, and looks at the role of pornography in the creation of increasingly popular beauty practices such as breast implants, genital waxing and surgical alteration of the labia. It looks at the cosmetic surgery and body piercing/cutting industries as being forms of self-mutilation by proxy, in which the surgeons and piercers serve as proxies to harm women s bodies, and concludes by considering how a culture of resistance to these practices can be created.

This essential work will appeal to students and teachers of feminist psychology, gender studies, cultural studies, and feminist sociology at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and to anyone with an interest in feminism, women and beauty, and women s health.

 

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