Books by Wini Breines

Released: June 1, 1992

In a ``sociological memoir'' based on novels, films, sociological studies, and personal experience, Breines (Sociology/Northeastern Univ.) traces the origins of the feminist movement in the 60's to the underlying discontents and conflicts experienced by women growing up in the 50's—a scenario that she explored politically in Community and Organization in the New Left, 1962-68 (1982—not reviewed). Breines characterizes the white middle class of the postwar period as affluent, materialistic, optimistic, family-oriented, conformist, and fearful of blacks, communists, sexual and social deviance (homosexuality and juvenile delinquency), and the Bomb and female sexuality (the bikini bathing suit, named after the nuclear testing site, symbolizes to Breines the destructive power of both). Women living within this culture, the author says, experienced particular conflicts, being ideologically conditioned to pursue marriage, motherhood, companionship even while they enjoyed opportunities for education, meaningful work, sexual expression, and romance. The author derives this characterization from such male-oriented sociological works as The Lonely Crowd, The Organization Man, and A Generation of Vipers. From the feminine perspective, she describes the dynamics of the mythical 50's family, the necessary illusions, the sexual disillusions, the courting rituals, and the allure for young women like herself of alternate cultures—the artistic underground of the Beats, jazz, and Greenwich Village, the appeal of blacks, delinquents, and sexual experimentation. In a moving but only tangentially relevant chapter, she offers as a case study the brief unhappy life of Anne Parsons—daughter of radical sociologist Talcott Parsons—who committed suicide in 1964 at age 33, defeated by a male-dominated mental-health system and by cultural stereotypes that exclude intellectual unmarried women. Breines successfully evokes the intellectual and cultural milieu of white middle-class East Coast women who dominated the women's movement in the Sixties; if her study is flawed by limiting itself to that group, it's still otherwise thoughtful and jargon- free. Read full book review >