THE FEMALE WORLD by Jessie Bernard


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Sociologist Bernard, a pioneer in sex-role research, here attempts to determine the parameters of the female world. The ethos of this world, as she sees it, centers around love (filial, romantic, or agape) and duty; its activities revolve around self-sacrifice to kin and community, rather than self-aggrandizement in the larger society. What emerges, however, from her lengthy review of research (on such diverse topics as Shaker women and true-romance magazines) is the existence of many female worlds. She perceives, correctly, several ""structural faultlines"" including social class, ethnicity (""The long tentacles of ethnicity reach far beyond the labor force and ramify widely throughout the female world. . .""), race, and age. To these must be added new issue faultlines--some based on sex-role issues (homemaker vs. working woman, sexual morality, lesbianism), some on political issues, which engender conflict between the ""traditionals"" and the ""moderns."" Yet, even among the moderns differences remain (""Some are willing to roll with the punches; some insist on ideological purity at any cost""), so that one is led to ask how female solidarity can ever emerge. Bernard recognizes the problem, but believes that women are ""learning how to bond. . . not only in the traditional form of intimate small groups but also in the more organized form of sharing a common cause, though not necessarily group membership."" Women do have a lot to share: the sub-world of girlhood, the emphasis on physical beauty (the one area where self-interest is legitimated), their own distinctive female lore (signs and tests of love, the lore of menstruation, marriage, and motherhood). In building their new female bonds, women will have to re-evaluate this traditional world, to decide whether ""they want to repudiate the female world altogether and embrace the ethos of the male world."" Or, whether ""they want to salvage their own world but in modified form, to cut its costs."" Interesting questions, these; but in her effort to cover the whole landscape, Bernard seldom stops to contemplate the view. Still, an excellent guide to work in progress.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan