The Frailty Myth: Women Approaching Physical Equality

Colette Dowling, Author Random House (NY) $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-375-50235-4
In analyzing the differences in physical performance and strength between the sexes, Dowling (The Cinderella Complex) asks not only what the effects of men's superior strength and access to physical activity have been, but whether men are, in fact, naturally physically superior in the first place. In her exploration of the still radical idea that the differences between the sexes have more to do with training, encouragement and cultural beliefs than inherent biological difference, Dowling argues further that the historical straitjacketing of women's physicality--what Dowling calls ""learned weakness""--has elicited contempt from men, made women vulnerable to sexual humiliation and short-circuited women's willingness to take risks. Citing a mountain of contemporary research regarding women's athletic performance and its political and psychological ramifications, she defends her position with passion. But Dowling's argument that boys' performance advantages before adolescence are culturally induced is much stronger than her case that the same is true for men. She calls for a reevaluation of athletic contests on a pound-for-pound basis--suggesting that size, not sex, is the determining factor in athletic success--and cites women's advantages in endurance and flexibility, but doesn't offer much more proof of men's and women's physical equality beyond that. Though Dowling builds a solid case for her view that the unnatural weakness of women is a public health crisis, and though she offers a heartening evaluation of how quickly the strength gap is narrowing in an era when women's sports are exploding, some readers may be left to wonder whether comparing men's and women's physical performance is, in itself, a trap. Agent, Ellen Levine. 6-city author tour. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
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