The Path of Mercy: The Life of Catherine McAuley

I wrote a book review of Mary C. Sullivan, RSM’s new book on Catherine McAuley a few weeks ago.  I really enjoyed the book.  Sullivan did a wonderful job with such a big subject.  Anyone interested in learning more about the Sisters of Mercy foundress should look to this book.

Here’s the link to the review.  While you are there, check out other book reviews and the entire History of Women Religious in Britain and Ireland website.  They do a remarkable job over there promoting this history and making resources available to a growing community of scholars.

If you want to know more about the book, you can find out more at the publisher’s website.

Another [Un]helpful Book about Modern Women?

The New York Times Book Review featured a review of Hanna Rosin’s new book, The End of Men, And the Rise of Women, on September 13.  When I saw the headline, I must confess I was intrigued.  Could it be that the feminist revolution had actually worked as anti-feminists of the 1970s and 1980s feared?  Did Feminists finally put an end to men in their campaign stamp out social constructions of gender and rid the world of patriarchy?

All kidding aside, I was curious and did something I haven’t done in some time.  I read a book review in the New York Times.  (Seriously, between my full-time day job, teaching a class, and revising my manuscript, who has time to read book reviews?)  Jennifer Homans has provided a pithy and insightful review of Hanna Rosin’s new book, which if I understand the reviewer’s take on the text, is a frustrating evaluation of the status of women in contemporary American society.

According to Rosin, we are in an era of women, where they dominate in education, work, and at home.  They are better at love and marriage, and generally speaking, women have more success in the global economy.  Wow…The trouble with Rosin’s book, as Homans sees it, has to do with how Rosin characterizes women and men’s roles, and their successes.  She relies on stereotypical gender traits for women and men and overlays them onto the existing social, political, and economic situations where by the numbers it looks like women are more successful all around.

Women have reached this pinnacle of achievement (despite still earning less on average than men) because they are more caring, have better people skills, and better at time-management (what with all the juggling of home, family, and work, where men can’t seem to find their way out of a paper bag).  These traits that women seem to naturally possess are in reality stereotypes and to a lesser extent social constructions of gender expectations.  As Homans put it:

Is it really a good idea to say that we are, by gender if not by sex, open, empathic, flexible, patient, prone to communal problem-solving and the like? We’ve known for a long time that men do not hold a monopoly on being rigid, hierarchical, close-minded or authoritarian. Yet the women in this book are almost all organized go-getters, whereas the men come across as lazy, unambitious couch potatoes.

Right, and women are not universally better at cooperating and nurturing.  Just like men are not universally knuckle-dragging neanderthals.  Homans continues:

To suggest, in other words, that success — material, social, sexual, emotional — depends on (our!) gender traits and not on the legal and institutional frameworks we live in? I’m all for each of us remaking ourselves from within, but this kind of argument seems carelessly apolitical, especially at a moment when we are faced with public officials actively working to undermine access to birth control, abortion, equal pay for equal work.

Having not read the book,  I wonder if Rosin deals with an equity feminist or legal feminist approach to women’s rights.  Legislation was necessary to move the feminist movement along in the second half of the twentieth century to provide the structure (albeit not often adhered to) to guarantee women’s equal right to education, work, and maybe some day, pay.  It seems we, as a culture and society, cannot move beyond the understanding that women and men are different, therefore unequal.  We do not know what to do with difference.  How do we respect that while gender exists, it should not fundamentally determine or limit women’s or men’s status in society.

Battlefield and Beyond: A New Book Dedicated to a Wonderful Historian and Valued Mentor

When I began this blog, I said I would shamelessly promote the work of my friends.

The other day, a book arrived on our doorstep.  It is my husband, Michael J. Connolly‘s copy of a book to which he contributed and the publisher finally sent it.  It is The Battlefield and Beyond: Essays on the American Civil War, edited by our friend, Clayton E. Jewett.  While it is super that my husband has published a chapter in this new volume, what made the arrival of this collection of essays on the American Civil War thrilling is that the entire project is dedicated to Jon L. Wakelyn, mentor to my husband in graduate school.  He has continued to act in this capacity since Michael graduated.  (He even takes an interest in my work, and I am just the wife.)  The book was unveiled prior to publication at the Southern Historical Association conference in Baltimore last October.  (It was a surprise to Dr. Wakelyn!)

I have not had a chance to read all of the book.  I have looked at Michael’s chapter, of course.  When the book arrived, I examined it from cover to back (it is a good looking volume–nice dust jacket, with as you can see decent cover art).  I looked through the table of contents and saw our friends (Clayton and another wonderful historian, Kenneth Nivison) and those who have been friends of Dr. Wakelyn.  I read the acknowledgement and the last chapter, “Jon L. Wakelyn’s Contribution,” by Jane Turner Censer Rosemarie Zagarri.

What struck me as I was reading all of these things is the lasting impact Dr. Wakelyn has had on his friends, colleagues, and students–as a historian, a mentor, and friend.  When I began my Ph.D. studies at The Catholic University of America, Dr. Wakelyn was about to start a position at Kent State University, and I did not take any classes with him.  Through my connection with Michael, who I met at CUA, I have been included (in part) in the circle of Wakelyn’s Students who were his last graduate students at my program.  (I had my own group of fellow dissertators.) Everything that is said of Dr. Wakelyn’s mentoring and friendship in The Battlefield and Beyond is absolutely true.   He doggedly encourages his former students’ work and champions their success.   Nothing is more enjoyable than a few hours gathered with Dr. Wakelyn, catching up, talking about our respective history projects, arguing religion and politics, and discussing used bookstores, food, and wine.

As I said, I have not had a chance to read all of the essays.  Louisiana State University Press’s website lists some advanced praise for the book:

Advance Praise for The Battlefield and Beyond

“An impressive range of scholarship and intellectual interests has placed Jon Wakelyn among the most productive and influential historians and teachers of his generation.  Here, Clayton Jewett and the talented group of scholars he has assembled offer studies that do justice to the breadth and depth of Wakelyn’s work by offering fresh insights, notably on the critical intersections of biography with social, military, and political history.”—Eugene D. Genovese, author of Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made

“A fascinating collection of essays celebrating the career of one of the Civil War’s leading scholars, The Battlefield and Beyond illustrates the exceedingly high quality of the current work in the field.”—Brian D. McKnight, author of Confederate Outlaw: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia

You can read more about the book at LSU and you can check out the table of contents here.  Go read the book.  Better yet, go buy the book and read it.  Then buy more copies and give it to all your friends.  (This would be the shameless part of the plug for my friends’ scholarship.)