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Social psychologist Tavris (Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, 1983) unveils society's systemic and often unconscious definition of the male as the norm against which women must measure up or be found deficient--a provocative and thought-provoking look at how sexism persists today. That women have lower self-esteem than men, are less self-confident, are more likely to repress their anger, and are more open to their feelings: these are societal truisms analyzed in every women's magazine in the country, Tavris says, as she points out that the question of how women compare to men has long held scientific researchers, doctors, psychologists and, today, cultural feminists in thrall. What is nearly always missed in such comparisons, the author adds, is that women are being compared, positively or negatively, to a male ""norm""--thus advancing an erroneous assumption of ""opposites"" and, in negative comparisons, pathologizing normal female ways of being. Illustrating her premise by pointing out the unlikelihood of finding a bookstore filled with manuals aimed at helping men overcome their tendency to be more conceited than women, to assess their abilities less realistically than women, or to have more difficulty than women in maintaining attachments, Tavris analyzes how the treatment of normal female processes as abnormal (physical reactions to menstruation become a ""syndrome"" that debilitates; women floundering under society-caused difficulties combining child care and work are diagnosed as ""depressed""; workers' time off for pregnancies is shoved into the category of ""disability leave""; cultural feminists' belief in women's ""natural"" superiority allows men to proceed, unquestioned, with their own ""natural"" careerist lives) cripple efforts toward true equality and mutual enhancement between the sexes. Greater awareness of the diversity of ""normal"" human behaviors is needed, Tavris says, if we are to view one another with unblinkered eyes. The author's unusual ability to winnow out such deeply imbedded errors in thinking makes this an especially important, stimulating, and timely work, and an excellent complement to Susan Faludi's Backlash (1991).

Pub Date: March 1st, 1992
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster