HISTORY OF IDEAS ON WOMEN by Rosemary--Ed. Agonito


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Designed as a reader for ""a wide range of courses within Women's Studies programs,"" this volume of primary sources gathers ""the most significant and representative thinking in the history of Western civilization on all aspects of the Woman Question."" It is in the nature of such overweening anthologies (the mistitled collection is no ""history"") to be arbitrary in selection of authors (Plutarch? Ashley Montague?) and excerpts--some no more than teasing snippets. The pro/anti teams are fairly evenly balanced (no reflection of West. Civ. here) with an unsurprising edge to the antis. Aristotle laments the ""mutilated man,"" Paul tries to keep the wraps on her, and Aquinas mutters against God's creation of such a shoddy item. Bacon, Rousseau, Hume, Kant, Darwin, and Freud get in their licks; Schopenhauer rails; and Nietzsche goes on about Superman's mom. On the other side of the net are social contractors Hobbes and Locke, and the argumentative Miss Wollstonecraft. Mill writes on slavery, Engels on woman as proletarian, Russell on the new morality, de Beauvoir on existential paralysis, Betty Friedan on the ""problem that has no name,"" Marcuse on capitalism. Horney, with no trace of envy, takes a swing at Freud. Editor Agonito very briefly (a page per person) summarizes each selection and in a sentence or two tries gamely to delineate historical context and impact. One paragraph biographical sketches at the back are too brief and sometimes misleading (Harriet Taylor shrinks to ""a great inspiration"" to Mill). Since other popular anthologies about women have included exclusively moderns or feminists or suffragists or--at worst--last year's sympathetic liberals, this collection of heavyweight thinkers fills, however awkwardly, a real gap. Feminists will notice that only four of the ""most important thinkers"" included are women, but there is value (and no little irony) in the book's confirmation--through sheer accretion of nonsense--that the male geniuses of West. Civ. wrote, when it came to women, embarrassingly silly drivel.

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 1977
Publisher: Putnam