HIM/HER/SELF: Sex Roles in Modern America by Peter Gabriel Filene

HIM/HER/SELF: Sex Roles in Modern America

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A survey of American attitudes toward sexual roles, from the turn of the century to the emergence of Women's Lib out of the ruins of the counterculture. The subject could fill half the computer circuits in the country, and this brief, capsulizing treatment often threatens to give at the seams, but there's a remarkable sense of dynamic dialectical progression. Filene, who teaches history at the University of North Carolina, begins with the technological and social changes that were restructuring the American household by 1900 (new availability of mechanical help, loss of servant help, lowered middle-class birth rates) and traces the expansion of women's activities outward from the home first to the Women's Clubs, then to colleges and professional careers -- or, more often, directly to the sweatshop. Filene shows how the early ambiguities of the suffrage issue (should the case for the vote have been based on the simple claim of equality or, more tendentiously, on the ""special"" contribution that the gentler sex could make to more-than-domestic tranquility?) have remained to haunt later generations. He also follows the varying strains to which men have been subjected by their own changing sexual images, from the notion of ""character"" (i.e., the self-discipline of the strong) as the cornerstone of ""manliness"" to increasing emphasis on material success (implying competition and work-as-aggression) as the foundation of the masculine role. These shifts explosively coincided with women's entry en masse into the job marketplace. Filene relies heavily on generalities and secondary sources, and no single thesis emerges, but he has a nice sense of proportion and a sort of intellectual generosity toward the attitudes he discusses, regardless of their current popularity. An intelligent effort.

Pub Date: April 7th, 1975
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich