GENDERSHOCK by Phyllis Burke

GENDERSHOCK

Exploding the Myths of Male and Female
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Calling for ``gender independence,'' freedom from the tyranny of masculine and feminine stereotypes, Burke (Family Values: Two Moms and Their Son, 1993; Atomic Candy, 1989) relies more on anecdote and example than on theory and sustained argument, thereby giving current discussions on gender a human face--and a wider audience. Worried that growing up in a man-free household could condemn a boy to Robert Bly's ``father-hunger,'' Burke, who adopted her lesbian partner's son, decided to learn what she could about gender roles so as to do a better job in her role as mother. She divides her findings into categories: behavior, appearance, and science. ``Behavior'' takes a chilling look at some psychologists' and psychiatrists' efforts over recent decades to use behavior modification techniques, and even drugs, to make children conform to gender stereotypes. The most worrying people in these case studies are the researchers themselves, notably the male scientist who describes a four-year-old boy as having ``slovenly seductive eyes.'' Burke maintains that although over time the rhetoric of such studies has become less sexist and homophobic, the ``assessment and treatment'' of children is essentially unchanged. The book's next section deflates the idea that the body's appearance somehow reflects its true nature. Here Burke makes her case not only with studies but with light-hearted looks at two shrewd and empathic experts in creative cross-dressing: Diane King, who lets women experience ``male authority and territory and entitlement,'' and Miss Vera, who sees feminine clothes as ``props'' bringing men in touch with a hidden side of themselves. The section on science briefly addresses physical differences between genders. After touching on topics such as the brain (no convincing gender difference) and testosterone (which doesn't cause aggression), Burke quotes Dr. David Schwartz, who asks if it isn't ``time to admit that the search for biological determinants of gender has met with failure.'' Thought-provoking reading on the creation of gender identity for anyone who has a child or has ever been one.

Pub Date: July 6th, 1996
ISBN: 0-385-47717-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Anchor
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1996




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