April 02, 1984 12:00 PM

by Susan Brownmiller

In 1976 Brownmiller wrote Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, an impassioned examination of sexual violation and a virtual call to arms against violence toward women. Like Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, Against Our Will helped shape and inspire the feminist movement. In her second book Brownmiller no longer burns with righteous anger. Indeed, Femininity resembles Friedan’s The Second Stage. Both volumes share a questioning, introspective tone. Brownmiller remains a staunch feminist, but she also confronts the dilemma of being a radical in an increasingly conservative era. Her book reveals a deep sensitivity to why women so often use the artifices of makeup and mannerisms to catch and hold men. The problem, Brownmiller writes, is the need to understand the distinction between being female, a biological fact, and being feminine, a social-psychological judgment. She breaks femininity down into its various manifestations, with chapter headings like Hair, Body, Movement, Clothes, Voice, Ambition and Emotion. Brownmiller notes that “to fail at the feminine difference is to appear not to care about men and to risk the loss of their attention and approval.” She argues convincingly that the cult of femininity all too often demands “a self-imposed masochism of restraint, inhibition, self-denial and a wasteful use of thought and time.” There is, she says, little difference between a bound female foot in prerevolutionary China and the high-heeled shoes of today; both promote a destructive helplessness in the name of femininity. (Linden Press/Simon & Schuster, $14.95)

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