Film noir used to be personified by the lone detective in a trench coat, chain smoking in rain-dotted lamplight. But 70 years after The Maltese Falcon ﬂew into Tinseltown, that hero has been replaced. Now, standing in that same lamplight, smacking gum in the same misty glow, is a lone detective in a Faroese sweater. And she’s a woman.
In 1972, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss published The Flame and the Flower. With this novel, Woodiwiss transformed the romance genre by making explicit what had previously been implied—that is, sex—and created a formula for success that romance authors would follow for decades. The archetypal romance plot of the post-Woodiwiss era goes like this: An innocent young woman experiences sexual awakening when she succumbs to an older, very powerful man, who in turn is domesticated—but not in any way emasculated!—by the aforementioned innocent young woman.
An interview with Peggy Orensteinby M. M. Adjarian,Illustrated by Rebecca Green,appeared in issue Primal;published in 2011;filed under Books.
From the outside, Peggy Orenstein epitomizes feminist success. She’s an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in such distinguished publications as the New Yorker, Elle, Vogue, Discover, Mother Jones, and O: The Oprah Magazine. But her work itself is dedicated to asserting the ways in which "having it all"—or trying to—in a world built to the measure of men can have profound effects on women and girls.
Articleby Eryn Loeb,Illustrated by Kristopher Pollard,appeared in issue Confidential;published in 2010;filed under Books.
In a sweetly musty used-book-store, I recently bought a few thick, oversize issues of Good Housekeeping and Ladies’ Home Journal. Dating from the early 1950s, they were full of ads for Del Monte fruit cocktail (serving suggestion: use it to top a loaf of canned ham, for something "really different!"), Lustroware plastic wastebaskets ("Love its elegant beauty"), and articles worrying that comic books "create child criminals" and warning mothers that "Nobody likes a young smart aleck."
Call it a feminist coincidence: Two books published in 1963 examine gender, sex, and marriage, but arrive at diametrically opposite conclusions. In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan complains that "the only passion, the only pursuit, the only goal a woman is permitted is the pursuit of a man." Meanwhile, Helen Andelin’s Fascinating Womanhood urges women to embrace that primary passion, because it leads to ultimate fulfillment and complete happiness. We all know how The Feminine Mystique changed the world for countless women. But Fascinating Womanhood, while lesser-known than Friedan’s polemic, has had its own powerful impact on notions of women and their potential.
Now in its sixth edition, Fascinating Womanhood has sold more than 2 million copies. Over the years, the book has grown from less than 200 pages to more than 400, with most of the additional pages featuring testimonials from women whose miserable marriages were saved once they began following the book’s advice. And Andelin’s legacy is still very much in effect—not only for the adherents who blog about the book’s wisdom or enroll in online "Marriage, the Fascinating Way" classes offering personalized advice on how to act like a little girl, but in the female infantilization enthusiastically embraced by popular culture.
Stephenie Meyer’s vampire-infested Twilight series has created a new YA genre: abstinence porn
Abstinence has never been sexier than it is in Stephenie Meyer’s young adult four-book Twilight series. Fans are super hot for Edward, a century-old vampire in a 17-year-old body, who sweeps teenaged Bella, your average human girl, off her feet in a thrilling love story that spans more than 2,000 pages. Fans are enthralled by their tale, which begins when Edward becomes intoxicated by Bella’s sweet-smelling blood.
Shortly before the birth of my first child nine years ago, while browsing the bookstore for mommy wisdom, I discovered Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year and fell in love with the author and the book. More than any parenting truisms the book might have contained, it was Lamott’s writing style—funny, self-deprecating, and brutally honest—that kept me reading. The big mommy insight I gleaned from Operating Instructions was that I wasn’t quite as neurotic as Anne, so my kid and I would probably be all right.
The New York Times Book Review has never exactly embraced passionate advocacy—unless it was promoting Pynchon’s and DeLillo’s place in the postmodernist canon. Even worse, it has become the place where serious feminist books come to die— or more accurately, to be dismissed with the flick of a well-manicured postfeminist wrist.
In an era when it’s possible to turn on the television on any given night and see a clutch of bikini-clad women crawling over their male prey (ABC’s The Bachelor), a sex-toy demonstration (HBO’s Real Sex), or a 9-year-old showing off her moves on her parents’ personal stripper pole (E!’s Keeping Up with the Kardashians), Wendy Shalit’s assertion that modesty has made a comeback seems a little, well, optimistic.