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Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection

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Debora L. Spar spent most of her life avoiding feminism. Raised after the tumult of the 1960s, she presumed that the gender war was over. “We thought we could glide into the new era with babies, board seats, and husbands in tow,” she writes. “We were wrong.” Spar should know. One of the first women professors at Harvard Business School, she went on to have three children an Debora L. Spar spent most of her life avoiding feminism. Raised after the tumult of the 1960s, she presumed that the gender war was over. “We thought we could glide into the new era with babies, board seats, and husbands in tow,” she writes. “We were wrong.” Spar should know. One of the first women professors at Harvard Business School, she went on to have three children and became the chair of her department. Now, she’s the president of Barnard College, arguably the most important women’s college in the country, and an institution firmly committed to feminism. Wonder Women is Spar’s story, but it is also the culture’s. Armed with reams of new research, she examines how women’s lives have, and have not, changed over the past fifty years—and how it is that the struggle for power has become a quest for perfection. Wise, often funny, and always human, Wonder Women asks: How far have women really come? And what will it take to get true equality for good?


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Debora L. Spar spent most of her life avoiding feminism. Raised after the tumult of the 1960s, she presumed that the gender war was over. “We thought we could glide into the new era with babies, board seats, and husbands in tow,” she writes. “We were wrong.” Spar should know. One of the first women professors at Harvard Business School, she went on to have three children an Debora L. Spar spent most of her life avoiding feminism. Raised after the tumult of the 1960s, she presumed that the gender war was over. “We thought we could glide into the new era with babies, board seats, and husbands in tow,” she writes. “We were wrong.” Spar should know. One of the first women professors at Harvard Business School, she went on to have three children and became the chair of her department. Now, she’s the president of Barnard College, arguably the most important women’s college in the country, and an institution firmly committed to feminism. Wonder Women is Spar’s story, but it is also the culture’s. Armed with reams of new research, she examines how women’s lives have, and have not, changed over the past fifty years—and how it is that the struggle for power has become a quest for perfection. Wise, often funny, and always human, Wonder Women asks: How far have women really come? And what will it take to get true equality for good?

30 review for Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

    I once saw Spar speak at a conference about her second book, The Baby Business, on the business of IVF, AI, adoption, etc. She was, no exaggeration, riveting: both a great speaker and with really interesting things to say. When I heard her on Fresh Air speaking about this book, I was in. Given that I'll read most anything about contemporary women and feminism, it wasn't a stretch. I regret to report that I was not impressed. While I agree with Spar in the main -- women are held to ridiculous stan I once saw Spar speak at a conference about her second book, The Baby Business, on the business of IVF, AI, adoption, etc. She was, no exaggeration, riveting: both a great speaker and with really interesting things to say. When I heard her on Fresh Air speaking about this book, I was in. Given that I'll read most anything about contemporary women and feminism, it wasn't a stretch. I regret to report that I was not impressed. While I agree with Spar in the main -- women are held to ridiculous standards and need to reject the perfection that they're attempting to achieve if they want equality; feminism is a good thing and still very much needed -- I also think she tended to put too much emphasis on what women could do to solve this problem, rather than the changes that society could make to accommodate them. I agree with her wholeheartedly that feminism has become an individualized battle for narrow, personal goals rather than the collective struggle it once was. But I could not get over her enormous generalizations about what "women want" and her recourse to evolutionary biology in order to explain them. I'm a historian; we tend to think evolutionary biology is bunk. Further, while she was perfectly willing to blame the media for making women want to be thin and perfect, she regularly claimed that it was encoded deep in women's DNA to want to be legally married. Why does culture get to influence women in one way (and thus to be in need of change) but others are genetic and thus immutable? The final problem is that if you know anything about these issues, she's just not telling you all that much that's new. I think the major message here would be: women, stop pursuing perfection because it's not possible and it prevents you from realizing achievable goals and regular old happiness. But that's hardly earth-shattering. I did love her speculation on the reasons that some high-powered women are more likely to "opt out" and leave the workforce than others: they never liked their careers all that much to begin with and may have ended up in them because they weren't sure what else to do. This is why doctors and academics, who spent many years in training, don't opt out, but lawyers and investment bankers do. Given what I remember of the scramble to decide what we "wanted to do when we graduated" at the end of college and the mad rush to law school among my peers who had previously evinced no real interest in the law, this made a good deal of sense to me. But it was also one of the only times I thought I had learned something new.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    Although there were some great points in this book, I felt as though they were clouded over by the author's very narrow view of what "all women want." In other words, all women want children, a college education, a career, and a man. I don't even know where to start breaking down the flawed perspective it's written from - how about lesbians? Women who don't want children? Women who don't want or have the chance for a college education? The list goes on. And don't get me started on the chapter wh Although there were some great points in this book, I felt as though they were clouded over by the author's very narrow view of what "all women want." In other words, all women want children, a college education, a career, and a man. I don't even know where to start breaking down the flawed perspective it's written from - how about lesbians? Women who don't want children? Women who don't want or have the chance for a college education? The list goes on. And don't get me started on the chapter where she reminisces for the "good old days" when sex gave women power. While it was worth a read as a feminist, it was also highly disappointing and frustrating.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Cohen

    Here's my review in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/24/boo... Here's my review in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/24/boo...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    I thought that this book would be right up my alley, but I ended up annoyed with it. She didn't have anything new to say or anything particularly thought provoking. She seemed dismissive of social explanations for women's current struggles which I found particular frustrating because what she was most concerned about seemed to be social pressure issues not especially feminist issues. Maybe if everyone that you know gets botox then you need to get a new social circle. Lots of other women get thro I thought that this book would be right up my alley, but I ended up annoyed with it. She didn't have anything new to say or anything particularly thought provoking. She seemed dismissive of social explanations for women's current struggles which I found particular frustrating because what she was most concerned about seemed to be social pressure issues not especially feminist issues. Maybe if everyone that you know gets botox then you need to get a new social circle. Lots of other women get through life just fine without it or are too busy dealing with real problems.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    Initially I LOVED the book and then I started to dislike it but overall I ended up liking it. The author did a very nice job of summarizing how the feminist movement started off the freedom for women to make but how we interpreted that (from the media and other messages) to mean that we had to do it all and do it all perfectly. Midway thought the book I ended up on a friend's couch sobbing about how miserable I was even though I have a really nice life. The aha moment was when I realized the mes Initially I LOVED the book and then I started to dislike it but overall I ended up liking it. The author did a very nice job of summarizing how the feminist movement started off the freedom for women to make but how we interpreted that (from the media and other messages) to mean that we had to do it all and do it all perfectly. Midway thought the book I ended up on a friend's couch sobbing about how miserable I was even though I have a really nice life. The aha moment was when I realized the message of the book. We have so many choices that our Grandmothers did not have. However, despite what the advertisements tell us, we CAN'T do it all and do it all perfectly. Life is complicated and messy and crazy and chaotic. But, we can choose how messy and complicated and chaotic we want it to be. Box cupcakes instead of scratch, it's ok. Part time instead of full time, it's ok. It's your life - make it what you want. I heard the same message from a Women's Leadership Conference that I recently attended. I wish I had read this book 15 years ago. I would have done things differently. BUT, it did reinforce some of the decisions that I made in order to earn a living but still be able to parent the way I wanted to. I liked the balance of humor and fact. I do recommend this book for all women just try not to let it depress you!

  6. 4 out of 5

    darce vader

    Feminism, written by someone who is clueless about Feminism, for people who don't like Feminism. And you really won't like or understand Feminism if this is the only thing you ever read about it. Boo. Feminism, written by someone who is clueless about Feminism, for people who don't like Feminism. And you really won't like or understand Feminism if this is the only thing you ever read about it. Boo.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sehar Moughal

    I am fearful about the future - my future. I wish I was born a man. How did I reach such shocking conclusions? All thanks to Debora Spar. I am not sure whether many readers would feel the same fears or even if it is right to feel such paralyzing fear. Don't get me wrong - this book is definitely important since it touches upon the many issues that unfortunately, are still present decades after the feminist revolution. What bothers me is not the book itself but the issues discussed. Women spendin I am fearful about the future - my future. I wish I was born a man. How did I reach such shocking conclusions? All thanks to Debora Spar. I am not sure whether many readers would feel the same fears or even if it is right to feel such paralyzing fear. Don't get me wrong - this book is definitely important since it touches upon the many issues that unfortunately, are still present decades after the feminist revolution. What bothers me is not the book itself but the issues discussed. Women spending too much time altering their physical appearance - treating the physical body as a skill they can (and must) perfect. It has started to feel like a mental rant, regurgitating thoughts and concerns about women's independence, equality and freedom. Yet, like Spar, I believe it is essential to revisit this pain so we can understand what it means to be a woman in today's society. Career, love, lots of sex, amazing housekeeping, perfect mother, flawless skin, skinny bodies...it seems women want it all at once. How is that possible? Spar reinforces the point that no human can be perfect (that uncanny word again), then why are women striving for it? Have women confused feminism with overcompensation for being, well, women? Should we then redefine feminism and more importantly include older women (40+) as part of the inner circle? Rather than trying to be the best at everything, maybe we should work as a community to bring about changes. Currently, I am not sure what the solution is - neither does Spar. However, I think this is a serious issue. Feminism is not about women who hate men, crop their hair short, or burn bras as protest. It runs deeper. It is understanding why women still feel the need to prove themselves? And to who? It is about finding ways to bridge the gap between what women can do and what they want - having realistic expectations and then making it happen.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Elissa

    I read this book because it was recommended as part of a women's leadership fellowship in which I am participating. The book is written by Debora Spar, the president of Barnard College, and in it, she takes stock of where women find themselves in America today. She does this, admittedly, from a privileged perch, but so much of what she recounts, laments and celebrates rings very true for me. While at times I found the book to be repetitive seemingly for the sake of taking up more space, there is I read this book because it was recommended as part of a women's leadership fellowship in which I am participating. The book is written by Debora Spar, the president of Barnard College, and in it, she takes stock of where women find themselves in America today. She does this, admittedly, from a privileged perch, but so much of what she recounts, laments and celebrates rings very true for me. While at times I found the book to be repetitive seemingly for the sake of taking up more space, there is a lot of meat to this book and it is well-researched. It also is current, citing to Lean In and other recent pronouncements about the state of women and feminism in today's world. What spoke most to be, though, was the fact that women on my generation were told from a young age that we should expect to grow up and be what we want to be; that we should strive for excellence in everything and that we should do everything: school, work, marriage, kids, etc. It is refreshing, though, for Spar to tell us that we can do less. That we do not have to be perfect. And that we should relish in our choices and do what is best for us and our families and not worry what others think. I also like the fact that Spar, who concedes that she was never part of the feminist movement, wants women again to care about the greater good and what we want for ourselves now that we've seen the future. At a few points I though Spar was telling us to strive for less -- less challenging jobs and fewer outside commitments to allow us to have a more balanced life. But as I look back she is telling us to choose wisely and with our futures in mind. I wish I had done that better when I was younger. I really enjoyed this book and found that it made me emotional at times because I saw myself reflected in its pages. I highly recommend it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    I didn't get much out of this book, maybe because I'm older than Ms. Spar and I've already made the decisions she's talking about. I've never been as obsessed with sex, breasts, beauty and being perfect as she seems to be, so I'm happy with my life choices. I didn't get much out of this book, maybe because I'm older than Ms. Spar and I've already made the decisions she's talking about. I've never been as obsessed with sex, breasts, beauty and being perfect as she seems to be, so I'm happy with my life choices.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    For those familiar with the genre of literature about the challenges women continue to face in America, this book won't necessarily add anything new - it's essentially a broad potpourri of continued gender inequality in the political, social, and economic realms, with a target audience of educated, middle or upper-middle class women. Coming from the former President of a women's college (Barnard), its tone is oddly defeatist and its ultimate message seems to be something along the lines of that For those familiar with the genre of literature about the challenges women continue to face in America, this book won't necessarily add anything new - it's essentially a broad potpourri of continued gender inequality in the political, social, and economic realms, with a target audience of educated, middle or upper-middle class women. Coming from the former President of a women's college (Barnard), its tone is oddly defeatist and its ultimate message seems to be something along the lines of that women are settling for too little if they choose to be only wives and mothers but they also shouldn't set their expectations too high because ultimately you truly can't "have it all" and need to recognize and thoughtfully choose and accept the trade-offs to be had between your personal and professional lives. Debora Spar also expresses her general disappointment in a new generation of women that seem more interested in individual successes and pursuits than pushing for broader change. I read this for a book club and the discussion suggested a potential generational divide between Spar's generation, in which women's had to struggle at many levels to achieve levels of leadership and influence, and a newer generation that don't believe that the constraints their mothers faced should be those that they face and want more creative thinking about solutions. In many ways, today we have 21st century expectations overlaid on a too often 1960s-style work culture. In Spar's acknowledgements to her book, she thanks her kids for being understanding of how many dinners she missed with them, which in many ways epitomizes that trade-offs she argues exist. How much time an individual women (of the demographic Spar is targeting) dedicates to her personal vs. professional life is often a personal choice, but there are also a lot of artificial barriers that arguably make that choice more rigid than it needs to be and could be addressed by having a better system of paid parental leave, increased workplace flexibilities, and greater transition to a 21st century digital working culture that could reduce the personal vs. professional trade-offs that women face. I would like to see a follow-on to Spar's book that is less focused on challenges and constraints and more focused on opportunities and solutions.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mandi Moon

    Really insightful, lots of interesting feminist history, and doesn't pretend to have easy answers. Really insightful, lots of interesting feminist history, and doesn't pretend to have easy answers.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ashley O'Connor

    I gave this book to my mom, an early feminist, so that she could get a glimpse of what today's young women are dealing with, since there seems to be a disconnect. The book is great. I gave this book to my mom, an early feminist, so that she could get a glimpse of what today's young women are dealing with, since there seems to be a disconnect. The book is great.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kristi

    The main theme of this book is that just because feminism gives women the freedom to have the choices to do anything, does not mean women need to BE everything (perfect wife, mother, professional, beauty, etc). Spar does a wonderful job of pointing out how our generation of women have infinitely more choices than our grandmothers' generation, but with those choices comes more pressure to do more and still excel at all of the traditional female roles that our grandmothers did. She explains not ju The main theme of this book is that just because feminism gives women the freedom to have the choices to do anything, does not mean women need to BE everything (perfect wife, mother, professional, beauty, etc). Spar does a wonderful job of pointing out how our generation of women have infinitely more choices than our grandmothers' generation, but with those choices comes more pressure to do more and still excel at all of the traditional female roles that our grandmothers did. She explains not just how feminism has (or has not) changed things for women, but she also explores more of the reasons why things are the way they are. Is it media? Is it the historical patriarchy of our culture? Is it our own biology and desires? Is it a combination of factors? This book is definitely good food for thought.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Siobhan

    Excellent book! I liked how she confronted aspects of women's modern lives such as perfectionism, control, age and reproduction. Especially the part about age because often women jump on it and say " yes I will achieve this impossibility as well!" The truth is that women in the attempt to have better lives have forgotten to enjoy themselves and to be human rather than over worked perfectionists that really can't do it all. The writing which covers the many ways that women try to be everything an Excellent book! I liked how she confronted aspects of women's modern lives such as perfectionism, control, age and reproduction. Especially the part about age because often women jump on it and say " yes I will achieve this impossibility as well!" The truth is that women in the attempt to have better lives have forgotten to enjoy themselves and to be human rather than over worked perfectionists that really can't do it all. The writing which covers the many ways that women try to be everything and do everything had me feeling and be great at all of it had me reflecting about how this does cross different age groups and different classes. I had a completely different background than the author and a completely different life. But the quest for being many things, being great at all of them and somehow having the time and energy to do it all I share with her and many women in the world. As well I have shared the sense of failure when it just wasn't working. To do it all never works for anyone no matter the reason. I thought the cover was creative and quite accurate to what women feel they must do these days. Yoga is huge and to many women the story of yoga is one that many take on in their quest for perfection as well as a means to handle the stress of the high powered career. I believe that it is better to have a broad variety of voices to read from when studying aspects of feminism. This one which covers similar issues and topics as "We Were Feminists Once" is different in that Debora is asking questions and wondering if what we have been touting as fact has been really a matter of convenient opinion. She also seeks to find a balance in a way that does not pit the sexes against each other. She also is direct in putting responsibility for organizing our lives to be realistic and to accept not being perfect at everything and not doing everything. And she makes a great point that we need to get over the individual issues that we have focused on to broaden our thoughts and energies for a larger group of people which is calling women towards the beginning roots of feminism as a way to push the evolution of modern feminism forwards. I for-see that some women will be repulsed by Debora's style of writing and viewpoints but as women the work of feminism should be of listening to many points of view from many many women of all races and classes. Debora is speaking for the kind of feminist who wants women to not only have choice but to give themselves the ability to not choose something, basically for women to not lose themselves in the quest to do everything, be everything and be perfect. That having so much choice and or control perhaps is not such a great thing after all for our lives and health when we are spread thin between many things that demand much of our time, energy and resources. She is clear that not all of us have so much choice. But I believe that the issues of control, perfection, and shame cross to all classes and ages of women and that this book is a thorough study of the structures of thought that impact womens lives today. I did not have the impression that she was saying that "all women want babies". I had the impression that she was saying that even with the push towards careers and the ability to reach them that a lot of women still are wanting children or having to make choices that allow for them to choose later if they want children even while they are unsure if they want one. She is making a point that even if a women is unsure that she wants one that she has to take her biology, the timing of her life, the timing of her choices and the gravity of how those choices will affect her ability or inability in the future to either choose that she does or does not want a baby. The discussion is quite valid because with all of these choices women find themselves to be different people at different point in their lives with choices that usually don't work well happening at the same time. I do believe that too much talk about biology can lead one in circles however. A question that was not asked of these women was why they themselves chose to cut back on their careers instead of asking their husbands to cut back on theirs to take over more of the familial responsibilities. If the women had been asked I think they would have said that they didn't ask their husbands because they felt too much responsibility to fulfill the role as "mother" and that if she did not sacrifice her career to be a mother then that would mean being a very bad one. In this case I would not say it was biology. It is obvious that it is residual cultural beliefs and patterns and the difficulty of stepping out of those roles. At some points I did think that she focused a lot on biology and maybe had trouble being able to tell the difference between biology and cultural expectations which are equal to programming. To say that it doesn't matter which it is in the long run means that we don't get to the root of the matter and that we remain unaware of the forces in culture that point us a specific way. The discussion as well on how women work differently than men had me thinking. I still think that the ways women work are from cultural expectations and that men as well work the way they do from the cultural expectations that are placed on them. Not necessarily from biology. I did appreciate that she said that neither style of working was wrong or right but thought that a discussion on what was good or not so good about either style would have been a good discussion on why all genders should be in the workplace. I like that she thought that it would be good to admit that we need men in our attempts to change our relationship with them because it is logical. But what was not realistic was that she did not go into further exploration of why women talk amongst themselves and the common communication patterns that happen between women and men such as the situation of women has something to say and she is spoken over. And then there is the experience of being gas lighted and not truly being listened to or understood which happens to women more often than not every day. She may have talked about issues such as age but what about communication between the sexes? It isn't as if women are just deciding to make a women s only club and to bash men. They are speaking with other women about it because they feel they can speak more freely and why wouldn't they when no matter how they speak they are being spoken over and not respected? Perhaps because she made it to Harvard she has not had as much of the experiences that most women have had with men where women are treated as unintelligent, incompetent and over emotional crazy hormonal fools. If she had experienced this or saw this happening often she makes no mention of it and does not draw attention to this as being any kind of a real problem for women when most women feel that it is. Like many women I do not believe change can happen as long as women are interrupted and and "corrected" every time she speaks up for herself or people and things she cares about. We know we cannot force this kind of change to happen as much as we want it. If it happens in relationships where both the woman and the man call themselves feminist, and it does happen, then it is even more so of a problem discussing matters with men who do not call themselves feminist. Women have real reasons for any of their difficulties including the problem of too many choices. Women want to avoid being stuck with the identity that has been placed on them and subconsciously women have believed that if they did not only everything and did it great then no one would have the right to run them down, dis respect them, talk over them or place the old identity of what a "women is" or supposed to be on them. I believe many women feel the need to prove themselves as being as good as or better for many reasons. Women have been told "You can't do that. You can't be that. You aren't capable. You are too fragile." and etc. Why wouldn't women have the natural reaction of "I'm going to show you!" even if it wasn't good for her to over work or strive for perfection? If for some of us we didn't have many people believing in us or even shooting us down then the quest for perfection and doing it all is a question of creating safety and stability for ourselves. This is the case I believe for many women. The need for control and perfection may cross the classes but perhaps some of the reasons are similar while other ones may be different. Perhaps the issues of familial trauma which includes cultural belief systems which are toxic need more study into how it affects womens choices rather than saying it's simply biology or just cultural issues.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie McDaniel

    I had a hard time reading this book. The first time I checked it out from the library, I discovered the edition they had purchased had some major printing mistakes--whole thirty-page sections simply missing, and other twenty-page sections printed twice. I took the book back and pointed this out to the library volunteer, and thought nothing more of it till on a recent visit I spotted the book again. After flipping through the pages to make sure they were all there and in the correct order, I thou I had a hard time reading this book. The first time I checked it out from the library, I discovered the edition they had purchased had some major printing mistakes--whole thirty-page sections simply missing, and other twenty-page sections printed twice. I took the book back and pointed this out to the library volunteer, and thought nothing more of it till on a recent visit I spotted the book again. After flipping through the pages to make sure they were all there and in the correct order, I thought, "I might as well finish reading this." Now, I wonder if it was worth the effort. This book was mediocre at best. I mean, the author tries her best. She certainly has some cogent points to say about the Myth of Perfection, and society's pressure on women and young girls to be the Best, Blondest, Skinniest, Sexiest, Most Wholesome, Breastfeeding Working Stay-At-Home Wives and Mothers We Can Possibly Be! She readily acknowledges that no one can do that, although she doesn't seem to want to force the HUSBANDS and BOYFRIENDS of all those stressed-out women to help them out. (Indeed, it seems to me that men are hardly mentioned in this book, as if they all get stuffed in the closets as soon as they get home from work. As far as that goes, the explosive topics of lesbian women, trans women, women of color, and intersectionality are barely touched on--this is definitely a White Woman's Feminism book.)But she also dabbles in some evo-psych bullshit--that particular phrase isn't mentioned, but in the chapter I most detested, "Mythologies of Birth," she goes on and on ad nauseum about how ALL WOMEN WANT TO BE MOTHERS and WOMEN WANT BABIES, DAMMIT! Which is simply nonsense. I am a living example of that, and so are many other childfree people I know. In fact, the author's continued assertion of this is almost insulting, and it pretty much spoiled the rest of the book for me. There are far better gender studies books out there than this one. Start with bell hooks, then move on to Estelle Friedman and Susan Faludi's Backlash, still terrifyingly relevant after more than twenty years. This one, unfortunately, doesn't cut it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    Guess what ladies? Struggling to get ahead in our careers? Feeling harried and disappointed? It's all our fault .... again. According to Debra Spar, we do not understand the true meaning and goals of feminism and, therefore, we harm ourselves by striving for an unachievable perfection. This book started at a 4-star for me, but ended at a 2-star. Why? Because I DID appreciate the history of feminism (no, I wasn't aware of everything she revealed about it or the impact it had on me as a child of t Guess what ladies? Struggling to get ahead in our careers? Feeling harried and disappointed? It's all our fault .... again. According to Debra Spar, we do not understand the true meaning and goals of feminism and, therefore, we harm ourselves by striving for an unachievable perfection. This book started at a 4-star for me, but ended at a 2-star. Why? Because I DID appreciate the history of feminism (no, I wasn't aware of everything she revealed about it or the impact it had on me as a child of the 70s) and I DID appreciate the push to stop holding myself to a "have it ALL and have IT PERFECTLY" standard (which I admit to doing sometimes). But, is that it? It is all my doing? What about the unconscious biases that women face ever single day? What about the double standards for men and women in the workplace and at home? What about the wage gaps? What about the mentoring and sponsorship gaps? Spar has no real answers for these issues; she just tells us to chose, metaphorically, between making the perfect presentation at work or making perfect cupcakes for the school back sale. But, OK, I make a choice ... where does everyone else fit in? She says to "include men" .. but she doesn't even speak to men in her book, telling them how they can adjust their approach or mentality. What about legislators? What about corporate leadership? In the end, I felt like the burden was all on me ... which I don't think is what Debra Spar intended at all.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Julianne

    Going into this book, I thought it would be more about women in the workplace. However, that topic is only for covered for one chapter. Spar spends the rest of the book concentrating each chapter on a topics that occupy most of women's lives -- motherhood, marriage, their bodies, etc. She takes many sacred institutions, discusses their origin, points out in many cases that men are not beholden to them in the same way that women still are, and then leaves the reader to decide what choices to make Going into this book, I thought it would be more about women in the workplace. However, that topic is only for covered for one chapter. Spar spends the rest of the book concentrating each chapter on a topics that occupy most of women's lives -- motherhood, marriage, their bodies, etc. She takes many sacred institutions, discusses their origin, points out in many cases that men are not beholden to them in the same way that women still are, and then leaves the reader to decide what choices to make from there. One of the most powerful examples was in the beauty chapter. Spar calculates that over the course of her 40-year career, she will have spent 10,080 hours, or nearly five working years, more than the man sitting next to her in basic beauty maintenance. What could women be doing with all this extra time? I think the biggest takeaway from the book is women as a whole need to buck society's unrealistic expectations and spend less time on pursuing familial and bodily perfection. Instead that time should go towards external goals that will help society as a whole. One criticism I have is that Spar seems way too reluctant to claim the title of feminist. Maybe she thinks that makes her arguments more convincing, coming from an "outsider," but it seems a bit strange coming from the president of a women's college.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cymberleah Dawne

    The plural of anecdote is not data. Facts are fuzzy ("Global birth rate is 2.5 kids, therefore all women want to have children."). No mention of below replacement level fertility in most developed countries, or that women not in control of their fertility in developing nations means that the very concept of a global birth rate is nonsensical. HUGE assumptions made (All women want children. All of them. Yes, all of them. Did I mention all women crave children?). For a supposedly non-fiction book, t The plural of anecdote is not data. Facts are fuzzy ("Global birth rate is 2.5 kids, therefore all women want to have children."). No mention of below replacement level fertility in most developed countries, or that women not in control of their fertility in developing nations means that the very concept of a global birth rate is nonsensical. HUGE assumptions made (All women want children. All of them. Yes, all of them. Did I mention all women crave children?). For a supposedly non-fiction book, there's a lot of anecdotes and facts pulled out of context to support barely reasoned arguments. However, if you're looking to hone your poor-argument-detection skills, this book is very useful.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Hubert

    I actually thought this was more decent and enthralling than most other readers here. Spar focuses on how the more socially-minded feminist aims and goals of Second Wave have been derailed by a greater interest appearing, working, or acting better than others, i.e. competition for validation has taken over. Spar reminds the reader that feminism wasn't supposed to be that way, and that communities need to respect the individual career, appearance, and maternity choices that women make no matter w I actually thought this was more decent and enthralling than most other readers here. Spar focuses on how the more socially-minded feminist aims and goals of Second Wave have been derailed by a greater interest appearing, working, or acting better than others, i.e. competition for validation has taken over. Spar reminds the reader that feminism wasn't supposed to be that way, and that communities need to respect the individual career, appearance, and maternity choices that women make no matter what their ambitions.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dolly

    I think this book is best recommended to 20 something highly educated women or 40+ something perfection-oriented mothers. I am neither of these (I am 40+ and a mother, but I gave up on perfection eons ago), so some pieces of the book felt irrelevant or repetitive to me. But it is well researched, well written, and well argued, so I do recommend it to women who relate to its premise, or those married to such women!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Crista Colvin

    Extremely validating, well written and much broader in scope than Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In (not to pit them against each other, of course). Spar's main arguments seem to be that the past several generations of women were sold a fantasy (or, more bluntly, a lie) that we could "have it all" and that women need to step off the hamster wheel of trying to have perfect homes, bodies, children and lives. Extremely validating, well written and much broader in scope than Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In (not to pit them against each other, of course). Spar's main arguments seem to be that the past several generations of women were sold a fantasy (or, more bluntly, a lie) that we could "have it all" and that women need to step off the hamster wheel of trying to have perfect homes, bodies, children and lives.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Connie Pollock

    Kind of found myself annoyed with the book - I thought this would have been more about work expectations and then it felt like it turned into some Cosmopolitan article on women and aging. I think I saw the author on a talk show when the book came out and that piqued my interest. Disappointing book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Res

    very repetitive. Could have been much shorter. She makes a point that women expect to much of themselves. Points out problems but doesn't offer solutions. very repetitive. Could have been much shorter. She makes a point that women expect to much of themselves. Points out problems but doesn't offer solutions.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    I wish I had the funds to hand a copy of "WonderWomen: Sex, Power & the Quest for Perfection" by Debora L. Spar to every young woman I know, and to every naysayer who wonders whether feminism is still relevant or needed. It's not that this book brings any hugely revolutionary ideas or insights to the table -- but it is a readable and well researched summary about how women's lives have evolved over the past 50 years, where we still have work to do and some possible solutions. My copy is full of d I wish I had the funds to hand a copy of "WonderWomen: Sex, Power & the Quest for Perfection" by Debora L. Spar to every young woman I know, and to every naysayer who wonders whether feminism is still relevant or needed. It's not that this book brings any hugely revolutionary ideas or insights to the table -- but it is a readable and well researched summary about how women's lives have evolved over the past 50 years, where we still have work to do and some possible solutions. My copy is full of dog-eared pages. Spar is President of Barnard College (a prominent American women's college). She is roughly a year or two younger than I am, so her cultural references are mostly quite familiar to me -- e.g., the iconic ad for the 1970s perfume, Charlie (a huge bottle of which once adorned my dresser top). Her book is essentially a tour of the stages of her life -- and my life, and most women's lives of the past 50 years -- from childhood through establishing careers, marriages and families to aging -- and what lessons young women today can & should draw from our experiences. "Somehow -- without meaning to -- we became convinced... that having it all meant doing it all... And that being good meant being perfect," she says near the beginning of her book. (p. 50) The inflation of expectations, and the quest for perfection and control (versus the promise of liberation) is a running theme throughout the book (thus explaining the subtitle). Spar is the author of a previous book on reproductive technologies ("The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception," which I have not read) who has experienced birth, pregnancy loss and adoption. She believes that pregnancy, birth and children remain central to most women's lives and are a core issue that make women's lives essentially different from men's -- and that we need to recognize and deal with this difference. As a result, the book includes some interesting discussions about the quest for conception, including ARTs, infertility and pregnancy loss, "pregnancy pornography" and the modern motherhood. You may not agree with all of her prescriptions, but hers is a thoughtful and welcome voice in the ongoing conversation.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I really enjoyed this book and thought that Spar brought up a lot of really good information. She grew up never identifying herself as a feminist, thinking feminism's work was done. After becoming one of the youngest female professors to be tenured at Harvard Business School and having three children, Spar began to realize that "having it all" wasn't as easy as she'd been told. She also quickly realized that feminism's work still had a long way to go. Wonder Women does a good job of combining st I really enjoyed this book and thought that Spar brought up a lot of really good information. She grew up never identifying herself as a feminist, thinking feminism's work was done. After becoming one of the youngest female professors to be tenured at Harvard Business School and having three children, Spar began to realize that "having it all" wasn't as easy as she'd been told. She also quickly realized that feminism's work still had a long way to go. Wonder Women does a good job of combining statistics and data with Spar's personal experiences and stories from other women. Spar covers everything from dating, sex, and marriage, to trying to balance work and family, to how women view aging and beauty. While I did feel like the very end of the book was a little repetitive, overall I wholeheartedly agreed with almost everything she said. To me this book and similar ones like Lean In just go to show how much feminism has achieved, but how there is still a long way to go. Some quotes I really liked: "National networks and newsmagazines, for example, doted on the more extreme elements of radical feminism, highlighting Firestone's claim that 'pregnancy is barbaric,' or Atkinson's assertion that 'love has to be destroyed.' More mundane stories about women working for the ERA or supporting Planned Parenthood, by contrast, rarely made headlines, creating a massive asymmetry between the sprawling contours of the actual women's movement and popular perceptions of feminism. For women who were already in the movement, this unbalanced portrayal was a source of great contention. For those of us who were just a few years younger, however, what we saw was only the news. We grew up, as a result, with a skewed sense of feminism and a vague belief that all feminists hated men, denounced children, and refused to wash their hair." (p. 26) "In 1982, the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery classified small breasts as a deformity. Today, nearly 12 million Americans a year choose to undergo either cosmetic surgery (like breast implantation) or nonsurgical cosmetic procedures (like laser skin resurfacing). These numbers have increased by nearly 500 percent since the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery started collecting its data in 1997." (p.94-5) "More profoundly, Wolf and others who write in this vein suggest that the myth of feminine beauty has been subconsciously designed to undermine the triumphs of feminism, to push women out of the spheres of power and, expensively and compulsively, back into the personal realm. Because when women aspire to an unobtainable and usually ill-fitting standard of beauty, they effectively consign themselves to years of fruitless labor and frustration, ceding power in the process to less-encumbered men." (p.97) "One place to start might be with the raft of self-help books devoted to these issues [related to marriage]...Interestingly, the vast majority of these titles address themselves to women rather than men. And scarily, most adhere to a starkly conservative line, essentially exhorting women to revert to the Good Wife's rules. In The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, for example, Dr. Laura Schlessinger perkily tells her readers (millions of whom also tune into her internationally syndicated radio show) to 'forgive their husbands...for being men.' Women, Schlessinger scolds, are unhappy because they are self-centered; because they are focusing on what 'their men can do for them, and not what they can do for their men.' The simple remedy, therefore, is to treat husbands better, to 'roll over in bed, close your eyes, give him a big hug, and remember that, without him, you are only a sorry excuse for a person.' Not exactly Gloria Steinem stuff." (p. 166) "Feminism, in other words, was meant to be about expanding women's roles and choices; about giving them freedom, for the first time in history, to participate with men as equals, and to use their minds and bodies and talents and energies as they desired. Yet somehow this expansive and revolutionary set of political goals has been squeezed - or hijacked or mistaken - into something much more narrow and personal. Rather than trying to change the world, women are obsessed too often with perfecting themselves." (p. 170-1) "Because if organizations reveal the gender biases of those who control them, then historically male places (like Wall Street, or automobile manufacturers, or oil rigs) will naturally tend to be harder on women, and to promote only those women who, in essence, behave 'like men.' Which helps to explain why so many sectors of the modern economy get stuck at female participation rates of 15 to 20 percent. These are women who either naturally, or by sheer force of will, learn how to operate in what remains a male-driven environment. Their presence, however, does not mean that women have actually entered into this club on equal footing, which is why the numbers prove so resistant to change." (p. 176) "Less obviously, and for more complicated reasons, women remain sexualized to an extent that men rarely are, and they feel the impact of their physical attractiveness in a much more direct and pervasive way. This aspect of women's lives might well have been eviscerated by the feminist and sexual revolutions. In fact, eliminating women's status as sexual icons for men was one of these revolutions' earliest goals. But it didn't happen. Instead, looser norms of sexual conduct, combined with the exploding realm of digital media, have brought us to the world of Toddler and Tiaras and pervasive online pornography. Not only are women's bodies arguably more objectified than ever, but the object of all this desire has been airbrushed and Photoshopped nearly beyond recognition, pushing women toward standards of bodily perfection that are literally no longer human." (p. 233)

  26. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    DNF. I got this book after hearing Deborah Spar's interview with Terry Gross, which had resonated with me. But the book itself (or, the parts of it that I read) felt very basic and repetitive, and I really did not need to read the author stress one more time how much she had not considered herself a feminist. The overall message is important, but Spar doesn't really break new ground. DNF. I got this book after hearing Deborah Spar's interview with Terry Gross, which had resonated with me. But the book itself (or, the parts of it that I read) felt very basic and repetitive, and I really did not need to read the author stress one more time how much she had not considered herself a feminist. The overall message is important, but Spar doesn't really break new ground.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    Very focused on upper middle class problems which I found to be annoying and limiting but still a lot of good material.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    Not my favorite, ended up being more research-based anyway

  29. 4 out of 5

    Abigail Gao

    Validating and honest She took away a lot of lies about Perfect womanhood that created by mass media Thank you, Debora for sharing about your discovery on social development.

  30. 5 out of 5

    bibliophiliar

    Unreadable. Tone deaf, uncritical feminist perspective, if you can call it that.

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