Lynley's Reviews > The F Word: How We Learned to Swear by Feminism

The F Word by Jane Caro
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Jan 27, 2012

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Read from January 27 to 28, 2012

I appreciate Jane Caro's view of the world, and several times while watching The Gruen Transfer I have wanted to cheer beacuse *someone* has stood up for the feminist view, so I thought I'd read the book she has written with friend Catherine Fox to see more on Jane Caro's take of Australian women today.

If you've already read Germaine Greer, Susan Faludi, Ariel Levy, Hugh Mackay et al there probably isn't much here for you, because this is an overview of feminist issues rather than an in-depth look at any one of them. Still, this book needed to be written -- more's the pity -- because I know a lot of women my age who don't know the first thing about feminist politics, and worse, who don't appreciate all that has been achieved so far. 'Feminism' really is the 'f-word' of today, though thanks to Caitlin Moran it might be inching back a bit.

I found myself nodding in agreement throughout most of the book... yes, yes, sigh and yes. But as usual, I don't buy absolutely everything contained within -- the day I agree with everything someone says is the day I stop thinking for myself, perhaps.

The first thing I didn't really like was the fact that Nora Ephron was quoted several times, but only from 'I Feel Bad About My Neck', which is actually the most unfeminist thing she's written yet. It's a shame Nora Ephron hasn't aged more gracefully, and I'm not sure we should be taking her view of the world as an example of ageing, because she seemed to be a lot more of a strident feminist when she was younger. Hollywood got to her, I suppose.

The second thing is that Caro and Fox don't write very sympathetically of Virginia Haussegger, who wrote Wonder Woman after realising (too late) that feminism had led her astray, and that by the time she realised she really wanted to have children, it was too late. I have yet to read Wonder Woman, though I have read the free excerpt online, and at this stage I feel sympathetic. I think it's completely fair enough that women feel gipped by the fact that they (we) were told we can have it all. We obviously cannot. While Caro and Fox write openly of their own privilege, I'm not one hundred percent certain that they *really* understand the extent of it. Many women remain childless not because of any particularly bad decisions that they've made, but simply because that's where they have found themselves, too late to fix it, and through no real fault of their own.

Third, this book is like chatting to two intelligent and well-read feminist women over coffee, and it should be taken as such. Having just read Delusions Of Gender by Cordelia Fine, I have a new-found inbuilt suspicion about any claims of 'hard wiring' which leads to innate gender differences. So do Caro and Fox, as it turns out, as they do question the validity of books which keep telling us that men and women are completely different. This doesn't stop sentences such as, 'Like the heady madness of romantic love, mother love is hardwired into us to ensure the preservation of the species.'

It seems to me that we should be talking about 'parental instinct', if we're to speak of instinct at all. By writing about 'hardwired' motherly love, they (perhaps inadvertently) perpetuate the idea that women are naturally better at caring for the young than are fathers. They declare elsewhere that fathers are equally good at nurturing, given the opportunity, so I wonder if phrases like that slipped through the editing net by accident.

I hope that this book will turn a few Germaine Greer haters onto issues which affect everybody. Because of course Greer has been saying these exact same things for years.
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