Speaking of Sex explores a topic that too often drops out of our discussions when we speak about sex: the persistent problem of sex-based inequality and the cultural forces that sustain it. On critical issues affecting women, most Americans deny either that gender inequality is a serious problem or that it is one that they have a personal or political responsibility to address. In tracing this “no problem” problem, Speaking of Sex examines the most fundamental causes of women’s disadvantages and the inadequacy of current public policy to combat them.
Although in the past quarter-century the United States has made major progress in addressing gender discrimination, women still face substantial obstacles in their private, public, and professional lives. On every significant measure of wealth, power, status, and security, women remain less advantaged than men. Deborah Rhode reveals the ways that the culture denies, discounts, or attempts to justify those inequalities. She shows that only by making inequality more visible can we devise an adequate strategy to confront it.
Speaking of Sex examines patterns of gender inequality across a wide array of social, legal, and public policy settings. Challenging conventional biological explanations for gender differences, Rhode explores the media images and childrearing practices that reinforce traditional gender stereotypes. On policies involving employment, divorce, custody, rape, pornography, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and reproductive choice, Speaking of Sex reveals how we continually overlook the gap between legal rights and daily experience. All too often, even Americans who condemn gender inequality in principle cannot see it in practice—in their own lives, homes, and work environments. In tracing these patterns, Rhode uncovers the deeply ingrained assumptions that obscure and perpetuate women’s disadvantages.
Deborah L. Rhode…gamely tackles a knotty issue in feminism: for many Americans, extant victories for women’s rights render any discussion of remaining inequities tiresome. She has written a scrupulously researched, balanced, sobering, and sober book… Rhode makes the persuasive argument that the achievement of true equality requires that we first ‘recognize the distance we have yet to travel’ …[She] focus[es] on hard research rather than easy sensationalism.
In Speaking of Sex, Rhode sets herself two tasks: to document gender inequality—separate chapters cover child-rearing, the media, sexual violence, work, and marriage and divorce—and to understand why so many of us are ‘in denial’ about it. Although Rhode breaks little new ground, the sheer accumulation of data and her cogent analyses make this an excellent guide to sexism in our time. Exhaustively footnoted and sourced, it is unlike most general-interest books on any side of this debate in that it draws on a vast amount of real scholarship and ranges widely over the available literature in and out of academia… Her calm, lawyerly, methodical approach lets the material speak for itself. And it does.
Rhode convincingly demonstrates patterns of denial about rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, workplace inequality, and women’s poverty. She also discusses some of the tools of denial—appeals to biological determinism and ‘family values,’ the men’s movement, and media trivialization of women’s issues… The book is a kind of Backlash for the mid-1990s: a wake-up call to feminists, bolstered by a copious documentation of facts. What Susan Faludi did to counter the rise of antifeminism in the 1980s, Rhode…has done for the less sensational—but equally formidable—problem of denial.
Amid the rising tide of neofeminists bashing the women’s movement, Speaking of Sex returns the focus of the debate to the question of gender inequality… With careful research and…insightful analysis, [Rhode] says the advances won by the women’s movement in the past three decades have resulted in widespread and deeply engrained denial that gender inequality still exists.
In spite of progress that has been made over the last few decades regarding gender discrimination, Rhode (law, Stanford) makes a strong case that it is not nearly enough. Through lively writing and myriad well-documented examples, the author shows how, for the most part, gender inequality is either ignored or denied. This is true for women in virtually all states of life and in all areas of endeavor, whether in their personal or public lives or at the workplace… This readable yet scholarly treatment is essential for all women’s studies collections.
Deborah Rhode in Speaking of Sex intelligently combines authoritative insights and elegant prose to discuss America’s ‘no problem’ problem—the mistaken assumption that gender inequality is a problem largely solved.
If you want to know why women and men are still not equal, this book will tell you. Rhode’s analysis is refreshingly clear, and her conclusions are stunningly powerful.
Deborah Rhode is one of the very finest writers on sexual equality and law; this book is a superb contribution, offering a fresh combination of empirical data, sophisticated theoretical insight, and simple good sense.
- 352 pages
- 0-13/16 x 5-11/16 x 8-15/16 inches
- Harvard University Press
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