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Women Unbound: Chrysalis, Body Drama, Bachelor Girl, & The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh

June 15, 2010

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve become a bit addicted to nonfiction centered around women’s issues. So it’s no great surprise that in my backlog I’ve got a few Women Unbound books to discuss!

Chrysalis by Kim Todd

I picked up Chrysalis after reading Lu’s post on it. It’s a marvelous piece of science history, chronicling the life of 18th century scientist and artist Maria Sibylla Merian. Merian had a really neat life: she didn’t stay within conventions, and she kept her passion for metamorphosis alive even while running a household. She was a scientist of the style more recognisible now than then: she learned about the world through close observation, studying thousands of insects and their life processes. And she did beautiful drawings of those insects, with the drawing skills she picked up as a child in an artistic house. The book includes many of her drawings and watercolours, and they’re all simply stunning. The thing about Merian is that there are definitely blanks in her life…the historical record tends to favour those with power, after all. This is a tricky area for a biographer, but I thought Todd handled it with great aplomb. When she has to ‘fill in the blanks,’ she brings to life the society that Merian lived in, and then explains what a woman of Merian’s class and background probably would have experienced. I quite enjoyed these peeks into the everyday life of artisans in Germany, and I especially loved how well Todd brought Suriname to life (later in life, Merian travels from Amsterdam to Suriname to continue her scientific studies). The book was the perfect length, and the writing was consistently interesting and engaging. I’d highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys ‘detail’ history (I’m not sure what the official name is for books that focus on the everyday life aspect of history), getting to know strong women, or learning about the history of science. I’d also say if you’re more of a fiction reader looking to read some nonfiction, Chrysalis will be the perfect choice!

Body Drama by Nancy Amanda Redd

Dewey talked about Body Drama forever ago now, but I’d never quite gotten around to reading it. But when my 13-year-old cousin came to visit, I thought it was the perfect time to get it from the library and leave it lying around so she could read it too! And I couldn’t resist flipping through it myself. ;) There are definitely aspects of the book that I think are awesome: lots of non-airbrushed pictures of the topics under discussion, including breasts and privates. As Redd says in the book, most girls don’t really have any idea what other girls look like, genitalia-speaking, so she wanted to include the photographs to de-mystify and de-shame vulvas. I’ve talked before about society’s message to women that we should be embarrassed about and never discuss our vaginae. So any book that works against that is important. But I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Body Drama…there were a couple issues that, if I had read it when I was a teen, would have really upset me. First of all, in the breasts chapter, they only real message to girls with small boobs is ‘maybe they’ll grow when you get older.’ And there was this little tidbit included describing A cups as ‘almost boobs,’ B cups as ‘barely boobs,’ and I can’t remember the other ones. But that doesn’t really seem helpful for girls’ self-esteem, does it? I would have liked to see a list of reasons why women love having small breasts (and medium ones and large ones), because there are some definite advantages! Then, in the body image chapter, Redd doesn’t include the reason why I hated my body in high school: ‘I think I’m too skinny,’ This can be a real problem: I remember thinking that my body was so skinny it looked prepubescent and that the only guys who would ever be attracted to me would have to be perverts since I looked like a little kid (isn’t high school marvelous for one’s self-esteem?!). But Redd just talks about feeling fat, which would have made me feel like more than a freak than ever as a young teen. In that same chapter, I also found her overly dependent on the BMI index for my taste. There are some definitely flaws in the BMI approach (i.e.: muscle weighs more than fat, people have different bone structures, etc.), so telling girls that if the BMI says they’re overweight they should take ‘these healthy weight loss approaches’ made me cringe a bit. That being said, the book is full of useful information that teenage girls are unlikely to actually ask about on their own, so it’s still something I’d recommend. But I can’t help wishing it was perfect! ;)

Bachelor Girl by Betsy Israel

I read about Bachelor Girl, a social history of the American single (white) girl, in Ana’s book coveting post. In the beginning, I enjoyed learning about the perceptions of single women starting in the mid-19th century and moving forward, and I got some great trivia like this:

In 1933 the condom industry, a $350 million enterprise, produced something like one million units a day. Wives could obtain an early form of diaphragm known as a pessary, and so could single women, as long as they posed as wives and appeared in doctors’ offices wearing wedding rings.

The history was definitely a bit fluffier and surface-oriented than I would have preferred (especially for a ‘secret’ history, most of what Israel talked about I already knew in at least a vague way_, but still worth reading. Then somewhere around the 1960s, Israel’s tone began to change a bit, and by the time she got to current times, she was consistently making me angry with the way she talked about single women. Israel herself is married, which struck me as a bit odd in the preface, but I was going to go with it. While she was able to ‘objectively’ evaluate the historical single women, when she got to present times she seemed to fall into the same trap that society tells us…there was no mention of women who *choose* to be single, and the implication was that any unmarried woman in the US today would really like to get a man. Don’t believe me? Read this passage:

I use the term “slacker spinsters” because these two, like so many women I know in their thirties, seem to be kind of hanging out in the lives that have evolved around them, making sporadic efforts to connect with men, then retreating back to the couch, the TC, or the phone or into an elaborate fantasy. They believe in the possibilities of love, though it’s not clear they fully believe in the beautiful possibilities of marriage. They’ve lived through the same kind of chaos that baby brides list on their resumes. But they’ve come to different conclusions. Primarily, getting married will never guarantee a feeling of safety.
Not that they won’t try. Try hard. …But chances are they’d just crack up and throw those books across the room. Where they would land either on the dry cleaning or on a pile of unsorted clothes.

There’s so much to make me rage in this passage. The idea that not wanting to be in a relationship in a man means you’re lazy and prefer ‘fantasy’ to real life. The way that closing image implies that single women apparently are domestic failures who either pay someone else to do their laundry or never quite finish it. That every single woman is ‘trying’ to find a husband, however halfheartedly. Oh, and did you catch the ‘baby brides’ phrase? This is how Israel refers to the women of my generation who get married in their early to mid twenties. She spends a couple pages on this phenomenon, and it’s obvious how she feels about these women, even without the completely dismissive ‘baby bride’ title which she uses constantly:

There is only one word that comes up again and again during conversations with baby brides, and it is not dishes or vacuuming; it is safe.

Now, I didn’t choose to get married straight out of college, but I have friends who did, and I was offended for them. So in the end, I think Israel should have stuck to history: when she gets to the present, she seems to just unleash herself on any of the women who didn’t follow her own marriage pattern (early 30s). I ended up offended, annoyed, and obviously not very likely to recommend this to my friends. I did hear about a much better sounding book, though: Liberty: a Better Husband by Lee Virginia Chambers-Schiller that I’ll be following up with soon.

The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh by Linda Colley

Let’s end this post on a high note, shall we? I loved The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh! ;) Colley sets out to re-imagine biography as a form of looking at the bigger forces of history instead of just one life, and she succeeds magnificently. Marsh lived in the 18th century and her extensive travelling and family connections make her a perfect focal point for Colley to also examine British imperial policies at the time. Marsh was born in Jamaica (and might have been of mixed race), and her life sounds like something out of fiction: she was kidnapped by Moroccan pirates at one point, travelled to Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa (if you count Morocco), spent time as a newly wed living the rich social life, and later dealt with her husband’s bankruptcy and pulled together to get a good marriage for her daughter anyway. It’s great raw material, and Colley shapes it into a compelling book that examines the larger social, political, and economic forces at work in Marsh’s life. We often like to think that globalisation is a new thing, but this book reminds us that there’s nothing new under the sun. ;) I’d highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys thinking about global issues, past and present: as for me, I’ll be checking out Captives: Britain, Empire and the World, the earlier book Colley wrote, whose research led her to write this one.

Do you have any favourite women-centric historians to recommend? I’m always on the lookout for more!

62 Comments leave one →
  1. June 15, 2010 6:12 am

    Dale Spender comes immediately to mind. I’ve loved everything, from her voluminous Women of Ideas to her slim volume of letters exchanged with her sister Lynne (I snap up a copy whenever I see one and gift it) to the oh-so-appealing-for-obvious-reasons Mothers of the Novel.
    ::insert gushing praise-y noises::

    • June 16, 2010 1:21 pm

      Thanks: she sounds marvelous! My library doesn’t have anything of hers, but perhaps I’ll ILL one of the ones you mentioned. :)

  2. June 15, 2010 6:13 am

    I don’t have a favorite women centric historian to recommend, but I do think you would like The Lost German Slave Girl. It’s a wonderful book about a part of American history we don’t look at very much.

    The passages you quote from Bachelor Girl are so clearly biased, that I’d have to hold the pages that came before as suspect. If she is doing such a poor job with the material you know, I think you have to assume there’s a very good chance she’s doing just as badly with the material you didn’t know. It’s so hard to judge a history text when it’s covering something you’re not very familiar with.

    This was a great set of reviews, by the way.

    • June 16, 2010 1:24 pm

      Thanks for the rec (and the compliment)!

      I probably know more about late 1800s/early 1900s American women than I do about the 60s. ;) Part of the reason why I trust her historical stuff more than the more modern stuff is that for the former she depended on books written by actual historians, whereas for the latter she appears to have just chatted with some women she knows and drawn her own conclusions.

  3. June 15, 2010 6:13 am

    ‘Baby brides’? ‘Slacker spinsters’?? That does sound condescending. Not to mention that ‘spinster’ is really not necessary anymore and just insulting. I certainly wasn’t trying to get married or be involved with anyone (and somehow managed to do my own laundry also….), I was just living my life until I met my husband, I didn’t want to force a relationship unless it naturally seemed right. What a prig, really!

    Also you’re right about feeling self-conscious about small breasts, I was like that as a teenager too, feeling like an unattractive stick because I had no curves. I’m sure they’re just trying to say you don’t have to starve yourself to be beautiful, but at the same time, saying I had ‘almost boobs’ as a teen or ‘barely boobs’ now (they haven’t grown that much!) is an insult and just embarrassing.

    • June 16, 2010 1:26 pm

      lol: I’m actually trying to reclaim the word spinster! ;) But yeah ‘slacker spinster’ is incredibly offensive.

      I got a bra fitting last year and learned that my ‘almost boobs’ are actually C’s (but with a 30 band, so the tiniest C’s ever, lol), but they definitely never really grew post high school. And I did take Redd’s comments as an insult. :p

  4. June 15, 2010 6:31 am

    It’s sad the middle two books had such promise and didn’t deliver!

    Especially “Bachelor Girls” — Who uses the word “spinster” any more?And “baby brides”? What about the girls in the 50s and 60s getting married at 18 or even younger? Augh!

    • June 16, 2010 1:27 pm

      Isn’t it sad?! She does talk about girls in that period…and she talks about having a birth rate ‘like a third world country.’ Let’s unpack the prejudices in that phrase, eh?

  5. June 15, 2010 7:26 am

    Oh, we totally should have done a joint review on Bachelor Girl- I have a feeling we would play off each other’s rage quite well! I hated her later chapters as well. I don’t think the fact that she’s married upset me so much, but the way that she had judgment all over single women did. Even historically, when you look at her later biases, it makes her research seem more like it’s about why women fail at getting married, rather than choosing to be single.

    • June 16, 2010 1:28 pm

      I wasn’t upset that she’s married until she started getting on her high horse in the later chapters! I agree; the book isn’t woman-affirming the way I thought it would be. And yep: a join review would have been quite cathartic! lol

  6. June 15, 2010 8:13 am

    I am equally offended, by both of those books (on the points that you highlighted). Ditto Carolyn’s thoughts, for want of time.

    But on a positive note, I love the sound of the last book (Morocco is definitely in Africa!) – biography and history and cultural context, mmmm…

    • June 16, 2010 1:32 pm

      I know Morocco’s technically in Africa, but the Maghreb has such a different cultural evolution than sub-Saharan Africa, I don’t always think of it as ‘African’, you know? Do give the Elizabeth Marsh one a try!

      • June 16, 2010 4:55 pm

        Isn’t it fascinating how different Egypt and Morocco are from the rest of Africa? It is hard to think of them as “africa”, I agree. It’s not like Turkey, which finds itself adrift, unclaimed by Europe or the Middle East, belonging to both and yet neither. It’s fanciful I know but I find that image very sad and lonesome.

  7. June 15, 2010 10:31 am

    I can always count on you to bring books that I haven’t heard of before to my attention. The Body Drama book seems like a lost opportunity. The author got it partly right but was wrong about enough stuff that I wouldn’t recommend it. I’d love to see someone do a book that is geared towards boys/men too. Being the mom of a teenage son I can tell you that boys have their own body drama. They worry about being tall enough and muscular enough and I never read much about things from their view.

    • June 16, 2010 1:34 pm

      Lost opportunity is a great way to describe Body Drama. I have lots of guy friends and I know exactly what you mean re: height & muscle. Let me know if you find a book w/ that subject!

  8. June 15, 2010 12:09 pm

    I don’t have any recommendations for you, but I appreciate the ones that you’ve given me! Chrysalis in particular looks like a book I’d love.

    Bachelor Girls, on the other hand, will most certainly be avoided. I guess I qualify as a “baby bride” but I find the term frankly insulting. Why am I not allowed to know exactly who I want to be with just because I got married at 23 and not 30? And where does she draw the line between “baby brides” and “slack spinsters”? Are women only allowed to legitimately marry between 26 and 32? How irritating. I’m sure she wouldn’t apply the same standards to men.

  9. June 15, 2010 12:17 pm

    Don’t get me started with women’s history, Eva! :) Bluestockings (about the first female university students in Britain) by Jane Robinson was very interesting and almost read like a novel. I read it for Women Unbound. My review is here:
    I read lots of books on the history of women during my studies ( I have a MA in history & wrote my thesis on women’s history). Some of my favorite books on the subject include: Bonnie S. Anderson’s Joyous Greetings: The First International Women’s Movement & Golden Cables of Sympathy: The Transatlantic Sources of Nineteenth-Century Feminism by Margaret H. McFadden. Leila J. Rupp has also written some interesting books. Her latest is Sapphistries: A Global History of Love Between Women. And if you ever want to learn more about the suffragettes I have lots of books to recommend. :)

    I’m sorry to hear Bachelor Girl was not totally great. I might still want to read it for the history part. And, ouch, the way cup sizes were described in Body Drama! What was the writer thinking there!!


    • June 16, 2010 1:36 pm

      I keep wanting to read Bluestockings but my library doesn’t have it…I’ll have to remember to ILL it one of these days! Thanks for all of the recs; I’m crossing my fingers that at least some of them are in the catalogue. And I’ll be hitting you up for suffragette recs soon!

  10. June 15, 2010 3:04 pm

    Baby brides???? Really?? I was married (by choice) at 19 … I wonder what she would call that! :)

  11. June 15, 2010 3:31 pm

    Ugh, Israel sounds incredibly condescending – Aarti’s and your reviews have absolutely convinced me not to read her book. I’m sure I can find a better book that covers much of the same ground (she said optimistically).

    I am annoyed about the things you mention from Body Image too! I have lots of memories of events that, in retrospect, were not nearly the big deal I thought they were, but at the time it felt like the entire world was judging me and my small boobs. :/

    • June 16, 2010 1:43 pm

      When you find that better book, let me know! :)

      On my bad days, I can still feel like the entire world is judging me and my small boobs! But at least those days are much fewer now that I’m not a crazy teenager. lol It doesn’t help that my mom has like that perfect hourglass figure…hmph.

      • June 16, 2010 3:14 pm

        I always feel like everyone is judging me when I walk into a Victoria’s Secret. Then this one time I asked for a size down & the saleslady sneered at me & said “We don’t carry them that small.” It was v. crushing. :p

  12. June 15, 2010 3:44 pm

    They all sound great but Bachelor Girl–man, I want to read that!

  13. June 15, 2010 4:35 pm

    That section of the body book you talked about made me mad. Yes, I was one of the girls in eighth grade being teased because I was so flat. And yet …. I am fully grown and I still don’t quite even fit in size A cup. Are those “almost almost boobs?” I am so mad at the suggestion! No, everything in life does NOT hinge on boobs. And I’m quite happy with my all-around slimness.

    And P.S. my boobs work just fine for breastfeeding (among other things…).

    • June 16, 2010 1:44 pm

      I know: isn’t it infuriating?! I’m happy to be tiny, and since tiny boobs come with that territory so be it. ;)

  14. June 15, 2010 5:03 pm

    The quotes from Bachelor Girl read like so much gibberish. How disappointing — I was interested in this book, but not now.

  15. June 15, 2010 5:17 pm

    “I’m not sure what the official name is for books that focus on the everyday life aspect of history.” Maybe domestic history? That still doesn’t sound quite right…I’ve been away from college too long!

    And I’ve got another bone to pick with the passage you quoted, particularly this line…
    “They believe in the possibilities of love, though it’s not clear they fully believe in the beautiful possibilities of marriage.”

    Why does marriage have to be a “beautiful possibilty?” What about those of us who are happy in relationships without marriage? I know that’s not where she was going, but it still bothers me…single or married, like there’s no other option.

    • June 16, 2010 1:46 pm

      Domestic history sounds better than what I came up with! You were a history major, right? And yeah: the whole idea that marriage is ‘grown-up love’ is pretty ridiculous.

  16. June 15, 2010 5:49 pm

    Oh, I am enraged on so many levels about the Body Drama and the Bachelor Girls!

    1. Totally wrong to assume breasts will grow. Mine sure didn’t. But small breasts can make otherwise heavy girls like me look thinner in pictures from the waist up. :-)

    2. I despaired long ago of ever finding a good book about contemporary single womanhood, especially singleness past the age of 30. It especially galls me when people assume that they can speak with authority about it because they were single once. The problem is that the experience in one’s late 30s is entirely different from the experience in one’s 20s. Better in some ways, I’ve found, but more complicated in others. I suppose a married person could write such a book if he or she were to base it entirely on hard data and interviews without much interpretation, but it’s tough. The messages in the media about single women today are such a mess.

    I am also determined to rehabilitate the term spinster. I like it. I relate to it better than the term bachelor girl, which implies a sort of carefree lack of responsibility which doesn’t quite suit me. There’s a seriousness to the term spinster that I like, if it could only be cleansed of connotations of sadness.

    • June 16, 2010 1:49 pm

      I know! My breasts never grew either, but that does mean I can wear a bigger variety of shirts. :) That’s why I would’ve liked to see a list of the upsides of small boobs! And yeah…I’m beginning to think your despair is justified re: books. You should just write it! And I want to rehabilitate spinster as well…I’ve been known to call myself an aspiring spinster, and I mean it. For the same serious feeling that you mention.

  17. June 15, 2010 11:04 pm

    Wow I loved this set of books! I am particularly attracted to Chrysalis… I will definitely check that one out. And I couldn’t agree more with your rage on the quoted passage from Betsy Israel. Especially here in India, where I come from, single women are the ‘outcasts’ who are looked upon pitifully as those who have not yet ‘settled’ in life. I too have chosen to marry a bit later because I want to travel and generally do things I love to do… And not many understand that choice but then I am having a party so who cares! :D

    • June 16, 2010 1:50 pm

      Good for you following your heart even if when it’s difficult! I don’t really ever want to marry, but when I tell people that they don’t usually believe me.

  18. bookgazing permalink
    June 16, 2010 3:43 am

    I haven’t read it yet but I wonder if you’d like ‘Beyond Marriage’ about the current legal rights for single women and men: . It might be a nice balancer for the flippancy of ‘Bachelor Girls’.

  19. June 16, 2010 4:34 am

    I’ve been wanting to read Body Image since Dewey talked about it but now I won’t… The small boob thing and skinny thing could really harm a teen with low self-esteem… It kinda doesn’t matter if the rest of the book is good or not, those two things could cause so much damage that it’s just not worth it.

    The Bacholerette one sounds horrible. What a shame, such a great idea, such a great title.

    I’m certainly not going to read anything with pictures of bugs, I’m too sqeamish, so Chrysalis is out.

    But I’ve added the Linda Colley one to my wishlist so thanks for that! :-)

    • June 16, 2010 1:51 pm

      I think Bachelor Girls is totally misleading re: cover/blurb/title and then the insides. So annoying! lol: the insect illustrations are GORGEOUS. At least do a google image search before writing it off completely!

  20. June 16, 2010 6:08 am

    Body Drama and Emily Marsh sound good! I have one NF book left for my Unbound challenge, and I may probably pick one of those books. I’m disappointed though about Bachelor Girl. I was sort of looking forward to it, but the kind of message it exudes will make me rage as well. Thanks for the reviews!! More choices for me now. :)

    • June 16, 2010 6:10 am

      I meant “Elizabeth Marsh” not Emily Marsh. Ugh.. typo. :)

    • June 16, 2010 1:52 pm

      It’ll be interesting to see what you think! And sorry: the original typo was mine…I wrote Emily in my post’s title. LOL

  21. June 16, 2010 12:12 pm

    I read Body Drama and had the exact same problem you did with it. I even wrote a huge post ranting about the plight of skinny girls but didn’t have the nerve to post it. The one and only place skinniness is mentioned at all is (intentionally or not) in a section on anorexia where, stacked up against the fact that being skinny is not mentioned anywhere else, it almost seems to imply that if you are skinny you are anorexic. A connotation in the book that I did not appreciate. A lot of the other information was so helpful that I was willing to overlook it because I’m used to skinniness being sidelined, or not considered a problem, or a viewed as a secret (you must be cheating somehow to get that way, so anorexia it is!). Frustrating to find such cattiness (barely boobs?) in a book that otherwise is so progressive in its approach to girls and body image.

    • June 16, 2010 1:53 pm

      You should have posted it! I spent years desperately trying to gain weight & couldn’t, and I think it was just as upsetting for my self esteem as trying to lose weight & not being able to (although people rarely believe me). I did think Redd was a bit catty throughout, or just, well, young. She didn’t make me want to be her friend, you know?

  22. June 16, 2010 2:28 pm

    I’m interested in what you had to say about all of these books, but I was especially keen to read your thoughts on Bachelor Girl since I didn’t make it all the way through that one. Annnndd it looks like we agree. I didn’t get through it for the fluffiness, and now I’m glad I didn’t. I couldn’t even read the whole of the first passage you quoted because I got so frustrated, and my eyes almost got stuck in the upward position because I rolled them so hard. Annoying!

  23. June 16, 2010 2:28 pm

    Thank you so much for reviewing the Colley book! She’s one of my favorite authors and a friend gave me the Marsh book for Christmas. Sadly, I just haven’t gotten around to reading it, but I’ll have to get to it now that I’ve read your excellent review!

  24. June 17, 2010 5:24 am

    O.M.G. your review of both Body Drama and Bachelor Girl make me want to throw the computer. Not your review, I mean, but the sounds of the actual book. Big boobs and a perfect BMI score are all that you need? You only have a right to complain if fat? And Israel’s points about present day single women… I am grating my teeth here.

    I am happy to hear that you enjoyed the Elizabeth Marsh book, I have it on my Kindle to read at some point. I will definitely be avoiding those middle two books though.

  25. June 17, 2010 10:52 am

    Wow, I had been considering reading Bachelor Girl…I’m glad I read your review of it first! Looks like I’ll be skipping THAT one. Pfff. The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh sounds awesome, though!

  26. June 18, 2010 7:15 am

    I read ‘Singled Out’ by Virginia Nicholson a few years ago and loved it! It’s a popular social history book about British women after WWI and there were bits that resonated with some of the issues women still face. I was also looking forward to reading ‘Bachelor Girl’ but I’m not impressed with Israel’s views on modern single women… However, I may still read it for the historical chapters.

    ‘Chrysalis’ also looks wonderful – I love reading about women in science!

  27. June 18, 2010 8:58 am

    What a service you provide, Eva, by reading these books and telling us all about them! I love the following discussion. We all have an interesting body image story somewhere… I remember a women’s body book I read as a teenager that had breast growth divided into five stages (with illustrations). I still haven’t made it past stage 2…

  28. June 18, 2010 10:36 am

    I like the sound of Chrysalis and The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh, but like you I think I would’ve cringed reading some of the advise in the body image book. Certainly, reading that on A and B cups would’ve only made me feel more insecure.

  29. June 18, 2010 11:12 am

    Ugh! Ok, now I know what to avoid. However, “Chrysalis” sounds like a great read. I may have to pick that one up. Thanks for the reviews.

    I’d like to add my own recommendation!!! =) It’s Streetwise Spirituality by Carol Marleigh Kline. It’s an empowering book, geared toward women, that encourages making peace between who we really are and what others expect of us and how past decisions, attitudes, and behaviors create their present and their future— either consciously or unconsciously. It’s a really great read with timely advice on moving forward and out of emotional or behavioral patterns into more joy! I loved it and hightly recommend it!

    Well, thanks again for the post and the heads up! =)

  30. June 18, 2010 6:04 pm

    Bachelor Girl was a fun read for me, but yes, I regarded it as so much fluff. I thought there were some interesting points, but I always think it is interesting in “feminist” books when this tone is taken.

    I am single and have been for quite some time. I do not wish to be single forever, but I love my life as is. I don’t really want a boyfriend and don’t actively date.

    The problem with contemporary feminist texts, I think, is that they are so darn self conscious. They want to appeal to a broad audience and don’t want to be deemed “feminazis” or “manhaters”. I get that, but you can’t have that sort of thought process when writing a supposedly feminist text for feminists. You’re going to get dinged on both sides.

    I read this when I was writing my master’s thesis on motherhood and femininity and was trying to find anything contemporary dealing with these issues. The Mommy Myth (Douglas and Michaels) and Misconceptions (Wolff) were interesting to me. I also think that often, writers like Israel try to overcome the stigma of nonfiction=boring. I just wish writers would understand that you don’t have to sacrifice integrity and hard-hitting realities to do it.

  31. June 20, 2010 11:53 am

    I just added two books to my TBR pile, thanks to your wonderful reviews, Eva! Anatomy of a Rose – they are my favourite flower – and Chrysalis. The only women’s historians I can recommend are Canadian – I enjoy journals very much, and read Anna Brownell Jameson this past year for the Canadian EH Challenge – Winter Studies and Summer Rambles, and then there are Susanna Marsh and Catharine Parr Traill, who wrote our earliest female pioneer books (non-fiction) which are Canadian classics. I thoroughly recommend them, both for their insight to what women faced when they first came here, and because it is truly remarkable how much they did each day and managed to write at night. In case you are looking for something a little different but still women’s life oriented.

  32. June 20, 2010 1:30 pm

    Well, I know you’re already a fan of my fave female historian, Laurel Ulrich. Have you read Hermione Lee’s biographies of Edith Wharton & Virginia Woolf? A-freakin’-MAZing, well-sourced, fascinating histories of those authors’ lives. Very long, but worth it.

    It sounds like Bachelor Girl was written with the Sex & the City viewer in mind…yikes. (Not that I haven’t enjoyed that show, but the assumption of the priorities of a certain demographic is troubling.) And the boobs thing – that seems like a really bizarre missed opportunity.

  33. June 21, 2010 1:43 pm

    My comments are not that different from others’ but I feel moved to comment anyway, on the points you made with Body Drama and Bachelor Girl. When I was young, I thought I would have the same body shape as my older cousins. But I remained small-chested, skinny, and became very tall and all those factors combined made me feel not very womanly. So the “maybe they’ll grow when you’re older” and “almost boobs” just doesn’t cut it for advice to teens. It just will make the smaller-framed feel left behind, like they are perpetually “almost women.” There are advantages to all body types, in the styles one can wear, for example. (Also, I will never have to deal with men staring at my chest instead of my face. So, yay.)

    The Bachelor Girl book really makes me mad with the “slacker spinster” description. She makes it sound like anything that is not “connecting with men” is a retreat from life. And baby brides?! Wow. Like Meghan said in the comments, the author seems to make a bracket on when marriage is acceptable, and I’d like to know where that authority came from.

  34. Mumsy permalink
    June 26, 2010 12:42 pm

    Ew, I will give Bachelor Girls a miss – it distresses me how some women seem to define their own liberation by attacking other women’s choices. Are you interested at all in women’s points of view in the area of theology/religion (Let me be clear – I’m talking feminist theology, not anti-feminist!) Megan McKenna’s “Not Counting the Women and Children” was an interesting read for me – fairly accessible, and she goes easy on the theology-speak.


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