The grade: B+
Makes me want to read: some feminist theory, more about Carol Gilligan’s work (namely In a Different Voice), and reread too many of the texts to mention
Memorable quote: Identity is constituted from experience, from being the subject of knowledge. And remember this…Being is a process, a story–and, if you will, a dialogue. Always try to tell the unexpected story (255).
My thoughts: As a teenage undergrad, Stephanie Staal took Feminist Texts and was inspired by the ideas and stories of the women she read. Now, Staal is in her 30s, a wife and a mother. Feeling a bit lost, she re-enrolls in Fem Texts at her alma mater and chronicles her experiences the second time around, and how her perspective has changed.
In short, this is a book written for me. I’ve read or am familiar with most of the texts Staal references, so reading Reading Women was a bit of a revisitation to these works for me, too. I will probably reread this if and when I become a wife and mother myself. Right now I think I’m still a little to close to my undergrad days to fully appreciate the life changes and shifting perspectives Staal presents.
My favorite sections were the discussions about Carol Gilligan’s book In a Different Voice and Katie Roiphe’s The Morning After. I haven’t read The Morning After, Roiphe’s polemic about a supposed “rape crisis hysteria” on college campuses. The Roiphe piece I liked mostly for Staal’s response: feminism stands for equality, for giving women both voice and choice….Pinning the paradoxes of youth, campus culture and human nature on the failings of feminism is indeed misguided. While Roiphe scolds her peers who dance half-naked at frat parties then scream until they are hoarse at Take Back the Night events, Staal notes that the same criticism can be applied to women who reap the benefits of feminism, then blame it for providing them with too many choices (240).
Gilligan’s landmark In a Different Voice posited that men view the world as a hierarchy while women see complex networks of relationships–two equally valid but different philosophies. The problem is that the male approach is deemed the “right” way and the female perspective is “wrong.” The classic example is whether or not a man should steal a drug a can’t afford to save his wife’s life. The 11-year-old boy says yes, he should steal the drug, because his wife’s life depends upon it. The 11-year-old girl says it depends, because she’s not thinking solely about the life v. property dilemma, she’s think that the husband and wife depend upon each other, and that if the husband steals the drug and is sent to prison, both will suffer.
This is fascinating to me. Gilligan’s theory is also a prime example of the second-wave feminist belief that there are differences between the sexes and that these differences should be respected. First-wave feminists (think the suffragists) were more focused on the similarities between men and women and argued that women are equal to men. Politics of recognition v. politics of difference. Also, Gilligan was referenced in Cinderella Ate My Daughter, what I believe will end up being one of my favorite reads of the year, so Gilligan is definitely going on my to-read list.
Overall, I enjoyed it, and I think even those who aren’t Official Feminists (my friends’ term for former Women’s Studies students) but have an interest in feminism or gender studies could appreciate Staal’s memoir. She provides enough explanation and context of each text so that even if you’re not familiar with the work, you won’t be lost. I’m not quite ready to re-enroll in my undergrad women’s studies/women’s lit classes, but I am adding some of Staal’s texts to my to-read/to-re-read list.