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Book Reviews

Princess at the Window: A New Gender Morality

by Donna Laframboise

If you watch TV or read the popular press, you probably know more about the rebellion against feminism than you do about feminism itself. Nay-sayers to the women’s movement have been popular since Camille Paglia, queen of provocation, cleared the way in 1990. Most of these books that promise to throw a wrench in the works of social change, including Toronto Star columnist Donna Laframboise’s The Princess at the Window, are being issued by big houses (Kate Fillion’s recent and much-excerpted Lip Service from HarperCollins; Katie Roiphe’s Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism from Little, Brown; Wendy Dennis’s Hot and Bothered: Sex and Love in the 90s from Key Porter) perhaps because they promise high sales due to their controversy. These books are quintessential pop-psychology, café talk dressed up as exposé and inquiry, the sort of stuff pop-culture loves. Their writing masquerades as intelligent rumination on the nature of things (in this case feminism) for those of us who don’t have the time or attention spans to read the real thing.

I agree with Laframboise’s summaries of the strife and discomfort within women’s groups. Internal politics suck, and women, like anyone else, get sidetracked from their good intentions by squabbles and power-grabs. But groups by their very nature demand conformity, and conformity always brings on rebellion and disillusion. Also, as Laframboise says, men are not inherently evil. She would like to re-entrench everyone in the moderate, mature castle of gender issues, not simply women’s issues. But while Laframboise argues, my mind wanders to a dear law student I know, a serial monologist. He, who could articulate his thoughts well and support them with evidence from reports, statistics, and whatever else was at hand, managed more to alienate than to convince me. His point, it seemed, was the argument itself, not my involvement in conversation.

Perhaps the similarity between Laframboise and my friend is tone. Although she provokes real thought in some chapters, she is always exasperated and yelling; possibly she worries that the rabble of card-carrying feminists will stifle her message. As well, she begins paragraphs with variations on, “don’t get me wrong, I’m as feminist as anyone, but….”; “rape is very serious but…” etc.; paragraphs that barely begin to acknowledge what feminism has done and why it is important before they’re cut short and brought back to the agenda: berating mainstream feminism. And Laframboise, like Fillion, approaches feminism as if it were a monolith that’s compromising our government and laws, and the safety of the general public, without ever defining what she takes to be mainstream feminism and why. Laframboise, who has a master’s in Women’s Studies and years, she says, of advocacy experience, has turned her back on the establishment; she’s handed in her membership card and the onus is on her to justify her position. She does not. And when her defensive tone meets her unwillingness to acknowledge the positive side of feminism, Princess at the Window becomes tiring. Even Paglia writes in a cooler, more palatable style.