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Moving Beyond Idealized Images of Womanhood

by Maxine Harris

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-385-46994-2
Publisher: Doubleday

 A partially successful exploration of the stereotypical images and overriding themes through which many women live their lives. The idea that girls and women learn to fit themselves into idealized images is not new, although the images and their effects vary from generation to generation. Some images, says clinical psychologist Harris (Sisters of the Shadow, 1991--not reviewed), are transient--those of the ``Flapper,'' the ``Cheerleader,'' and Marabel Morgan's ``Total Woman,'' for instance--but others sink their roots deeper into myth. Reflected in fairy tales, the ``Dutiful Daughter,'' the ``Selfless Mother,'' and the ``Wise Old Woman'' are all roles offered to women at various stages in their lives. Harris agrees with Simone de Beauvoir that it's more difficult to separate from these positive images than from pictures of women as ``Whore,'' ``Devouring Mother,'' or ``Witch.'' Here, discussions and case histories of women trapped by such images precede the liberating concept that women's lives are guided by themes. For the young woman, Harris says, primary themes are exploration of self and of the world that awaits her. For women in midlife, the most important themes involve nurturing and creativity, while for older women, integration and perspective take precedence. Whether a young woman chooses to drop out of school and have babies or to pursue college, travel, and a high-powered career, she's exploring her world and the options available to her. In the same fashion, whether a midlife woman chooses car-pooling or stock-brokering, she's nurturing either children or clients. The transition to the last stage may be the most difficult, the author contends, because there are fewer role models and because older women tend to become invisible. One solution to the crossover: a ``croning'' ceremony to be celebrated on the 56th birthday--the age when, Harris says, a woman officially becomes a ``crone.'' Harris's discussion of female role-playing is overly familiar, but her intriguing look at ``the themes of a woman's life'' proves fresh and insightful.