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In this part-autobiography, part literary capsule, part-sociological-review, British feminist and author Oakley tries to ""draw together. . . some of the connecting threads between my life and the lives of others, between the issues that concern me and those that are of general concern."" The result is surprisingly non-revealing. For one thing, the personal-literary-sociological modes never blend: instead, the latter two often serve to evade questions posed by the first. ""I was born in 1944,"" Oakley begins. Her mother was of a South London middle-class family; her father, of a farming family, became a respected academic and social critic. In a Girls' Public School, the young Oakley felt very much the outsider. ""Publicly I was a good middle-class girl, neat in appearance, punctual, polite, serious, and intellectually inclined. Privately I was a mess."" At age 15, salutarily, she started attending a co-ed polytechnic to prepare for university entrance examinations. ""From sixteen to eighteen I cried less and thought more than before; mostly I thought about love and socialism in that order."" Her first love--and lover--was Martin, 23 to her 17. (""Laughing, they come into the room. Two beds, of which they will occupy only one."") After a nervous breakdown, attributed to women's stereotypic roles (""As Philip Slater has observed, the position of the housewife-mother in Euro-American culture is desexualized. . .""), Oakley entered Somerville College, Oxford. There she studied philosophy, economics, and sociology--and, in the middle of her final year, married Robin, a post-graduate student. Thereafter, her activities divided. ""In the first sixteen months after leaving Oxford I wrote two novels, fourteen short stories, six non-fiction articles. . . and completed four different bits of research. In the second sixteen months I had two children."" But instead of happiness, she experienced frustration. A chance look at a sociological text belittling women's work channeled her frustration into anger, then action, as she enrolled in a post-graduate program on the problem of housework. Well-received books followed in rapid succession (Sex, Gender and Society, The Sociology of Housework, Housewife), as did babies. She found energy to mix in a love affair, and to debate marriage versus divorce and the pros and cons of suicide. (""Suicide is a feminine answer, a cultural solution."") A cancer scare increased her appreciation of life; her marriage endured despite sexism in the relationship. ""Sexism matters,"" declares Oakley, ""in the same way as slavery mattered. I'm not going to be any more philosophically sophisticated than that, at this particular moment in the history of gender."" Too bad, for despite her efforts at ""honesty,"" what results is a tame document with few fresh perceptions or conclusions on the markers in her life and, by implication, that of other women. For more philosophical sophistication (and fun), try Mary Daly's Pure Lust (above).

Pub Date: April 1st, 1984
Publisher: Random House