Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Gloria Steinem’s Revolution from Within locates the possibility for revolution in the psyche rather than in the ability to act decisively and independently in the world. Wherever she traveled, Steinem found that although women were acting in courageous, ambitious, and committed ways, they did not see that they were doing so. Steinem began to admit to her own feelings of self-doubt and emptiness. Through her personal experience and the personal experiences of others, Steinem located a crucial problem for contemporary women that accompanies the great expectations they hold for themselves: As they try to succeed in many roles, their self-esteem can be damaged by the ongoing expectations that they should fill those roles. After Steinem had written 250 dry, unsuccessful pages, Steinem’s friend, a family therapist, read the manuscript and commented that Steinem had a self-esteem problem. Yet Steinem had been named one of the ten most confident women in the United States. The coincidence made her even more convinced that women were in serious trouble.

To rewrite her book, Steinem added autobiographical elements and invited her readers to connect her stories with their own. Her approach reflects feminist consciousness: the movement back and forth between the personal and the political. Steinem has a political purpose for addressing self-esteem; she sees it as the basis of any real democracy. By locating strength in the self-belief, she draws...

(The entire section is 583 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Revolution from Within appeared during a crucial year for feminism. Susan Faludi’s Backlash, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese’s Feminism Without Illusions, and Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth had also recently appeared in print. Women were talking again about what it means to be a feminist and what it means to be part of the feminist community. Because it came from one of the recognized leaders of the feminist movement, Steinem’s book caused a certain amount of consternation for feminist social critics. Nowhere in the title is the label “feminism” or “feminist” used. Instead, it purports to be “A Book of Self-Esteem,” and the revolution described involves an interior, psychic revolution, not the overthrow of oppressive sexism. It made feminists wonder whether this was a book of social criticism or a self-help book for the victim in all women.

There continues to be a division within the feminist ranks that is now even more clearly delineated by the publication of Katie Roiphe’s The Morning After. Some people believe that feminists dwell too much on the victimization of women and, therefore, encourage women to identify themselves as passive and helpless against the far-reaching hegemony of patriarchal ideology. Others believe that, by studying and articulating ways in which women become the victims of patriarchal hierarchies, women become empowered, because they are then more conscious of those...

(The entire section is 471 words.)


(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. New York: Ballantine, 1992. Estes’ project, like Steinem’s, is to empower women, but she goes about it by privileging feminine instinctive nature and the restoration of women’s vitality by means of the Wild Woman archetype.

Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. Feminism Without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. Fox-Genovese addresses the important discrepancy between the commitment of women to their own personal successes as individuals and their commitment to collective communities of women that seek power in hierarchical institutions.

Gilligan, Carol, Nona P. Lyons, and Trudy J. Hanmer, eds. Making Connections: The Relational Worlds of Adolescent Girls at Emma Willard School. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990. Gilligan and her colleagues studied pre-adolescent girls over a period of crucial years, noting the ways in which the girls came to lose confidence in their ability to know and came to denigrate their own clear-sightedness.

Roiphe, Katie. The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993. Roiphe’s controversial book critiques feminists’ focus on rape and sexual harassment because it reinscribes women’s need to be protected and collapses their personal, social, and psychological possibilities. She is also critical of the rigid orthodoxy that feminists around her have created.

Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. New York: Doubleday, 1991. Wolf draws an important connection between female liberation and female beauty, arguing that images of beauty are used as political weapons against women’s advancement because they, in fact, prescribe behavior, not appearance.