The Secret Struggle for Womanhood
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 This luminous personal memoir of a young girl's discovery and embrace of her own sexual desire is somewhat dimmed by the author's intrusive, familiar analysis of this culture's misrepresentation of female sexuality. Wolf sets up her third book of feminist social commentary as an ethnography of a subculture--specifically, white, middle-class girls who crossed the threshhold of adolescence in the 1970s. It is, she says, ``the tribe I know best.'' Reprising themes from her 1991 bestseller The Beauty Myth, Wolf highlights the consequences for girls of our consumer society's emphasis on the exchange value of sex and its reduction of womanhood to rituals of diet, seduction, and the accumulation of possessions. She writes vividly about her own experiences contending with these issues while growing up in San Francisco in the era after the so-called sexual revolution and before the scourge of AIDS. Set adrift by their fragmenting families, Wolf's peers are prone to cynicism about love and to confusion about the power of their own sexuality. Wolf traces how externally imposed shame and silence systematically separate young women from their own, freely chosen sexual pleasure, effectively leaving intercourse as the only alternative to abstinence and resulting in high teen pregnancy rates. She observes the tragic casualties among her cohorts--spirited girls who pursue their natural instincts but are too quickly awarded pariah status as ``bad girls,'' and she recounts her own near-misses with molestation. And she celebrates her most transgressive act of sexual expression--an extended, deeply erotic, and physically satisfying (though ultimately unconsummated) affair with an Irish Catholic boy who was among the paid workers on an Israeli kibbutz where, at age 16, she spent her summer. American girls who successfully manage the perilous journey to autonomous womanhood should not be left to rely so much on their own luck and bravado. But the author's alternative to such confusion, an adaptation of Native American initiation rituals, seems unpersuasive and insufficient. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 11th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-41603-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1997


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