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Women's Studies programs appear at present as sparkling innovations in Britain's usually hide-bound curriculum. Assuming such programs survive the Thatcher university cuts, Ann Oakley's (The Sociology of Housework) survey of research findings--a welcome contrast to the proliferating theoretical writings--will prove useful in many a course. For American readers, however, many of these findings will already be common knowledge (socialization studies, discussion of ""politics in a man's world""); some appear out-of-date (in considering the impact of biology, Oakley stops with John Money's research on hormones and hermaphrodites, ignoring new and controversial findings on the brain); and a homegrown version of the totality already exists in Jessie Bernard's recent exhaustive survey of The Female World (p. 467). Oakley does interest, however, as a guide to British feminism-still a small but dense forest of socialist feminists (""the system's the problem"") and radical feminists (""men are the problem""). These two groups fragment further into traditional Marxist socialist feminists, Althusserians, humanist socialists, unaligned socialists, feministes revolutionnaires, female supremacists, and so forth. Some of their interests parallel those of American feminists: in reviewing research on mental illness and female depression Oakley points to the common sense of ""doing good and feeling bad,"" and concludes that to a considerable extent, ""Women's instability stabilizes the world."" Other areas differ--with more attention being given, for example, to the finer points of the domestic labor debate (are housewives reproducers of labor, producers of surplus value, or alienated labor themselves?). Standing somewhat above the fray, Oakley assesses the prospects of women's studies in the UK (anticipating cutbacks in a number of women's programs and services, she comments that ""the position and fate of women's studies is inseparable from the social destiny of women"")--granting, meanwhile, that the great theoretical divides of British academic feminism may serve the academics more than their sisters outside the university. In short, a solid if unexciting survey, more noteworthy for what it reveals of British feminist interest in the subject of women than about subject women per se.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1981
Publisher: Pantheon