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.
The average romance-novel hero hasn’t changed much since the genre’s development in the late 19th century—he’s dashing, arrogant, commanding, hopefully rich, possibly even a prince. But is he an Arab? More and more commonly, the answer is yes.
There’s a new Bat in Gotham City. Like Bruce Wayne, she’s a rich socialite by day and a black-clad vigilante at night. And, also like Bruce Wayne, in both incarnations she’s apt to sweep the ladies off their feet. Kate Kane, the new, revamped Batwoman, isn’t the first lesbian character to debut in the DC Comics universe, but she might have the highest profile. Last June, DC Executive Director Dan DiDio issued a press release saying the move was intended “to get a better cross-section of our readership and the world.”
You'll recognize the female silhouette that leans against the title on the cover of Ariel Levy's new book, Female Chauvinist Pigs. She's the girl who in recent years has made the move from the mud flaps of big rigs right into pop culture, gracing trucker caps, baby tees, and gold necklaces as an emblem of sexy, empowered womanhood. Or at least that's what she'd like you to believe. But Levy doesn't buy it, and Female Chauvinist Pigs offers her opinions on why this new symbol of postfeminism—the girl gone wild, the party-like-a-porn-star striver, the woman who populates HBO's "educational" reality shows like Cathouse and Pornucopia—isn't nearly as groundbreaking as she thinks she is.
When the curtain rose at the London premiere of the play Peter Pan in 1904, it unveiled a drama of flying children, fairies, and pirates that would soon become a classic—and inspire countless spin-offs, adaptations, and reinterpretations. On the cinematic side, these began with the 1924 silent-film version of the play, starring Anna May Wong as Tiger Lily. Disney’s animated Peter Pan (1953) has been described as “ageless” (though one wonders if critics took note of the decidedly dated, stereotypical depiction of Native Americans), while Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991) told the story of a grown-up Peter’s transformation into a mature father.