Revolution from Within Analysis
by Gloria Steinem

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Revolution from Within Analysis

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

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Steinem’s most central issue is that of self-esteem, particularly—though not exclusively—as it concerns women. Under this umbrella term “self-esteem,” however, she is able to address the range of challenges that face contemporary women. Her style is fluid, ranging from that of an informed academic, to that of an articulate social critic, to that of a close personal friend. Although she certainly believes that she knows how women might better themselves in many settings, she does not relate her knowledge or advice with either a patronizing or a condescending attitude. Her voice is consistently supportive, even consoling at times, as she encourages her readers to reconsider how they might see themselves in more positive ways. Because of this tone, the book occasionally takes on the tenor of new age psychology, but because Steinem balances this tenor with that of the scholar who has done good research on her topic, the book cannot be dismissed as formulaic self-help jargon.

Ironically, Steinem did not receive her strongest criticism because of her dubious move into pop psychology. As she herself points out in her final chapter, “One Year Later,” the majority of her critics focused on the personal revelations she makes throughout the book, especially the ones that involve her love life in the chapter on romance. Because of the emphasis on the personal within the book, Steinem was accused of abandoning feminism and the politics that have driven her career. Clearly, however, Steinem was doing something quite different in bringing into her book so much personal revelation; each personal anecdote is told as a means to build toward a generalization that takes on political significance.

For example, in the chapter on romance, she does tell about a fairly recent love affair in which she herself reenacted a common fantasy within romance mythology—that of rescue. She relates this experience, however, for a political purpose—to demonstrate to her readers how romance mythology works to disempower rather than empower women. From her own particular experience, she can extrapolate about the dissembling that women do in relationships in order to secure them, the feminine disease she refers to as empathy sickness (knowing the feelings of others better than one’s own), and the tendency women have to fall in love with powerful men by way of mourning for the power they need and rarely have. She also provides a thorough and convincing analysis of Emily Brontë’s star-crossed lovers, Catherine and Heathcliff, and the patriarchal, gender-polarized culture in which women yearn, like Catherine, to be whole but become enmeshed instead in the addictive cycle of romance. Steinem’s attention to the personal fits with the feminist view that even women’s intimate lives are affected by the political.

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(The entire section is 705 words.)