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Are Women Human? by Dorothy L. Sayers
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Are Women Human? (1971)

by Dorothy L. Sayers

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Great stuff! Dorothy L Sayers claimed not to be a feminist. However, if a feminist is a person who believes that women and men should have equal rights, then Sayers was definitely one. These writings exemplify Sayers: pithy, witty, seriously smart and still relevant 70 years down the track. ( )
  KimMR | Apr 2, 2013 |
Sayers gained literary fame for her mysteries, which feature Lord Peter Wimsey, and her translation of Dante’s Inferno. This collection of essays looks at the role women play in society. The title essay was actually a speech Sayers’ gave at an event.

I loved the way she lays out the issue and the simplicity of the answer. She makes it clear that she doesn’t know exactly what every woman wants to do with her life, because women want the same options that men have. They want to be able to decide how to live their own lives, nothing more.

I really enjoyed this collection (esp. the title piece) because Sayers never sounds preachy or condescending. She’s just expressing her opinion and stating that women don’t deserve special treatment, but they do deserve equal treatment. This is exactly how I feel. I don’t want different (aka lower) standards for a woman to be able to qualify for a field. If a woman wants to be a firefighter she should have to fulfill the same physical requirements as a man who would want to. It’s not about being “fair” to someone of a smaller size, it’s about being able to lift the equipment and carry someone out of a burning building.

I think Sayers represents this idea well. She thinks, as I do, that any woman should be allowed to be work towards whatever goal or profession she desires, but that doesn’t mean that every woman will want the same thing.

Here are a few good lines…

“What we must not do is to argue that the occasional appearance of a female mechanical genius proves that all women would be mechanical geniuses if they were educated. They would not.”

“Men have asked from the beginning of time, ‘what do women want?’ I do not know that women, as women, want anything in particular, but as human beings they want, my good men, exactly what you want yourselves: interesting occupation, reasonable freedom for their pleasures, and a sufficient emotional outlet. What form the occupation, the pleasures and the emotion may take, depends entirely upon the individual." ( )
3 vote bookworm12 | Apr 12, 2011 |
Sayers is straightforward, intelligent, and as clear as ever. She takes great delight in skewering some popular errors of feminist though (especially lines like "a woman is as good as a man"), while at the same time taking men to task for condescension.The most original argument she makes is that the problems modern feminism attempts to address were largely brought on by industrialism, which removed so many occupations from the sphere of the home. ( )
  m_dow | Jan 24, 2011 |
Are Women Human was an address given by Dorothy L. Sayers to a women’s society in 1938. You would think that, 72 years later, it would seem dated and irrelevant. Not a bit. (Well, okay, a tiny bit. But no more than that.) Sayers’ argument uses some examples that are not directly relevant today, but the thrust of her argument is as fresh now as when it was written: men and women are all human beings, and, while there are some differences between the sexes, to see them as ontologically different is incorrect, unhelpful and unfair.

‘“What,” men have asked distractedly from the beginning of time, “what on earth do women want?” I do not know that women, as women, want anything in particular, but as human beings they want, my good man, exactly what you want yourselves: interesting occupation, reasonable freedom for their pleasures, and a sufficient emotional outlet. What form the occupation, the pleasures and the emotion may take, depends entirely upon the individual.’ (p. 44)

The wit, delivery and argument are all superb: I started to mark quotable passages but gave up after the first thirty-eight.

The second essay in this volume, The Human-Not-Quite-Human was presumably written a little later (it refers explicitly to the use of women’s labour in wartime), and is a little angrier in tone. Nevertheless, it, like the first essay, contains a lot of humour and a lot of sense. The book also contains an excellent introduction by Mary McDermott Shideler, which puts Sayers’ essays into the context of her wider work. Don't be put off by the theology tag: Sayers' ideas are informed by her Christian faith, but God only puts in a very brief appearance on the last couple of pages.

I thoroughly recommend this book – to men and women – but for the last word I’m going to let Miss Sayers speak for herself:

‘I am occasionally desired by ... the editors of magazines to say something about the writing of detective fiction “from the woman’s point of view.” To such demands, one can only say, “Go away and don’t be silly. You might as well ask what is the female angle on an equilateral triangle.”’ (p. 41) ( )
22 vote CatyM | Jun 19, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802829961, Paperback)

Introduction by Mary McDermott Shideler One of the first women to graduate from Oxford University, Dorothy Sayers pursued her goals whether or not what she wanted to do was ordinarily understood to be "feminine." Sayers did not devote a great deal of time to talking or writing about feminism, but she did explicitly address the issue of women's role in society in the two classic essays collected here. Central to Sayers's reflections is the conviction that both men and women are first of all human beings and must be regarded as essentially much more alike than different. We are to be true not so much to our sex as to our humanity. The proper role of both men and women, in her view, is to find the work for which they are suited and to do it. Though written several decades ago, these essays still offer in Sayers's piquant style a sensible and conciliatory approach to ongoing gender issues.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:34 -0400)

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