Divided lives : American women in the twentieth century /

The lives of American women have changed dramatically in the nine decades since the turn of the century. Women have made extraordinary strides in winning personal autonomy, sexual freedom, economic independence, and legal rights. They won the right to vote, the legal right to equal pay for equal wor...

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Main Author: Rosenberg, Rosalind, 1946-
Other Authors: Foner, Eric, 1943-
Format: Book
Language:English
Spanish
Published:New York : Hill and Wang, 1992.
Edition:1st ed.
Series:American century series.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

This social and political history surveys ably, if not too deeply, the lives of women ``divided between paid and domestic labor, and divided from one another.'' Rosenberg ( Beyond Separate Spheres: Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism ) is no polemicist. She blends various strains of women's history--those that stress women's identity with or differences from men and the fundamental divisions of class, race and religion--into a larger perspective. With sketches of women from birth control advocate Margaret Sanger to civil rights and feminist activist Pauli Murray, Rosenberg skillfully advances the narrative, taking care not to focus just on the white middle class. While not ignoring institutional changes such as the fight for suffrage, Rosenberg also tracks social issues such as the advance of women in World War II and the debate over lesbianism in the women's movement. She concludes pessimistically that much remains to be done to lessen the domestic burdens on American women. But some comparative analysis with the experience of women elsewhere would have illuminated her study, as would reflection on the recent public debates about sexual harassment and rape. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A solid and well-written, if analytically unexceptional, overview of the complex experience of modern American women. Attempting to unify conflicting theoretical approaches to woman's experience, Rosenberg (History/Barnard) traces the origins and interactions of conceptual schemes (which stress, variously, the essential sameness of men and women, women's uniqueness, and the importance of race and class) against the larger context of social, political, and economic change. She identifies a central dilemma of 20-century American women--that of ``divided lives- -divided between domestic and paid labor, and divided from one another''--and charts its manifestations through a straightforward, chronological narrative. Skillfully interweaving a wealth of secondary sources, including autobiography, scholarly studies, and statistical data, the author moves from the world of Progressive Era reformers through the WW II mobilization of ``womanpower,'' the cold war return to domesticity, the activism of the 1960's, and on to today's fundamentally different but still evolving landscape. Unfortunately, this framework undermines the text's analytical potential by diffusing recurrent themes (e.g., an emphasis on the shared experience of motherhood, or the comparable-vs.-equal-work debate) instead of exploring them systematically. The book's largely admirable inclusiveness also gives it a certain superficiality, as in the frustratingly brief sketches of such notables as ERA-stalwart Alice Paul and legal scholar Pauli Murray. These deficiencies blunt the impact of Rosenberg's otherwise provocative conclusion that ``women are changing more quickly than men'' and that ``until men catch up, inequality will persist and tensions continue.'' A sturdy jumping-off point that should leave interested readers poised to plunge into deeper, more challenging works.

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