A feminist journalist gathers some of her most influential pieces.
New York Times Magazine contributing writer Orenstein (Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, 2016, etc.) came to journalism believing that individual stories—especially those about girls and women—could “illuminate something universal [and] essential about our time.” Here, she collects articles written over a distinguished career spanning more than 30 years. The author groups her work into four themed sections. The first presents profiles of well-known women such as Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan. Both became the driving forces behind Ms. magazine, which they saw gutted and remade over the decades by a sexist, profit-driven media industry. Orenstein also covers lesser-known figures such as the “worldly and independent” feminist Japanese journalist Atsuko Chiba and the controversial graphic artist Phoebe Gloeckner, whose work about teenage sexuality is as unique as it is disturbing. In the second section, Orenstein covers topics related to female corporeality. These articles are among the most personal in the book. They include a piece comprised entirely of diary entries that Orenstein wrote during a battle with breast cancer and a memoir-style reflection about her post-cancer experiences with miscarriage. In the third section, the author tackles modern motherhood. She observes that working mothers still struggle with critical attitudes toward a life split between parenting and a career. Advances in bio-technology have “shattered conventional definitions of ‘parent,’ ” further complicating notions of what constitutes a “mother.” The last section of the book contains Orenstein’s musings on girlhood in America. In one piece she profiles two teenage girls: one poor and the other middle class. Their one commonality was feeling alone and misunderstood in a system hostile to them and their needs. In another, the author discusses the way girls must navigate a “princess culture” that infantilizes notions of “girl power” as it sexualizes it. Compelling and intelligent, Orenstein’s book offers a powerful vision of the challenges of modern womanhood and of what it means to be female in 21st-century America.
A sharp, timely collection of essays.