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This is a decided, combative, demanding, sometimes disjointed, essentially stimulating discussion of the arbitrarily imposed sexual dichotomy -- male/female -- on our society as reflected in writers of today and yesterday where ""there must always be two literatures like two public toilets, one for Men and one for Women."" Right from the outset Mrs. Ellmann protests against classifying and stigmatizing roles and attributes, particularly those which relate to the reproductive function of women and the physical superiority of men. They extend to many slurring concepts which pervade our culture where ""femaleness is a congenital fault rather like eczema or Original Sin."" She certainly questions that woman's supreme moment (childbirth) is the equivalent of some other more ""intellectual and self-decided"" form of creation. There is an initial commentary on arbitrary analogies and on phallic criticism (a woman if she is any good is said to ""write like a man,"" otherwise she's a ""ladies magazine"" writer). She catalogues prominent feminine stereotypes: formlessness (""soft body, soft mind""); passivity; instability; piety; etc. etc. and women are seen in various submissive stances (as servant or whore) or as violating them (the shrew or the witch). Mrs. Ellmann finally assaults the whole mode of male authority, often logically, often logically, often illogically (femininely?). Do we ""know perfectly well that emotional and personal disorder is the set price of philosophical validity""; do heroines of modern novels, even if there can never be another Camille, usually die of diseases connected with their sexual organs? Among may who provide the ad hominem discussion, Anthony Burgess and Beckett, Bruno Bettelheim and Freud and Jung, ""sexual revolutionist"" Mailer and of course Mary McCarthy and Brigid Brophy whose admirers she will attract. Also Vogue and, over and over, voices from The New York Review from whom an issue-length rebuttal seems both obligatory and inevitable.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1968
Publisher: Harcourt, Brace & World