Monthly Archives: August 2017

A few new reads from ex Harvard female writers – summer book list?

fishman book cover

The Harvard Uni Grad School for Arts & Sciences is an interesting place to browse through. Their courses and programmes are telling, their alumni often inspiring: the movers and the shakers in most cases.

I was just surfing their pages this evening and fell upon some current reading recommendations of works penned by some female alumni. Thought I’d share for those with any likeminded interests, you know, being female, and looking back over the journeys we’ve made as a gender through the last century (it is still inspiring for some societies and cultures where similar steps forward have yet to be made):

Reading List: August 2017 | Harvard University – The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences<!– !–>

World War II and its aftermath shook up everything, ending the Depression, undermining colonialism, igniting the Cold War, and extruding international bodies like the UN and IMF. Sarah Fishman (PhD ’87, history) analyzes another long-wave change catalyzed by the war. From Vichy to the Sexual Revolution: Gender and Family Life in Postwar France (Oxford University Press, 2017) recounts the profound cultural changes taking place in France during and after WWII. She draws on two main sources: case files of the juvenile courts and advice columns from magazines like Marie Claire and Elle. The Vichy government insisted that women confine themselves to marriage and motherhood. With the Liberation, the nation recoiled from Vichy’s conservative values, granting women the vote in 1944. (Women also found new educational and work opportunities.) By the 1950s, prosperity emerged as a new factor transforming family life and gender roles. The ideas of Sigmund Freud, Simone de Beauvoir, and Alfred Kinsey challenged old assumptions. Rising divorce rates, increased access to contraception, and the first oblique references to homosexuality suggested new paths opening for French women and French families.

Fair Sun (David R. Godine, 2017) is a poetry collection by Susan Barba (AM ’00, Near Eastern languages and civilizations, PhD ’06, comparative literature), Barba often invokes nature, sometimes with dark undertones:

How close they are to one another,
the garden, the fire pit, the dark groves,
. . . the golden orbs of apricots,
the darkness of the dirt that feeds them.

“Andranik,” a dialog between a young girl and her immigrant grandfather (who survived the Armenian genocide), is particularly haunting. Language and history separate the two. Her English is fluent; his, a three-legged race, tied to a stranger. Still, his memories phosphoresce—like old bones on a moonless night—lighting the darkness:

[Torkom and I.] Like brothers . . . all the time together. . . .

[The Turks] want to make fun. They [set out] two guns . . . In one . . . live bullet. In one . . . no bullet. . . . They say, “Go get a gun.” . . . And ordered [us], shoot. I shoot and killed Torkom. . . .

So. . . . They make enjoy.

Regarding the Fishman book, I must confess I’m intrigued to read more. The Amazon summary adds a bit more detail (the crux of the matter seems to rest in the vision of the family…):

At the end of World War II, the vast majority of people in France, living in small towns or rural areas, had suffered through a series of traumas-economic depression, war and occupation, the absence of millions of POWs, deportees and forced laborers, widespread destruction. The resulting disruptions continued to reverberate in families for several years after the Liberation. In the decades following the war, France experienced radical economic and social transformations, becoming an urban, industrial, affluent nation. In less than thirty years, French ideas about gender and family life underwent dramatic changes. This book provides a broad view of changing lives and ideas about love, courtship, marriage, giving birth, parenting, childhood, and adolescence in France from the Vichy regime to the sexual revolution of 1960s.

To understand how such changes influenced ideas about family life, From Vichy to the Sexual Revolution explores inexpensive guide books on marriage, childbirth and parenting, advice columns and popular magazines directed at readers from a variety of backgrounds. Sarah Fishman puts these sources into context, by exploring juvenile court family case studies. She links economic and social changes to the evolution of thinking about gender, the self, and the family, throwing new light on the emergence of a new vision of the family, one based on dynamic relationships rather than a set structure.