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Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for…

Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection

by Debora L. Spar

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Review forthcoming on blog.katekosturski.info ( )
  librariankate7578 | Mar 10, 2014 |
Recommended by Laura Saunders


[Phenomenally successful women] were acknowledging that even if they "had it all," they still had lives that were fundamentally different from and more difficult than men's. They were still, almost always, in the minority. (6)

...even the most well-intentioned programs to attract women, or mentor women, or retain women still don't address the basic issues that most of these women face. And that's because the challenges that confront women now are more subtle than those of the past, harder to recognize and thus to remove. (8)

...women of my generation got feminism wrong, seeing it as a route to personal perfection and a promise of all that we were not expected to be. Instead of seizing upon the liberation that had been handed to us, we twisted it somehow into a charge: because we could do anything, we felt as if we had to do everything. (10)

It was of course both ironic and unfair. Because just as millions of young women like me were reaping the benefits of the women's movement, we were racing to distance ourselves from that movement and to ignore or even deny the massive role that feminism had played in our evolving lives. (27)

Specifically, we should have noticed, not that feminism had all the right answers, necessarily, but that it was asking the right questions. (28)

I believe that the feminism of the 1960s and '70s has a great deal to offer today's young women - particularly insofar as it urges them to focus at least a portion of their energies on common goals and struggles. (30)

[We can examine] how the women of my generation managed to transform the collective goals of feminism into an individualized quest for perfection... (30)

[On the hookup culture] "We are so afraid of losing power that we have to care less than they do." (78)

"We are the daughters of feminists who said 'You can be anything' and we heard 'You have to be everything.'" -Courtney Martin, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters (99)

Perfection...is both impossible to define and excruciating to obtain...Beauty, by comparison, is ever-present and multi-faceted...[We can't] allow ourselves to be swayed by the illusion of perfection, by the belief that we can ever reshape our bodies, much less ourselves, to be fundamentally different than they actually are. (101)

"The first step is to see housework for what it is - not a career, but something that must be done as quickly and efficiently as possible." -Betty Friedan (153)

The good news is that women of my generation got the fast-paced job opportunities we craved....The bad news is that we did not lose any responsibilities in the process...."We got equality at work. We really didn't get equality at home." http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E03E3DA1731F931A35750C0A9609C8B6.... (153)

"Put your foot on the gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision. That's the only way, when that day comes, you'll even have a decision to make." -Sheryl Sandberg, Barnard commencement address (190)

"Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth." -Simone de Beauvoir (192)

What, some observers have wondered publicly, if women in the workforce don't behave exactly like men? What if women leaders, in particular, don't lead exactly like men? And what if those characteristics, rather than consigning women to domestic chores, actually made them highly prized members of social organizations? (193)

...in the aggregate and in general, women in professional organizations will manage themselves slightly differently than men - more cautiously, perhaps, more inclusively, and with a preference for consensus over conflict. (200)

...young women need to be realistic about the careers they desire and the trade-offs they will inevitably have to face...don't go into a field without first understanding the riles of the game and considering deeply whether you want to play by them. (200)

Men, in general, tend to understand that there is only so much they can do at one time and so many skills they can master...Women, by contrast, try to keep everything going well and at once... (200)

In its original incarnation, feminism had nothing to do with perfection. In fact, the central aim of many of its most powerful proponents was to liberate women from the unreasonable, impossible standards that had long been thrust upon them. (231)

Meanwhile, none of society's earlier expectations of women disappeared as the result of these cultural changes. (232)

Rather than focusing on the external goals that might once have united them, women are micromanaging the corners of their lives and, to a somewhat lesser extent, those of their children. Think about it. When was the last time a woman...spoke to you about a protest she joined or a community group she had helped organize? (234)

"extreme individualism" --> selfishness (235)

Because these women are grappling with so many expectations...most of them are devoting whatever energies they have to controlling whatever is closest to them. (235)

Women...need to be more systematic in recognizing the specific choices they face and the distinctive trade-offs that accompany each one...they need to realize that having it all means giving something up...Having choices means making them, and then figuring out how to make them work.
One way to begin this process is by embracing the concept of "satisficing"...women need to go easier on themselves....They need to pick some areas of their lives where they strive for greatness and others where they settle comfortably for less. They need...to take whole chunks of activities off their to-do lists and add still others to their to-do-less-well lists. (243)

Women should seek empowerment in their lives, but not control. (244)

...both genders need to be more forthright in discussing the obstacles that women face. (245)

Women may differ from men in a whole range of important ways. Rather than wishing these differences away, or pretending they don't exist, we need to analyze them, understand them, and talk to one another about how best to create a world shaped by a diversity of styles and patterns; a world driven by women's skills and interests and passions as much as by men's. (246)
  JennyArch | Dec 30, 2013 |
In the tumultuous wake of Lean In, we have Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, which addresses the pervasive societal pressure for women to "have it all" - a high-powered career, a family, gorgeous looks, domestic skills, etc. - and how NOT having "it all" can dramatically affect a woman and the choices she makes. Definitely an interesting concept, and one that coincides with Lean In's message that women need to start taking charge of their careers.

Many of the arguments focus on how the rise of feminism since the 1960's and 70's have contributed to this unattainable vision of ideal womanhood, and how feminism needs an ideological shift in order to relieve some of the pressure facing modern women. I had a similar reaction to Wonder Women as I did with Lean In: that it gives us an interesting and relevant look at modern feminism, that it raises awareness about how women respond to these societal pressures, and that it mainly addresses the plight of the average Caucasian, educated, middle-class female without adding much ground-breaking information. In other words, it brings up some valid points and paints an interesting history of feminism, but is not quite inclusive enough for me to say that this is a must-read for every woman.

However, it definitely succeeds in raising awareness and discussion about the impossible ideals that women are striving to achieve, and to that, I say that anyone remotely interested in the topic should give this book a shot. At the very least, it'll prompt more awareness and more discussion.


Knowing Your Value by Mika Brzezinski. Another contemporary perspective on working women that raises some difficult issues about equal wages, male perspectives on female success, and the pitfalls that women play into when it comes to career success. This is more of a biting and hard-edged book and has more subject-related similarities with Lean In rather than Wonder Women, but it's still another modern, accessible title about female identity & power. ( )
  coloradogirl14 | Nov 21, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374298750, Hardcover)

Fifty years after the Equal Pay Act, why are women still living in a man’s world?

Debora L. Spar never thought of herself as a feminist. Raised after the tumult of the 1960s, she presumed the gender war was over. As one of the youngest female professors to be tenured at Harvard Business School and a mother of three, she swore to young women that they could have it all. “We thought we could just glide into the new era of equality, with babies, board seats, and husbands in tow,” she writes. “We were wrong.”

Now she is the president of Barnard College, arguably the most important all-women’s college in the United States. And in Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection—a fresh, wise, original book— she asks why, a half century after the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, do women still feel stuck.

In this groundbreaking and compulsively readable book, Spar explores how American women’s lives have—and have not—changed over the past fifty years. Armed with reams of new research, she details how women struggled for power and instead got stuck in an endless quest for perfection. The challenges confronting women are more complex than ever, and they are challenges that come inherently and inevitably from being female. Spar is acutely aware that it’s time to change course.

Both deeply personal and statistically rich, Wonder Women is Spar’s story and the story of our culture. It is cultural history at its best, and a road map for the future.  

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:50 -0400)

Explores "why, a half century after the publication of Betty Friedan's The feminine mystique ... women still feel stuck ... [detailing] how American women's lives have--and have not--changed over the past fifty years"--Dust jacket flap.

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