Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection
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Debora L. Spar spent most of her life avoiding feminism. Raised after the tumult of the 1960s, she presumed that the gender war was over. "We thought we could glide into the new era with babies, board seats, and husbands in tow," she writes. "We were wrong."
Spar should know. One of the first women professors at Harvard Business School, she went on to have three children and became the chair of her department. Now, she's the president of Barnard College, arguably the most important women's college in the country, and an institution firmly committed to feminism. Wonder Women is Spar's story, but it is also the culture's. Armed with reams of new research, she examines how women's lives have, and have not, changed over the past fifty years-and how it is that the struggle for power has become a quest for perfection. Wise, often funny, and always human, Wonder Women asks: How far have women really come? And what will it take to get true equality for good?
Praise For Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection…
“A terrific read.” —Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In
“A must-read for every woman on the move in life.” —Tina Brown
“Part memoir, part feminist history, and part cultural analysis, [Wonder Women] includes ample data and anecdotes about modern women and the workplace....An interesting and powerful observation on the evolution of feminism.” —The Washington Post (A Book Every Leader Should Read)
“Spar's overall message is a universal one....Her struggles are a reminder that now more than ever, women's issues are often more relatable than we think.” —Jezebel
“Profoundly sensible stuff.” —Financial Times
“Barnard College president Spar (The Baby Business) skillfully addresses the state of feminism and suggests that, despite historic gains in education, the workforce, and equal rights, American women suffer under ‘an excruciating set of mutually exclusive expectations' resulting, paradoxically, from the proliferation of options that feminism made possible. Drawing on her experiences as well as extensive research, Spar lucidly traces how the movement's ‘expansive and revolutionary' political goals have evolved into a set of ‘vast and towering expectations' that trouble women at every stage of their lives. Wisely forgoing hostility or blame, Spar finds women struggling, if anything, with the fantasy of ‘having it all.' ‘We're doing this to ourselves,' she writes, addressing, among other topics: the explosion of toddler princesses; eating disorders and hyperachievement among adolescents; the hookup habits of young adults; the ‘adoration of pregnancy'; competitive mothering; and the lucrative wedding, diet, and plastic surgery industries. Her solutions call for sanity and simplicity: to kill ‘the myths of female perfection' and recommit to the goals of early feminism, abandoning the ‘individualized quest' in favor of organizational and collective change. Tactfully navigating heated debates and effectively contextualizing historical trends and contemporary problems, Spar's book will be welcomed by readers who envision a world ‘driven by women's skills and interests and passions as much as by men's.'” —Publisher's Weekly
“Spar uses her experiences of the feminist revolution of the 1960s as a scaffold for evaluating the situation of young women today...Spar addresses many issues facing working women--e.g., maintaining a fashionable appearance, sexual identity and aging in a world of shifting mores. For younger women who have accepted their entitlement to full equality with men, the conflicting demands of the roles expected of them, and their own ‘quest for perfection,' can be devastating. A wise, worthy companion to Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Debora L. Spar has written the right book at the right time. We need to make all women's lives less stressful and more rewarding. This brave, well-written book points the way. Spar reveals her most intimate history, yet stands back to see her whole generation--and mine--in perspective. Wonder Women will make many women feel deeply understood. And many men. It's a warm, humorous, and lusty book, and I think many readers will be grateful for it. I certainly am.” —Erica Jong, author of Fear of Flying
“Debora L. Spar has written a wonderful and wise meditation on women that draws on her own life experience and her deep intelligence as a scholar. She is a lively companion on an essential subject.” —Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World
“Wonder Women is the book I'd give my daughter as a guide to navigating the challenges of being a woman in twenty-first-century America. Debora L. Spar's is a wise, calm, eloquent voice; she offers essential caution against the idea that anybody can live a life without trade-offs and imperfections, but she does this without ever losing hold of the righteous passion of the feminist movement.” —Nicholas Lemann, author of Redemption
“Wonder Women is a refreshing and engaging reevaluation of the challenges facing women and feminism in contemporary America. With wit and historical insight, Debora L. Spar takes us through the female life cycle, exploding myths about ‘having it all' through personal stories, social science studies, and critiques of popular culture. A compelling read, this book should be required for young women, their parents, and their future employers.” —Estelle B. Freedman, author of No Turning Back
Picador, 9781250056061, 320pp.
Publication Date: October 7, 2014
About the Author
Debora L. Spar is the MBA Class of 1952 Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and Senior Associate Dean of HBS Online. Her current research focuses on issues of gender and technology, and the interplay between technological change and broader social structures. Spar tackles some of these issues in her book Work Mate Marry Love: How Machines Shape Our Human Destiny.
Spar served as the President of Barnard College from 2008 to 2017, and as President and CEO of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts from 2017 to 2018. During her tenure at Barnard, Spar led initiatives to highlight women’s leadership and advancement, including the creation of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies and the development of Barnard’s Global Symposium series.
Before joining Barnard, Spar spent 17 years on the HBS faculty as the Spangler Family Professor as well as the Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development. A prolific writer, Spar’s books include Ruling the Waves: Cycles of Discovery, Chaos, and Wealth from the Compass to the Internet (2001), The Baby Business (2006), and Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection (2013).
Spar is a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and serves as a director of Value Retail LLC and Thermo Fisher Scientific, as well as a trustee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Spar earned her Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University and her B.S. from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.
She and her husband, Miltos Catomeris, are the parents of three grown children.