Steinem muscles in on Freud, rips ads

June 06, 1994|By Sandy Hill | Sandy Hill,Knight-Ridder News Service

In six essays with a common thread, feminist Gloria Steinem returns to a more rigorous style of writing than marked her last book, "Revolution From Within: A Book of Self-Esteem."

"Revolution," which some saw as pop psychology, received mixed reviews, but Ms. Steinem says many women told her how much it meant to them personally.

"Moving Beyond Words" explores in a more impersonal way how society restricts women and how they can break free. Only the final essay, "Doing Sixty," has the personal feel of "Revolution." All are thought-provoking.

In "What If Freud Were Phyllis," Ms. Steinem pretends to be the biographer of psychiatrist Dr. Phyllis Freud, deftly using role reversal to show us the sexism in many of Freud's theories. While this isn't a new concept, Ms. Steinem carries it off cleverly for the most part. Penis envy becomes womb envy; other Freudian concepts are similarly turned on their heads.

This, the longest section of the book, isn't always easy reading, but it is worth wading through for a new view of the underpinnings of Western psychoanalytical thought.

Ms. Steinem suggests that Freud was a victim of childhood abuse. Unable to face it, she asserts, he abandoned his early belief in patients who told of abuse, dismissing their stories as fantasies.

In "The Strongest Woman in the World," she revisits bodybuilder Bev Francis, whose extreme muscularity in the 1980s redefined women's bodybuilding. Ms. Steinem concludes that a greater acceptance of strength and muscle in women is "one of the most intimate, visceral measures of change" in our society.

"Yes, we need progress everywhere, but an increase in our physical strength could have more impact on the everyday lives of most women than the occasional role model in the boardroom or in the White House," she writes.

"Sex, Lies and Advertising," another updated essay, looks at the connection between advertiser demands and editorial content in women's magazines. Often advertisers insist their ads be placed beside complementary (and complimentary) material, Ms. Steinem says. "As readers whose image, seriousness and information are being distorted, it's up to us" to speak up, she says.

In "The Masculinization of Wealth," she again looks at the problems of women in rich families. The class system can work against such women, Ms. Steinem says, keeping them from using resources to make social change.

"The closer women are to power, the weaker such women are supposed to be kept," she writes.

"Revaluing Economics" reminds us that our national budget says something about our values. And it offers a new way to examine what our checkbooks can tell us.

"Doing Sixty," the most readable of the essays, finds Ms. Steinem at age 60 thinking about the future. She sees herself and other women becoming freer and more activist with age.

Formerly, she says, she spent so much time thinking about what she would do or had done that she failed to enjoy the present, "the only time in which we can be fully alive." The blessing of 60 and beyond is that "more and more, there is only the full, glorious, alive-in-the-moment, don't-give-a-damn yet caring-for-everything sense of the right now."

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Moving Beyond Words"

Author: Gloria Steinem

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Length, price: 296 pages, $23

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