THE CREATION OF FEMINIST CONSCIOUSNESS by Gerda Lerner

THE CREATION OF FEMINIST CONSCIOUSNESS

From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-Seventy
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 In an excellent follow-up to The Creation of Patriarchy (1986)--a study of how men institutionalized their domination of women--NOW cofounder Lerner (History/Univ. of Wisconsin at Madison) follows women's struggle to create a history of their own--from the first written record in the seventh century to the start of the feminist movement. Lerner's sweeping and erudite chronicle primarily traces women who were aware of belonging to a socially defined, unnaturally subordinate and deprived group, and who expressed their consciousness and their opposition mostly in their writing. After a brief history of women's educational ``disadvantaging,'' the author describes women's various attempts to ``authorize'' themselves through mysticism, heretical religious practices, alternative modes of thought, and motherhood. She laments the talent lost by the repression of women, illustrated by the wasteful and repetitive nature of women's Biblical criticism--which, deprived of a written tradition, each generation had to start anew. It was through creativity, Lerner says, that some women by-passed the patriarchal institutions--a thesis illustrated with copious examples, including that of Emily Dickinson, whose reputed homosexuality the author discusses in detail. Lerner finds in the German Romantic movement the conditions for an emerging women's consciousness and the subsequent struggle for their own history. Detailing the victimization of women--their lack of support, education, leisure, and power, and their displacement by the Church from equal formal participation in the divine--Lerner nonetheless makes a strong case for their success based on tenacity, survival skills, and strong empirical sense--which she herself displays. The thesis is debatable, but the evidence here is fascinating and perhaps unique. Moreover, Lerner doesn't simply lament the silence endured by women--from the obscure wives of medieval French troubadours to Mexican peasants, German nuns, and English mystics- -but gives these nearly forgotten souls a voice.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-506604-9
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993




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