THE CULTURE OF RECOVERY: Making Sense of the Self-Help Movement in Women's Lives by Elayne Rapping

THE CULTURE OF RECOVERY: Making Sense of the Self-Help Movement in Women's Lives

Email this review


A perceptive feminist scholar looks at the recovery movement with some appreciation and a great deal of skepticism. Media critic Rapping (Communications/Adelphi Univ.) convincingly describes the centrality of 12-step thinking to today's talk shows, TV docudramas, therapy, self-help books, celebrity biographies, and even Bill Clinton's presidential campaign. ""Recovery""--a philosophy that has grown out of Alcoholics Anonymous, which originated the 12 Steps--assumes that a variety of personal problems are rooted in addiction. To Rapping, the current proliferation of 12-step groups directed at women--groups for overeaters, co-dependents, etc.--is a sign that we are in the middle of an interrupted feminist revolution. On the one hand, their popularity would be unthinkable had the women's movement not broken the social silence on such topics as abuse of women in relationships. Rapping also applauds the groups for providing women with an opportunity--in a format that she finds similar to consciousness raising--to talk about matters that used to be considered too shameful to mention. However she takes issue with the recovery movement's depoliticization of personal problems; in 12-step discourse, even rape and anorexia, which feminists have analyzed as symptoms of a sexist culture, are matters best addressed by finding one's Higher Power, not by redistributing societal power. Rapping's study is articulate, historically grounded, and well informed by her media scholarship. However, Rapping's failure to discuss her own personal response to the 12 Steps and the problems they address is odd given her claims that everyone has been affected by the 12-step movement and that the common strength of both recovery and feminism is their emphasis on personal stories. Rapping's analysis should provide useful debate in feminist and mental health circles, and should be read by everyone who is wondering whether the nationwide search for the ""inner child"" is bringing us any closer to social transformation.

Pub Date: Jan. 24th, 1996
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Beacon