Wonder Women: Prologue

January 29, 2014 | NeW

This week, the Online Book Club is discussing the Prologue in Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection. Spar begins the Prologue with her recollection of the moment she realized she “had it all”.  She was at LaGuardia Airport in New York during a quick one-hour layover.  Rushing to the women’s bathroom she jams into a stall and quickly whips out her breast pump, pumping as rapidly as possible she recalls,

“From the stall next to me, I heard a gasp of surprise and a hasty flush.  “C’mon,” I scolded silently, “this is New York.  A lady in the bathroom with a breast pump is nothing.” (3)

She quickly pulled her professional attire back together, rushed out the door, and thought to herself this is really having it all! As a child of the 1960s she was raised to believe that women could do anything men could in essentially any realm of life.  She was confident that she would never join the feminist movement, she saw no common ground between her beliefs and the bra burning, man hating feminists of the time.  She comments,

“…I devoutly believed that I could be a successful woman in a man’s world, that I could remain feminine without being feminist.” (4)

She fell in love with the boy from the dorm next door on her first day of graduate school; they were later husband and wife.  She taught at University of Toronto and eventually Harvard Business School and by then she had three children.   Spar comments that she was confident she could do this-the loving husband, three children, and the career. Gradually her resistance to the feminist movement and this idealization that women and men were perfectly equal on all accounts shattered.  She recalls the department chair’s shock when she told him she was pregnant for a second time.  She began researching this subject that she had previously rejected, the “women’s problem”. Spar admits the feminist movement was highly successful, listing significant events including: women’s victory for the right to vote in 1920, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, an increased participation in the labor force, their rise to executive professional positions and the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.  She comments that after the 1960s she thought women had won and there was no need to continue battling.  She concludes,

“We thought, often without actually thinking, that we could just glide into the new era of equality, with babies, board seats, and husbands in tow.  We were wrong.” (7)

Spar disagrees with many of the tactics of the feminist movement and indicates these programs were not successful because the challenges that women face today stem from the post-1960’s victory.  Spar writes of the challenges,

 “They are problems that come from the nearly impossible standards of perfection that women have somehow rushed to embrace, problems that come-inherently and inevitable-simply from being female.” (8)

During the summer of 2009 Spar commenced this book and assumed her position as President of Barnard College in New York.  She provides her reasoning and goals for this book,

 “It argues that the women of my generation got feminism wrong, seeing it as a route to personal perfection and a promise of all that we were now expected to be…we twisted it somehow into a charge: because we could do anything, we felt as if we had to do everything.” (10)

Spar concludes with an explanation of the perspective from which this book is written.  She writes as an American woman who has been bestowed many blessings through educational and professional opportunities.  She is a loving wife to her husband and mother of three.

Discussion Questions:

1) What are your goals and aspirations for life?  What is the timeline in which you hope for them to occur? 2) At this stage in your life do you feel the pressure to “have it all”?  If so, what forces in our society, culture etc. do you believe impose this pressure upon you? 3) Have you ever experienced a situation in which you felt you were an impostor in a man’s world or as if males were disappointed or looking down on you?  How did you address the situation?

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