A History of Women: Volume V, edited by Francoise Thebaud
Caveat emptor. The title of this book—the fifth and crowning volume in a series—is misleading. It is not a history of women in the West, at least not one that is complete. For the most part a production of French academics, it focuses almost wholly on Europe, to the near-total exclusion of at least one major Western country—namely, the United States. Moreover, the one chapter devoted to America, “The Modern Woman of the 1920′s, American Style,” is concerned solely with the hygienic American consumer-Mom of academic fantasy, no mention being made of, for instance, the day-to-day liberties enjoyed by American women that have amazed foreign observers since Tocqueville’s time.
In her introductory essay, “Explorations of Gender,” the editor of the volume, Françoise Thébaud, writes that its intent is to separate the weave of history into “threads”—law, business, and so on—and “engender” them; to make people see how all these threads come to history’s loom stained with sexism and “symbolic violence”; and then to create a tapestry which will be whole. Certainly, the tapestry she has created is elegant in appearance: weighty in the hand, and handsomely bound. The prose, on the other hand, most of it translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer, is often leaden, impenetrable, and clotted with jargon (“the differentiae of sexual difference are not objectifiable”).
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