This book might as well be titled The Sentimentilization of American Culture because what author Ann Douglas identifies is not a promotion of genuine feminine virtues but a sad parody of them as found in Victorian America's literature and religious culture. Sentimentality is inherently nostalgic and anti-intellectual, and its embrace by any society inevitably results in a loss of that society's manly virtues and a debilitating fascination with shallow ideals.
That American society has languished in such a desparate condition for decades now is self-evident with its transformation of Hollywood into a religious Mecca, the conflation of leadership and celebrity, and the faux spirituality and megachurches that have nearly extinguished the light of genuine Protestant Christianity. The Feminization of American Culture is not simply an identification of these trends, however, but an investigation of how they managed to take hold of a culture en masse and edge out the gender diversification that marked American society before the Victorian Era.
The real culprits, she argues, were women and religious leaders, who because of increasing marginalization were limited to express themselves primarily through literature. Yet their literary output, instead of defending gender diversification and egalitarianism, extolled the only virtues they were assumed to possess—timidity, piety, a disdain for competition. Beginning with the scene of Little Eva's melodramatic death in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Douglas charts these trends throughout the 19th century and their consequences today. Even more poignant now than when it first appeared in the 1970s, The Feminization of American Culture should be required reading for anyone who wants to know why the America of today prizes the cult of the average over a robust society of healthy competition and sound hierarchy.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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