THESE MODERN WOMEN: Autobiographical Essays from the Twenties by Elaine--Ed. Showalter

THESE MODERN WOMEN: Autobiographical Essays from the Twenties

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In 1926 The Nation invited 17 ""modern women"" to describe the personal ""origins of their modern point of view toward men, marriage, children, and jobs."" To conclude the series in 1927 three psychologists evaluated the essays--among them behaviorist John Watson who suggested that the women claiming satisfaction were lying. Now the Feminist Press reissues the full series, and an important (if disheartening) document of the period it is; for almost all the WASPy modernist elite, busily juggling career, marriage, and motherhood, whistle variations on a feminist liebestod. One no longer works ""on movements,"" another has ""settled into a comfortable middle age of marriage,"" another claims that all other activities are ""mere rehearsal"" for marriage, another has transferred all her ""old feministic revolt. . . to the conditions of human existence,"" and another maintains that ""in these days of rapidly increasing fair play between a man and woman neither economic dependence or independence makes much difference."" Crystal Eastman stands almost alone against the gathering feminine mystique, though most of the recollections of childhood are filled with memorable mothers, either remarkably strong or carelessly brutalized. One understands what these modern women were up against when one evaluating psychologist picks his favorite ""companions"" from the lot and expert Watson diagnoses ""most of the terrible women. . . with blatant views and voices"" as ""women who have never made a sex adjustment."" Unfortunately, English professor Showalter, who tries gamely and sometimes informatively to put the essays in context, is no historian. Wallowing in the women's own confused terminology, she takes ""feminist"" to mean almost anything (suffragist, socialist, sexually active woman, liberal Republican, working mother) and she similarly mistakes a ""modern"" life style for activism, so that her long introduction becomes curiously valuable not as analysis but as example of the intellectual vacuum that American feminism fell into in the Twenties.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Feminist Press