Barbara Ehrenreich | Critical Review by Julie Abraham

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of Barbara Ehrenreich.
This section contains 913 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Julie Abraham

Critical Review by Julie Abraham

SOURCE: "Not My Revolution," in The Nation, Vol. 244, No. 8, February 28, 1987, pp. 266-67.

In the following review, Abraham finds the source material in Re-Making Love too superficial, and the resultant conclusions over-generalized.

Singles in the cities, paraphilias in the suburbs and sex aids in Ohio: according to Re-making Love, these are all manifestations of a women's sexual revolution that far outweighs the male-dominated phenomenon known as the sexual revolution. The latter, as Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess and Gloria Jacobs describe it—"what Gay Talese found when he set out on his quest to see what middle-aged, middle-class men had been missing all these years"—was no revolution at all. The revolution that did occur, and that they follow from Beatlemania to the G-spot, was marked by dramatic changes in women's sexual expectations and experience.

Much of their evidence for this transformation is familiar: the appearance of clubs featuring male strippers for female audiences; Marabel Morgan's Total Woman; "home parties" where sexual paraphernalia rather than tupperware are sold; the results of surveys done by magazines like Redbook, Playboy and Family Circle. But, they argue, the sweeping change in women's sexual behavior that this evidence represents has not been acknowledged. Once again, "men have evaded a feminine innovation they found vaguely troubling—or perhaps even overtly disturbing."

The purpose of Re-making Love is overtly political: to help women to claim and build on the gains that have been made, especially in the face of the 1980s backlash against sexual freedom. Ehrenreich, Hess and Jacobs argue that the development of the women's liberation movement in the late 1960s was closely connected to the women's sexual revolution and insist (contrary to activists' fears at the time) that feminism's acceptance and promotion of sexual liberation was crucial to its course:

Instead of narrowing the movement to a subculture of politicized, urban women, sexual liberation contributed to the populist outreach that eventually brought the movement itself into the mainstream of American culture and politics.

The authors' goal is a reunion of sexual liberation and women's liberation, for the renewed benefit of each. Sex will save feminism as feminism saves sex, and Re-making Love will have served both as contemporary history and as organizing tool.

Unfortunately, the book's version of story is based on flimsy anecdote her than solid evidence. Ehrenreich, Hess, and Jacobs begin in the early 60s, with glances back to such postwar gems of advice as this, from Ferdinand Lundberg and Maryina Farnham's 1947 Modern Woman: The Lost Sex:

For the male, sex involves an objective act of his doing but for the female it does not … her role is passive. It is not as easy as rolling off a log for her. It is easier. It is as easy as being the log itself.

After that, any acknowledgment of women's sexuality can be made to seem revolutionary, from The Joy of Sex to pornographic videos marketed for female audiences. The authors' eagerness to claim every possible victory for women leads them to some unduly positive readings. It might be original to include Total Woman as a contribution to the women's sexual revolution, but as anything but a worst-case scenario, it is not convincing.

Re-making Love is a self-consciously popular product of the debate about sexuality that has been going on in the feminist community for the past five years. Ehrenreich, Hess and Jacobs address that debate briefly, but the effect of their book is to gloss over it by distorting its history and origins. Early feminist critiques of the male "sexual revolution" co-existed with an equally important insistence on women's right to sexual pleasure. Those two strains are still evident in recent disagreements over much matters as pornography and lesbian sado-masochism. By dismissing the male sexual revolution as a non-event, the authors have pulled the rug out from under the antipornography position in contemporary feminism—a rhetorical if not an analytical coup.

Re-making Love also glosses over other differences between women. The text is interspersed with brief fictionalized character sketches and the statements of nameless informants: Jane Cooper, a Washington housewife; Ellen, who works for the telephone company; a Beatlemaniac who grew up to direct a public-policy interest group. The authors' willingness to generalize on the basis of these voices is breathtaking. They seem not to have noticed that speaking for women as a group has become a questionable practice over the past fifteen years.

Ehrenreich, Hess and Jacobs state explicitly that their interest is in the "mainstream," and their representative woman is white, middle-class and heterosexual. They quote lesbian writers, refer to lesbian sado-masochism and admonish their readers that gays and lesbians should be honored as the sexual vanguard. But while there are, for example, extended discussions of heterosexual sado-masochism and the sexual plight of fundamentalist wives, lesbians are not seen as women who might have been part of this women's revolution. They are merely invoked from time to time to signify sexual radicalism in a book about options for ordinary people.

By the time the reader gets to the feminist call to arms in the book's conclusion, the authors' vision of "the public" has seriously undermined their purpose. The questions they raise about contemporary sexual experience are particularly urgent in the face of a conservative onslaught that has found a new excuse in AIDS. But they have not talked to enough people, or considered the complex interactions between sexual and social change that even their own writing illustrates. Ehrenreich, Hess and Jacobs themselves don't seem to believe in the revolution they claim.

(read more)

This section contains 913 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Julie Abraham