cover image Woman: The American History of an Idea

Woman: The American History of an Idea

Lillian Faderman. Yale Univ., $32.50 (576p) ISBN 978-0-300-24990-3

In this immersive history, LGBTQ scholar Faderman (Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death) charts changes in America’s “ideal of womanhood” from the 17th century to the present. Characterizing women’s progress as a pendulum that advances during historical moments such as WWII, when women’s work outside the home was desperately needed, only to swing back during economic downturns and periods of social “destabilization,” Faderman profiles rebels and their detractors. Along the way, she spotlights 19th-century female antislavery societies in the North, sexually liberated “New Women” of the 1910s and ’20s, 1990s riot grrls, and modern-day celebrities who galvanized the #MeToo movement. In each historical period, Faderman pays close attention to groups often excluded from histories of the campaign for gender equality, including Black and Indigenous women and working-class white women like Clara Lemlich, leader of a massive 1909 garment workers’ strike in New York City. Turning to the 21st century, Faderman discusses the “opt-out revolution” in the early 2000s, which argued that “most women did not want the prizes for which feminists had fought,” and analyzes debates over sexual consent and women’s credibility, but gives somewhat short shrift to the surging interest in gender nonconformity among Generation Z . Still, this is a comprehensive and lucid overview of the ongoing campaign to free women from “the tyranny of old notions.” Agent: Sandra Dijkstra, Sandra Dijkstra Literary. (Mar.)