The War Against Women

THE WAR AGAINST WOMEN documents the economic, political, and physical suppression of women that currently exists throughout the world. Despite the perception that the extension of suffrage and legal rights to women in the twentieth century has eliminated sex discrimination, French claims this is a myth. She suggests male efforts to oppress women have deep historical roots, but have assumed new forms and a greater ferocity in recent times.

French ranges widely in her analysis of the various forms of discrimination. Although it is well-known that relatively few women have gained positions of political power, and that women tend to be concentrated in lower paying jobs in the labor force, it is the cultural forms of oppression that will emerge as a revelation to most male readers of this book. In supporting her point that instruments of mass culture are used to encourage male sexual aggression against women, for example, French notes that in India the government’s censorship rules forbid scenes of lovemaking or kissing in films but allow rape. In many countries, sexual harassment in public places appears to be increasing; French interprets this as an attempt by males to force women to stay in their traditional sphere, the home.

Although French’s study is provocative and should undermine complacency as to how women are treated today, her attempt to cover the entire world in slightly more than two hundred pages inevitably means she is unable to do much more than present a series of examples of the various ways women are mistreated. Despite its limitations, THE WAR AGAINST WOMEN is a useful reminder that the history of women is not a simple story of women progressing to equality with men.