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Nonfiction in Brief

THE AMERICAN WOMAN, 1988-89 A Status Report edited by Sara E. Rix (W.W. Norton: $19.95)

January 15, 1989|ALEX RAKSIN

Like the editor's "status report" last year, this book is largely a gloomy survey of persistent inequities between the sexes: Women's median income for full-time work, for instance, is still only 68% of men's. It is punctuated by colorful notes about progress made in the last decade, however, not only in law and medicine but in agriculture (once "invisible farmers," women are now acknowledged linchpins of the rural community), religion (80% of Protestant denominations in America now ordain women) and politics (the number of states with incumbent female lieutenant governors went from 0 in 1970 to 15 in 1988).

Also like last year's volume, unfortunately, "The American Woman" lacks a clearly defined readership. This book doesn't quite work as a journalistic overview for a general readership, for there are no colorful, first-person interviews to compel our attention. Nor is there serious analysis of institutional problems to help activists and policy makers build movements for change. A chapter on women in religion, for instance, argues that spiritual freedom won't be complete until Catholic women can become clergy members, but doesn't survey various church leaders to get a sense of how long women will have to wait for equality and what they can do to hasten its arrival.

Nevertheless, "The American Woman" is a remarkably clear and concise reference tool, one that will certainly be of use to at least one group: activists who wish to counter the widespread myth that America has overcome the discrimination that afflicted society before the Sexual Revolution.

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