Friday, October 5, 2007

Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History

Last week I read a great article from The Guardian, titled "The Books That Changed Our Lives," in which a number of young feminists write about the books that introduced them to feminism. I was particularly interested to read what Jessica Valenti and Ariel Levy wrote as they are currently the authors of my two favorite books in our women's studies section: Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters and Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, respectively.

In case you're not familiar with women's history I highly recommend Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's new book, Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History. In it she uses three historical figures--Christine de Pizan, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Virginia Woolf--as a way to enter into the various roles women have played throughout history. Dr. Ulrich has a great way of making history more than just a straight linear narrative--in this book she breaks patterns and helps the reader see new connections between historical periods, which is something I really admire (and wish was done by historians more often).

There isn't anything really new in Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History, though I think the writing style and book structure makes the book interesting even for someone who is fairly well-read in women's history. If you do fancy yourself an ace at the subject though, then I would recommend instead picking up The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade by Ann Fessler. As someone who considers herself well-read, I couldn't believe I had never learned about the experience of unwed mothers (especially those who were white and middle-class), the institutions they were sent to, and the way adoption worked in the mid-20th century. It's an incredibly powerful book.

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