A pithy and brilliant introduction to Susan Sontag’s writing on women, gathering early essays on aging, equality, beauty, sexuality, and fascism
Susan Sontag was one of the most formidable, original, and influential thinkers of the last century. “The most interesting ideas are heresies,” she remarked, and indeed, her writing rejects the familiar and refuses party lines.
On Women presents seven essays and exchanges, spanning a range of subjects: the challenges and humiliations women face as they age; the relationship between women’s liberation and class struggle; beauty, which Sontag calls “that over-rich brew of so many familiar opposites”; feminism; fascism; and film. Taken together, these pieces—relentlessly curious, historically precise, politically robust, and allergic to easy categorization Sontag’s inimitable mind at work.
This incisive compilation of previously published essays and interviews by cultural critic Sontag (1933–2004) showcases her striking intelligence and continued relevance. The seven pieces contemplate feminism and women's roles in society, as in "The Third World of Women" when she urges the women's liberation movement to focus on transferring institutional and economic power from men to women, writing that "all women live in an ‘imperialist' situation in which men are colonialists and women are natives." In "Fascinating Fascism," she condemns Nazis' "contempt for all that is reflective, critical, and pluralistic" and criticizes the depiction of women as "breeders and helpers" in the photos and films of Nazi director Leni Riefenstahl. The most revealing pieces are Sontag's interview with Salmagundi magazine and her exchange with Adrienne Rich in the New York Review of Books, in which Sontag mounts nuanced critiques of what she saw as the feminist movement's "demands for intellectual simplicity, advanced in the name of ethical solidarity." Though the selections date from the 1970s, the insights remain topical and serve as a window into a brilliant mind whose analysis continues to provoke. Over 40 years after their initial publication, these selections have a lot to offer.