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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Masculinity and Sexuality: Selected Topics in the Psychology of Men (Review of Psychiatry, Volume 18) edited by Richard C. Friedman, Jennifer I. Downey , Jeanne Spurlock, Jennifer Downey (American Psychiatric Press) sheds light on clinical issues important in the treatment of all male patients. Sexual experiences and related attitudes of patients and therapists influence symptoms, treatment, and outcome across diverse diagnostic categories.

Chapters cover clinical issues related to

  • Men's sexual thoughts, impulses, and desires and the way they are organized into erotic fantasies including the differences that exist in the way men and women experience sexual fantasy
  • Heterosexuality as part of a developmental phase that includes the capacity for intimacy and love
  • Erectile dysfunction including a paradigm for integrating the biological and psychological factors that together influence male sexual dysfunction
  • The role of fatherhood in psychological development during adulthood
  • The casualties of recovered memory therapy the victimization of fathers by children who make false allegations of sexual abuse 

The five studies by US scholars in Masculinity and Sexuality review the current understanding of different dimensions of masculinity and male sexuality. A perspective they share is that biological, psychological, and social influences of behavior must be conceptualized from a developmental perspective in order to adequately assess sexual function and to treat difficulties and disorders. This volume illustrates the usefulness and importance of examining clinical issues pertaining to human sexuality from a biopsychosocial perspective, in addition to using the more limited medical model that informs the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Male sexuality is only one of the many areas whose study indicates that, in order to effectively relieve symptoms, it is necessary to understand and provide treatment to the patients in whom these symptoms occur.

Gender, Emotion, and the Family by Leslie Brody (Harvard University Press) Do Women express their feelings more than men? Popular stereotypes say they do, but in this provocative book, Leslie Brody breaks with conventional wisdom. Integrating a wealth of perspectives and research -- biological, sociocultural, developmental -- her work explores the nature and extent of gender differences in emotional expression, as well as the endlessly complex question of how such differences come about. Nurture, far more than nature, emerges here as the stronger force in fashioning gender differences in emotional expression. Brody shows that whether and how men and women express their feelings varies widely from situation to situation and from culture to culture, and depends on a number of particular characteristics including age, ethnicity, cultural background, power, and status. Especially pertinent is the organization of the family, in which boys and girls elicit and absorb different emotional strategies. Brody also examines the importance of gender roles, whether in the family, the peer group, or the culture at large, as men and women use various patterns of emotional expression to adapt to power and status imbalances. Lucid and levelheaded, Gender, Emotion, and the Family offers an unusually rich and nuanced picture of the great range of male and female emotional styles, and the variety of the human character.

Menstrual Purity: Rabbinic and Christian Reconstructions of Biblical Gender by Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert (Contraversions: Jews and Other Differences; Stanford University Press)


This Book presents first a study of the classic rabbinic discourse on menstruation and of the range of meanings that talmudic literature accords to women's bodies in its discourse on Niddah, or the regulations appertaining to menstruation that are derived from biblical law. My study focuses on texts from the foundational period of rabbinic Judaism: those texts produced between the period from the redaction of the earliest rabbinic text, the Mishnah, to the end of the redaction of the Babylonian Talmud,'

The Babylonian Talmud, among its many volumes on a myriad topics, includes one fairly long volume or tractate‑in Hebrew massekhet, or "fabrics‑on rules and laws pertaining to menstruation. To the modern Western mind, nurtured on centuries of a skeptical silencing of and distancing from thinking corporeality, particularly female corporeality, these texts craft a discourse that appears strange, obscure, graphic, or even bizarre. Like few other cultures, rabbinic Judaism in this tractate transforms blood and bodies into language, analyzes the nature of blood and pads, of births and abortions or miscarriages. One detects no sense of embarrassment, shame, or disgust in those pages of the Talmud, feelings familiar to those of us who have grown up in the cultural context of the West, which allows mostly only euphemistic, hidden references to bodies and their messiness. The texts in Tractate Niddah might just as well be about zoology, astronomy, physics, or mathematics, judging by their tone. We learn about the fine distinctions of colors of blood. We learn about a whole hermeneutics of bloodstains. We learn about complicated temporal calculations of menstrual cycles that could try anybody's patience. We learn about criteria for ritual purity and impurity as the rabbinic framework for thinking about menstruation. Inherited from biblical law, this aspect of the halakhic, or legal, discourse of menstruation had become a primarily theoretical issue after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the reference point of the biblical notion of purity. Already at the time of the editing of the earliest of rabbinic texts, the Mishnah, this discussion was theoretical. And yet almost the entire rabbinic discourse on niddah, from the Mishnah on, is framed by and committed to just this aspect of the biblical discourse on menstruation.

THE READINGS of a wide variety of texts throughout the chapters of this book have aimed at two different purposes. On the one hand, they have investigated what the texts reveal with respect to rabbinic thinking about gender in the context of discussing the biblical laws of menstruation. The cultural and hermeneutic presuppositions of the rabbis determined and shaped their discussions of women's bodies and corporeality. On the other hand, underlying my readings has been the question of the possible implications for Jewish women's lives emerging from the rabbinic discussions and other related textual cultures.

As to the latter, we have to conclude that it is extremely difficult to extrapolate from the rabbinic discussions as to the impact they had on women's lives. It is extremely difficult to reconstruct women's voices within the rabbinic texts, even where they focus on questions that concern women, and on intimate factors such as women's bodies and women's sexual lives. Most of the discussions are of a highly theoretical nature. They are a product of the Beit Midrash, the House of Study, an almost certainly exclusively male institution. This institutional setting of their discussions provided the rabbis with the opportunity to discuss the nature of women's bodies and to textualize them without the pressure of accountability to those who inhabit those bodies. The cultural process that I have tried to trace is the following. The Beit Midrash is a cultural innovation unique to the rabbinic movement in late antiquity. Its framing as an exclusively male institution and its production of a male leadership for the Jewish community is reflected in the nature and the framing of the discussions. It is the nature and the framing of the discussions, concomitantly, that enable and stabilize the Beit Midrash as a homosocial community.

This step I have outlined in Chapter a, which discusses the metaphorical construction of women's bodies as houses and as buildings. We have seen that this is the predominant choice of metaphors in the Mishnah, as well in a number of baraitot in the Babylonian Talmud. Further, the Talmud in its exegetical passages on the Mishnah expands on these metaphors. This construction, which rabbinic culture shares with many other androcentric cultures, for women amounts to what Helene Cixous has diagnosed as the violence of masculine cultures: "she has been kept at a distance from herself, she has been made to see (= not‑see) woman on the basis of what man wants to see of her, which is to say almost nothing" (Newly Born Woman, 68). The rabbis' favored choice of metaphorical construction aids them discursively in stabilizing the Beit Midrash as an exclusively male community. Whereas one might have considered women to be important references for the reflections on menstrual impurity, the mishnaic texts objectify women's bodies. The effect of this objectification is that women are not needed to contribute to the discussions and, in fact, are excluded from the discussions altogether.

At the same time we have seen in Chapter 3 that the Talmud produces a reading of the Mishnah which potentially subverts the entire mishnaic perspective. Shmu'el's midrash, introduced and discussed in the Babylonian Talmud, produces a corrosion of the mishnaic perspective in that it introduces the criteria of sensation in its thinking about the female body. Of course, the subversion of the mishnaic perspective in this particular case is part of the Babylonian Talmud's general rigorous pursuit of dialectical strategies (Hayes, Between the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds, r8o), but in this case it produces a particular effect with respect to the implications for gendering rabbinic discussions. Shmu'el's midrashic reading and its various manifestations throughout Tractate Niddah represents a rupture in the mishnaic framing of women's corporeality, because the female body is no longer the object that fortifies the androcentric universe. It now gains a life of its own, which allows for an alternative reality to break into the one that the mishnaic texts construct as dominant.

What emerges from this analysis is that despite the dominant perspective

of the text, the talmudic discussions do not evolve into a homogeneously gendered discourse. Within the dialectics of the Babylonian Talmud we can witness tensions and conflicts around the creation of gender. The discussions open up alternatives rather than congealing into a closed, discursive universe.

Chapters 4 and 5 pursue this path further. Chapter 4 addresses the tension inherent in the Talmudic construction of the rabbi as expert on women's bleeding. Again, rather than reading these texts primarily as representing the social‑historical institution of rabbinic control over women's blood, I have traced the moments within the discourse where such control reveals itself as gendered control, as control that is not self‑evident but that needs to legitimize itself. Here the story of Yalta has served as the narrative focal point. We have seen that the Talmudic discussion of the case of Yalta has, at least rhetorically, as its goal the establishment of rabbinic control over women's blood. I have tried to examine this overt goal by reading the narrative and its Talmudic discussion symptomatically. One side of the discussion not only considers women to be competent halakhic judges in cases of having to distinguish types of genital bloods. It also catapults Yalta rhetorically into a position of sustained halakhic reasoning. The text has to struggle hard, both rhetorically and logically, to make such rabbinic expertise believable and acceptable. By focusing our reading on the difficulty of this struggle we can reveal how fragile is the construction of such authority and control.

Chapter 5 focuses on a marginal voice that the Babylonian Talmud integrates into its discussions, on the repeated citing of Abaye's mother. The goal of this chapter is to foreground this marginal voice, to highlight its presence within the talmudic discussions that again emphasize the multiplicity of gender perspectives within the Babylonian Talmud. At the same time, the goal here is to analyze the strategies by which the dominant talmudic discourse marginalizes this voice. This process of marginalization begins already within talmudic literature, but subsequently even more so with medieval halakhists and modern academic critics. Against such a progressive marginalization the focus on Abaye's mother's presence within the talmudic texts reverses the process. She is seen as someone who is rhetorically not marked as inferior, and who is a caretaker of bodies, someone whose "medical" expertise ranks with the "medical" expertise of other rabbis in the Talmud.

Finally, in Chapter 6 I have turned to the Didascalia Apostolorum as a text that is usually discussed by scholars of early Christian literature, as part of the history of the early church. The function of the third‑century Didascalia in this work is to serve as a complement to the rabbinic discussions. With the Didascalia we have access to Jewish women's attitudes toward practices and rituals concerning menstruation. In his argument with the Jewish women converts in his community, the author of the Didascalia allows us a glimpse not only of women's practice but also of their arguments in advocacy of such practices. The Jewish women converts in the Didascalia move in the same cultural universe as the rabbis toward the end of the tannaitic period, geopolitically as well as textually. For both, biblical law remains the primary reference point. These women then allow us to move away from a simplistic hermeneutic model according to which the rabbis partially expand and partially rewrite the biblical laws concerning menstrual impurity, and finally superimpose them on women who remain victims of such legislations.

The overarching goal of this project of brushing androcentrism against the grain has been to move away from a model that regards the rabbinic discourse on menstrual impurity exclusively as a product of a generic form of patriarchalism and which merely considers that discourse to be born from male fear or abhorrence of women's blood. Here it has been essential to read the rabbinic discussions as born from a hermeneutic disposition toward biblical traditions. I have claimed that the gender politics of the discourse on menstrual regulations is intersected and traversed by the discourse of ethnicity. If we consider rabbinic hermeneutics as based on the desire to preserve biblical Israel as a corporeal, embodied community, the discussions of menstrual regulations have to be analyzed in relation to that desire. The preservation of the corporeal biblical Israel, consisting of men and women, male and female bodies, is obviously inscribed by gender, yet not entirely determined by it. By the same token, then, we can consider women to have an identity‑establishing investment in observing biblical traditions concerning menstrual regulations. To practice forms of menstrual abstention may allow for a particular women's form of self‑perception. It allowed women to engage in the continuous reproduction of biblical Israel or in the continuous observance of Torah, with and in their bodies. The converted Jewish women in the community of the Didascalia, who desired to preserve a form of menstrual separation within their new Christian environment, which supposedly "liberated" them from biblical rulings, manifest that women could have some desire attached to the observance of "women's" practice. Within these parameters, then, the practice of menstrual separation from marital intimacy in and by itself can no longer be regarded as merely an emblematic sign of women's oppression under patriarchal conditions. Rather, it may serve as a ground to rethink the relationship between the politics of gender and the politics of ethnicity, to rethink what is at stake for women in theorizing corporeality or identities of embodiment.

To allow this to happen, however, the hegemonic structuring of the rabbinic culture of interpretation needs to be turned on its head. This created discursive conditions that allowed for the displacement of women from the reading and translating of women's bodies into language. Once these conditions are recognized, we may allow for new language to be created and for the old language to be transformed.


Creating Deeper Understanding & Love in our Relationships

by Aaron Kipnis and Elizabeth Herron

Nataraj Publishing

$12.95. paper, 202 pages. bibliography


Most of us by now are aware that the social contract between women and men is rapidly changing. This change can offer new hope for expanded freedoms for both. Yet, many contemporary women and men remain fearfully divided on many issues. Some issues addressed in this book include How men fear women’s power to wound them emotionally; women fear men’s power to wound them physically. Women feel sexually harassed; men feel sexually manipulated and that their courting behavior is often misunderstood. Women resent it that men won’t take no for an answer; in men’s experience, however, no often does in fact mean yes. Men say that women are too emotional; women say men don’t feel enough. Women say that men don’t do their fair share of housework and child care; men feel that women don’t do an equal share of providing income and home maintenance. Men feel that they no longer have regular opportunities to meet in private; women insist on their right to women-only clubs and schools. Many women say that God and nature are female; many men believe the opposite. Many women feel morally superior to men; many men feel they are more logical and just. Women say that men have destroyed the environment; men say that the women’s movement has destroyed the family. Men are often afraid to speak about their own vulnerability and victimization; women frequently deny their real power and capacity for abuse. Women feel that men don’t listen; men feel that women talk too much.

Many men believe that they must become more like women to be whole; many women are trying to be more like men. Both women and men have lost connection with a powerful, sacred image of masculinity and femininity that is in balance with the other sex.

One of major goals in this workbook is that there are usually two equally valid points of view toward all gender conflicts. In most books and the media, however, we generally hear about these issues only from a woman’s point of view or from a man’s .In this book we hear equally from both as we propose new directions that can help resolve our age-old conflicts, directions that have the power to create deeper love and understanding in our relationships.

The stories the author’s tell about the courageous people who joined them for a week in the wilderness give readers a deeply revealing glimpse into ways we might all improve our relationships, institutions, and communities. But make no mistake, as the authors they come to this work waist-deep in their own personal biographies. They have included their own experiences as they discovered more about the deep concerns of gender. They recognized early on that they were not just experts in this field, but were as deeply immersed in these issues in their personal lives as anyone else on that trip. This book attempts to offer hope to men and women seeking mutuality. It is a good place to open the dialogue.

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