When Stephanie Staal first read The Feminine Mystique in college, she found it a mildly interesting relic from another era.” But more than a decade later, as a married stay-at-home mom in the suburbs, Staal rediscovered Betty Friedan's classic workand was surprised how much she identified with the laments and misgivings of 1950s housewives. She set out on a quest: to reenroll at Barnard and re-read the great books she had first encountered as an undergrad.
From the banishment of Eve to Judith Butler's Gender Trouble, Staal explores the significance of each of these classic tales by and of women, highlighting the relevance these ideas still have today. This process leads Staal to find the self she thought she had lostcurious and ambitious, zany and criticaland inspires new understandings of her relationships with her husband, her mother, and her daughter.
More than a decade after her graduation from Barnard College, journalist Staal (The Love They Lost) revisits feminist literature to conduct "a highly personal investigation" into the "balance between selfhood and womanhood." Her marriage is limping along, and motherhood and housework have intruded on her professional life. Contrasting her new responses to such feminist classics as Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and de Beauvoir's The Second Sex with those of her 19-year-old self and to those of today's students, Staal despairs over the "objectifying" of self she observes in young women today, but discovers that "absolutes that once dominated my thinking had been rubbed down by experience." Staal offers an interesting overview of feminist history and writings; however, her exploration of transformations in her life is superficial (her marriage was healed by "coming closer together through the thousands of tiny moments that make up a day"), and she learns the fairly trite lesson that "life is unpredictable, relationships are complex, and the mind cannot always rule the heart."